For Martin Truex Jr., a welcome oasis called Sonoma Raceway at long last ended one of the longest droughts in NASCAR racing.
With a convincing victory in Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350, Truex ended a winless streak of 218 races dating to June 4, 2007 at Dover, where he finished 7,355 seconds ahead of runner-up Ryan Newman.
On Sunday at Sonoma, Truex beat second-place Jeff Gordon by and even bigger margin—8.133 seconds—as Juan Pablo Montoya dropped from the second position after running out of fuel on the next-to-last lap.
Truex set a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record for the largest number of races between a driver’s first and second victories. It was the second longest streak between any two Cup wins. When Bill Elliott triumphed at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2001, the victory snapped a winless streak of 226 races.
Carl Edwards ran third Sunday, followed by Kurt Busch, who rallied from consecutive pit road speeding penalties to score his fourth top five of the season. Clint Bowyer, last year’s winner, came home fifth.
"It was a good run. I felt like -- I still think we had the fastest car -- it's just that jinx, man,” said Bowyer. “That's where it's at – nine different winners. I was trying to be patient in traffic. I knew my strong point was long runs and we just never got that opportunity to showcase -- never got in the lead. I think if we could have got in the lead we would have been dangerous. Just wasn't our day. Another top-five. Another strong run for the boys."
Bowyer though, was happy for his teammate, Truex, who was emotional in Victory Lane.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Truex said. “I’ve got so many people to thank for sticking with me…We’ve had cars really fast all year long. We’ve had some tough luck, but that’s part of racing.”
Truex had finished second six times since his 2007 win.
“I’m just proud of these guys for sticking behind me and working hard and giving me race cars like this,” he said. “My pit crew’s really turned it on lately, and today was just our day. We’ve had a lot of days when it wasn’t our day, and today it was just our time.
“The car was flawless, and I tried to forget about what was behind me and focus on winning. We’re going to get a bunch of them now—I can tell you that much.”
Truex’s elation carried over into his post-race press conference.
“What streak?” he quipped and then was reminded of team owner Michael Waltrip’s 462-race winless streak before he got his first Cup win.
“I had about four years left in me then, didn’t I,” Truex joked.
Greg Biffle, series leader Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. Montoya, who was running second with two laps left, fell to 34th at the finish after running out of fuel.
Like Busch, Gordon also had to overcome a penalty to score his runner-up finish. Just before caution flew on Lap 24 because of rain, Gordon tried to duck onto pit road before it closed but missed the light by about a second.
Consequently, he had to restart at the back of the field on Lap 31 and spent the rest of the race—through hard driving and solid strategy—working his way to the front.
“We were trying to beat that caution and just missed it by a split second,” Gordon said. “Right as I committed to come to pit road, I saw the red light come up, and I knew that that was going to cost us a lot.
“But this team has been faced with a lot worse adversity than that. Luckily we had a fast race car and stayed with our pit strategy, and things went our way. There was a bunch of wrecks that happened right in front of me that I was able to avoid, and we just had a really good race car and were able to drive up through. That part was a lot of fun.”
Varying pit strategies scrambled the field after the cars of Kyle Busch and Edwards tangled on Lap 82 to cause the seventh caution of the race. Led by Truex, the top 15 cars stayed on the track, all close on fuel to finish the race.
Johnson restarted 16th on two new tires, while Joey Logano, Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a group that changed four tires under the yellow. The new tires made a difference, as Gordon, Kurt Busch and Bowyer all charged into the top five.
But staying out was a winning move for Truex, who built a five=second lead with 10 laps left and cruised to the drought-ending victory.
Notes: Edwards narrowed Johnson’s lead in the standings from 31 to 25 points… Involved in a couple of late-race incidents, Tony Stewart saw his recent momentum halted with a 28th-place finish. Stewart fell five spots to 15th in the standings… Truex moved up three positions to 10th in the standings, the last Chase-eligible position.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race - Toyota - Save Mart 350
Sunday, June 23, 2013
1. (14) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 110, $304250.
2. (10) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 110, $240451.
3. (3) Carl Edwards, Ford, 110, $192940.
4. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 110, $154860.
5. (5) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 110, $157548.
6. (15) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 110, $124915.
7. (2) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 110, $139679.
8. (4) Greg Biffle, Ford, 110, $118765.
9. (19) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 110, $145751.
10. (12) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 110, $143226.
11. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 110, $129413.
12. (26) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 110, $111155.
13. (34) Brian Vickers(i), Toyota, 110, $104455.
14. (16) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 110, $125646.
15. (30) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 110, $131563.
16. (21) Casey Mears, Ford, 110, $119463.
17. (33) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 110, $116788.
18. (24) Boris Said, Ford, 110, $106488.
19. (6) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 110, $131346.
20. (32) Aric Almirola, Ford, 110, $128866.
21. (18) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 110, $140221.
22. (25) Ron Fellows, Chevrolet, 110, $101188.
23. (17) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 110, $105505.
24. (29) David Gilliland, Ford, 110, $97902.
25. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 110, $126625.
26. (38) David Reutimann, Toyota, 110, $87105.
27. (37) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #, Ford, 110, $133391.
28. (11) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 110, $129805.
29. (31) Danica Patrick #, Chevrolet, 110, $85855.
30. (36) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 110, $86705.
31. (27) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 110, $90530.
32. (35) Josh Wise(i), Ford, 110, $82360.
33. (23) David Ragan, Ford, 110, $90250.
34. (13) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 110, $109329.
35. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 109, $127383.
36. (28) David Stremme, Toyota, 109, $81890.
37. (42) Victor Gonzalez Jr., Chevrolet, 109, $81752.
38. (41) Tomy Drissi, Toyota, 108, $76245.
39. (40) Paulie Harraka(i), Ford, 89, $72245.
40. (39) Alex Kennedy, Toyota, Accident, 30, $68245.
41. (22) Jacques Villeneuve, Chevrolet, Engine, 19, $72245.
42. (43) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Transmission, 7, $60245.
43. (20) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, Engine, 0, $69745.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun