SPARTA, Ky. – In an endurance contest, how fast you finish is more important than how – or where – you start.
That’s certainly true for Martin Truex Jr., whose drought-busting Sonoma Raceway victory has thrust the New Jersey driver of the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota squarely into the Chase conversation.
Truex, who’d gone six years and 218 races since his June 2007 victory at Dover International Speedway, was fast but inconsistent over the season’s first 15 races. He ranked 34th after race No. 2 in Phoenix. The season’s high – and only previous top-10 placing – had been ninth following Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600.
Sonoma’ victory boosted Truex to 10th in points where he joins MWR teammate Clint Bowyer (third) as a provisional post-season qualifier. His ranking matches last year’s post-Sonoma position held by Brad Keselowski, who went on to win the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
“Honestly we have had some very, very tough breaks and things have happened,” said the two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, who’d finished second six times since his only series victory. ”We honestly really could have won three or four races in the past year and a half if things had just played out differently. But that’s part of racing. That’s the way it goes.”
Saturday’s Quaker State 400 is a homecoming for Waltrip, a native of Owensboro, Ky. Waltrip believes the pairing of Truex and Bowyer, dating to 2012, truly has made MWR a championship contender.
“There’s tracks where Martin excels and Clint really leans on Martin to understand what he does, and there’s places where Clint is really good and Martin does the same with Clint. They’ve helped each other,” said Waltrip.
Truex finished eighth in last year’s Kentucky race. Bowyer has yet to finish in the top 10 in the track’s two NASCAR Sprint Cup events.