Martin Truex Jr. can laugh about his six-year winless drought, spanning 218 races, after he captured Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.
“Michael had 400 or some,’’ he said of team owner Michael Waltrip’s 462-race winless streak before his first victory. “I wasn’t even close.’’
When the laughter stopped, Truex revealed how much the drought has worn on him.
“It’s quite a relief, to be honest,’’ he said. “I don’t know what else to say. Just a special, special day.’’
Truex admits that he worried late in the race, even as his lead expanded, that something would happen. It has elsewhere since his first career Cup win in June 2007 at Dover. He worried that a late caution would bunch the field and take away his advantage.
In a race slowed by seven cautions, the event went the final 26 laps without one, allowing Truex to run away.
His fear didn’t go away.
“With two laps to go my engine sounded completely different,’’ said Truex, who climbed to 10th in the pits. “Different than it had all day.’’
Then he was told that Juan Pablo Montoya, running second, ran out of fuel before the final lap.
Truex had no such issues. When he crossed the finish line, he released a yell that had been held in for more than half a decade.
With Montoya running out of fuel and finishing 34th, Jeff Gordon took second. Carl Edwards placed third. Kurt Busch overcame two speeding penalties to finish fourth and Truex’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, was fifth. Sixth through 10th featured: Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
Truex, who led a race-high 51 of 110 laps, also delivered the first victory of the season for Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer won this race last year, giving MWR its first win of the season also.
That it was Truex winning might surprise some. His best finish at Sonoma before Sunday was eighth in 2011. That was the only time he had scored a top-10 finish at this track in seven previous starts. The record, though, was deceiving. Truex noted that how he’s often been wrecked at this track, costing him good runs.
“Today we didn’t get spun out,’’ Truex said. “We’ve been consistently very good at this track and today we were able to put it all together.’’
Unlike Montoya, who watched a top-five finish go away.
“You kidding me?’’ Montoya said on his radio after he ran out of fuel. “We would have saved fuel.’’
Others also didn’t have a good day.
Kyle Busch spun after contact from Montoya on lap 3 in turn 11, dropping Busch to the back of the field. His day got worse when he was caught for speeding on pit road on lap 34. He later spun off course and hit the tire barrier to bring out the caution on lap 82. He also spun off course on lap 88.
The race also was not without its conflicts. Denny Hamlin spun after contact with Tony Stewart. Hamlin got on his radio and asked his crew: “OK, who am I wrecking?’’
Stewart defended himself on his radio, telling his team: “They better not think we wrecked him because he can’t to the ... inside and shift lanes to the ... outside.’’
Hamlin said after the race he did shift lanes but still questioned Stewart’s move.
“We we’re trying to pass somebody that was on older tires,’’ said Hamlin, who finished 23rd. “I was going to pass him in the next corner and Tony was going to pass that guy also. I just passed (Stewart) and I didn’t understand why he was trying to make a move on me. It was frustrating.
“I said before the weekend starts, I get run over by (someone) every year. Tony was just the guy today. He didn’t do it on purpose. We were trying to pass somebody. That was it.’’
For as frustrated as Hamlin was, Truex was enjoying his moment.
“I’m not done winning,’’ Truex said. “Yes, it’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but there’s been days we were good enough to win it just didn’t happen.’’
Now that it did, what was he ready to do?
“I can’t wait,’’ he said, “to call my mom and dad.’’