Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fast Facts: 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Robert Yates

Davey Allison (l) with team owner Robert Yates
credit: ISC Archives via Getty Images
It will be a bittersweet celebration of a racing career for the family of 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Robert Yates this weekend, as the long-time team owner and engine builder passed away in Oct. 2017, just a few months shy of the induction ceremony. Yates and fellow 2018 inductees Ray Evernham, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr. will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Here are the Fast Facts on this Cup Series championship team owner.
  • James Robert Yates was born April 19, 1943 in Charlotte, NC, one of nine children along with his twin brother, Richard. He lived with his sister’s family in Wake Forest as a teenager, graduating from high school there in 1961 as a straight-A student; he graduated from Wilson Technical College in 1964 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
  • Yates’ association with Ford dates back to 1967, when he landed a job with Holman-Moody; he later moved to positions with Junior Johnson and DiGard Racing. He jumped into team ownership after purchasing Ranier-Lundy Racing, which he had worked for, and formed Robert Yates Racing with Davey Allison as the driver.
  • Yates was rewarded with a Cup Series championship in 1999 with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel of the No. 88. Yates retired from team ownership following the 2007 season (son Doug took over the reins of the team), but stayed in racing as part of Yates Racing Engines (now Roush Yates Engines).
  • In addition to his Hall of Fame induction, Yates was given the Bill France Award of Excellence in 2000 and the Buddy Shuman Award for Lifetime Achievement in NASCAR in 2007. He was named on 94-percent of the ballots on Hall of Fame Voting Day in May 2017.
  • Yates was diagnosed with liver cancer in Aug. 2016 and began treatment in November of that year; he passed away from the disease on Oct. 2, 2017.
  • Find out more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its inductees at www.nascarhall.com


Monday, January 15, 2018

Travel Tips: NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Fan Appreciation Day – Jan. 19-20, 2018

credit: NASCAR Media
This weekend, the NASCAR Hall of Fame – located at 400 East Martin Luther King Blvd. in Charlotte, NC – will bring the sport’s legends, heroes and up-and-coming stars together with fans as part of its 2018 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Fan Appreciation Day. Hall of Fame activities begin on Friday, Jan. 19 with the Induction Ceremony, followed by NASCAR Fan Appreciation Day at the Hall on Saturday, Jan. 20.

Schedule for the weekend (all times ET):

Friday, Jan. 19
  • 8 p.m. – NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center
Select tickets are still available for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – click here for more information.

Saturday, Jan. 20 –

Visit the Hall of Fame for free from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and celebrate Fan Appreciation Day with your favorite NASCAR drivers.

High Octane Theater question-and-answer sessions (tickets not required) –
  • 9:00 a.m. – Paul Menard, Cole Custer, Justin Haley
  • 10:00 a.m. – Kyle Larson, Matt Tifft, Noah Gragson
  • 11:00 a.m. – William Byron, Elliott Sadler, Michael Annett, Vinnie Miller
  • 12:00 p.m. – Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Spencer Gallagher, Cody Coughlin
  • 1:30 p.m. – Ryan Blaney, Ryan Reed, John Hunter Nemechek
  • 2:30 p.m. – Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Dalton Sargeant
  • 3:30 p.m. – Corey LaJoie, Tyler Reddick, Joey Gase
NASCAR Next driver question-and-answer sessions (tickets not required) –
  • 10:20 a.m. – Harrison Burton, Hailie Deegan, Chase Purdy, Zane Smith
  • 11:20 a.m. – Chase Cabre, Todd Gilliland, Riley Herbst, Cayden Lapcevich, Ty Majeski
NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 question-and-answer sessions (tickets not required) –
  • 10:40 a.m. – Ron Hornaday Jr., Ray Evernham, Ken Squier
There will also be a number of autograph sessions with the aforementioned drivers and personalities – tickets are required for many of these sessions, and some are sold out. Tickets are still available for a few of the sessions – click here to see the driver autograph session schedule and to find out which sessions are available.

