Looking at the stat sheet, it would be easy to assume Martin Truex Jr. coasted through the 2017 season on the way to his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Although Truex had the most dominant car throughout most of the 2017 campaign, he, the No. 78 team and Furniture Row Racing as a whole had one of the most trying years imaginable away from the track. The Mayetta, N.J., native’s maiden Cup title therefore highlights the importance of persistence in the face of adversity.
And we aren’t talking about FRR’s size.
The Colorado-based team admittedly is a much smaller operation than the likes of Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports, and it’s partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing helped it punch above its weight. But the story of FRR’s season is more than the average David vs. Goliath story, as it not only outperformed larger outfits, but it did so in the face of personal turmoil.
All season, for example, Truex’s long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has been battling a recurrence of Stage III ovarian cancer. In addition to multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Pollex has undergone surgery to remove her spleen, an operation from which she still was recovering in the hospital when Truex took his third win of the season at Kentucky Speedway in July.
The 37-year-old’s next win after Kentucky, which came at Watkins Glen International in August, was similarly emotional.
The No. 78 took the checkered flag in the I Love New York 355 at The Glen largely because of crew chief Cole Pearn’s strategy call — which was remarkable given that Pearn’s best friend, Jacob Damen, 35, died from a bacterial infection just three days before the race.
What’s more, that wasn’t the only time Truex made a trip to victory lane that picked his team up after an unexpected loss.
FRR fabricator James Watson, 55, suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after a team outing at a go-kart track near Kansas Speedway on Oct. 21, one day before the Hollywood Casino 400. Although the loss of Watson caused Truex and Pearn to miss a directive during the drivers meeting, forcing Truex to take a penalty, he still went on to win the race.
Some fans might argue that NASCAR’s new points system, which saw Truex carry more than 50 bonus points with him until the final round of the playoffs, made winning the championship easy for him. Given all that he and his team have been through, however, nothing about their year can be described as easy.
The fact that he was able to put himself in that position — let alone actually win the title — is a true testament to their resilience.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images