CONCORD, N.C. — The dark clouds overhead seemed to foreshadow what would be an emotional day at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It began with a tribute to the late Robert Yates as Dale Jarrett paced the field prior to the green flag to honor his friend and beloved NASCAR icon.
“He taught a lot of us about how to race, how to compete, how to win and do it all the right way,” Jarrett said.
It ended with Martin Truex Jr. in Victory Lane, his voice breaking, at a loss for words, as his emotions overwhelmed him. His girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was noticeably absent. Pollex has been undergoing chemotherapy after a recurrence of ovarian cancer.
When asked how he handles the uncertainty, “You try to hold it all in all the time but you can’t, you just can’t. She’s at home right now…I love you,” he said, as he turned and walked away to celebrate with his team.
It was Truex’s sixth win of the season but it didn’t come easily. He qualified 17th and struggled with the car’s handling, finishing 12th in the first stage. It was the first time he had failed to finish in the top 10 of Stage 1 since July at Daytona.
“We weren’t even close to being able to win at the beginning of the race. The car actually wasn’t that bad on that first run, but when we put the second set of tires on, the balance completely changed in a way that we didn’t expect it to, so then we had to play catch‑up,” he explained.
With help from his pit crew, Truex continued to improve, finishing fourth in Stage 2.
“It was tough out there today, the car was a handful. Man, just thanks to my guys. We kept digging. The pit crew was flawless.”
In the final stage, Truex led 91 laps and persevered through two late-race restarts, the final one in overtime, to capture the checkered flag. With this win, he is guaranteed a spot in the next round of the Playoffs. Truex leads the standings with a 34 point advantage over second-place Kyle Larson.
While the pressure is off Truex for the next couple of races, his rivals for the championship should not be ignored. Playoff contenders claimed eight of the top 10 positions. Chase Elliott finished second followed by Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray, rounding out the top five. Jimmie Johnson placed seventh, Ryan Blaney was eighth and Kyle Larson finished 10th.
And then there’s Kyle Busch, a perfect example of how quickly things can change. He entered the Bank of America 500 second in the Playoff standings with a 41 point cushion after winning two consecutive races in the previous round. His troubles began on Lap 135 when he hit the wall in Turn 3 and damaged the right-rear of his No. 18 Toyota. During the race he spun three more times, finishing 29th and dropping from second to sixth in the Playoff standings.
It’s a lesson Truex has learned the hard way, to appreciate the highs and not dwell on the lows, because change is inevitable.
“Dealing with the ups and downs and keeping that kind of even keel and keeping your head on straight and understanding the things that are truly important, all those things,” he said, “are what I’ve really learned.”
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