Find out more about the Hall of Fame and the Induction Ceremony at www.nascarhall.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fast Facts: 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Ron Hornaday Jr.

credit: Getty Images/Todd Warshaw
2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ron Hornaday Jr. got his big break from the late Dale Earnhardt and went on to become a multi-time NASCAR champ. Hornaday and fellow 2018 inductees Ray Evernham, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Robert Yates will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Here are the Fast Facts on the four-time Camping World Truck Series champ.
  • Ronald Lee Hornaday Jr. was born June 20, 1958 in Palmdale, CA. He is the son of two-time NASCAR Winston West champion Ron Hornaday Sr. and the father of former NASCAR participant Ron “Ronnie” Hornaday III.
  • Hornaday started out racing go-karts and motorcycles; he moved up to stock cars in his late teens. In 1992, he raced in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest  Series, winning both the Most Popular Driver award and the series championship, which he also won in 1993. In 1994, Hornaday participated in the ESPN Networks’ then-popular Winter Heat Series at Tucson (AZ) Raceway Park, where his aggressive style of driving impressed his future team owner Earnhardt.
  • Hornaday signed on to drive the Dale Earnhardt Inc. entry in the Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series in 1995; in the inaugural season, he won six times and finished third in points. In 1996, Hornaday won the first of his four Truck Series titles, a feat he repeated in 1998. In between his first two titles, he was named the Truck Series’ Most Popular Driver in 1997.
  • From 2000-2004, Hornaday competed in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series and Cup Series for various teams including DEI, AJ Foyt Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing; he also ran a few Truck Series races during that time. Hornaday was named the Busch Series’ Most Popular Driver in 2000.
  • In 2005, Hornaday signed with Kevin Harvick Inc. for a Truck Series return; he regained his top-tier status in the series quickly, winning at Atlanta, finishing fifth in points and earning his second Most Popular Driver Award in the series. In 2007 and 2009, Hornaday won his third and fourth Truck Series titles, the first four-time champ in the series. In 2009, he also joined the short list of drivers to win five NASCAR events in a row – the others on the list: legends Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
  • Hornaday continued competing in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series through 2014, and in 2015 qualified for his first Cup Series race since 2003 at Atlanta in March – it ended up being his final NASCAR start.
  • Find out more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its inductees at www.nascarhall.com


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fast Facts: 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Red Byron

2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Red Byron
credit: ISC Archives via Getty Images
2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Red Byron claimed a number of “firsts” in his short driving career. Byron and fellow 2018 inductees Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Squier and Robert Yates will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Here are the Fast Facts on NASCAR’s first champion.
  • Robert Byron was born March 12, 1915 in Boulder, CO, but moved to Anniston, AL at an early age. He began racing in 1932, racing sprint cars and midgets early on before earning his first stock car win in 1941. Byron then stepped away from racing for five years as he served in World War II for the U.S. Army Air Forces.
  • A war-time injury to his left leg did not deter Byron from returning to the track after his service. Byron drove with a special brace, winning his first time out in 1946 at Seminole Speedway in Florida, then joined NASCAR’s Modified Series in 1948 with Raymond Park as team owner; he won the Modified championship that year – the first NASCAR sanctioning body championship.
  • In 1949, Byron competed in NASCAR’s new Strictly Stock Series (currently the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series), winning the inaugural Daytona Beach road course race and the series’ first-ever championship. Byron raced just three seasons in Strictly Stock, winning twice and earning nine top 10s in 15 starts.
  • Following the 1951 season, Byron focused on sports car racing behind the scenes, as an owner, car developer and team manager. He passed away in Nov. 1960 of a heart attack.
  • In addition to his upcoming NASCAR Hall of Fame induction, Byron was selected to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1966, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2008 and was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
  • Find out more about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its inductees at www.nascarhall.com.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fast Facts: 2017 Camping World Truck Series Champion Christopher Bell

