Martin Truex Jr., center, celebrates with his friends and crew after winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. It had been 218 races since Truex — whose last win came in 2007 — reached Victory Lane.
SONOMA, Calif. — Martin Truex Jr. dominated the second half of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.
Truex took the lead for good by staying out during a caution on lap 82 of the 110-lap race and drove away from the field.
It was Truex’s first victory since his first career win at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in 2007, 218 races ago.
“I’ve felt like the last year-and-a-half if we could just get one (win), we could do a whole lot better,” Truex said. “We should have had six or seven already.”
Pit strategy early in the race put Jeff Gordon toward the back of the race field, but he was able to drive back up toward the front to take second, and Carl Edwards finished third.
“We ended up with a good position,” Edwards said. “I didn’t think our car was that good, so I’m happy with it.”
Marcos Ambrose took the lead from pole sitter Jamie McMurray on lap one and led the way until he was passed by Kurt Busch a few laps after a restart that followed a lap six caution.
Busch looked to have the fastest car on the track for a time, but his race seemed to go south when he was caught speeding two different times on pit road.
Busch hit pit road soon after the race went back to green following a caution on lap 32. He sped down pit road on his way to have his car serviced and then was caught speeding again when he had to go back down pit road to serve the penalty.
Busch was able to recover, though, and wound up finishing fourth.
“Yeah, we were fast, even on pit road, twice,” Busch said with a laugh. “I messed-up, flat-out. I didn’t hit my tachometer right and I was speeding both times. It was one of those where I’m like, how does that happen?
“I just put myself in a position that was poor, trying to get too much on pit road. But man, this Furniture Row Chevy was fast. Congrats to Truex. When we were running a lap down with him, I was trying to pace myself.
“I wanted to get back on the lead lap. We did get back on the lead lap when he pitted, but we had to battle hard. We came back up through there. You’ve got to rub guys and move guys, and we gave guys room and just made one mistake. I think we could have gotten all the way up to second, but we never would have caught Truex.”
Truex took the race lead for the first time on lap 41 and pulled away, building a cushion of nearly four seconds on then-second-place Brian Vickers by lap 50.
Ten laps later, his lead was nearly 10 seconds, but Truex gave up his large lead to pit a few laps later.
After the fourth caution of the race came out on lap 63, Truex restarted second behind Jamie McMurray, but he lost a few positions because of pit strategy when he opted to head down pit road when the yellow flag waved again only a few laps later.
Gordon moved into the lead on lap 78 and led the way until Truex got back up front following the lap 82 caution. And like before, Truex pulled away from the field.
“I was a little nervous about a caution, but I just focused on making laps and running what I needed to run,” Truex said. “I just tried to run a little faster than the guy behind me and not burn off my tires.”
Gordon headed down pit road under the caution, but was able to race his way past drivers such as Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya and Greg Biffle, who, like Truex, stayed out.
“This is one of those crazy types of races where pit strategy goes all over the place and you never know what might happen,” Gordon said. “We were on a three-stop strategy and that’s why we wanted to come in when we did.
“I hate it for (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson), because that’s the call the crew chief makes and I’m right there. And I couldn’t turn away. At the time I was thinking, ‘Gosh, I don’t know who has the worst (luck) right now, me or him?’
“The way things have been going on the track for me haven’t been great and the way things have been going with the calls haven’t been going his way either.
“But, wow, we finally had a race car that was fantastic with this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. And the pit crew and Alan the rest of the day were just spot-on. Great adjustments. We had a lot of fun out there. I knew that we could probably never get to that No. 56 (Truex), but boy, we were sure having fun coming up through there.”
Montoya seemed to be on his way to a top-five finish, but ran out of gas right before Truex took the while flag. As a result, Montoya wound up 33rd.
Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five.
NOTES: Martin Truex’s victory was the second straight at Sonoma for Michael Waltrip Racing, as Truex’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, won the race last year. … Sunday’s race was the 25th for the Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma, as the circuit began racing there yearly in 1989. … Truex is the ninth different winner in the last nine races at Sonoma.