Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. stands on pit road before Budweiser Duel 1 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Terry Renna

The elephant in the room every year at the Daytona 500 is that the most important thing at NASCAR’s biggest race is luck.

It’s one of just four races on the Sprint Cup Series’ 36-race schedule that use restrictor plates, making drafting a huge part of the race. And the frequent wrecks usually take out at least a handful of drivers who had cars capable of winning.

So while this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway is technically the second of the season, it’s really the first time that drivers will get a real taste of how this year will go with the new Gen-6 cars.

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“The fastest car will be up front,” Stafford Township native Martin Truex Jr. said in quotes provided this week by his team, Michael Waltrip Racing. “Phoenix is a great racetrack. It’s put on some great racing since they repaved it. There are a lot of questions that have gone unanswered when it comes to the flatter, shorter tracks with the new Gen-6 car.

“It’s going to be an interesting weekend and I think we are going to see a lot of things that come up that we didn’t expect. I think it will be interesting to see what teams have a real handle on this car. Who did the best homework in the off season? That’s what I am really excited about. I want to go there and see what Michael Waltrip Racing has.”

Truex finished 24th at Daytona. He ran as high as second late in the race before having engine problems.

Interestingly, engine problems also were to blame for Truex’s 43rd-place finish the last time he was at Phoenix, in the fall. But before that, he had an average finish of 12th in his previous seven races there, with three top-10s. He has qualified in the top five in two of his past three races at Phoenix, including starting second last fall before the engine problems.

“I know that we have had strong cars at Phoenix in the past,” Truex said. “Last year we were really strong. Now it’s time to see what we really have. It should be really fun.”

Truex said he is anxious to get back on the track at Phoenix after the engine problems in his last race there.

“The track rates very high on my scale,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of strong runs there in the past. In the fall, we qualified second. We had a really fast car. I believe we had the best car in race trim all weekend long. Unfortunately we had a mechanical failure during the second lap of the race so we will never know what could have been.

So now, I am looking forward to going back and taking advantage of another fast NAPA Toyota. Chad (Johnston, his crew chief) has some great ideas as to what he wants to do and what he expects to happen with this new car.”

Here's the schedule for the weekend:

Friday, practice (Speed, 2-3:30 p.m.), qualifying (Speed, 6-7:30 p.m.); Saturday, practice (Speed, noon-1 p.m., 3-4 p.m.); Sunday, race, 3 p.m. (FOX, 2:30-6 p.m.).

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