Before fans hopped over the wall and ran down pit road, before there were champagne showers in Victory Lane, before the hugging and the high-fives and congratulatory text messages were sent, there was the waiting.
Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday’s Bank of America 500 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a seemingly-forgone conclusion given his lead the last 50 laps or so, but it ended up taking longer than it first seemed. A late caution, caused by Kurt Busch’s accident in the waning laps, sent the race into overtime.
That meant Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, and the rest of the crew got three bonus laps – not that they had much choice – to wait for Truex to finish.
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“They were unbelievable today,” Truex said of his crew. “They got us the lead. We didn't pass the leader on the racetrack, we passed him on pit road.”
At that point, Truex’s lead was already substantial. He ended up crossing the finish line with a few car lengths between him and the rest of the pack, so for those few laps, everyone in the pit box had to postpone their celebrations.
We weren't even close to being able to win at the beginning of the race.
Martin Truex Jr.
Some knelt by the wall, as if they were praying. Others hauled tires, or tools, or tablets filled with data. A few just stared at the live television feed, watching Truex’s No. 78 whiz around the track while the engines blaring provided plenty of audio. Seconds earlier, when they changed his tires for the last time, they had pumped their fists and cheered, but that was only a glimpse of what the celebration would look like.
And you can understand why they were so anxious to unleash. It certainly didn’t seem that Sunday would be Truex’s day, especially not after he qualified 17th and seemed to be off from his typical form. Then in the first stage, he finished outside the Top 10, failing to earn any stage points in Stage 1 for the first time since July.
“We weren't even close to being able to win at the beginning of the race,” Truex said. “ I was like, well, we're off quite a ways, and this is what I need, good luck, and I'll do the best I can behind the wheel.”
Then you consider that this time last year was when Truex’s season tanked. He finished 13th at Charlotte, which was the beginning of the disappointing second round that left Truex on the outside looking in. For someone with as fast a car as he had, he didn’t even make it to the round of eight, not to mention the final four.
So surely those thoughts were weighing on the minds of both driver and crew as the race began. The thing was that Truex, as has been customary all season, didn’t settle for mediocrity. He stormed back, taking the lead for the first time in the last hundred laps or so, and managed to stave off a handful of drivers who tried to do the same.
When those last three laps were finally over, there was no holding back. Crew members leapt from the pit road wall in excitement, hooing and hollering while they did. The crowd of fans assembled around Truex’s pit box (yes, maybe the thirty or so people watching from pit road) joined in, applauding and shouting right with the actual team.
Then everyone, like a flood, flowed down pit road towards Victory Lane. They swerved around other people and ducked under poles, all the way until they huddled again, only this time around Truex instead of the crew that helps him.
“Feels pretty damned good for me,” Truex said, “just after all those years of heartbreaks and getting close and not catching the breaks and all the things going the way you don't want them to ... hey, sometimes it is your turn.”