2017 Truck Series championship owner Kyle Busch with
championship driver Christopher Bell
credit: NASCAR Media
In a relatively short career, Christopher Bell has already put together an impressive resume of championships, including his most recent: 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. Learn more about this dirt-track-racing-ace-turned-NASCAR-champ in this week’s championship edition of Fast Facts.
  • Christopher Bell was born Dec. 16, 1994 in Norman, OK. He started racing micro-sprint cars in 2011, winning the 66 Mike Phillips Memorial. In 2012, he finished second in the Short Track Nationals at I-30 Speedway before joining Keith Kunz Racing in 2013, replacing another talented young sprint car driver, Kyle Larson, as well as CH Motorsports in sprint cars; Bell won the 2013 USAC National Midget Championship.
  • In 2014, Bell moved into asphalt Super Late Models with Kyle Busch Motorsports, raced Quarter Midgets and competed in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series; he also picked up a win in the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Perris Auto Speedway in California.
  • Bell made his NASCAR debut in 2015, racing the K&N Pro Series West. In June, he made his Truck Series debut at Iowa with KBM, finishing fifth. In his third Truck Series race with the team, he picked up the checkered flag at Eldora, a track he raced sprint cars at the previous weekend.
  • In 2016, Bell raced in the Truck Series full-time with KBM, finishing third in points and earning a win at Gateway Motorsports Park. Bell began the 2017 season with a win in the famed Chili Bowl Nationals indoor midget car race in January, then added his first NASCAR championship in November, thanks to five wins on the season for KBM. Later in the month, he returned to his roots to pick up another win in the Turkey Night Grand Prix.
  • In 2018, Bell will compete full-time in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20. Bell made his Xfinity Series debut in 2017, finishing fourth in his first race at Charlotte in May and winning at Kansas in October in his fifth career start in the series.
  • Learn more about Christopher Bell on his Facebook page. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fast Facts: 2017 Xfinity Series Champion William Byron

2017 Xfinity Series champion William Byron
credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
Former NASCAR Next member William Byron can add another milestone to his resume: 2017 Xfinity Series champion. Learn more about the new driver of the No. 24 Chevy in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in this week’s championship edition of Fast Facts.
  • William Byron II was born Nov. 27, 1997 in Charlotte, NC. He was a NASCAR fan as a youngster, and, after he spent some time on online motorsports racing simulator iRacing, was able to convince his father to take the next step – into a real race car.
  • Byron and his father visited the U.S. Legends headquarters in Harrisburg, NC in summer 2012, and by fall of that year, purchased a Legends car to race in 2013. That year, Byron competed in 69 races in the U.S. Legends Young Lion Division, earning 33 wins, 64 total top 10 finishes and the national championship; he also won the Thursday Thunder Young Lions Championship at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Young Lions All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • In 2014, Byron signed with JR Motorsports’ Late Model program, then drove full-time in the K&N Pro Series East for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks in 2015, winning the series championship on the strength of four wins and three poles.
  • In 2016, Byron moved up to the Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, finishing fifth in points with seven wins – the most ever by a rookie in the series. In August of that year, it was announced he would drive for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2017; he went on to win four times and earn the series championship.
  • In August of 2017, Byron was announced as Kasey Kahne’s replacement at Hendrick Motorsports for the 2018 season, but would be the new driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, as Chase Elliott makes the move to the No. 9.
  • Learn more about Byron at his website, www.williambyron.com


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dear Dale Junior

credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
By Lacy Page


Dear Dale Junior,

For 17 years you raced, and for 17 years we saw the No. 8 or No. 88 on the track. I remember the first time I came across you; you had that bleached-blonde hair I didn’t like and for a while, I didn’t think much about you. I was just a kid myself and it was your dad who was my hero and favorite driver.

When your dad died, I quit NASCAR. I didn’t feel like I could ever enjoy the sport or like it ever again. It wasn’t until 2007 that I came back, thanks to you. 

In 2007, when I was 14, my dad died. I was lost and just empty. I felt alone and sad. You may never know just how much finding this sport again and being your fan saved me. You knew what losing a father felt like, and I could relate to you. For that, Junior, I thank you. I thank you for making Sundays great again. I thank you for bringing a 14-year-old girl happiness and joy again in a time where she was lost and confused. You saved my life all those years ago.

