DOVER, Del. - Officials pulled Martin Truex Jr.'s car off the track at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 11, 2001, and the ambulances hurried off to New York, leaving the driver in a daze.
When the World Trade Center towers fell , Truex was doing a test drive.
"What just happened?" Truex recalls thinking. "This didn't really happen. There's no way that's real."
That's Truex's 9/11 story. It's one of many Dover memories, good and bad, that stand out for the 36-year-old Mayetta, N.J., native. He first remembers racing here in 2000. He earned his first NASCAR Cup Series win here in 2007. His brother, Ryan, clinched his first K&N series championship here in 2009.
Now, as he basks in the sunlight and smiles, Martin takes a moment Friday to appreciate that he's never been here in a better position than today.
"About as good as it gets," he said.
After a third-place finish last weekend, Truex sits atop the regular-season Cup Series standings for the first time in his career. He leads in stage wins and playoff points, and he does so just in time for another trip to one of his favorite tracks.
"I remember the first couple laps in the race track" in 2000, Truex said. "I was like, 'Holy crap, this place is crazy,' and then in the race I figured it out. I got comfortable with it. And ever since I've just loved the feel of this track."
Truex has two Cup wins here and will go for a third Sunday at 1 p.m. after qualifying second on Friday. He's heading for a third straight successful season with crew chief Cole Pearn and Furniture Row Racing, with whom he's formed a strong relationship.
"I'm telling you we can win anywhere right now," Truex said. "We can pick up right now and drive to Bristol and race this afternoon, and we can win. The team is that good, and they're doing everything right right now."
Everything looks to be coming together for Truex not long after it seemed that nothing was.
In 2014, Truex finished 24th in the Cup Series, his worst result since 2005. And that August, his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
That news brought some rough days, but Pollex fought the disease and received her last chemotherapy treatment last January. Truex, after falling from fourth to 11th in the Cup standings last season, has bounced back this year. Now, he said he's in a good place.
"Every week is like, man, this is so much fun," Truex said. "I don't want it to end, but you know some day it's going to. You've got to enjoy it while you're doing it."
For now, Truex has an opportunity to do that with a family affair at Dover this weekend. His brother competed Friday in the Camping World Truck Series race, which was sponsored by Martin Truex Sr.'s company, Sea Watch International.
Many more Truexes will be on hand Sunday-"they come out of the woodwork," Martin Jr. says-to appreciate how far Martin Jr. has come.
"For him to kind of be at the bottom and work his way back up to the top like he did makes it extra gratifying," Ryan Truex said Friday. "It makes me happy, and I'm just watching. So I can't even imagine how good he feels."
Sometimes, Martin can't believe it himself.
"Every once in a while, you wake up in the morning and you're like, 'Man, is this really happening?' " he said. "You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so I'm glad everybody's doing good. We're all healthy."