Just minutes after losing the Daytona 500 to Denny Hamlin by a mere four inches, Martin Truex Jr. was in a surprisingly upbeat mood.
Truex, who started Sunday’s race in a backup car after wrecking in his Can-Am Duel qualifying race, fell short of his first win in the sport’s biggest race by the narrowest margin of victory in Daytona 500 history — one one-hundredth of a second.
Yet somehow the Furniture Row Racing driver managed to smile and focus on the positives during his post-race news conference in the Daytona International Speedway media center. Considering what he’s dealt with off the track over the past two years with longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s fight with ovarian cancer, getting beat in such heartbreaking fashion in the Daytona 500 is a lot more manageable for Truex than it would have been earlier in his career.
"Two years ago I would have been sitting here with a sourpuss (look) on my face," Truex admitted to a room full of reporters. "Today was a great day. We all want to win. This is competition. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win.
"But I realize the position I’m in, the opportunities I’m going to have this year. I’m going to have a lot more opportunities to win races. I feel like we did everything right today to put ourselves in position to win."
Indeed he did.
Coming to the white flag, Truex was lined up second on the inside line behind race leader Matt Kenseth, a Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Hamlin’s. When Hamlin got a huge run down the backstretch on the final lap and jumped to Kenseth’s outside and then inside, Truex stayed on the gas.
As Kenseth’s car wiggled and lost momentum off Turn 4, it became a drag through the trio-oval between Truex and the Toyota of Hamlin — a de-facto teammate of Truex’s thanks to a new alliance this year between Furniture Row and JGR.
"The last lap, we were in great position behind Matt," Truex said. "Felt like if Matt would have stayed in front of us, maybe he would have probably held off Denny. He went up to try to block his run, Denny cut inside, made it three-wide. Just side drafted me off of Turn 4 all the way to the line. I felt like I had enough momentum to keep him behind me. I did all the way up until that last couple feet. He just shot out that last couple inches on me right before the line."
With Truex and Hamlin crossing the finish line so close together, did Truex think for a moment that he had won?
"I knew it was close," Truex said. "I knew it was really close. I didn’t think either way. I just said, ‘Damn, that was close.’ I mean, that was the only thing I could think of.
"Tried to look up at the big screen as you do. My spotter was going absolutely ballistic on the radio screaming. I couldn’t tell what the heck was going on. Did the best to beat him at the line, but just came up short."
Despite just missing out on the win, it was a terrific start to the year for the single-car team from Denver, Colorado, which switched from Chevrolet to Toyota during the off-season.
The finish also further validated how far the team has come, on the heels of a stellar 2015 season when Truex made the Championship 4 and won a race.
Like Truex, his team owner and boss, Barney Visser, took the narrow defeat in stride.
"We’ve got a lot of races yet," Visser told FOXSports.com, smiling. "We’re going to be fast all year. It’s going to be fun. I expect we’ll have a few more of those, and we’re going to win some this year."
Joe Garone, Furniture Row’s general manager, echoed that sentiment.
"We’ve got to be at work in the morning and get ready for Atlanta," he said. "All this does is build the fuel for the fire to work that much harder."
With a front-running team and girlfriend Sherry now healthy again, Truex likewise isn’t going to lose any sleep thinking about what might have been on Sunday.
"Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t," he said. "But I’m proud of what we did today. I’m just ecstatic to have the race team I have, to have my life going the way it is. I got it all right now and am having fun."