SONOMA, Calif. — Martin Truex Jr. had not won on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series for more than six years, and many of his road-course endeavors in recent seasons seemed to end in frustration.
That changed Sunday, as a nearly flawless Truex captured the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway to snap a 218-race winless streak that dated to his victory at Dover (Del.) on June 4, 2007.
“You can’t explain the feeling,” Truex said. “When it’s been that long and you worked so hard and you’ve been so close … you think at times, man, is this ever going to happen again? It’s pretty surreal. Unbelievable.”
Truex took the lead for good on Lap 83 after the final caution flag and slowly pulled away from the field, becoming the ninth different winner in the past nine Cup races at Sonoma Raceway.
Jeff Gordon was second, 8.1 seconds behind Truex, for his eighth straight top-10 finish on the 1.99-mile road course. Carl Edwards was third, matching his best finish at Sonoma from two years ago.
Juan Pablo Montoya was in second on the final lap, but his car ran out of fuel, and he finished 34th as his car barely made it over the finish line.
On a day that saw the first caution flag thrown for rain during a Sprint Cup event at Sonoma Raceway, Truex went the final 41 laps without a pit stop as two yellow flags helped him conserve fuel.
It is the second consecutive victory for Michael Waltrip Racing at Sonoma, after Clint Bowyer won in 2012. Truex’s best finish at Sonoma before this year was eighth place in 2011.
“We just have better cars than we had in the past,” Waltrip said of the back-to-back victories by his team, “Our engines were flawless this weekend.”
Truex’s victory bolstered his chances of earning a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Cup, as he entered Sunday 13th in the standings with six top-10 finishes and moved up to 10th.
“I do feel like, and I’ve felt like this for the last year and a half, if we could just get one, if we could get this first one out of the way as a team, that we could do a lot better job and we could win a lot of races,” Truex said, adding that crew chief Chad Johnston “has given me race cars that are just phenomenal so many times in the past two years, honestly we should have won six or seven races already.”
Truex qualified 14th but began picking up spots in the first 30 laps of the race. He was second after 40 laps and took the lead from Brad Keselowski on Lap 41, staying out front for the next 21 laps.
He was 10th one lap after his final pit stop, moved into fourth after 80 laps and took the lead from Gordon on the 83rd lap after a fortuitously timed pit stop. Truex led a combined 51 laps.
Gordon was ninth early in the race but had some bad luck when he decided to pit moments before the caution flag for rain came out on Lap 25. When the race resumed on Lap 30, Gordon was 37th.
“After Bowyer won here last year, it’s obvious that Michael Waltrip Racing has a really good road-racing program,” Gordon said. “I’ve raced with Martin here before, and he gets around here pretty good.
“They had a good strategy. What happened to me early, they had the exact opposite happen—they made the caution. That can make or break you.”
Truex felt good about racing in Sonoma, having finished in the top 15 on the 1.99-mile road course the past four seasons. But he was also aware of the perils the track can bring.
Two years ago, Truex was running in the top five before he was spun out. Last year, he was running in the top three late in the race but had a bad restart and dropped to eighth. He was spun out again and finished 22nd.
Sunday, it all came together.
“For me, it’s quite a relief, to be honest,” Truex said. “I don’t know what else to say. Just a special, special day for me. It was a lot of fun.”
Sprint Cup series points leader Jimmie Johnson finished ninth and has a 25-point lead over Edwards with 10 races left before the start of the Chase.