Truex ends drought with Sprint Cup win in Sonoma

Published: Monday, Jun. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 24, 2013 - 6:33 am

SONOMA – On a stormy Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. found his silver lining.

Dodging raindrops as well as fenders, Truex managed to survive a bumpy afternoon and win the 25th annual Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Breaking a six-year drought, Truex captured only the second victory of his Sprint Cup career.

"I can't even put it into words," Truex said. "It feels damn good to get one – finally."

His No. 56 Toyota's fuel was down to fumes in the final laps, but Truex held off Mr. Sonoma, Jeff Gordon. The five-time Sonoma champion ended up second, 8.133 seconds behind Truex.

By the time Truex circled back to Victory Lane, tears filled his eyes.

"I was a frigging mess," he said, the tears replaced by a smile. "Seriously, it was terrible. I had to stop and start doing donuts because I couldn't think about what I was doing. I couldn't even talk. … You never know when you'll get that opportunity again."

Truex gave Michael Waltrip Racing back-to-back Sonoma victories. Clint Bowyer won for Team Waltrip in 2012. Truex set a NASCAR record for the longest gap between first and second victories – 218 races.

"After Bowyer won last year, it's obvious Michael Waltrip Racing has put together a really good road-racing program," Gordon said. "I'm not surprised. They had a good strategy."

In Truex's decade-long Cup career, his only prior victory in 277 starts was at the 2007 Autism Speaks 400 in Dover, Del. He continues a streak of seven consecutive first-time Sonoma winners.

Now an owner, Waltrip could appreciate epic losing streaks; as a driver, he lost 463 Cup races before winning the 2001 Daytona 500.

That also was the race in which teammate and car owner Dale Earnhardt was killed.

Truex's victory brought back thoughts of that day, Waltrip said. "I built my team with Dale in mind. He lives with me.

"I had a special moment (Sunday) when I got to lean into Martin (inside his car window) and see him crying over winning because that's how important this thing we do is," Waltrip added. "It took me back to 2001."

Sponsor NAPA was last in the winner's circle in 2003, Waltrip noted.

"They've been with me since 2001 when I drove for Dale. You talk about Martin breaking a losing streak; NAPA broke one bigger than that."

An estimated crowd of 93,000 witnessed one of the more unusual editions of Northern California's premier NASCAR race. Rain bought out yellow flags on the track and umbrellas in the stands but did not stop the 110-lap race on Sonoma's 1.99-mile road course. Instead, it slowed the action with seven caution periods for 19 laps plus frequent spinouts and other incidents.

"I've never raced at Sonoma when it's been overcast and cool; it's usually hot and slick," said Chad Johnston, Truex's crew chief. "It was hot and slick during practice Friday, so I really didn't know what was going to happen."

Truex, who started 14th, also had to overcome an electrical fire in his car during Saturday's qualifying.

"He did a good job of making the lap even though there was smoke billowing out of (the car)," said Johnston. "We just made adjustments and tried to anticipate (more changes) as best we could."

With drops on the windshields, the cars stayed on the track – including a seven-lap caution during a steady drizzle.

"I thought it was pretty neat when it was raining," driver Carl Edwards said. "The curbs were really slick, but the track retained its grip even though it was damp."

Exhausted, Edwards finished third – the same place he qualified in the No. 99 Ford.

"It feels weird to race hard all day and end up in the spot where you started," he said. "It was a pretty dynamic race."

With Truex leading 51 laps, the race saw eight leaders and 10 lead changes. Pole sitter Jamie McMurray, caught up in one of many spinouts on the slippery track, finished 25th.

Truex's Sonoma victory also was an early birthday gift; he turns 33 on Saturday.

"Celebrate? We'll think of something," Truex said. "But I'm kind of out of practice."

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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