My Brain on NASCAR: Splashing around in a different kind of pool

col-cathyelliottFor the past couple of NASCAR seasons, my friend Tammy has said to me, “Every time I draw Tony Stewart in the race pool, my heart just drops.” That’s laugh-out-loud funny, but Tammy means it. She isn’t confident Stewart can bring home the win for her.
No one has ever said anything like that to me about Martin Truex, Jr., but no one has ever jumped up and started doing the happy dance after drawing his name, either.
(Note to local law enforcement officials: There are no illegal gambling operations in Darlington that I know of. Just a little competitive fun among friends.)
People aren’t shy about giving me their opinions, but no one has ever told me they think Truex is a bad driver, or rude, or obnoxious, or a jerk. I cannot say the same holds true for their comments about Kevin Harvick, the aforementioned Mr. Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, anyone with the last name Busch … you get the picture. And when they start talking about Chad Knaus, I run for my life.
Folks do like to tell me how they feel, but there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of strong sentiment out there about Truex.
Until now.
Let’s be honest. We all like to watch a close, exciting contest (as long as our team wins), but the things sports fans really care about are the three Cs – comebacks, chaos and the Cinderella story. None of the three really apply to Martin Truex, Jr.
Think about it for a second. How much do you really know about Truex? He’s one of those drivers who, until very recently, has been stuck in that area of racing purgatory where you’re very good, but not quite great enough to move on through NASCAR’s pearly gates.
He won two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships back to back, driving for Chance 2 Motorsports in 2004 and 2005, and earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) victory in 2007.
He won again in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing, and earned a spot in the Chase, then lost it after being penalized when NASCAR determined that the team had attempted to manipulate the results of the race via some sketchy pit stop shenanigans.
Then, in one of the most egregious miscarriages of racing justice I have ever seen, Truex also lost his job.
That’s what I call chaos.
He ended up driving the No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing, and won a race last year – his third career victory – landing him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field. Considered by pretty much no one to be a real title contender, he quietly racked up solid finishes, and when the green flag waved to signal the start of the 2015 season’s final race, there he was, one of only four drivers still eligible to win the championship. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were the other three. You have to admit that’s pretty impressive company.
Cinderella got a lot of attention at that dance, but at NASCAR’s longest and most physically grueling event of the year, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, she got all of it. In a record-breaking, history-making performance. Truex obliterated the competition, leading 392 of 400 laps – 98 percent, a total beatdown, the most dominating performance in NASCAR in the last 714 races.
As races go, it was somewhat of a snoozefest, but as stories go, it was one for the record books.
Truex won the pole, the race, the trophy and a whole lot of money. But the real victory of the night belonged to his longtime partner Sherry Pollex, who recently completed 17 months of grueling chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer. A smiling Sherry was at the track that night, and said, “With all those disappointments we’ve had, God was setting us up for a night like this.”
What an attitude. What a comeback. We saw a thrilling and deeply satisfying Victory Lane in Charlotte on May 29, with two big winners rather than one.
Perhaps it’s time to expand our trinity of Cs into a quartet: Comebacks, chaos, Cinderella stories … and champions. Let the happy dance begin.
The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation was formed to raise awareness, boost advocacy and generate financial support for underfunded research initiatives for ovarian and childhood cancers, and for children suffering from poverty, abuse, and serious illness. For more information, visit MartinTruexJrFoundation.org.

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