HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Martin Truex Jr.’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship run certainly was among the most emotional, feel-good moments in NASCAR history.
The juxtaposition between relief and happiness was unmistakable.
As the 37-year-old driver stood on stage alongside his crew chief Cole Pearn and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who is battling ovarian cancer, Truex wiped away tears in between public address, television and radio interviews — understandably caught up in the emotional triumph of hoisting his first Cup trophy, and the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.
And just behind them on another stage, his Furniture Row Racing team celebrated heartily — their arms in the air, shouting and cheering — so appreciative of the moment. A fan was invited to stand on the corner of the stage alongside the team members to hoist a homemade, blown-up head shot of team owner Barney Visser, who couldn’t travel to the race as he recovered from a heart attack and bypass surgery two weeks ago.
This little team that could … did.
Hailing all the way from humble Denver headquarters in a warehouse located in the industrial corner of the city — a setting far away and far different from NASCAR’s more traditional Southeastern corridor — these team members have operated in the ultimate racing anomaly. Their race shop is completely under the radar, but their accomplishments are regular front-page news.
And now, the result is the most cherished trophy in NASCAR.
“This means the world,” Truex said, emotional in the car as he circled the track to begin his formal celebration.
“I couldn’t even talk,” he said. “I was a wreck thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me. But the guys who mattered did — my fans, my family and then when I got with this team.
“They are unbelievable and they resurrected my career and made me a champion.”
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One of Truex’s best friends, retiring superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped on the champion’s stage to offer congratulations and snap a selfie in the moment.
“It’s so important to see him win this title,” Earnhardt said, grinning. “We’ve been friends for a long, long time. He’s just such a great guy. I am so proud of him. The sport needs drivers like Martin Truex Jr.
“And everything he’s went through as a driver and beyond that in his personal life, what Sherry has gone through. It’s just great. It’s just fun to watch and they are sort of the outsiders out in Denver beating all us boys in North Carolina. It’s impressive.
“I’m proud of Martin and can’t wait till his life slows down a bit and we can have a cold beer together.”
Visser was told he wasn’t allowed to watch the race Sunday out of caution for his heart health. And while FRR General Manager Joe Garrone texted him updates, there’s a “distinct possibility” — wink, wink — that Visser found a way to watch his team at least take the most important checkered flag in its eight-year history of full time Cup competition.
There was a definitive feel and general opinion among most that if any team deserved to win the championship this year, it was Truex. His title-earning win at Homestead-Miami Speedway was his series-best eighth victory of the year in an effort that included an impressive 19 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes in 36 races. Eight of his top-five finishes were either runner-up or third-place showings.
It was a career year for Truex and a transformational year for his unorthodox team that succeeds as much because of their shared underdog vibe, one that will undoubtedly be harder to pass off going forward now with a huge trophy on the shelf.
“Honestly, it’s just a lot of love on our team,” said Pearn, whose best friend passed away the week Truex won at Watkins Glen International. “We all believe in each other and believe if you live your lives right, good things will come. We’ve been together a long time and we battle like brothers. All I did the last few laps was think of my friend Jake and his family.
“It’s just unbelievable we’ve been able to do this. I’m still speechless about it. I just hope that what comes out of this are accolades for (what) an unbelievably good driver Martin is.”
Truex’s longtime girlfriend Pollex, who is undergoing chemotherapy right now for a recurrence of cancer, has been a philosophical source of calm and perspective.
“I told him that’s why you never give up, because these guys are so cool,” Pollex said. “That’s been our motto all along, ever since I started my cancer battle. We are never going to give up and we didn’t.”
And there’s a lot of great feelings and a huge trophy to show for it.