Big win brings out emotions in truex Jr.
June 24, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
SONOMA, Calif. -- Martin Truex Jr. did all he could to stay collected Sunday after one of the more raucously improvised victory celebrations of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The composure lasted deep into his post-race remarks, until the notion of shedding the weight of his lengthy losing streak finally set in.
Truex had soldiered on for just over six years, dating back to his 2007 breakthrough in NASCAR’s top series at Dover International Speedway. A staggering 218 races had passed since his last win, second only to the 226-race void between victories for Bill Elliott from September 1994 to November 2001.
Worse, Truex had come breathtakingly close, finishing second six times and notching 24 total top-fives during that fruitless stretch. Perhaps that’s why he pushed back tears in his emotional news conference after his win in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, reminded of the support shown from family, friends and his Michael Waltrip Racing team during the hardships.
“My support group, Sherry (Pollex, his girlfriend), my team, my family ... all the people that are special to me,” Truex said, pausing as he spoke. “It's difficult. There's been days when I was like, this sucks. This isn't any fun anymore. But again, the past couple years have just been great, and I just owe so many people thanks. Just proud to be able to work with this group of people and thankful for the opportunity.
“We're all very lucky to do what we do, to do this and to get to do what we do, and to get the opportunity to win races at this level, I've already accomplished more than I ever thought I would. It's just a lot of fun to be able to run good and try to win races. And I think that for us, we're just really starting to come into our own. There's no limit to what we can do.”
The series’ newest two-time winner -- who will turn 33 Saturday, the day of the series’ next race, at Kentucky Speedway -- was grateful not just for a sound pit strategy, a much-improved road-course program for his MWR team and having the late-racebreaks go his way. Much of his appreciation went to his team owner, who has stuck with him through during three-plus seasons in the No. 56 Toyota.
Waltrip’s parallels to Truex run deep. Waltrip carried an 0-for-463 Sprint Cup drought over 15 full seasons before getting his own affirmation of faith -- and a full-time ride -- from the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt. The seven-time Cup champion’s belief in Waltrip was rewarded with a historic slump-snapping win in the 2001 Daytona 500, a landmark victory Earnhardt never got to see when he lost his life in a final-lap crash after holding the field at bay so Waltrip and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. could finish 1-2.
“I had a special moment today when I got to lean in to Martin and see him crying over winning because that's how important this thing we do is,” Waltrip said. “So it took me back to 2001, and while that was a really tough day, it was also a special day for me because I've learned something over the years. If I'm running third in the Daytona 500 and Clint (Bowyer) and Martin are going off to win and that's the end of my road, just know I went away happy. That's how I live with what happened to Dale is he was watching me and Dale Jr. go do what we did, and he's like, this is a pretty damned good day.
“I hate to bum up the moment, but damn, it was really special for me to see Martin today.”
Bowyer’s victory on the 1.99-mile road course in 2012 may have foreshadowed good things to come this season for his MWR teammate, but the event didn’t look so promising early on. Truex’s Camry ground to a smoky stop during his qualifying session Saturday, the result of an electrical failure.
He started 14th Sunday after his crew made hasty work of the repairs, but Bowyer’s spot-on advice, which Truex called “a big part of this win,” and Truex’s own road-course expertise helped minimize any damage.
“I really enjoy (road courses). I always have,” said Truex, who previously won in the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City in 2005. “I said earlier that I feel like I probably run consistently better here than Watkins Glen, even though Watkins Glen is my favorite road course. Well, maybe not anymore.”
After the checkered flag, Waltrip earned a chance at redemption. This year as opposed to last year’s glass-cracking celebration with Bowyer, he protected the winner’s goblet of wine, keeping it oh-so-close by in the Sonoma aftermath. Of more importance, it gave MWR a modest, positive two-race win streak in the California hills -- a stat that made Sunday’s runner-up Jeff Gordon, a nine-time road course winner in Sprint Cup competition, shy from calling it an upset victory.
“Well, after Bowyer won last year it's obvious that Michael Waltrip Racing has a really good road racing program,” Gordon said. “I've raced with Martin here before and he gets around here pretty good. So you put those combinations together, and I'm not surprised.”
The long-awaited win did wonders for Truex’s playoff stature. He moved up three spots in the standings to 10th, currently in the last position for an automatic berth into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. Should he fall out of the top 10 during the final 10-race span of the regular season, he’ll have a win to fall back on, boosting his shot at one of two Wild-Card berths for drivers ranked 11th to 20th.
For all the big-picture importance on the win, Truex was content to bask in the moment in a fiercely ad-libbed cool-down lap celebration, one that he hopes to polish up on much sooner than another six years from now.
“You can't explain the feeling,” Truex said. “When it's been that long and you worked so hard and you've been so close and so many things have just ‑‑ when you think at times, man, is this ever going to happen again, it's just ‑‑ you can't explain the feeling. It's pretty surreal. Unbelievable.”