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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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