NASCAR's Martin Truex Jr. doesn't have to look far to find a blueprint for winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
All he has to do is sneak up from behind, as Tony Stewart did a year ago. Truex, like Stewart last year, is one of two drivers to enter the 2012 Chase without a regular-season victory.
But boy, has he been close. Truex, a Stafford Township, N.J., native, has 14 top-10 finishes, including four of the last five races. He has six top-five finishes, including a season-best second at Kansas Speedway in April.
That enabled Truex to accumulate enough points to join Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kan., in the 12-man Chase that begins Sunday outside Chicago, where Stewart began his championship run with his first win of the 2011 season.
"We've seen what Tony did last year," said Truex, who was in Kansas City on Tuesday to promote the Oct. 21 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, the sixth race of the Chase. "He went into the Chase and didn't have a lot of momentum. People didn't expect much of him, and bam, he wins five races and wins the championship.
"I feel our team is right there. We've had great momentum. ... We've had great runs lately. We've led laps in the last five races. ... We've been fast enough to win. The wins are just around the corner for us. If a couple of little things happened different here or there, we could be sitting here with four wins right now. Sooner or later that little bit of luck we're missing is going to turn around, and it can start this weekend in Chicago, which is a good track for us."
Another good track for Truex is Kansas Speedway, where he led a race-high 173 of 267 laps in April before he was passed by race winner Denny Hamlin. But history on the track won't mean much, because next month's race will be the first since the track was repaved and reconfigured with higher banking.
Qualifying for the Chase affirmed the decisions by Truex and Bowyer to join Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, left Dale Earnhardt Inc. after four full seasons and signed with Waltrip in 2010. Bowyer joined the organization this season, and they became the first Waltrip drivers to make the Chase since the company began fielding full-time teams in 2007.
"It was a difficult decision," said Truex, whose lone Cup win was in 2007 at Dover for Earnhardt when he made his only other appearance in the Chase. "A lot of things went through my mind. I saw great leadership. Michael Waltrip being a driver - and the commitment of (co-owner) Rob Kauffman to make that team a winner.
"The atmosphere at the shop was the first thing that caught my attention. People love working there, and they want to build winning race cars. Their commitment over the past three years is a big reason why we've gotten to where we are "
The addition of Bowyer and veteran Mark Martin on a part-time basis this year turned Michael Waltrip Racing into one of the powerhouse teams in the Cup series. It has more drivers in the Chase than Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing or Penske Racing.
"We have such good chemistry," Truex said of him and Bowyer. "We both have the same goals. We both want the same things out of our race teams. We're both looking to win championships. So he's been a great teammate for me, helping push me along as I feel like we've stepped up the bar for each other."
Truex's performance has been so good that NAPA Auto Parts last week agreed to fully sponsor the No. 56 Toyota for every race during the next three years, no small investment in an economy in which three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart lost his primary sponsor and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne failed to land enough sponsorship to race full time.
"My biggest fear was we'd have trouble keeping NAPA, and we wouldn't be able to continue down this road," Truex said. "I want to continue building this team. I feel like we're just starting now to realize our potential. It would have been a heartbreaker to have to start over again.
"Back in the winter, I really felt it was our year to make a statement, to go out and do something great, and we've done that so far. We have a chance to do something really special in the next 10 weeks, and hopefully we can take advantage of having a shot at the championship."