Monday morning NASCAR recap: Truex scores emotional Sonoma win

Robert Laberge

After six long years and 218 races, Martin Truex Jr. finally returned to Victory Lane. And that he did so with Michael Waltrip made the triumph all the more special.

If there is anyone who knows what not winning does to a driver's psyche, it would be Michael Waltrip, who took 15 full seasons and a NASCAR record 462 races before finally breaking through to claim his maiden victory.

So as Waltrip, now semi-retired and the co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, watched his driver, Martin Truex Jr., slog through a six-year winless streak that spanned 218 races, he could relate to what he was experiencing.

But never once did Waltrip waver in his support of Truex, who he signed in 2009 to replace himself as the driver of the Napa sponsored Toyota.

He remained steadfast as Truex's first three seasons at MWR were unfulfilling, as the organization struggled through growing pains as it attempted to lay the foundation for a team that didn't begin competing fulltime until 2007.

Success finally came last season when MWR saw both Truex and Clint Bowyer qualify for the Chase. It was Truex's first playoff appearance since 2007 -- the year he recorded his first and, until Sunday, only Sprint Cup victory.

That success, however, had limitations. As Bowyer won three times and finished second in points, Truex continued to cement his reputation as NASCAR's perpetual bridesmaid.

Since winning at Dover six years ago, Truex has posted six runner-up finishes, including three in last 14 months. The continued near-misses made some question whether he lacked the requisite fortitude to be a consistent winner at the Cup level.

On Sunday, Truex silenced his skeptics and validated the faith of his boss with a resounding victory on the 12-turn road course at Sonoma Raceway.

"I believe in this man," Waltrip said. "He can drive a car as good as anybody on the track.

"This was a special moment that happened today. When I leaned in the car to congratulate Martin, he had just come onto pit road, and I leaned in and there were tears in his eyes, and you could feel the elation and the joy and the relief."

Because of the numerous close calls over the years, it's understandable why Truex began to doubt whether he would win again. Too often in the last six years, something would occur to keep him out of the winner's circle.

As a result, a sense of inevitable doom had fostered.

"It's difficult," Truex said. "There's been days when I was like, this sucks. This isn't any fun anymore."

The sense of foreboding crept up in the Northern California wine country as Truex built up a substantial lead.

As the laps clicked by and he seemed on his way back to the winner's circle, his mind began playing tricks on him. He thought his engine was making funny noises and then, with one lap to go, maybe he was running out of gas.

This time, though, there was no heartbreak. The disappointment was replaced with euphoria.

"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 and when you think at times, ‘Man, is this ever going to happen again,' it's just -- you can't explain the feeling.

"It's pretty surreal. Unbelievable."

If anyone can relate, it would be Waltrip, who knows these emotions all too well.

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