Monday, November 20, 2017

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."  .



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