Home News Truex sees edge ‘negated’ in his drive for five in Sonoma

Truex sees edge ‘negated’ in his drive for five in Sonoma

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SONOMA – Martin Truex Jr. was just a few days shy of his 25th birthday when he competed in a NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway for the first time.

Truex remembers making a mistake in qualifying and starting 39th in a car that actually needed a new engine before the race began. But he also recalls passing one car after another throughout the 110-lap event and finishing 15th — a respectable result considering his lack of experience on the wine country road course.

“We started in the back and had a really fast car, passed a lot of cars and had a lot of fun,” Truex said Friday that 2006 race. “The first time here, I fell in love with this place, and I’ve always loved it ever since.”

That goes without saying.

Truex, now 43, has taken the checkered flag at Sears Point four times, including three times in the last five years. With a triumph in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, he will tie Jeff Gordon – the winner of that 2006 race – for the most all-time victories for a Cup driver in Sonoma.

Gordon, a Vallejo native, also won the race three straight times from 1998 to 2000, and also in 2004.

“I watched him here long before I raced here,” Truex said of Gordon, who also finished second in Sonoma five times. “He was definitely the master around here for a long, long time, and it was cool to get to race with him here.”

Truex, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion with 34 career victories on the circuit, knows a record-tying fifth victory in Sonoma will be difficult, especially considering how the course has changed since last year.

To keep cars on the track around Turn 11, a wall of concrete barriers has been set up around the hairpin, leaving little wiggle room for drivers to try and outbreak their competition and pass on the inside. The walls also eliminate most of the visibility drivers once had around the turn.

Also, this winter, the track was completely repaved for the first time in over two decades. That improved tire grip, leading to faster lap times in Friday’s practice session.

Truex’s past ability to save his tires around the 1.99-mile, 10-turn track has given him an edge over his competitors.

Last year in Sonoma, Chase Elliott with 15 laps left after a caution flag. But with fresher tires, Truex quickly moved from fourth to second before he passed Elliott with 14 laps to go, reclaiming a lead he never relinquished.

With the repaved track, some of Truex’s advantage has disappeared, and it appears everyone will enjoy less tire wear than before.

“I’m still trying to get better at (road courses), but Martin was so good at this racetrack at saving his tires and figuring out how much throttle to apply to be good in the long run,” said Denny Hamlin, who won the pole last year but finished 36th after he made contact with the wall with 19 laps to go.

“That advantage is kind of negated a little bit now.”

“I wish they didn’t (repave the track),” said Truex, now in his fifth year at Joe Gibbs Racing. “We had something really good here working, and certainly last year, we did really well with it.”

That said, Truex did some testing at Sonoma earlier this year. His confidence remains high.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot different than it’s been,” Truex said of the surface. “Every time for as long as I can remember, you come to Sonoma, and you think worn-out track and tire. The approach (was) a lot different than what it is now.

“Now it’s going to be pretty much running qualifying laps every lap with the tires that don’t wear out or don’t really fall off much. So, it’s a different approach than what we’ve done here in the past. But it’s still the same course.”

Truex has not decided whether to return as a full-time driver in the Cup series next season. He enters this week in fourth place in the driver’s standings with four top-five finishes and seven top-10s.

A victory Sunday would not only secure Truex’s spot in the playoffs but also etch his name in the Sonoma record books.

“I really think he’s confident when he comes here,” Joe Gibbs said of Truex after last year’s victory. “He’s got a real feel with Sonoma. From time to time, drivers have a real confidence about some tracks, and he’s like that here.”

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