June 23, 2018 / 3:41 AM / 5 months ago

NASCAR notebook: Sonoma holds fond memories for Truex

Martin Truex Jr.’s 2013 victory at Sonoma Raceway holds a special place among the 17 wins the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion has accumulated since his full-time debut in 2006.

Jun 8, 2018; Brooklyn, MI, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) during practice for the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Coming to California that year, Truex had been winless since his maiden Cup victory at Dover in 2007, a drought that had reached 218 races.

“A long time, very long — don’t remind me,” said Truex, a featured guest at a Sonoma Raceway luncheon on Thursday in San Francisco. “It was one of those weekends where everything just felt right. We had a good practice. We had, I felt like, a really good setup for the race.”

Truex finished 8.133 seconds ahead of runner-up Jeff Gordon, exceeding the 7.355-second margin of victory in his inaugural win at Dover six years earlier. Gordon and third- through sixth-place finishers Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne all have at least one Sonoma triumph on their respective resumes.

Obviously, Truex beat the best to score his second win.

“We ran third early on in the race for a while and had some pit strategy work out a little bit in our favor,” Truex said. “We were able to get the lead and then just managed the gap and the tires and really were able to drive away on long runs.

“That was awesome. We had a couple of late-race restarts where some guys that were really good there back then — (Juan Pablo) Montoya, I think, was running second for a while ... but we were able to drive away and control the race.

“I remember how awesome it felt, how amazing it was, because it had been so long, and I’d been working so hard to try to get back to Victory Lane. Our team at that time (Michael Waltrip Racing) had been so close to winning so many times. It seemed like every time, somebody would just pull the rug out from under us.”

As it turned out, that victory represented the pinnacle of Truex’s career at MWR. He wouldn’t win again until 2015 at Pocono, after he had moved to Furniture Row Racing, the team he led to the 2017 title.

DENNY HAMLIN EXPECTS STRONG SHOWING IN NEXT 10 WEEKS

Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota hasn’t had the speed this season to match the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords, but Hamlin expects that to change as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season winds toward the Playoffs.

It’s not that Hamlin hasn’t been consistently fast this year. After all, he has six top-five finishes in 15 races and currently is eighth in the series standings. But Hamlin hasn’t had the race-winning speed to match the Stewart-Haas cars — or teammate Kyle Busch, for that matter.

“I think, at worst any weekend, we’ve been an eighth-place car and at best, we’ve been a second- or third-place car,” said Hamlin, who was second fastest to Stewart-Haas driver Kurt Busch in Friday’s final practice at Sonoma Raceway. “Certainly, the results I don’t think show the speed we actually do have.

“I’m pretty confident the second half of the year we’re going to be pretty strong. I feel like we’ve really made gains over the last month or so. I’d like to get inside the top five in points before the end of the regular season and win a couple races — that’s a goal that we have that is achievable in the next 10 weeks or so.”

—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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