Concord, N.C. — Standing next to his car in victory lane, in this season he never thought possible, Martin Truex Jr. struggled with his emotions.
He raced to his career-best sixth victory Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and this win is worth an automatic slot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs. He’s clearly the driver to beat in this championship race, and the reality of how close it really is seemed somewhat surreal.
Then he thought about his partner, Sherry Pollex, who has ovarian cancer and chemotherapy scheduled for today. She couldn’t come to the race, partly because her weakened immune system makes crowds too risky for her.
He choked on his words, his voice heavy as he tried not to cry.
“I couldn’t hold it in anymore,” he said. “Sherry, I was thinking about her because she’s not here, and I know she really wanted to be. I thought about winning this first race of the round, the pressure coming off. Just a lot of things, I guess. I was wore out. I just lost it for a minute.
“There’s a lot going on. It just shows how much this stuff means to us. We put everything into this, everything we have.”
Truex gave Toyota yet another victory in NASCAR’s playoffs — the manufacturer is 4 for 4 so far — on a humid day at Charlotte. Truex has two wins in the playoffs and this one was the first time in this format that Toyota has won a race in this round of postseason.
“Just a total team effort,” Truex said. “Every single guy, every guy on this team just did a perfect job today and I can’t be more proud of them and at this time of the year is just when you want it to happen. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure got it in victory lane.”
Kyle Busch, winner of the last two playoff races, wrecked early in the race yet completed it in a damaged car. Complaining most of the 500 miles of being overheated, he needed immediate medical attention when he climbed from his car.
Busch laid in the grass, packs of ice were placed on his chest, and a stretcher was brought to him. Once he felt strong enough, he stood and walked to an ambulance. He received oxygen to treat a high carbon monoxide level.
“I felt like I was having a heat stroke,” Busch said.
The humidity drained several drivers, including Truex, who had to catch his breath after taking the checkered flag.
“Seeing him after the race, how whipped he was, was kind of a shock,” crew chief Cole Pearn said.
Truex won in overtime after two late cautions created extra laps and forced Truex to hold off fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin on a pair of restarts.
Chase Elliott finished second for the second consecutive week and sixth time in his career. He nearly won for the first time in the Cup series a week ago, but Busch ran him down and passed him for the win with one lap to go.
Harvick was third and Hamlin finished fourth. Like his teammate Busch, Hamlin was drained after the race. His firesuit was soaked with sweat stains and he needed to eat a banana to recover.
“You usually can tell hydration level from my suit,” Hamlin said. “Any time it has white streaks all over it, I’m spent pretty good. I feel pretty bad, no doubt about it.”
Jamie McMurray was fifth, Jimmie Johnson seventh and Ryan Blaney eighth.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzaka, taking a major step toward winning his third series title.
The Mercedes driver crossed the finish line 1.2 seconds ahead of Malaysia GP winner Max Verstappen to claim his eighth victory of the season and third at the Suzuka circuit. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was third.
Hamilton moved 59 points clear of title rival SebastianVettel with four races left. Vettel was forced to retire on the third lap when his Ferrari lost power.