When you announced you were retiring I was sad again, and angry at you. Angry, because now what? Where do I go from here? Who do I root for? Do I even want a new driver?

Sad, because you were retiring and leaving the sport. No more Earnhardt, no more No. 88 for me. Sad because you brought so much life and so much happiness to a lot of people. Who could ever replace you?

I’m not over it, to be truthful; I’ve still got a lot of mixed emotions with you retiring. I was excited to share this sport with my new husband  - I couldn’t stop telling him all about you, why you were my favorite. Now I don’t know how to explain this amazing sport to him.

Watching your last race Sunday, all the specials that NBC showed pulled at me in so many different ways. The one great adventure about being a Junior fan was always the smile on your face, it didn’t matter if you had good or bad days you always had that smile. You were always there for your fans and always looking forward to the next race. You always made me, as a fan, feel that if I put my mind to something I could do it no matter if I failed, keep at it.

In my opinion, you made this sport what it is for a generation of fans. "Junior Nation proud" has always been our motto. There will never be another driver like you.

Thank you for all the memories, for all the lessons we learned from you. Thank you for being the driver I needed. Thank you for this amazing ride, for the heartbreaks, and for all the victories.

Sincerely,

A Junior Fan For Life

-Lacy


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fast Facts: 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex Jr.

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ
Martin Truex Jr.
credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing, is living the dream as the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ. Learn more about this New Jersey native in this week’s championship edition of Fast Facts.
  • Martin Lee Truex Jr. was born June 29, 1980 in Trenton, NJ and grew up in Mayetta, NJ in the Stafford Township. His father was a former race winner in the Busch Grand National North Series (now the K&N Pro Series East) who also owned a seafood business in Mayetta. Truex Jr.’s younger brother Ryan is a two-time K&N Pro Series East champ who currently races in the Camping World Truck Series for Hattori Racing Enterprises.
  • Truex Jr. started racing go-karts at age 11, then progressed to Modifieds at age 18 at the famed Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey. In 2000, Truex Jr. moved up to the Busch North Series, winning five races in four seasons with his family-owned team. In 2003, he was approached by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who at the time operated Chance 2 Motorsports in cooperation with Dale Earnhardt Inc.; Truex Jr. competed in 10 Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) races that season – six for Chance 2/DEI, three for the family team and one for Stanton Barrett – before going full-time with Chance 2 in 2004. In 2004, Truex Jr. won six times and captured seven poles on his way to his first Busch Series title, then matched that in 2005 with another title, six more wins and three poles.
  • In 2006, Truex Jr. moved up to the Nextel Cup (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup) Series full-time with DEI after having made nine starts in 2004 and 2005 for the team. He earned his first career win at Dover International Speedway and made the Chase for the Cup for the first time.
  • In 2010, Truex Jr. left Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (formerly DEI) to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, where he raced until the end of the 2013 season. For the 2014 season, he joined Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78, and in 2015 snapped a 69-race winless streak with a popular victory at Pocono Raceway; he went on to finish fourth in points that year.
  • In 2016, Truex Jr. earned four wins, 17 top 10 finishes and five poles, once again qualifying for the Chase, but a blown engine early in the day at Talladega in October knocked him out of the hunt for the championship. He made up for it in 2017, winning eight times, collecting 26 top 10s and three poles, and winning the “regular season” championship along with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.
  • In 2007, Truex Jr. and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, created the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, which works to support underfunded cancer initiatives specific to ovarian and childhood cancers, and assist the individuals and families affected by them. In 2014, Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and has since shared her story and others at www.sherrystrong.org.
  • Find out more about Truex Jr. at www.shopmartintruexjr.com, and learn more about his foundation at www.martintruexjrfoundation.org


Monday, November 20, 2017

Dear Matt Kenseth: An Open Letter to a Champion



Dear Matt,

Yesterday, I sat in the stands and watched you cross the start/finish line for what may very well be your last time in NASCAR's premier series. I cried. I wish I could have heard you thank the team, and everyone involved in your career over the scanner, but I know I wouldn't have been able to see through the tears.

