The first go-around at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Ryan Truex (No. 00 NAPA Toyota) came up just short and left a little disappointed.
Another runner-up finish Friday, though, would mean Truex is a step closer to the ultimate trophy: the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Series East championship.
"I'm pretty confident knowing I can run good at New Hampshire," Truex said, "because we can go right into practice knowing what we need to do."
The 17-year-old Mayetta, N.J., driver brings a 50-point lead over Eddie MacDonald (No. 71 Grimm Construction Chevrolet) to the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H.
"I have a championship crew," said Truex, a development driver for Michael Waltrip Racing. "They give me a great car every week. It's just up to me to go out there and keep the car in one piece."
Truex is coming off his third win in the last five races. In the other two events, he has finished second — including a runner-up finish to Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Matt DiBenedetto in the June race at New Hampshire.
Truex led 37 laps, while MacDonald and DiBenedetto led 39 each. Pit stop strategy left MacDonald with a sixth-place finish after sweeping the 2008 visits to New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Truex and DiBenedetto put on a thrilling short-track battle that saw DiBenedetto make the final pass on the final turn of the final lap to steal away the win.
There won't be a replay, as DiBenedetto will turn over the No. 18 Joe Gibbs-driven Toyota to 16-year-old Max Gresham this weekend.
But Truex still has plenty of motivation to get to Victory Lane at the track that has been a staple of the NASCAR Camping World Series East schedule since it opened in 2000.
His father, Martin Truex Sr., won there in 1994. And his brother, Martin Truex Jr., has two victories there. Truex Jr., a current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, won July of 2000 and again in July of 2003. He also has a pair of runner-up finishes. Ryan Truex already matched his family's feat with a Coors Light Pole Award in the Spring race.
MacDonald had one of the strongest cars in that race, but elected to stay out when most of the leaders pitted early in the event. This forced him to have to make his way through the field after pitting later.
He was able to get back to sixth by the end of the race, but knows he needs a better finish to keep pace with Truex heading into the Sept. 25 finale at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Truex was able to gain ground on the field in the last race, at Lime Rock Park Aug. 15, winning the race while some of the other challengers experienced misfortune.
If he's not careful, though, Truex can let everybody back in the points chase. The maximum field is 40 cars, and as of Monday, 33 entries had been filed. The larger field increases the cost in points that comes with a bad finish.
Jody Lavender (No. 88 JoJo Ent./Custom Race Chassis Chevrolet) is third and trails Truex by 87 points.
Steve Park (No. 35 Waste Management Recycle America Chevrolet) and defending series champion Matt Kobyluck (No. 40 Mohegan Sun Chevrolet) are both 133 points back. The two veteran drivers know, though, that can change in a hurry if Truex gets caught up in an accident or suffers mechanical failure.
It would seem those are the only things that could slow down Truex, who has been on one of the hottest streaks of any NASCAR Developmental Series drivers this year.
Since an accident left him 33rd at Iowa in May, Truex has three wins, two seconds, a third, and two Coors Light Pole Awards in six races that have taken him from 12th and 143 points out of first to the top and on the brink of his first NASCAR championship.
"I didn't think we'd be running this awesome, going out every week and contending for the win," Truex said. "After those first couple races, I just had to improve as a driver."