Patience is running thin at Michael Waltrip Racing. The owner wants to see improvement. The sponsor wants to see improvement. But perhaps the least patient man in the entire organization is the guy behind the wheel of the No. 56.
Martin Truex Jr. knows the pressure to perform may be greater this season than it's ever been. But the pressure on him from the outside pales in comparison to the pressure he's putting on himself in 2012.
"I know my team is capable of winning races and I know we're capable of making the Chase," Truex said during NASCAR's preseason media tour. "If we don't do that, I'm not going to be happy either. So it doesn't really matter what else happens.
"I'm not here to float along and hang around if I'm not competitive. I know what I can do in a race car, and Michael knows what I can do in a race car. And everybody here knows what I can do in a race car. And that's all that matters to me."
The team showed improvement in 2011, recording more top-five and top-10 finishes, and leading nearly twice as many laps compared to the previous season. On the other hand, Truex didn't win a race, missed the Chase and finished 18th in the points.
Truex knows the team is capable of better -- and proved that with four top-10 finishes in the season's final five races, including a third-place run at Homestead.
But with all three contracts set to end this season -- Truex, sponsor NAPA and Waltrip's deal with Toyota -- improvement on the track may be more important than ever.
"You can't call it a make-or-break year," Truex said. "They're all make-or-break years. This year is obviously very, very important with making [the sponsors] happy and hopefully keeping them here. I love driving their race car and love driving here at MWR.
"Now it's just about getting it done. We can do it. There's no doubt in my mind. We showed it at the end of the year. Now we just need to go do it consistently."
That's been the biggest issue for an organization that made wholesale changes during the offseason -- replacing David Reutimann with Clint Bowyer and adding Mark Martin as a part-timer. The underlying message is clear: Running in the middle of the pack every week is unacceptable.
Nobody needed to tell Truex. He knows what's expected of him.
"If we can perform as well as we did the last six or seven races of the year, there'll be no question," Truex said. "Our goals, obviously, are to do that right out of the box. Our goal this year is to go out and win races and do what we can do to, not to run up front all day and finish 30th, or have something happen. We need to finish the deal this year."
What gives Truex added confidence is his equipment. It's now better than anything he's had at MWR up to this point.
"We brought out some new cars [toward the end of the season]," Truex said. "The engineering staff -- all the guys here -- worked really hard throughout a lot of last season on trying to get this new car finished that we've been working on for a while. And it has some things incorporated in it that we've been needing."
Truex credits major gains in aerodynamics for much of the improvement during 2011.
"We gained a ton of downforce and performance in our race cars, just in the aero department last year towards the end of the season," Truex said. "It took them a while to get the cars built. It took them a while to come up with a piece that they were happy with, and something they knew they could put on the race track and not worry about pieces and parts breaking, things not being tested enough."
That means Truex expects to be in contention from the time the team takes the car off the hauler at Daytona next month.
"In this case, we've done the testing, we've run the cars in races and they're better than what we've had," Truex said. "And going into this year, we knew that. So this winter, they've been able to tweak some things and perfect a few things. Overall, I feel like we'll be more competitive out of the box than we were last year."
With new equipment and a renewed determination, Truex has no patience for continued mediocrity.
"Well, you can really never have patience, because the guys that you're racing aren't waiting," Truex said. "The hardest thing in racing is to catch up. When you get behind, it takes a long time to catch up. We see it in organizations all the time -- they have off years. It's just one of those deals.
"But I feel like at the end of the year, where we were is close to where we wanted to be, not where we wanted to be. I know Michael and everybody here won't be happy until we're running up front like that every weekend and we're contending for wins more consistently.
"You can't be patient, you constantly have to push. Even when you're winning, you have to be pushing forward and trying to be better, because the guys you're racing against aren't [patient]."