The funny thing is, I still couldn't see through them. I cried a few times. I didn't need a scanner to convey to me what I knew you'd be saying to the team.

As I stood for the anthem and looked up and down pit row, I saw legions of people surrounding the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., then looked to your pit stall. (You know you're easy to find on pit road, right? Just look for one of three spaces: the first stall on pit-in, the last one before the entrance to the garage, or if you have the pole, the last spot before pit-out.) The faithful stood by you, just as we always have. Kenseth Nation is still very much alive, and we plan on being there forever.

You got a raw deal.

There's no other way to say it. How is it that a championship-winning driver who's still very competitive gets pushed out of the sport he's dedicated his whole life to, while a young driver with not-nearly-enough experience gets to take over a high-profile ride? How is it that no car owner has room, and no marketing team can secure you sponsors?

Your talents are not limited to one type of track. You drive the car from the back to the front in record time because, as you've said in the past, you're just not great at qualifying. You accumulated so many points in 2003 that NASCAR had to reformat the way the Championship was won. You have two Daytona 500 wins under your belt, and 37 other wins to go along with them. You're kind, humble and a leader in the garage.

NASCAR will never be the same.

I know three drivers walked away tonight, but you deserved more accolades than you received. That's your nature though. You're never one to want the spotlight, never one to want the parades and showers of gifts. You came to race. You wanted to the focus to remain on racing until there was nothing left to race for but that one last win, which you claimed in Phoenix. Would you have wanted a tribute video? Probably not. Did you deserve a tribute video? Yes.

I came into NASCAR as a Jr. fan, but came upon a documentary called "Matt Kenseth: Beyond the Glory," on my local Fox Sports affiliate about 13 years ago. I was really into racing, so I watched it, and was fascinated by your drive to succeed, while remaining a shy, humble guy from Cambridge, Wisc. I listened to the story of how you and your father came to an agreement on the purchase of your first car, and how you worked on it all the time, and then late model after late model, just trying to make a name for yourself. A notice from Mark Martin and driving for Robbie Reiser made your jump to the next level possible, and DeWalt came along for the ride (but not before their VP of Marketing took a spill onto the floor of Robbie Reiser's office after his chair broke). Thank you, DeWalt for taking this journey.

Kids want to be race car drivers because they saw Matt Kenseth: a guy who never gives up, no matter how his day is going, and a guy who races everyone clean, and (usually) gets the same respect in return. "The incident" has been beaten to death, but you stood your ground, because you had been wronged. That day, you were the bat.

I can't tell you how awkward it will be not seeing you in a car next season. My heart hurts for you. But, as I wrote in an old blog right after you announced that you'd be leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, I picture you taking Katie's hand, surrounded by your girls, and walking off into the sunset. Life awaits you, a new baby awaits you. Normalcy awaits you. 

But maybe you weren't ready to be normal.

I know I wasn't ready.

Thank you for making me a passionate fan. Thank you for giving me hope, inspiration and the knowledge that anything is possible, if it's what you want.

NASCAR may not know what they'll be missing without your leadership and guidance on the track next year, but I know, and it speaks volumes.

#ThanksKenseth

Sincerely,
Stephanie Stuart Landrey
--------------------

Winner Took All - Martin Truex Jr.'s Victory at Homestead Nets MENCS Championship

credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
by Lisa Janine Cloud

Sometimes nice guys do finish first.

Martin Truex Jr., widely acknowledged as one of the nicest guys in NASCAR, held off a relentless Kyle Busch to win both the Ford Ecoboost 400 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The win was his eighth in a season in which he more than doubled his career total, and finished in the top 10 in 26 of 36 races, 19 of those in the top five. He more than earned the respect he'd been seeking for several years.

Championship contender Kevin Harvick finished fourth behind Kyle Larson, who was eliminated from playoff contention going into the Round of 8. Chase Elliott came home fifth, one of the 10 top-12 finishers who were in the original 16 playoff contenders.

