SONOMA, Calif. — The post-race party was a blur after Martin Truex Jr.'s first win in 2007. The celebratory cool-down lap, the burnouts, the drive to victory lane all happened so fast.
So he planned to savor every minute of his next win.
He just didn’t think it would take six years.
Truex snapped a 218-race winless streak Sunday with an easy victory on the road course at Sonoma Raceway. It was only the second win of Truex’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career — the first was in Dover, Del., in June 2007 — but it put the team for which he drives, Michael Waltrip Racing, in victory lane for the second year in a row after Clint Bowyer won here last season.
Overwhelmed with emotion as he crossed the finish line on the road course, Truex made the celebration count.
“I was a freaking mess. It was terrible,” he said. “I had to stop and start doing donuts because I couldn’t think about what I was doing. I tried to key the radio once and I couldn’t even talk. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to do some donuts and wave to the fans.' But after I stopped the first time and did that, I calmed down a little bit and I just wanted to make sure I took my time coming back because I remember at Dover it all happens way too fast. You never know when you’re going to get that opportunity again.”
Truex blew out his rear tires, tried to wave to every single fan he saw, and took a slow drive around the picturesque road course on his way to victory lane, where the MWR crew was waiting to drink from the winner’s enormous wine glass.
He had six second-place finishes, including some heart-breakers, since that 2007 win at Dover.
“I told them on the radio, if they’re waiting on me, too bad. I’m taking my time,” he said. “You can’t explain the feeling. When it’s been that long and you worked so hard and you’ve been so close ... when you think at times, ‘Man, is this ever going to happen again?' You can’t explain the feeling. It’s pretty surreal.”
Truex worked his way to the front and used strategy to stay with the leaders. He then pulled away after the final restart and built a healthy lead of more than six seconds over Juan Pablo Montoya, who was running second until he ran out of gas on the final lap.
“I’m ecstatic. But I’m not exactly sure how that happened,” said Truex, who admitted he wasn’t pleased with his car following Friday’s practices. He started 14th Sunday.
“The car was just phenomenal all day long and once I was near the front and didn’t have to run the car 110 percent, it just would stay with me on the long runs and I was able to drive away from everyone.”
Montoya, who came into the weekend knowing if he didn’t win he would at least have a huge points day, dropped all the way to 34th after having to coast to the finish. He took a shortcut to skip the final turn, drifted to the finish line and parked. He then walked back to the garage, annoyed his Chip Ganassi Racing team never told him to save fuel.
“We’ve got tools to prevent things like that from happening,” Montoya said.
“I don’t know if all the fuel didn’t go,” Montoya said. “This is what we’ve been doing all year. We all work together and we’re all trying to do the best we can. Half the reason we’re 20-something in points — we’re not 20-something in points because we’re not running fast. We’re 20-something in points because we had a lot of mechanical problems and days like this we throw them away.”
Crew chief Chris Heroy was perplexed about the shortage.
“We don’t know what happened — we were on the same strategy as (Truex),” Heroy said through a team spokeswoman. “We’re going to go back to the shop and figure it out.”
Montoya got little sympathy from Kyle Busch, who was spun by Montoya early in the race when Montoya drove too deep into a corner and wheel-hopped over a curb.
“Awww. My heart melts for @jpmontoya who ran out of gas,” Busch tweeted moments after the race.
Jeff Gordon finished second a week after he was wrecked six laps into the race at Michigan, but he said he felt like he might have had a chance to win if he had not already committed to pit seconds before a caution came out early in the race.
“I mean, I really do think we had a shot winning this race. We had a tremendous car,” Gordon said. “I knew we were screwed. There was nothing I could do; I was hard on the brakes, fully committed. I couldn’t turn away from it, I just knew we had to eat it and go on, and that’s what we did.”
Carl Edwards was third, followed by Kurt Busch, who climbed back from a pair of speeding penalties.
“Yeah, we were fast, even on pit road. Twice,” Busch laughed. “I messed-up, flat-out. I didn’t hit my tachometer right and I was speeding both times. It was one of those where I’m like, how does that happen? I just put myself in a position that was poor trying to get too much on pit road.”
Bowyer wound up fifth in a strong day for the MWR Toyotas.
Kasey Kahne was sixth and followed by Marcos Ambrose, who was extremely disappointed he didn’t win a race in which he was heavily favored.
“It’s OK. We got a top-10 out of it,” Ambrose said. “I wanted to win. Of course I wanted to win, but that’s the way it goes.”
Greg Biffle was eighth and followed by Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick in the top 10.
The race got off to an inauspicious start before it even began with a pit road accident, a mechanical issue for Jacques Villeneuve and an oil line failure for Bobby Labonte.
The accident occurred as the cars were headed onto the track and David Reutimann stopped his car on pit road. Alex Kennedy stopped behind Reutimann, and Paulie Harraka slammed into the back of Kennedy.
The damage wasn’t significant enough to prevent Harraka from making his Sprint Cup Series debut. But it was a short-lived race for the first driver to advance from NASCAR’s diversity program into a Cup race — Harraka spun and crashed his car six laps later.
Meanwhile, a parts failure caused Labonte to dump oil all over pit road before the race and he was forced to take his car to the garage for a quick repair. Labonte made it onto the track for the green flag, but his engine failed on the first lap.
“It blew up, dude,” Labonte said on his radio. “Something in the bottom engine because it had no oil pressure.”
Villeneuve had an issue shifting his gears and had to stay on pit road for a quick repair before trying to catch up to the field at the start of the race. He made it, but the problem wasn’t completely corrected and he was back on pit road after 19 laps for more repairs.
Busch had back-to-back speeding penalties in yet another race that slipped away. He led 15 laps, lost the lead to former teammate Brad Keselowski, then was flagged for speeding when he went in for a scheduled pit stop. He had to return to pit road for a stop-and-go penalty and was flagged for speeding again.
It dropped Busch to 38th in the running order, from where he had to climb back to steal his strong finish.
His brother also had his share of problems. Kyle Busch was spun early in the race by Montoya to lose a ton of track position, then gave up everything he made up when he was caught speeding on pit road. He also spun at least two more times during the race.
Danica Patrick, thought to be a contender based on her strong runs in Nationwide Series road races, struggled all weekend to find speed and was done in by a flat rear tire just past the halfway point. The tire issue caused her to spin into a barrier and make multiple pit stops for repairs.
“It was a long day, a long weekend,” Patrick said. “We just couldn’t get the car to the point where I was comfortable with it. We just couldn’t get much to go our way this weekend. Having the cut tire and going into the tire barrier was just sort of salt in the wound.”
Pole-sitter Jamie McMurray never even led a lap under green as he was passed at the start by Ambrose, and his race took a big hit when he later ran off course with a tire problem and lost a lap.