If restrictor plate racing is the Sprint Cup Series' great equalizer, road course racing – at least at Sonoma – isn't too far behind.
Martin Truex Jr. led for the entirety of the final green flag stint during Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 for his first win in 218 races and second Cup win overall. And in the process, he became the seventh straight first-time road course race winner at the 1.99 mile road course in California wine country.
"I can't even put it into words, I've got so many people to thank who stuck with me," Truex said in his first visit to victory lane since Dover in June of 2007.
"Well, it worked out for us for sure -- we weren't real sure going into the race what (the strategy) was going to be. The tires were falling off so bad in practice that we were really going to play it by ear. We knew our fuel mileage was good, we tried to make sure that we had some options in that department especially. And the car was just awesome."
After Jeff Gordon won his fifth Sonoma race in 2006, Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007 for his first NASCAR win. Then Kyle Busch won in 2008, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer. For all of those drivers, it was their first NASCAR win on a track that has both left and right turns -- a club that Truex is now a member of after he led 51 of the race's 110 laps.
Many love NASCAR's trips to Daytona and Talladega because of pack racing's unpredictable nature and the the possibility of a pileup and its ability to produce an unexpected winner. (See: David Ragan earlier this year.) Now, road courses have joined plate racing because of many of the same reasons and the contact that immediately follows double file restarts.
That's not taking anything away from Truex; he led the race's most laps and was untouchable over the race's final stretch. He just probably wasn't at the top of the list of probable winners entering the weekend.
That fuel mileage part that Truex mentioned came into play over that final fuel run, as Truex hit pit road for the final time on lap 69 to top off with fuel, just seven laps after he had been to pit road for tires and fuel.
On that previous pit stop, Truex had pitted from the lead just before Danica Patrick brought out the caution flag. Truex had rejoined the race inside the top 15, so when the cars in front of him pitted, he inherited the lead.
Then, because of that lap 69 stop, Truex (along with 14 others) stayed out and he inherited the lead when the rest of the field stopped for fuel and tires after a caution on lap 82. When the green flag waved on lap 86, Truex sprinted up the hill ahead of Matt Kenseth and was out of sight from the rest of the field.
His closest challenger was Montoya, who was on the same fuel cycle as Kenseth and worked his way up to second with less than 20 laps to go. But by that point, Truex had already built a gap of four seconds on the field and was able to take it easy on the accelerator and conserve fuel. Montoya wasn't. He ran out of gas on the race's final lap and his car coasted to a stop just past the start/finish line.
Gordon finished second and Carl Edwards was third. Johnson finished ninth and his points lead is now 25 points over Edwards.