By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
HAMPTON, Ga. -- No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Team owner Michael Waltrip promised that fans will see a different Martin Truex Jr. once the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup starts two weeks from now at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We've had to be conservative over the last few weeks to get into this Chase," Waltrip said Friday at an announcement of a multiyear contract extension for Truex and his primary sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts. "We're not going to be that way when the Chase starts.
"Tony (Stewart) proved last year that you can make some special things happen in that 10-week run."
Founded in 2007, MWR has never been part of a previous Chase, but the organization is all but certain to land both Truex (fifth in the standings) and Clint Bowyer (sixth) in NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Both drivers can clinch Chase spots in Sunday's Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
If Truex finishes 14th or better, he's in. Bowyer can clinch with a finish of 11th. Contract in hand, Truex thinks he can be a factor in the Chase.
"We're right there," Truex said. "We've been close. We've been capable of winning races all year long. We just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times, and we've had the car to beat two or three races, and we didn't do everything right."
Having NAPA locked in for a long-term commitment as the only primary sponsor on the No. 56 Toyota is definitely a positive for Truex's program.
"Maybe this will help," he said. "It will be great for the guys on the team to not have to worry about where their job is going to be next year, and we're very excited about that and are looking forward to what we can do together."
Truex ran only three laps in Friday's first practice -- in qualifying trim -- but put the No. 56 Camry on top of the speed chart at 185.220 mph.
KENSETH: IT'S HUMAN NATURE
Matt Kenseth enjoys a good helmet toss as much as anyone else -- as long as it's not directed at him.
But that was the case last Saturday night after Kenseth and Tony Stewart wrecked while fighting for the lead on Lap 332 of the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart climbed from his car and launched his helmet into the nose of Kenseth's No. 17 Ford as Kenseth was driving down pit road.
"That stuff is always fun to watch, (but) I hate being involved in it," Kenseth said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "I don't like that part of it, but I always like watching it. I love watching other people's conflicts. I mean, everybody does. It's human nature."
After the incident at Bristol, Stewart promised to run over Kenseth every chance he got for the rest of the season. At a media event on Tuesday, however, Stewart backed off those remarks, citing the heat of the moment as the origin of the threat.
For his part, Kenseth doesn't seem worried.
"Honestly, last week I was really surprised," he said. "I wasn't trying to put our cars in a bad situation, I thought we were going to make it through there, and I thought it was going to be all right, so I'm not sure what all went down there.
"But, actually, Tony and I, in general -- 99 percent of the time, at least -- show each other more respect and more room on the track than probably most people have. There have been a couple of instances here and there, but I think, overall, we try to show each other a lot of respect."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes fans can relate to the emotion Stewart showed after his wreck with Kenseth.
"I'm sure everybody watching the race has somebody's neck they'd like to wring," Earnhardt said Friday at Atlanta. "Maybe they live vicariously through that emotion in some way. There's probably a co-worker or two they wouldn't mind running their fist into his face. It's probably more likely than you imagine.
"When we get out (of the car) and do things such as Tony did, the fans really connect to that. They really connect to that emotion. And driving down the road, somebody cuts you off on the highway -- you would love to shoot them the bird or something. Maybe you do."