A fast race car, flawless driving and a pit-road audible sent Martin Truex Jr. to Victory Lane in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway road course.
The victory was Truex’s third of the season, 18th of his career and his third career road course win. By winning at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road circuit last year, Truex has now won the last two NASCAR Cup Series road races.
The victory also gave Truex a California sweep. His first win of the season was in March at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Truex, who led four times for a race high of 62 laps on the Sonoma road course, was running a close second to Kevin Harvick until it was time for the final scheduled pit stop in the 110-lap race.
Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn radioed Truex to pit on Lap 73, but at the final second told him to stay out while Harvick came down pit road for fresh tires.
Pearn’s quarterback-like audible gave Truex the lead as he ran an additional nine laps on older tires in his No. 78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. When he pitted under green (Lap 82) he returned to action in seventh place and chased down Harvick on fresh tires. He retook the lead for good with 19 laps remaining and his margin of victory over Harvick was 10.5 seconds.
When asked if he knew about Pearn’s strategy, Truex said, “No, that’s all Cole. That was amazing. I’m cool with whatever he wants to do. I tell him all the time win, lose or draw, we do it together and I just got a lot of trust in him. I don’t even say anything when he says pit or don’t pit. I just do what he wants to do, awesome job by him today.”
Pearn, who enjoys thinking outside the box, said the decision to pit later was somewhat of a gamble.
“We really needed them (leaders) to pit earlier for it to work out,” explained Pearn, a 16-time crew chief winner. “It was a bit of a gamble but obviously it paid off and worked out great. It’s tough. Everybody is so good, it sometimes takes something different to mix it up to pull one out.”
The pit-call decision gave Truex a huge lead on the 1.99-mile circuit and the only thing that could possibly have halted his momentum was a caution.
“Just hoping no caution would come out,” Truex said. “You never know how these things are going to go. Last year, I felt like we had the best car and we didn’t win and then this year I wasn’t sure we could beat the 4 (Harvick). We were real equal. He was better early in the race. I felt like we caught up to him a little, but he was going to be hard to beat either way.
“To get off strategy was the perfect call and then you just hope it works out for you, so sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield. Today we made the right call and it all worked out. We had a fast enough car to stay out there. Just happy for everybody. Proud of everybody on this team. Everybody back in Denver, 5-Hour Energy, Bass Pro Shops, Auto Owners Insurance, Toyota, TRD, Furniture Row, Denver Mattress - all our partners, they really make this happen for us, so it means a lot.”
After qualifying second Truex was leading the first stage and was running second in the second stage. But due to another strategy Truex was called to pit road a few laps before each of the stages ended. The all-or-nothing pit strategy for track position once again paid off.
Winning at Sonoma was high on the team’s check-off list after seeing a dominant performance last year spoiled by an engine failure.
Positions 2-10 went to: Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin.
The race had three cautions for eight laps and 11 lead changes among seven drivers.
The next race is Sunday July 1 at Chicagoland Speedway where Truex is a two-time defending champion.