Ready for the road: Martin Truex Jr. can't wait to get to Sonoma
The defending race winner of last year's race at the 1.99-mile road course in California's Wine Country returns with a new team and a renewed sense of optimism after a rough start to the 2014 season.
Martin Truex Jr.'s 2014 season has been plagued by wrecks, mechanical failures and all manner of misfortune.
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images North America
By Jared Turner
To say the least, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been a rollercoaster ride for Martin Truex Jr.
Actually, Truex's rollercoaster ride started long before 2014 -- last September at Richmond International Raceway.
It was after that race that Truex's now-former organization, Michael Waltrip Racing, found itself in hot water with NASCAR for attempting to manipulate the final outcome in an effort to ensure Truex a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Truex, as most folks will recall, was a victim in the whole fiasco, which will mostly be remembered for MWR driver Clint Bowyer deliberately spinning to bring out a caution in the closing laps. Bowyer's spin -- which to this day he's never publicly admitted was intentional -- ultimately jumbled up the finishing order and allowed Truex to make the Chase while Ryan Newman, who had been leading at the time of the caution, missed out.
NASCAR acted swiftly and decisively against MWR, however, by booting Truex out of the Chase and putting Newman (and, later, Jeff Gordon) in. The totality of these events convinced NAPA, Truex's primary sponsor and a longtime MWR backer, to move elsewhere in 2014, forcing MWR to essentially shutter Truex's No. 56 team.
Without a ride for 2014, Truex landed at Furniture Row Racing, which last season with Kurt Busch became the only single-car organization to make the Chase in the 10-year existence of NASCAR's playoff.
Despite high hopes to pick up right where Busch left off, Truex and the No. 78 team struggled out of the gate with a rash of mechanical failures and poor-handling cars that made for a rough first couple months of the season.
Truex has slowly started to deliver better results over the past month or so, however, and had posted back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time all year prior to an early wreck that left him 37th in last Sunday's race at Michigan.
But if there's any track on the schedule where Truex should be strong, and perhaps a threat to win, it's Sonoma Raceway -- site of Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 and a place where he's the Sprint Cup Series' most recent winner.
"Returning to Sonoma this year will be pretty special for me," Truex said. "Winning on the Sonoma road course race last year was a major highlight of my career. It will be nice to go to an event with the label as the defending champion."
Truex's victory one year ago at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course in northern California was his second career Sprint Cup win and snapped a 218-race drought dating back to his first career victory on June 4, 2007, at Dover International Speedway.
"We just need to start a new streak in Sonoma," said Truex, who hasn't been to back to Victory Lane since triumphing here last June. "We've had way too much bad luck so far, but we will keep plugging away and hope what goes around comes around."
Truex, who prior to the last Sonoma trip had never been noted for his road-course skills, qualified 14th, took the lead for good on Lap 83 of 110 and slowly pulled away from the field to become the ninth different winner in the past nine races at the winding circuit. Jeff Gordon, the driver whom Truex beat to the checkered, is the all-time Sonoma wins leader with five victories.
Truex is understandably eager for a return to the course located in California's scenic Wine Country.
"When it comes to winning, this is one race that has been circled on the schedule," Truex said. "However, there are so many excellent road course drivers right now and I am sure this race has also been circled on their calendars, as well. That's why Sonoma is a great race that takes place at one of the most beautiful settings on our schedule."
Adding to Truex's eagerness is the fact that the two-time Nationwide Series champion is driving for a team that finished fourth last year at Sonoma despite Busch being hit with two pit-road speeding penalties.
Truex also recently tested at the Virginia International Raceway road course in preparation for his Sonoma return.
"I guess when you combine these factors plus a successful recent test session at VIR, you can't help feeling optimistic," said Truex, who led 51 of 110 laps in last year's win.
Truex knows as well as anyone that leaving the tricky Sonoma course with the winner's hardware is no small task, however. Prior to his 2013 breakthrough, the New Jersey native had only posted one top-10 finish in seven Sonoma outings.
"You must have all of your ducks in order," Truex said. "It's not an easy course by any means, but if the car's setup is right, then you will have a shot at a victory. You have to be able to master all the turns there."