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Truex makes long-awaited return to victory lane

It's been more than six years since he claimed his first and to date only NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, but on Sunday Martin Truex rediscovered the way to victory lane at Sonoma.
Only one man in NASCAR Sprint Cup history - Bill Elliott - has gone longer between wins than Martin Truex Jr. No one has ever had a 218 winless streak between their first and second wins in the season. So you'd have to forgive Martin Truex Jr. for being absolutely ecstatic at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday after clinching victory in this weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350 race.

"When I first crossed the line I just was screaming. I don't even know what I was saying on the radio. No idea," he admitted afterwards. "You can't explain the feeling. When it's been that long and you worked so hard and you've been so close and so many things have just - when you think at times, man, is this ever going to happen again, it's just - you can't explain the feeling. It's pretty surreal. Unbelievable."

It's not that Truex hasn't come close to winning many times in the last six years, just that something - everything from bad luck to enemy action - has always acted to deprive him of the win at the very end. Even this week at Sonoma it could have ended very differently, as the example of Juan Pablo Montoya demonstrated. But for once - for the first time in a very long time - the stars aligned in Truex's favour and the 32-year-old from New Jersey was first across the line in Sears Point.

It had been a very odd start to the race, not least thanks to unusually cool and showery weather for this time of the year in the usually perpetually sunny golden state of California. That, together with the usual unfamiliar 'road course ringers' in the field meant for an unusually eventful lead-in to the race, with four cars hitting problems getting out of pit lane.

First there was former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, making his return to Cup racing this weekend with the Phoenix Racing team but immediately finding that the gear shift in the #51 was broken. That forced him back onto pit road for repairs, but the fix didn't last last long and soon after the restart he was back in again, this time to retire. Bobby Labonte was also reporting problems with the #47 JTG Daugherty Racing car. A quick look under the hood fixed an initial problem that had spilled oil all over pit road, but once the race started the engine failed and Labonte was forced to pull over to an unused part of the 2-mile, 12-turn permanent road course and park the car.

"It blew up, dude," Labonte told the team over the radio. "Something in the bottom engine because it had no oil pressure."

The most bizarre incident occurred as the line of cars was coming off pit road, when Paulie Harraka in the #52 Go Green Racing Ford got it completely wrong and rammed hard into the back of Alex Kennedy in the #19 Humphrey Smith Racing machine who had been forced to check up behind David Reutimann as the cars got backed up. The collision did extensive damage to the front of Harraka's car in what was the 23-year-old Drive for Diversity program's Cup d├ębut; the team got the car repaired but he spun off at turn 1 five laps into the race and after further repairs was unable to maintain sufficient pace on the track.

After all that it was a relief to get the race started, with road course specialist Marcos Ambrose immediately moving up a spot to depose pole man Jamie McMurray through the first turns. Initially it seemed as through everyone was taking the opening laps cautiously until the rain shower finished its business, but soon it was business as normal with David Ragan spun at the turn 11 hairpin by contact from David Stremme, and a few minutes later a charging Juan Pablo Montoya overbaked his run into the same corner and wheel-hopped the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing #42 car into the side of Kyle Busch who was spun out of ninth place by the contact.

Dropped to the back of the field, Busch tried adopting a Plan B pit strategy to compensate, but another spin after a tap from Carl Edwards followed by self-inflicted injuries (speeding on pit lane and a solo spin after putting his left hand tyres off onto the dirt at the Essess) meant that it was very much going to be his day today as he ended up in 35th place by the finish.

Kurt Busch might not be thought of as a road course specialist, but he's nonetheless a former race winner at Sonoma (in 2011) and looked very much on the pace again this year for Furniture Row Racing. Having started from seventh on the grid, he was soon challenging Ambrose for the lead and on lap 18 the #78 duly slipped past the Richard Petty Motorsport car to claim the honours. He was still out on front on lap 25 when a more significant burst of rain passed over the circuit and forced a six-lap yellow flag (as the Sprint Cup series doesn't have wet weather tyres, even for road course events.)




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Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, leads Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 CESSNA Chevrolet, leads the field alongside Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, during the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
A general view of cars racing during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, poses with his team before his last race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane with team owner Dale Earnhardt jr. after winning the series championship during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Jeld-Wen/Menards Toyota, and Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, burn out as Crafton celebrates winning the series championship and Wallace celebrates winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 ToyotaCare Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, who is not in the Championship Four final phase of the Chase, qualified for 2nd position Friday, November 14, 2014 for Sunday`s final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. He will be joined on the front row by Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS who won the Pole position. Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, who is not in the Championship Four final phase of the Chase, won the pole position Friday, November 14, 2014 for Sunday`s final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. He will be joined by Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS on the front row. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ParkerStore Chevrolet, poses with the Keystone Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Fastenal Ford, climbs out of his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 7, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finished in 2nd place Sunday, November 9, 2014 in the final Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Gordon just missed out being in the Championship 4 finale next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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