CONCORD, N.C. — Winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway is often special for drivers as they can celebrate with their family.
Martin Truex Jr.‘s girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, wasn’t there to celebrate with him after his victory in the Bank of America 500. With recent chemotherapy treatments for a recurrence in ovarian cancer, Pollex doesn’t want to risk exposing herself to too many people and the potential germs they might carry.
So she stayed home and watched on television, posting a photo of herself following the victory.
– Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) October 8, 2017
“Something as simple as a cold could put her in the hospital,” Truex said. “It’s not worth the risk. So staying home, [she] watched it on TV, just hanging out with her mom and her family relaxing.
“It was cool to see her tweet.”
It was as much an improbable victory as a driver could earn, as Truex notched his sixth win in 30 races this year. The race dodged the heavy rain predicted for the area as it stayed west.
And although the rain stayed away, Truex’s car didn’t start the race well. He rolled off the grid in 17th, a far cry from in his five previous wins this year when Truex had started second or third.
With rain having washed out practice Saturday, Truex had no indication his car would get much better throughout the day, and that it would eventually turn into a car that would allow him to hold the lead on two late restarts, including the final green-white-checkered finish.
“We weren’t even close to being able to win at the beginning of the race,” Truex said. “The car actually wasn’t that bad on that first run, but when we put the second set of tires on, the balance completely changed in a way that we didn’t expect it to, so then we had to play catch‑up.”
He played it well. Truex led 91 of the final 104 laps on the way to the win, a victory that earned him an automatic bid into the semifinal round of eight. By capturing the opening race of the three-race quarterfinal round, Truex can go to Talladega — the place where he was knocked out of the playoffs last year — next week and Kansas the following week without worry.
It made for an emotional Victory Lane.
“Sherry, I was thinking about her because she’s not here, and I know she really wanted to be,” Truex said. “She hates missing [and] seeing our guys succeed.
“I know our guys love having her around when we win, and she’s a fun person to celebrate with, so I thought about that. I thought about winning this first race of the round, the pressure coming off. … It just shows how much this stuff means to us.”
The emotion also shows the pressure drivers feel in this elimination playoff format. The top five finishing drivers were all playoff participants — following Truex across the line were Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray. Playoffs drivers Jimmie Johnson was seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth and Kyle Larson came in 10th.
Larson possibly had the best car to challenge Truex, but a tire changer slipped on a pit stop when Larson was leading with 55 laps remaining.
“Obviously, whoever is out front has an advantage,” Larson said. “I feel like when I was out front, I was really good. It’s hard to say [what would have happened]. They did a good job.”
It just showed that with Truex winning races on days when he doesn’t start with the best car, teams that make mistakes will have a hard time overcoming them when Truex and Furniture Row Racing are on their game.
“Martin has really hit his stride,” said team owner Joe Gibbs, whose organization has an alliance with the Furniture Row Racing team. “He’s really hungry. … They’ve got everything put together. They’re a real threat.”
Truex knows that.
“We put everything into this, everything we have, especially our team, just every day away from our families,” Truex said. “I think they had this car up on the plate on Wednesday or Tuesday with the nose cut off trying to make it better.”
Truex also knows that the celebration Sunday could have been his last for the year. That’s what his girlfriend’s cancer battle has taught him.
“When you get out of the car after a big win, you start thinking about all that stuff, and that’s when it hits you,” Truex said. “It just hits you like a ton of bricks, and it hit me today in Victory Lane, and all of a sudden you can’t talk.
“You feel like an idiot, but there’s just so many things that you’re thinking about and so much emotion and so much you’re thankful for because this stuff is so hard, and you never know if you’ll get another chance to do it. You just never know. It’s definitely an unbelievable feeling.”