Truex became one of just 32 drivers to hold the title of Cup Champion and the first to win under Monster Energy’s reign. He’ll be able to bookend the trophy with a pair of Busch Series championships, one of only five drivers to also win both a Cup championship and what’s now the Xfinity Series championship. Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski each scored one championship in the lower-tier series.

Larson led the most laps with 145 and won the first two stages, but as the sun went down, the No. 78 team found a way to get their car out front when it counted. Truex and Busch traded the lead over the final 100-plus laps of the race, with Truex leading, appropriately enough, 78 laps total.

credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
“You know, all day long, we didn't have the car where we needed it, to be honest with you. You know, we were probably third best out of the four for the most part for a while, and just kept clawing and scratching. I just kept trying to get everything I could out of it and giving them the info, giving Cole and the guys the info that I needed, the adjustments I needed, what I needed the car to do different [sic]. We really weren't making a lot of ground on it. I felt like we just missed it a little bit. But we stayed positive,” Truex explained.

“We kept working, and Cole had some pit strategy, got us the lead, and then once he got me the lead, I was like, okay, now it's all up to me now. There's no one in the world that I want to let down less than them. I was like, I can't ‑‑ I've got to hold the lead no matter what happens. This is it. This is my opportunity. They gave me the lead, and I've got to find a way to get it done.”

The challenges Truex and the team have faced, both personally and professionally, gave them the experience they needed to get in position and gave Truex the reserves on which to draw when the championship was on the line.

“I found a way to ‑‑ I just found a line that worked for my car with 20 laps to go that I couldn't find all day long. I had searched for it all day, could never find it, then all of a sudden with 20 to go, I found it. Not only did it help my car but it hurt Kyle's car, the 18. He got to second, and when he did, he was three, four tenths faster than I was before I found the line, and that was the difference.” Truex said.

“Just found it when I needed it. The timing was right, and we made it happen.”
credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran his last race as a full-time Cup driver Sunday, visited his former DEI teammate in Victory Lane. Truex gave Earnhardt a great deal of credit for his success.

"Dale gave me my opportunity to move to North Carolina, to race cars for a living. You know, I wouldn't be here today without him. My path would surely be different. I wouldn't have won two XFINITY championships right out of the gate. There's a lot of things that would be different if it wasn't for Dale, and just the friend he's been over the years, the mentor that he's been to me over the years, it's been amazing."

Sunday's victory overwhelmed Truex, who as recently as the end of the 2013 season wasn’t sure he’d race again. He only had two career wins in eight full-time seasons at that point and had lived through some of the sport’s murkiest days. At the AAA Texas 500 in November 2013, he announced his deal with Furniture Row Racing and began the climb to the championship.

In 2014, his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, his biggest cheerleader, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, making that season a rough one indeed.

“I don't know how to explain it other than I was surrounded by a lot of good people. That's all I can tell you,” Truex said. “You know, that Sunday night [in 2013] when I found out after Richmond that NAPA was leaving, that I was losing my sponsor and that my contract would be gone, I truly didn't know if I would ever race competitively in the Cup Series again. I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance at winning. Hell, I didn't even know if I'd have a chance of driving, period. So Sherry said, 'Don't worry, it's going to be fine, things happen for a reason.' I was like, yeah, whatever, you're damned crazy.”

“But that's true ‑‑ truer words have never been spoken. That's how it was,” he said.

“A few days later, I heard from Joe Garone from Furniture Row Racing, said, 'Hey, we think Kurt is leaving, we're going to blah blah blah blah blah.' You know, from those days until now, I don't know. I mean, I've always thought about it the same way. I love to race cars. I knew it was a privilege to race cars. I always gave it all I had no matter what, and I loved going to the track and working with a team to try to get somewhere. But this year definitely felt different. I feel like before we ever started this year, we knew we had this in us because we talked about it. We were like, 'Let's go get that championship; we can do it.'”

Pollex reinforced that attitude. She told NBC post-race, "We always say, if you can fight a struggle with a positive attitude and just have a smile on your face and find the good and the silver lining in everything, in the end you'll come out, and karma will pay you back and good things will happen to you."  .