TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – Martin Truex Jr.’s decision to stay with Dale Earnhardt Inc. was based on loyalty and the belief he could help turn around the struggling team.

A mere three months after signing him to a one-year contract extension, DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing and everything Truex had planned for was suddenly in limbo. He’s certain the chaos that came with the merger contributed to his poor start this season, but refuses to second-guess his decision.

“You can’t live in the past,” he said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. “I made the decision to stick with the team and try to work it out. You could say, ‘Oh man, I should have done this, should have that.’ But at the end of the day, I didn’t, so I’ve got to make it work.”

His poor performance through the first eight races this year has helped push Truex’s name to the front of free agency. In a contract year with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, it’s widely assumed Truex will be moving on at the end of this season.

He admitted he’s looking at all of his options, but hasn’t yet decided where he’ll be in 2010. A false rumor last month had him immediately replacing struggling rookie Joey Logano at Joe Gibbs Racing, and his name has recently surfaced as a candidate for the No. 55 if owner/driver Michael Waltrip decides to retire at the end of the season.

“I don’t even want to talk about what might happen or what could happen, because I don’t even know yet. I’m just doing all that I can do,” he said. “I’m 100 percent committed to what I’m doing right now, this is my job, this is what I’m going to do period. End of story.”

Since winning the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, Truex has done little of interest this season. He has two top-10 finishes – including a season-best seventh last week at Phoenix – but he’s been 25th or worse five times.

He heads into Sunday’s race at Talladega ranked 21st in the standings. EGR teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, meanwhile, is 15th and has outrun Truex almost everywhere.

But Truex said comparing the two is “like apples to oranges” because it’s taken so long for all the parts to fall into place since Ganassi and Teresa Earnhardt decided in late November to merge their sponsor-strapped organizations.

Truex said his group wasn’t able to move its cars and equipment into Ganassi’s shop until late December, and then many team members spent the better part of January worrying about job security. Montoya’s team, meanwhile, didn’t have the same upheaval and remained focused for this season.

“I guess if I had to look back I’d say, ‘We probably just weren’t prepared for the year, ‘ ” Truex said. “With all that happened, with all this moving, and with so many people coming and going, I just really think we kind of lost our way.”

Truex also admits to a stubbornness between the two teams over the best way to do build the race cars. Truex’s crew was confident in its practices, while Montoya’s group continued to do things the way they preferred.

The refusal to reach common ground held Truex back, he said, even at the tracks where he had typically run well. But after Montoya finished seventh at Texas – Truex was a distant 25th – his team was forced to swallow its pride and take a look at the way the No. 42 crew did things.

Using some of their ideas, Truex was able to rebound last week at Phoenix to his best finish of the year. Confident the No. 1 team is now headed in the right direction, he isn’t ruling out a rebound and making a run at a spot in the Chase for the championship.

It’s not clear if a dramatic turnaround will convince Truex to stay at EGR beyond this season, or if he’s already got one foot out the door. He said he enjoys working with team owner Ganassi, who is hands-on and committed to helping Truex turn the season around.

But his decision last year to re-sign with DEI was draining, and Truex said he wants to take a different approach in negotiating his next contract. What’s he looking for? A team with secure sponsorship that can promise him a solid three to five years.

Once in that situation, Truex believes he can return to Victory Lane. His lone Cup career win was in 2007, the only year he made the Chase.

“I feel like in the right situation, with the right cars and the team I have, we can win again,” he said. “I’m not done winning, I promise you.”

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