How long is a 218-race winless streak in NASCAR?
Try this for some perspective: President Barack Obama had not yet been elected for his first four-year term the last time Martin Truex Jr. won a Cup race.
That drought was put to an emphatic end Sunday as Truex dominated late and held off Jeff Gordon to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
The win is just the second of Truex’s Cup career and first since June 4, 2007, at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The 218-race gap between his first and second win is the longest for a driver in the series.
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While Truex has come close many times, particularly since joining Michael Waltrip Racing during 2010, even he was a little lost for words after taking the checkered flag.
“I tried to cue the radio once and I couldn’t even talk,” Truex said of his reaction immediately after the race. “I was a mess. Seriously, it was terrible.
“I had to stop and start doing doughnuts (on the track) because I couldn’t think about what I was doing. I calmed down a little bit and I just wanted to make sure I took my time coming back because I remember at Dover it all happens way too fast.
“You never know when you’re going to get that opportunity again.”
It has been a long road for Truex back to Victory Lane, but not because of his lack of performance. He finished second six times during his winless streak and led the most laps in many others.
Already this season, Truex had rebounded from a rough start to the season to crawl back into the top 10 in series standings.
Although a pair of bad finishes at Dover and Pocono (Pa.) set him back to 17th, he finished third last weekend at Michigan and was 13th in points coming into Sunday. The win pushed back into 10th.
“Honestly, we have had some very, very tough breaks and things have happened. We really could have won three or four races in the past year-and-a-half if things had just played out differently,” Truex said.
“That’s the way it goes. And today it played out in our favor, and I was just glad that it happened finally. Those days when you do everything right and you don’t win it’s really frustrating.”
Carl Edwards finished third, Kurt Busch was fourth and Truex’s teammate at MWR, Clint Bowyer, was fifth. Points leader Jimmie Johnson was ninth.
Juan Pablo Montoya, whose car was fast all weekend, was running second late in the race but it ran out of fuel on the last lap and he finished 34th.
Truex’s weekend appeared to start badly Friday when an electrical fire started in his No. 56 Toyota just after his qualifying lap. His team had to completely rewire his car Friday night, but it was no worse for wear in the race.
Even unexpectedly cool and overcast conditions couldn’t dampen the day for Truex or crew chief Chad Johnston.
“We knew what our trouble areas were and we knew we made some adjustments after Friday to try to fix those, but we were kind of smoked out so we really didn’t know what we had during qualifying,” Johnston said.
“Martin did a good job of making the lap that he did even though there was smoke billowing out of it. We just made the normal adjustments and tried to anticipate it the best we could.”
Having topped off his fuel tank for gas, Truex was one of 15 cars not to pit and moved into the lead when a caution came out on Lap 83. He led the final 28 laps.
“I’m just so proud today that I’m able to put Chad and all my guys in Victory Lane because they work so hard and they do such a great job and there have been countless times where they deserved to win the race and for some reason it just didn’t happen,” Truex said.
“That’s the biggest thing about today, just proud to get all those folks into Victory Lane. Obviously for me it’s just – you know, it’s quite a relief to be honest.
“I don’t know what else to say – just a special, special day for me.”