Last year was one Martin Truex Jr. would rather forget, both professionally and personally.
Having been released by Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the 2013 season after NAPA pulled its sponsorship because of a team orders scandal at Richmond International Raceway, Truex suffered through the worst season of his Sprint Cup career with Furniture Row Racing in 2014. He finished 24th in the points standings and led only one lap in 36 races while managing a career-low one top-five and five top 10s.
Off the track, Truex was constantly at the side of longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex in her battle with ovarian cancer. Though he wanted to step out of the car after her diagnosis last August, Pollex encouraged him to keep racing.
Truex delivered Pollex a memorable Valentine’s Day gift Saturday. Pollex was on hand at Daytona International Speedway, watching Truex lead a race-high 29 laps and finish second in the Sprint Unlimited, his best finish in the season-opening exhibition.
“(It was) the best car I have ever had here without a doubt,” he said. “After the year we had last year and then everything that I have been through with Sherry and all, it feels good to come here and run like that. It felt really good.”
Truex tried valiantly to hold off a hard-charging Matt Kenseth, but the 2003 Sprint Cup champion’s Toyota was just too strong.
Kenseth passed Truex for the final time on Lap 56 and led 19 of the final 20 laps for his first checkered flag in more than a year.
“The race was over when Kenseth got by me for the lead,” Truex said. “I knew it was going to be tough to pass him. He’s really, really good here (Daytona). Apparently he’s just a little bit better blocker than I am.
“What a hot rod we had. After the last year and a half I’ve had, I really needed that. These guys really needed a shot in the arm.”
It also was a strong start with new crew chief Cole Pearn helming his No. 78 Chevrolet.
“It’s what every race car driver creams of, honestly,” Truex said. “It’s been miserable for a while. Last year was a tough year for us on and off the racetrack. It’s just been fun to come to the racetrack. If we can come to the racetrack and know we’re going to have cars like that every week, that’s a dream come true for me.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in a race car since 2013.”