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First Place
Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer

Truex Perseverance Pays Off at Pocono

LONG POND, PA. -- There is victory.

And then there is victory in life.

Amidst a lot of personal and professional turmoil the past two seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was finally able to enjoy both on Sunday.

Truex did what he’d done the previous three races – led the most laps – but in Sunday’s Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway he was able to translate that into a victory for the first time this season.

The win is Truex’s third in the Sprint Cup series and his first since June 2013 at Sonoma, Calif.

So much has transpired for Truex since then.

He lost a chance to compete in the 2013 Chase and with it his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing; his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer; and last year he moved to Furniture Row Racing, a one-car operation based in Denver, Colo. – far from the hub of NASCAR.

All of that played a role in Sunday’s win and made it that much more special.

“It means a lot, it really does, because there’s going to come a time when racing and where you finish in races doesn’t matter,” Truex said. “What’s going to matter is what kind of legacy you leave and how people look at the person that you are.

“The way the last year-and-half or so has gone for me, up until this year, I think that people kind of got a little bit of insight into what I’m made of and what kind of person I am, which is cool.”

The win, obviously, is important for many reasons.

It all-but guarantees Truex the opportunity to compete for the series championship in the Chase for the Cup later this season. It also validated the hard work he and his team has put in this year, particularly in the last month when the No. 78 team has been as fast or faster than Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, who together have won six of the 14 races.

“Throughout my career, I’ve sort of got used to the disappointment, honestly, and I’ve learned to deal with those days where it didn’t go your way, even though you didn’t do anything wrong,” Truex said.

“I wanted to win for this team because I know how good they were, how much they deserved it, the job they’ve been doing and I’ve honestly been so proud of their outlook on the way this year has gone.”

No doubt it was frustrating for Truex the last three races – at Kansas, Charlotte and Dover, Del. – as he led the most laps and appeared to have a car capable of winning, only to see the victory slip away.

There were no signs of those issues on Sunday.

Despite teams employing a variety of different pit strategies, Truex powered to the lead past Kevin Harvick on Lap 134. Through two more restarts he held onto his lead and had little trouble holding off Harvick at the finish.

Truex said he was most impressed by the way his team elected to focus on what got them in that position rather than the end result.

“They knew they were going to get this win and they knew we would get it soon and they worked hard to get it.”

Now almost certainly guaranteed a sport in the Chase, with the way Truex and his team have been running of late, a championship should not be out of the question.

“We’ve went head to head with the big dogs (Johnson and Harvick) for a year-and-a-half,” he said. “Johnson has been the guy to beat for seven, eight years. We’ve been right there with them, toe-to-toe.”