The story of Martin Truex, Jr. has been one of the most compelling in the NASCAR garage area over the past few seasons. This driver has had the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and still has managed to maintain the hearts of this sports’ most die hard fan base.
Truex’s entire career is an incredible story, but the journey that led up to an emotional Victory Lane interview Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway following the Coca-Cola 600 truly began at the end of the 2013 season.
Truex, at the time, was with the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing in the final regular season race before the Chase began. Radio transmissions from his then teammates Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers led NASCAR (and many others) to believe that MWR had attempted to manipulate the outcome the race to benefit Truex and get him into the Chase. It worked, but because of the situation, Truex was stripped of his Chase position, despite the fact that, individually, he had done nothing wrong.
Truex understandably left MWR at the end of 2013, landing at the team he still calls home to this day: Furniture Row Racing.
However, at the time, this was essentially a demotion and Truex struggled mightily with the team in 2014. Truex led only one lap all season and finished in the top 10 just five times. He finished 24th in the final standings – the worst he has ever finished in the season-ending standings in any of his full-time seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, with an average finish of 20th.
Even worse, Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August, enduring surgeries, chemotherapy and various other treatments and symptoms as Truex was still trying to manage his own on-track struggles.
However, in 2015, Truex and FRR began to see results. He began leading laps, finishing in the top 10 and drawing attention to a single-car team – a rarity in the sport nowadays. The No. 78 team even had a four-race streak when they led 90-plus laps. One of those races was Pocono Raceway, where Truex and his team went to Victory Lane, giving Barney Visser his first win as an owner since Regan Smith won at Darlington Raceway in 2011.
Truex went on to make the Chase, compete in the championship race with the final four drivers left at the end of the Chase-style elimination format, finishing fourth in the final standings.
Additionally, Pollex began to show signs of improvement. She was at Truex’s Pocono victory and was feeling well enough to travel to many of the races throughout the 2015 season. Though she still had to have additional chemotherapy treatments, she was fighting back on a disease that had for a time left her bedridden.
Pollex recently completed 17 months of chemotherapy. Though she still fears a recurrence of the disease, she is doing many of the things she was doing before the diagnosis.
Now, people are looking at Truex and Pollex with inspiration, and the No. 78 team is no longer considered an underdog. In fact, with their new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2016 season, most Chase predictions included Truex, and some even went so far as to say that this team would win the championship.
Again, though, things don’t usually come easy for Truex. Much like in several races last season, Truex had shown a capability of winning but hadn’t been able to pull through. In fact, it was almost surprising that Truex “only” won one race in 2015. It was thought for sure that he would improve on that in 2016.
However, 12 races in, it still didn’t happen.
But it wasn’t because Truex wasn’t capable. He lost the season-opening Daytona 500 by a few inches. In Texas, he led a race-high 141 laps, but got beat on pit strategy at the very end of the race. In Kansas, he was dominant and arguably unbeatable, until a late-race pit road mishap forced them to come back to pit road under green. It was, of all things, a lug nut that became wedged into the wheel hub.
In Dover, Truex had a good car, but was behind Jimmie Johnson on a late-race restart. Johnson couldn’t get his car going and Truex couldn’t get slowed up in time, and the front of his car smashed into the rear of the No. 48 of Johnson’s car.
One dominant car after another, one loss after another. It seemed that no matter how good Truex was, he just couldn’t close the deal.
Enter Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Truex was once again expected to be strong. How could he not be? All of his JGR quasi-teammates had been to Victory Lane and Toyota had been the best manufacturer all season. And, again, considering Truex’s own personal performance, it was expected that he would get back to Victory Lane eventually.
And boy did he ever.
Truex won the pole for the season’s longest race, but that was only just the beginning. In a 400-lap race, Truex led 392 of them, which equates to 588 miles – the most miles led by any NASCAR driver in any NASCAR race ever.
And, this time, no lug nuts, no pit strategy, no driver – nothing – could stop the No. 78 team from going to victory lane.
It was the culmination of a long few years – both personally and professionally – for Truex.
“I had confidence,” Truex said. “I had faith. I had confidence in my team. I’ve got a lot of great people behind me. Sherry’s (Pollex, girlfriend) – she gives me a lot of inspiration and we just keep fighting. We never give up. We never quit. We always just keep digging and just proud of my guys for sticking behind me – the pit crew has come a long way.
“They did a great job tonight and hoping I’m not leaving anybody out – Sprint, the fans – thank you all – so many fans that support us the last couple of years with so many heartbreaks, so I really appreciate that and just had a lot of fun racing tonight.”
Truex was fighting back tears during his immediate post-race interview, and Pollex was crying on pit road and in Victory Lane as she watched Truex celebrate.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I keep telling him that he had to lose all those races and that God was building his character to win a big one and this was huge for us and our hometown and our family and for Johnny [Morris, Bass Pro Shops] and Barney [Visser, owner of Furniture Row Racing] and we’ve been through so much. This is just the icing on the cake. It’s awesome. It’s so cool.”
— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) May 30, 2016
Truex and Pollex both run a charity to help benefit pediatric cancer patients, including a yearly Catwalk for a Cause fashion event run by Pollex. That, coupled with Pollex’s own personal battle, has really helped put racing into perspective for Truex.
“Well, it’s real easy to — I kind of look at things a lot different than I used to,” Truex said in his post-race media availability. “I used to get mad when I didn’t win, and things didn’t go your way you’d say why me, and why does this keep happening? But after you go through something like that or you meet some of them kids that we have at Catwalk, it changes your outlook.
“You don’t say why me, and you realize that a good day at the racetrack or any day at the racetrack is a good day, and the bad days really aren’t so bad. I’ve learned a lot from Sherry, a lot from the kids we deal with, and just having a good time right now, enjoying what we’re doing, honestly.
“Whether we win, lose or draw, we put our best effort out there and we’re proud of what we’ve done, and I feel like we’ve got a lot to be proud of. We’ll just keep doing our thing and trying to win some more races.”
At the same time, Truex is thoroughly enjoying a level of success that he has never enjoyed before.
“I’d say this is definitely the best position I’ve ever been in in my Sprint Cup career by far, by a long shot,” Truex said. “The laps we led last year, making the final four of the Chase and having a shot at going home and say we win a championship, that’s almost as good as it gets, and now here we are doing the same thing and feel like we’re better in every department this year than we were last year in every area.
“I feel like our goal obviously was to get to victory lane. We did that. Now we can focus on hopefully getting a few more, getting a good seed in the Chase, and ultimately go back to Homestead with a shot at a championship and do a better job than we did last year, so that’s our goals, that’s our focus. “
Happy for my great friend @MartinTruex_Jr. Domination. It was only a matter of time for that group.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 30, 2016
The win was a popular one in NASCAR nation, and one that was a long time coming.
You have to think that Truex is going to at least double his winning numbers from last season, if not more. It seems unlikely that the team is going to quit leading laps now that it has gone to Victory Lane.
And maybe that’s a good thing. You won’t find anyone who says Truex doesn’t deserve it, can’t do it, or that it won’t be fun to watch. In fact, to see Truex’s story do a 180 from just a few years ago has been incredible, and, at this point, it doesn’t look like they will be stopping anytime soon.