Martin Truex Jr. Outraces Busch to Capture NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Nov 20, 2017
Source: Furniture Row Racing Martin Truex Jr. celebrates after capturing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19.

In late September while celebrating his foundation’s 10th anniversary amid family and friends at Sea Oaks Country Club in Little Egg Harbor, Martin Truex Jr. said being on the cusp of a possible Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship still felt as if it were a dream.

“I can’t even imagine what that will be like if it happens,” Truex Jr. said on Sept. 27, several weeks after he clinched the regular-season points title and two races into the playoffs. “It’ll be crazy, that’s for sure.”

On Nov. 19 in the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the dream came true, as the Stafford Township native and Southern Regional High School graduate not only captured his eighth victory of the season, but also snagged his first Cup Series championship along with it, holding off Kyle Busch during the final laps and winning by .681 seconds.

“I told my guys we were going to dig deeper than we ever have today, and with 20 to go I thought I was done – they were all better than me on the long run all day long,” Truex said in Victory Lane following the race. “I just found a way. I found a lane that I could use, and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air, that they couldn’t use it, and just made it happen.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve wanted this since I was a little kid and ... just never give up. Just never give up on your dreams, no matter what happens and what kind of crap you go through. This is unbelievable – a dream come true.”

After a restart on lap 234 of 267, Busch slipped into the fourth position and needed just nine laps to pass Joey Logano. Seven laps later, Busch sped past fellow championship contender Kevin Harvick into second and seemed to have Truex on his radar. Busch rapidly closed the gap, but Truex managed to maintain a lead, which had shrunk to as little as two car lengths.

However, Busch never could pull alongside or pass Truex, who inched away during the last four laps. Heading into the final lap, Truex had a half-second lead on Busch as he raced toward the checkered flag. Kyle Larson finished third, while Harvick, whom Larson passed on lap 252, crossed the finish line in fourth.

Even before his celebratory burnout and victory lap, Truex was wiping tears from his eyes. This season has been an emotional roller coaster for the 37-year-old driver, whose longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has been battling ovarian cancer.

“A lot of it was for her,” said a teary-eyed Truex. “A lot of it was for me. A lot of it was for this team – I don’t even know what to say. We just never gave up all day long. We didn’t have the best car. I don’t know how we won that thing. Never give up. Dig deep.

“I’m just really thankful and really grateful.”

The victory was Truex’s first at Homestead and 15th of his career, but for most of this season he was the top driver in the series. The win was his seventh on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways. He also had the No. 78 Toyota out front for 78 laps, pushing his season total to a career-best 2,253 laps led. Truex’s dream season included an impressive 19 top-five in 36 races. Eight of his top-five finishes were either runner-up or third-place showings.

Of note, the race also marked the end of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He and Truex are close friends, and after Earnhardt drove up alongside Truex during his victory lap to give him a friendly bump, Junior later crashed the stage where Truex and Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn hoisted the huge championship trophy.

“It’s so important to see him win this title,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been friends for a long, long time. He’s just such a great guy. I am so proud of him. The sport needs drivers like Martin Truex Jr.”

During the post-race press conference, Truex said he wouldn’t be where he is today without Earnhardt.

“Dale gave me my opportunity to move to North Carolina, to race cars for a living,” he said. “My path, surely, would have been different. There’s a lot of things that would be different if it weren’t for Dale. The friend he’s been over the years – the mentor he’s been to me over the years – it’s been amazing. He’s always been there, no matter what I needed. I love him like a brother.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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