Sonoma, Calif. —The drought is over for Martin Truex, Jr., who stood in victory lane after Sunday’s Toyota-Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway breaking a 218 winless streak.
Truex led 51 laps in a dominant car and drove away from the field as the race laps ticked down—driving away with a 4.8 second lead with less than 15 laps remaining.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Truex from victory lane. “I have so many people to than for sticking with me.”
“I’m just proud of these guys for staying behind me and giving me racecars like this,” Truex added. “We’ve been close a lot and it feels damn good to get one finally.”
Truex had an eventful qualifying effort earlier in the weekend. Smoke poured from the No. 56 during the five-minute group session. The problem was an electrical fire related to the cool box, and because no engine change was required Truex was able to start 14th. Truex said the team was not certain what the race would hold but were just going to “play it by ear.”
“We knew our fuel mileage was good and we wanted to make sure we had some options in that department, especially,” Truex said. “The car was just awesome, what can I say?”
“Today was just our day, we’ve had a lot of races where it wasn’t our day and today was just our time,” added Truex. “The car was flawless.”
Jeff Gordon finished second, but the run was far from flawless. On lap 23 the call was made for Gordon to pit, but it wasn’t quite fast enough and pit road closed just as Gordon was entering. The result was a penalty that sent the No. 24 to the end of the longest line.
“We were on a three stop strategy and that’s why we were wanting to come in when we did,” Gordon said. “I hated it for Alan (Gustofson, crew chief) because that a call the crew chief makes, but I’m right there and I couldn’t turn away.”
“At the time I was thinking, ‘I don’t know who feels worse right now, me, or him,” said Gordon, who added that the strategy of the race was all over the place and was hard to predict.
Carl Edwards was another driver who commented on the strategy of the day. Edwards finished third after starting on the pole.
“Strategy changed a ton,” said Edwards. “I can’t keep track of exactly how we got to third.”
“I love this place,” Edwards added. “To come home third is a big deal for us.”
Kurt Busch had another car with circumstances that almost ruined the day. Busch battled back to a fourth finish after being a lap down following a pit road speeding penalty that led to a speeding penalty while serving the penalty
“We were fast, even on pit road, twice,” said Busch. “I messed up flat out.”
“I didn’t hit my tachometer right and I was speeding both times,” Busch added. “I just put myself in a position that was poor trying to get too much on pit road.”
Busch said the battle could have resulted in a second place finish, but a minor mistake kept the No. 78 in third.
“We would not have caught Truex,” said Busch.
Juan Pablo Montoya almost caught Truex, but ran out of gas on the final lap and dropped from second to 34th. Montoya called the situation “heartbreaking for me and everybody on the team.”
“When they (No. 42 team) do the fuel calculations they do them based on other runs and the others runs you’re stuck in traffic and you can’t run hard, and then you’re in clean air and they’re asking me to run as hard as I can and I’m doing that—of course you’re going to use more fuel,” said Montoya. “You should have been a little smarter and with five to go start saving a little just in case.”
“We have tools to prevent things like that from happening,” Montoya added.
Clint Bowyer finished fifth, and Kasey Kahne was sixth. Marcos Ambrose was seventh, Greg Biffle was eighth, Jimmie Johnson was ninth, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-10.
Johnson remains on top of the Sprint Cup points standings. Edwards is second (-35), Bowyer is third (-45), and Harvick is fourth(-63). Kenseth is 92 back in fifth, and Biffle and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., are both 94 points behind Johnson in sixth and seventh. Kyle Busch is eighth(-112), Brad Keselowski is ninth (-119) and Truex is 10th (-120). Kahne and Tony Stewart remain in the two wildcard positions.
Other news from the Toyota-Save Mart 350
It was a rough start to the race for race teams that had issues prior to leaving pit road. As cars were rolling off the grid onto the track to begin pace laps Paulie Harraka, making his Spring Cup Series debut, ran into the back of Alex Kennedy—who had checked up when David Reutimann stopped suddenly. The collision caused significant damage to the front of Harraka’s car, and Kennedy had cosmetic damage. The two were able to fix the damage and return to the track, but Harraka’s debut did not improve. On lap six Harraka spun and went nose first into the tire barrier bringing out the first full-course caution of the day.
Jacques Villeneuve was making a return to the Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma in the No. 51 car, but it was marred with issues. Before the pace laps the shifter stuck, and the car was on jack stands as the race began. Villeneuve was also in the pits with issues related to the car early in the race before retiring the car for the day.
Bobby Labonte had a rough start in Sonoma, as well. Labonte headed to the garage as pace laps circled the course as the start was delayed for rain. While in the garage the team changed out the radiator and oil cooler before the green flag waved, but it was a short lived day. On lap two the engine expired and Labonte pulled off the track and waited for a caution.