When you’ve gone 218 races without a victory, well, you have to mix it up a little if you want to win. And that’s exactly what Martin Truex Jr. did to capture Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway.
Truex, 32, a native of Mayetta, N.J., dominated the action on the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course, leading 51 of 110 laps to win over Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Truex’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, who won this race in 2012.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Truex said when asked to describe his feelings after the race. “… Two hundred and some races without a win. We’ve been close a lot, and it feels damn good to get one finally.”
Truex now has two victories in 277 career Sprint Cup starts. He became the ninth consecutive different winner on the Sonoma road course.
It was the first time Truex visited Victory Lane since June 2007, and the first this year for his Michael Waltrip Racing team.
Here’s how he did it:
Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch dominated early, but then it was the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas of Truex and Brian Vickers out front. At the halfway point, Truex led by 6.106 seconds, and it was clear that the race would be determined on strategy as much as pure speed.
Truex pitted from the lead on Lap 61. Then, two laps later, Danica Patrick spun out, bringing out a caution due to a flat tire.
This turned out to be the turning point of the race for Truex.
That yellow sent much of the field down pit road, but Truex didn’t have to stop and used the caution period to regain critical track position that he would use to dominate the remainder of the race.
“It worked out for us, for sure,” said Truex said of the strategy his team used. “We weren’t really sure going into the race.”
After the stops, polesitter Jamie McMurray was back out front, followed by Truex, Edwards, Jeff Burton and Kasey Kahne. McMurray had stayed out on old tires, which made it easy for Truex to take command on the restart.
Another caution on Lap 68 flew when Tony Stewart punted Denny Hamlin into the wall. This sent many of the leaders back down pit road, since they could go to the end of the race on fuel. That put Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. out front briefly.
Gordon went to the point on Lap 79, ducking under Logano in Turn 11, the preferred passing spot. Three laps later, Kyle Busch went off the road thanks to a shove from Edwards. That sent the track yellow again. This time, Gordon pitted, bringing other front-runners with him.
But 15 drivers stayed out, and Truex found himself in the lead once again when the race restarted on Lap 85. From there, Truex had an easy time of it, quickly stretching his lead to more than five seconds and crossing the line 8.133 seconds ahead of Gordon.