Ryan Truex knew before the season that Friday's NASCAR Camping World Series East finale would be special.
The Stafford Township native expects plenty of friends and family to make the short trip to Dover, Del., to watch him race at what the Truex family considers its home track in NASCAR.
What Truex didn't know was that he could be celebrating a championship Friday night.
The 17-year-old developmental driver for Michael Waltrip Racing has a 30-point lead in the standings and needs only to finish fourth or better in the Sunoco 150 to clinch the title. He also could win by finishing fifth and leading a lap, or finishing sixth and leading the most laps.
"I couldn't have picked a better place to go to seal the deal for the championship," Truex said Tuesday.
Truex and his father, Martin Truex Sr., both were careful to point out that it's not a sure thing. Veteran Eddie MacDonald won last week's race in Loudon, N.H., to close to within 30 points. But everything does seem to be coming together perfectly.
"It's kind of like a storybook," Martin Sr. said.
When the story started, though, no one thought it would get to this point this fast. Martin Sr. said he thought it would take at least two years to contend for a title.
"I honestly didn't think he'd win a race (this year)," Martin Sr. said.
Ryan did look like a rookie early in the season. He finished 14th, 16th and 33rd in the first three races. In the seven races since then, though, he has not finished worse than third, and he's been to Victory Lane three times.
"Something just clicked, and we started running good every week," Ryan said.
It was no secret that Truex could drive. But it takes more than that to succeed in NASCAR.
"We anticipated he was going to be fast," MWR general manager Ty Norris said. "What we didn't know, and this is the part that separates the great drivers and the good drivers, is how they handle themselves in traffic in races. What we're surprised by is his maturity in the race car, because he's very young. But when he gets in the race car, he drives with a lot of experience."
Truex also has proven to be a smart driver who works well with his crew.
"His feedback from the car has been phenomenal," Martin Sr. said. "For never being in that situation, his feedback is spot-on."
Ryan has taken advantage of having an older brother, Martin Jr., who races in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. Martin Jr. frequently gives him advice about tracks, since Ryan is racing at most of them for the first time.
"He always asks me about the track and what to expect before he races," Martin Jr. said. "I don't know if it's my advice helping that much or if he's just that good."
Off the track, Ryan said he's getting used to all the obligations that come with being a professional driver.
Norris compared Truex's off-track maturation to that of Sprint Cup fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. That means something coming from Norris, who was Earnhardt's spotter for three years early in his career.
It's not just his dad and Norris who are noticing. Team co-owner and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip came up to Ryan after last week's race and told him he was doing a good job.
"That was pretty nice," Ryan said.
He can expect more congratulations this week if he wins the championship.
It won't be easy, though. While MacDonald, 29, is an 11-year veteran, Truex has never raced at Dover before. In fact, he's never even raced on a concrete track.
But it's times like this when it comes in handy having a brother who is a Sprint Cup driver. Martin Jr., who won his only Cup race at Dover in 2007, plans to take him out on the track this morning in a rental car and help him get a feel for it.
"That should help," Ryan said.
The brothers will work together even more next season. Martin Jr. announced in July that he will join MWR next season with a multiyear deal.
"It will be a lot of fun for me," Martin Jr. said. "I'll be able to be closer and more involved in what he's doing. It will be fun to hang out with him during the week, hang out at the shop and keep up with what he's doing."
The brothers also hope to share a car in the Nationwide Series once Ryan turns 18 in March.
Martin Jr. actually holds the key to that happening. He has not made the Sprint Cup Chase since 2007 but hopes to turn his career around at MWR.
"Michael Waltrip Racing needs to get Martin back to the rock-star status he had and deserves," Norris said. "With that will come the ability to sell a sponsorship program for him and Ryan."
By 2011, though, the hope is that Ryan can attract sponsorship on his own. That's when he plans to race a full Nationwide season.
For now, though, Truex is focused on winning the CWS East championship in front of his family and friends in Dover.
"I've dreamed about it," he said. "It would be really awesome."
(Press correspondent Kelly Ashe contributed to this report)
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A look at Ryan Truex's debut season
But after three races, he said, "Something just clicked."
Here are his
finishes from this season: