Martin Truex Jr. got on the radio to crew chief Cole Pearn during a red flag in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, having avoided damage in an epic 11-car pileup.
Truex predicted victory, and then made it a reality, sweeping both races at Kansas Speedway (the first Cup driver to do so) and capping off a bittersweet day.
Bitter because Furniture Row Racing Team road-crew fabricator Jim Watson, 55, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack at a local indoor go-kart track. Watson, who is survived by his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Brittany, worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006 to 2015 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports before moving to Denver-based Furniture Row in February 2017.
“James was a friend to everybody and a good worker. It’s hard to talk about. He worked on both the 77 (Erik Jones) and 78 (Truex). His hands were on the 78 going through inspection yesterday. It’s amazing we were able to win the race for him today,” Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone said.
Truex dedicated the win to Watson as he crossed the finish line, and both crews of the Furniture Row Racing Team celebrated the victory.
“(Wilson) had just texted his wife not long before (the heart attack), telling her how good a time he was having. I take a little bit of solace in that, that he was happy in his last moments,” Pearn said.
Sweet because the win — and Truex’s dominance of 1.5-mile tracks like Kansas Speedway — is historic.
▪ It was Truex’s seventh win of the season, the most since 2013, and matched his career total prior to this season.
▪ It was Truex’s sixth win of the season at a 1.5-mile track, breaking the record set by Carl Edwards in 2008.
▪ It was his fourth consecutive win at a 1.5-mile track, breaking a record shared by three different drivers. Tony Stewart was the last to win three straight such races, in 2012.
And all of it came after a multitude of events conspired to keep him out of the front. Truex won the pole and dominated the first 30 laps, through a planned competition caution. A violation on the ensuing restart sent him to the back of the field.
Truex went below the white line at the bottom of the track before crossing the start/finish line. Racing on the apron is allowed at Kansas Speedway, but not on restarts.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t make the rules, I don’t call them. In the spring we did that multiple times during the race and never received a warning,” Truex said. “If they said it in the drivers meeting, I need to pay better attention.”
A loose wheel also forced Truex to pit under green, though that position was later made up by staying out in a caution shortly after.
Kyle Busch won the first stage, and Denny Hamlin took the second. It was no surprise Truex took the final checkered flag.
Truex was safely through to the round of eight before the day started. He owns a 27-point lead in the trek to the championship four, but he’s not thinking about a points title yet. Not remotely.
“You look at me like I’m crazy, but (Kyle Larson) was second in points (before the race). He didn’t make it. I’ve been saying all year, everybody says I’m a lock because of playoff points, but it’s not that simple. We’ve got to go out and perform,” Truex said. “We can’t have an engine failure, we can’t get a crash five laps into Martinsville. We’ve got to focus one race at a time.”
That’s what Truex did on Sunday, and it meant a little more, both for him and his heavy-hearted crew.
“Today the best we could do was win for Jim in his honor, celebrate his life, what he meant to us and what he did for us,” Truex said.