HOMESTEAD, Florida — Local NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. now has two items to add to his trophy case.
He earned a gigantic award Sunday by winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn held the 68-pound trophy aloft in front of a roaring crowd after the 37-year-old took the checkered flag at the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Truex, who grew up in Stafford Township, will also be putting a special rabbit’s foot in the case.
Long-time friend Darrell Gwynn, a former world-class drag racer, gave it to him on Saturday.
“When he gave it to me, he said, ‘If it works for you, keep it, if it doesn’t, give it back.’ Well, that son of a (gun) worked. So sorry Darrell, you ain’t getting it back.”
The charm had brought Gwynn, now 56, a lot of good luck.
He was a drag racing star in the 1980s, competing with the likes of legends Don “Big Daddy” Garlits and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney. He always had the rabbit’s foot in his pocket.
His career ended in 1990. During an exhibition race in England, a part on his dragster broke, causing him to veer into a retaining wall at 240 miles per hour. The accident left him paralyzed and he lost his left arm.
He had forgotten the rabbit’s foot.
Until Saturday, it had sat untouched in his trophy case for 27 years.
“That rabbit’s foot means a lot to me,” Gwynn said Sunday night. “But I wanted Martin to have it. He had been running well all year, but sometimes you need a little luck along the way. I thought that if helps him even a little bit, then it’s worth it.”
The victory was the culmination of an amazing season for Truex, a 1998 Southern Regional High School graduate, and his teammates at Furniture Row Racing, a Denver-based team.
Pearn, the pit crew and other members all joined him in victory lane after he earned his eighth victory of the season — the most wins in the series since Carl Edwards won nine races in 2008 — and later joined him at his motor home to continue the celebration.
The only person missing was Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser. He suffered a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery a few weeks ago and was not permitted to travel.
He also wasn’t supposed to watch the race on TV, but apparently snuck a peak or two.
“It was a bit nerve-racking, but he did see at least part of the race,” team president Joe Garone said. “It really was incredible to watch.”
Truex admittedly didn’t have the best car on Sunday. Kyle Busch, another member of the “Championship 4” with Truex, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, had dominated for much of the 267-lap race.
Meanwhile, Truex, Pearn and car chief Blake Harris worked feverishly to find a way to stay in contention.
“Martin didn’t have the best car by any means,” Pearn said. “The team always gets a lot of credit, but that was one of the best drives I’ve ever seen. He found a way.”
Whatever Truex was searching for, he found it with 20 laps to go.
With Busch charging up the track, Truex suddenly discovered the speed that had been missing for the previous two and a half hours.
“We just kept clawing and scratching and trying to get everything I could out of the car,” Truex said. “Once I got the lead, I was like, ‘OK, it’s up to me now. This is it. This is my opportunity. I had to find a way to get (the victory).”
After that checkered flag greeted him, Truex broke down.
He began to cry while doing the celebratory burnout and was still in tears when his father, Martin Truex Sr., longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. and dozens of others mobbed him.
“I was definitely overwhelmed at the end,” he said. “I was bawling like a little kid and I don’t even know why. All the things I’ve been through, all the people that helped me down this path, that sacrificed things to get me here. All those things flashed through my head.”
After a raucous ceremony, Truex headed to the media center.
Just before he went in, he spied a pile of pizzas, reached into a box, and grabbed a piece.
“I needed a slice,” he said with a laugh. “I was starving. I hadn’t eaten since noon.”
A half hour later, he was headed back to his motor home, back to the celebration with family and friends.
He still had the rabbit’s foot in his pocket.
Truex said he’s not particularly superstitious. The only lucky charms he possesses are in his breakfast cereal. He doesn’t have any special pre-race rituals.
But he admitted that some other forces may have played a role in his special win.
For instance, Truex drives the No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing.
He led Sunday’s race for 78 laps.
“Seventy-eight laps?” he said. “Hallelujah. I guess there’s something to be said for luck and fate and being a good person.”