24 June 2013
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 début; 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.)
Martin Truex Jr.
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