Martin Truex Jr. won is first Cup Series race in June 4, 2007 at Dover International Speedway. At the age of 27, it was a breakthrough for a young driver in just his second full Cup season, and it was expected to be a step for his emergence as a star in the sport.
Things didn't really turn out that way. Truex struggled as Dale Earnhardt Inc. transitioned to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and he finished 23rd in the points in 2009. After that, he signed with a smaller Michael Waltrip Racing outfit. Finishes of 22nd and 18th in his first two years didn't speak to Truex's ability, but as the team grew with the addition of Clint Bowyer in 2012, Truex came with it.
Last year, he qualified for just his second Chase for the Sprint Cup (his first was in 2007), but still couldn't find a victory lane that had eluded him for five years. Seven top-fives in 2012 were impressive, but Truex was quickly adding to his dubious winless streak after finishing second or third in four of the season's races.
The No. 56 entered 2013 looking to build on 2012 with expectations of taking a checkered flag or two. The season started slowly, but a second-place finish at Texas turned the team around. Entering this past weekend's race at Sonoma, Truex had recorded three top-fives in the nine most recent races and started vying for a Chase berth. It seemed only a matter of time before he broke through for a race win.
After Kurt Busch suffered back-to-back speeding penalties while leading midway through the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday, it was Truex that found himself leading the race soon after. Busch's No. 78 (which had been shuffled back) and Truex's No. 56 seemed to have something extra against the competition and once Truex got to the front, he looked impossible to catch.
The laps counted down and Truex's lead grew larger and larger, but there had to be some unrest around the Michael Waltrip Racing team. They'd seen this before and something had always prevented the No. 56 from winning: bad car luck, a late race caution, a loose lap car, something had always made Truex settle for a "could have been better" top-five.
On Sunday, Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to provide an answer when he ran out of gas at the start of the final lap. He was on the same pit schedule as Truex, and while the No. 56 had a sizeable lead, it certainly couldn't afford to coast around the 1.99-mile track and expect to win. Gas might be the NASCAR Gods's selection of choice.
Turns 5, 6, and 7, Truex was still moving.
Turns 8, 9, and 10, he was almost to a point that maybe he could coast.
Turn 11, the tight U-turn, the accelerator responded in full as he pulled toward the homestretch.
Seconds later, Truex saw the long-awaited checkers waving at his car for a sizable 8.133-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.
The caution had stayed holstered. The gas tank had remained filled. Truex had earned a much deserved win.
Through a six-year drought that spanned 218 races, Truex had not given up hope. He's a driver that rarely seems to make any enemies and one that shows up each week with a workmanlike attitude that exudes confidence without cockiness.
He's the kind of driver that everyone around the sport thinks should have picked up his second career win a long time ago. For his fellow competitors, now that the winless monkey is off his back, he's someone they'll have to watch out for each week.
It's unlikely that the well-mannered driver from Mayetta, N.J. will get meaner or angrier now that he's one a race. However, with a renewed sense of confidence, he will definitely be far more of a danger nonetheless. His season is already shaping up to be better than 2012, and that's bad news for the rest of the drivers scrambling to find their way into the Chase.
It won't be surprising to see Martin Truex Jr.'s next drought end far more abruptly than the last one.