|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
SONOMA, Calif. -- When you go more than 200 consecutive races without winning, and everyone knows you're driving for a pretty good organization, rumors are inevitable about your future.
Martin Truex Jr. knows the drill. In NASCAR's top series, it's win or else.
Truex can stop worrying about that "or else" stuff for a while. His long winless streak ended Sunday in a road-course runaway.
At one point in the postrace interview, after back-to-back questions from reporters about this victory showing what he could do and ending rumors on his future, Truex got choked up.
"It's been difficult," he said. "There were days when I said, 'This sucks.' I owe so many people thanks. When I crossed the line, I thought, 'Wow, I finally did it for all these people who have helped me.' The feeling was surreal."
|It had been six years since Martin Truex Jr. last uncorked a celebration after a Sprint Cup race.|
He won it at the end without drama. Who would have thought Sonoma would have more wildness before the green flag and early in the race than it did in the final laps?
Two drivers -- Paulie Harraka and Alex Kennedy -- wrecked on pit road heading for the track after the call to start engines. Bobby Labonte and Jacques Villeneuve had mechanical issues before the flag waved.
Juan Pablo Montoya punted Kyle Busch six laps into the race, one of two times Kyle would get the chrome horn.
Big brother Kurt Busch had a car capable of winning, but got caught speeding on pit road twice. And the second one happened when he came in to serve his pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road.
Jeff Gordon, who finished second, also might have won it if not for his own pit-road penalty, entering pit road too soon when a caution flag flew.
Crazy things always happen on this wine-country road course. Sunday's show was playing out toward another wild ending, but Truex ruined that scenario.
The final restart came with 25 laps to go, usually a recipe for insanity at this track, but Truex stepped on the gas and took off. He was long gone. No one was going to catch the No. 56 Toyota this time. No one came close.
The only drama at the end was seeing whether Montoya's car, which ran out of fuel on the last lap, would coast across the finish line. It did, barely, actually stopping on the line as he climbed out.
Truex already was heading to Victory Lane. He finished 8.1s second ahead of Gordon. A late caution, also typical at Sonoma, didn't happen. Truex's ending his 218-race winless streak in this fashion was like a guy hitting two grand slams after going six years without a homer.
"I can't even put it into words,'' Truex said. "There are so many people who have stuck with me. Today was our day, finally."
Sunday was the second Sprint Cup win of Truex's career. The first came at Dover in June 2007. Six long years. And he was racing in his fourth season at Michael Waltrip Racing without a victory until Sunday.
MWR rarely was good enough for anyone to win there when Truex arrived. That changed in 2012 when Waltrip made major changes to the organization, including the addition of Clint Bowyer as a driver, Mark Martin as a part-time driver and team leader, and Scott Miller as MWR's vice president of competition.
Bowyer finished second in the Chase last year. Truex also made the Chase for the second time in his career and the first time at MWR, but he didn't win a race.
He did come close. Truex was gaining a reputation as Cup's No. 1 runner-up. He had finished second six times since his 2007 victory, including earlier this year at Texas when he led 142 laps.
"We've been so close," Truex said. "We've had really fast cars all year long and had some tough luck. So it feels damn good to finally get one."
This was the first Cup victory for Chad Johnston, who became Truex's crew chief two years ago.
"Chad has come so far as a crew chief," Truex said. "And my pit crew has really turned it on lately. Countless times they deserved to win the race, and for whatever reason, it just didn't happen. It's quite a relief to be honest, just a special day."
Sunday was two in a row now at Sonoma for MWR. Bowyer earned his first road-course victory here last season.
But this was a far bigger victory for Truex. Bowyer's job wasn't on the line. Maybe Truex's job wasn't either, but a ton of people thought it was.
Waltrip says it just ain't true.
"I believe in this man," Waltrip said, looking at Truex. "He can drive a car as good as anybody on the track. And Chad called a perfect race today. It's fun to see these two guys mature. I think they can do special things over the next few years."
Apparently, so did NAPA Auto Parts. It's one of the few companies in the sport today that sponsors a Cup team for the entire season.
"They've stood behind me all the way and have been such huge supporters," Truex said. "They deserve this.
"But for me, it wasn't an 'I told you so' to anyone out there. That's not why I do what I do. I do it because I love it. And I knew we were going to win."
The next race is Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, which just so happen to be Truex's 33rd birthday.
"That's kinda cool," Truex said. "Another win Saturday would be nice. Honestly, I feel like we're just starting to come into our own. There is no limit to what we can do."