Second-place Sprint Unlimited finish boosts Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. is introduced prior to the start of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona.

Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

The last year and a half has been full of disappointment and struggles for New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. — both on and off the track.

Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway, Truex finally had something to smile about.

Starting from the 10th spot, Truex looked strong in the draft and quickly made his way to the front of the field. Leading a race-high 30 laps, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet was second in the closing laps, but did not have enough help from behind to get around eventual race winner Matt Kenseth.

Despite the strong run, Truex was left wanting more.

"The race was over when Kenseth got by me for the lead," said Truex. "I knew it would be tough to pass him; he’s really, really good here. Apparently, he’s a little bit better blocker than I am.

"These guys really needed the shot in the arm. Just really proud of their efforts over the wintertime. I’m really excited about this year. Hopefully, this is something we can come out and do each and every week."

Over the past year and a half, Truex lost his sponsor NAPA and ride at Michael Waltrip Racing, after it was discovered the organization manipulated the final Chase cut-off race at Richmond International Raceway in 2013.

Moving to Furniture Row Racing for the 2014 season, Truex qualified on the outside of the front row for the season-opening Daytona 500. In that race, the team lost an engine after just 30 laps and finished 43rd in the field. The team struggled throughout much of the 2014 season, earning one top five and five top 10s, but also recording three DNFs and finishing 20th or worse in 17 races.

In addition to the struggles on the track, Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"Second sucks, but that is the most fun I have had in a race car in a long, long time," Truex said. "After the year we had last year and then everything that I have been through with Sherry and all, it feels good to come here and run like that. It felt really good."