By DALE BOSOWSKI
Special to the Bulletin
SONOMA — Martin Truex Jr. (#36 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip Racing) ended a 218 race NASCAR Sprint Cup victory draught with a convincing win over Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards in Sunday’s 25th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. In doing so he became the ninth consecutive different winner on the twisting 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma.
Truex’s previous and only win in 277 career Cup starts occurred at Dover in June 4, 2007. It ended the second longest non winning streak in Cup history, exceeded only by Bill Elliot’s run of futility which lasted 226 races before he picked up a win in Miami in 2001.
On Sunday at Sonoma, Truex led 51 of the 110 laps, including the final 27 laps and beat second-place Jeff Gordon by a comfortable margin of 8.133 seconds after Juan Pablo Montoya dropped from the second position to 34th after running out of fuel on the next-to-last lap and coasting to a stop.
“I can’t even put into words how good this feels. It is a relief to be honest,” said Truex, age 32. “I have to thank everyone who has stood behind me for 200 and some races. We’ve been close a lot and it feels damn good to finally get one.”
Kurt Busch, was able to overcome consecutive pit road speeding penalties to finish fourth and post his fourth top five of the season. Clint Bowyer, last year’s winner and Truex’s teammate, finished fifth.
A variety of pit strategies scrambled the field throughout the race as some teams attempted to make it to the finish with a only two stops while others planned on three. After Kyle Busch and Edwards tangled on Lap 82 to cause the seventh caution of the race, the top 15 cars, led by Truex, stayed on the track hoping they had enough fuel to finish the race.
“I was trying to be smart, trying to be smooth and keep something in reserve in case we had a late caution,” said Truex. “The only thing I could think of for the last 15 laps was please no more cautions.”
Gordon (#24 Drive To End Hunger Chevy) choose the three stop strategy, but caught a bad break early in the race when he headed for the pits on lap 23 for his first stop just as a caution came out. Just as Gordon entered the pits the red light came on that they were closed and he was penalized.
“We wanted to do three stops to stay on fresher tires. Just as I committed to the stop I saw the red light come on just a split second before we got in and I knew it was going to cost us a lot,” explained Gordon, who has posted five wins at Sonoma. “Luckily we had a fast car, we stayed with our strategy and things went our way in the end.”
It was a bittersweet race for Carl Edwards (#99 AFLAC Ford) who started from the third spot and crossed the finish line in third to complete the podium.
“It feels a little weird to race that hard all day and end up in the same spot you started in,” he said. “I actually passed a lot of folks and got passed a lot. It was a pretty dynamic race and there was a lot that happened.”
When asked how he planned to celebrate his victory Truex seemed a bit perplexed.
“I’m not sure. We will have a party tomorrow I guess. I haven’t done this for a while and I am out of practice,” he laughed.
Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth on Sunday, continues to lead the championship standings by a 573 to 548 point margin over Edwards. Boyer now sits in third with 510, Kevin Harvick, who came home in 10th Sunday, is in fourth with 510 and Matt Kennseth rounds out the top five with 481 points.
In Saturday’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West the Carneros “200” race at Sonoma, Lakeport’s Derek Thorn charged to the lead late in the event and held on in a green-white-checkered finish to post his career first victory on a road course and fourth overall in his career.
Cameron Hayley slipped by Michael Self on the last lap to take second. David Mayhew followed in fourth, with Paulie Harraka finishing fifth. Former three-time series champion Eric Holmes of Escalon finished ninth.
Thorn, who finished second at Sonoma a year ago, appeared to save his tires as Hayley and Self battled for the lead in the latter stages of the race. He became the sixth leader of the day when he moved past Self for the lead on Lap 53 of the scheduled 64 laps. Thorn pulled away in a late-race restart and held on after the seventh caution of the day extended the race for a green-white-checkered finish. The win also enabled Thorn to regain the lead in the championship point standings by a 258 to 255 margin over Self.