SONOMA, Calif. – The post-race party was a blur after Martin Truex Jr.’s first win in 2007. The celebratory cool-down lap, the burnouts, the drive to Victory Lane all happened so fast.
So he planned to savor every minute of his next win.
He just didn’t think it would take 6 years.
Truex snapped a 218-race winless streak Sunday with an easy victory on the road course at Sonoma Raceway. It was only the second win of Truex’s career, but it put Michael Waltrip Racing in Victory Lane for the second year in a row after Clint Bowyer won here last season.
“I was a freaking mess. It was terrible,” Truex said. “I had to stop and start doing donuts because I couldn’t think about what I was doing. I tried to key the radio once, and I couldn’t even talk.”
Truex blew out his rear tires, tried to wave to every single fan he saw, and took a slow drive around the picturesque road course on his way to Victory Lane, where the MWR crew was waiting to drink from the winner’s enormous wine glass.
“I told them on the radio, if they’re waiting on me, too bad. I’m taking my time,” he said. “You can’t explain the feeling. When it’s been that long and you worked so hard and you’ve been so close ... when you think at times, ‘Man, is this ever going to happen again?’ You can’t explain the feeling. It’s pretty surreal.”
Truex worked his way to the front and used strategy to stay with the leaders. He then pulled away after the final restart and built a healthy lead of more than 6 seconds over Juan Pablo Montoya, who was running second until he ran out of gas on the final lap.
Montoya, who came into the weekend knowing if he didn’t win he would at least have a huge points day, dropped all the way to 34th after having to coast to the finish. He took a shortcut to skip the final turn, drifted to the finish line and parked. He then walked back to the garage, annoyed his Chip Ganassi Racing team never told him to save fuel.
“We’ve got tools to prevent things like that from happening,” Montoya said.
Jeff Gordon finished second a week after he was wrecked six laps into the race at Michigan, but felt like he might have had a chance to win if he had not already committed to pit seconds before a caution came out early in the race.
“I mean, I really do think we had a shot winning this race. We had a tremendous car,” Gordon said. “I knew we were screwed. There was nothing I could do; I was hard on the brakes, fully committed. I couldn’t turn away from it, I just knew we had to eat it and go on, and that’s what we did.”
The race got off to an inauspicious start before it even began with a pit road accident, a mechanical issue for Jacques Villeneuve and an oil line failure for Bobby Labonte.
The accident occurred as the cars were headed onto the track and David Reutimann stopped his car on pit road. Alex Kennedy stopped behind Reutimann, and Paulie Harraka slammed into the back of Kennedy.
The damage wasn’t significant enough to prevent Harraka from making his Sprint Cup Series debut. But it was a short-lived race for the first driver to advance from NASCAR’s diversity program into a Cup race – Harraka spun and crashed his car six laps later.
Meanwhile, a parts failure caused Labonte to dump oil all over pit road before the race and he was forced to take his car to the garage for a quick repair. Labonte made it onto the track for the green flag, but his engine failed on the first lap.
“It blew up, dude,” Labonte said on his radio. “Something in the bottom engine because it had no oil pressure.”