Martin Truex wins at Sonoma, breaks 218-race winless streak

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Having won Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, maybe NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. might start thinking about competing in the 2014 Formula One race that’s to be held in his native New Jersey.

After all, if he can conquer the 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, running an F1 race in his home state might be a natural evolution.

Truex proved that road course winners do come from Joy-zee with a dominating performance in Sunday’s Sprint Cup event (led 51 of 110 laps), snapping a 218-race winless streak for the Mayetta, N.J. native.

Truex was clearly emotional when interviewed by TNT in victory lane after the race, several times brushing back tears and his voice cracking at times. It was also an early birthday present to himself: he turns 33 on June 29.

“I can’t put it into words,” Truex told TNT. “The team, they’re just phenomenal. We went 200-plus races without a win. It feels damn good.”

In seven previous starts at Sonoma, Truex’s best finish was eighth in 2011. Four of his other starts there resulted in finishes of 20th or lower, including 22nd in last year’s race.

Ironically, Truex becomes the ninth consecutive first-time road course winner at Sonoma.

It was only the second-ever Cup win for Truex, whose first win came at his “home track,” Dover International Speedway, in 2007.

Since then, the two-time Nationwide Series champion (2004 and 2005) switched teams, moving from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010.

Sunday’s win makes it two wins in a row at Sonoma for Michael Waltrip Racing. Teammate Clint Bowyer won last year’s race. It was also MWR’s first win as an organization in 2013.

In 16 races thus far this season, Truex has four top-five finishes including Sunday’s win and two other top-10 showings.

But perhaps the best news of all for Truex and his fans is that with the win, he moved back into the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings.

There are 10 more races remaining for him to solidify his position in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. If he does make the Chase, it would be only the third time Truex has done so in his Cup career (2007 and 2012).

“Today was just our day,” Truex said. “It was just our time and the car was flawless. We’re going to get a bunch of them now, I can tell you that.”

For his sake, let’s hope that’s the case. He said something similar about winning a bunch of races after his first win at Dover – and then it took six years before he’d get his next one.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”