Martin Truex Jr. wins 1st NASCAR Cup championship

Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks to USA TODAY Sports about his legacy, his incredible fan support and his future.

Martin Truex Jr. started Sunday’s race as the oddball, the lone driver among the final four that didn’t have a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title on his résumé. 

That all changed on Sunday, however, as Truex won the Ford EcoBoost 400 in his No. 78 Toyota at Homestead-Miami Speedway, capping a dominant season by the 37-year-old New Jersey native. He entered the season finale with seven victories, including three over the first nine playoff races. 

Truex out-dueled Kyle Busch down the stretch as he never allowed Busch to pass him. Busch finished second, while Kyle Larson was third and Kevin Harvick fourth. the other championship finalist, Brad Keselowski finished seventh.

The title is not only Truex’s first, but also the first Cup title for Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing — the only full-time Cup team not based in North Carolina.  Not bad for a driver who only a few years ago didn’t know if he had a future in the series. 

Truex was nearly left without a ride when Michael Waltrip Racing folded its racing operations after the 2013 season, a decision that was announced with just a handful of weeks left to race that year and after a scandal involving then-teammate Clint Bowyer at the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway that cost Truex his spot in the playoffs and his sponsor.

“There was a night where I sat on the porch and thought there was a chance I may never race in the Cup Series again, at least competitively,” Truex said before Sunday’s race. “I didn't know of any rides available. ...It was just a matter of luck and timing to be honest that it all came together.”

Truex’s season, while spectacular on the track, wasn’t without misfortune off of it. 

His longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, is battling stage III ovarian cancer, the second time she's undergone treatment for the disease. 

Truex and Pollex embraced for a long time after the race ended.

Team owner Barney Visser had a heart attack, underwent bypass surgery and was unable to attend Sunday’s race. Jim Watson, a Furniture Row Racing crew member, died as result of a heart attack last month at age 55. 

The title comes in Truex's 14th season in Cup, a series has been forced to deal with the departures of veterans, including the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. His race Sunday was his last as a full-time Cup driver.

Former champion Matt Kenseth announced earlier this month that he wouldn’t return next season and Danica Patrick will run one more NASCAR race — the season-opening Daytona 500 — before concluding her career at the Indianapolis 500 in May. 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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