HAMPTON, Ga. — For Martin Truex Jr., a lot has changed since 2005.
At that time, he was a NASCAR Busch (now Xfinity) Series regular looking to defend his championship crown driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., after friend and competitor Dale Earnhardt Jr. believed in his talents enough to give him a shot.
Fast forward 13 years, and Truex is now a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion in the prime of his career, now driving for Furniture Row Racing and having scored 15 premier series victories since then.
But when Truex walked into Atlanta Motor Speedway on Oct. 29, 2005 — just three weeks before he would wrap up his second-straight Busch title — no one ever expected what would happen after 100 miles that afternoon.
Truex started ninth but raced to the front of the field despite bouncing off the outside wall in the early portion of the 65-lap event, which was the fourth and final event of the International Race Of Champions (IROC) season that year.
He eventually won out in a duel with now-NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, leading 43 laps overall and pulling away following a competition caution with 25 to go to notch his first of two-straight IROC wins at the Hampton oval.
Truex — then a 25-year-old young gun — was ecstatic to beat one of “the best drivers in the world” in Martin that day.
“IROC was one of the things that was just really cool to be a part of,” Truex recalled Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “It was something that I watched growing up and something I dreamed about doing one day. To win just one of those races is real special.”
Truex executed a last-lap pass of Ryan Newman the following year to repeat in the Atlanta IROC finale, the final move in a 16-lead change masterpiece of a race.
Reflecting on the two wins, which were both scored representing the Busch Series as its reigning champion, Truex admitted that at the time his excitement came from topping the Cup drivers in the field.
“Man, what sticks out to me there is beating all of the Cup (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) guys,” said Truex of his IROC success. “I was still an Xfinity regular back then. We always ran really well in the IROC cars. We won both races here and should have won a bunch more at the other tracks … but to win them both here was really cool and to beat those Cup guys was a feather in my cap.”
“Looking back and thinking on it, I remember how special it felt and how great of an accomplishment I felt that it was at the time to beat guys like Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, (Ryan) Newman and (Matt) Kenseth … the field was just stacked. It was a huge deal for me to be able to do that.”
Truex’s 2005 win propelled him all the way to second behind Martin in the final IROC standings that year, and he followed up with a third-place points finish in 2006, the last year of the series’ existence.
Though he never won an IROC title, Truex did smile at the reminder that he’ll always be the final race winner in IROC history.
“That’s really cool,” said Truex. “It was just a neat series … really special.”