LAS VEGAS — For too long in his career in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Martin Truex Jr. was known as a hard-luck racer.
Between his first career win in the spring race at Dover in 2007 and his second at Pocono in 2015, Truex made a total of 218 starts and finished in the top five 24 times – but never won.
That included several spoiled runs when it looked as if he would get to Victory Lane.
So you’ll have to excuse Truex if he makes no apologies for the way it went down over the final two laps in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Truex, who had won the first two stages of the race and ultimately would lead a race-high 150 of 267 laps, thought he was cooked after his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota developed track-bar problems and Brad Keselowski sailed past him for the lead with 24 to go.
When Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford also beat him out of the pits and then on the ensuing final restart with 10 laps remaining, he was certain of it.
“That run right before the last caution was the longest we’d gone on tires all day, and my track bar quit working,” Truex said. “I couldn’t adjust it anymore, and I just started to struggle honestly toward the end of that run. (Keselowski) was still digging pretty good and honestly just drove by us.
“I really felt like the race was over at that point, especially after the last pit stop. He beat us out, took off and beat us on the restart. I thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to run second’ — which is still a good day, but you always want to win.”
Win he did when, with two laps to go, Keselowski’s car developed problems of its own.
Suddenly, Keselowski started slowing. Truex and several others rushed past the struggling No. 2, which ultimately would finish fifth.
Give Truex credit: he was in position to take advantage. And even though he’s now won a total of six races in the last two seasons plus three outings in this one, he figures he’s still owed some by Lady Luck.
What better place to collect than in the gambling capital of America, Las Vegas?
“We got a little bit lucky with him having an issue and got the win,” Truex said. “But honestly, I’ve been on the other side of those things plenty of times, so it definitely feels good to take advantage of somebody else’s issue for once and go to Victory Lane.”
Truex didn’t even care in the least that the first win of his career at Vegas was overshadowed by a post-race pit-road altercation between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Hey, this town is known for putting on some pretty good fights, too, and this one, at least by NASCAR’s standards, did not disappoint.
“I didn’t see anything,” Truex said. “I heard about it a little bit, that there was a little bit of a fight that broke out. I honestly have no idea on the details, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it and see it on Twitter when I get my phone and I’m able to read about it on the way home tonight.
“Who was fighting anyway? Kyle and Joey? Who won?”
Who won? Truex won.
He won the race, and that really was what mattered the most on Sunday.