KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — There have been soaring highs at the track for Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team this season, a series-leading seven victories and a spot in the round of eight of NASCAR’s playoffs.
The crushing lows have come away from it.
There was the news this summer that Truex’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, would need a second round of chemotherapy after doctors discovered a recurrence of cancer . She had her spleen taken out and was recovering in the hospital when Truex won the Cup Series race at Kentucky.
There was the news that Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, lost his childhood friend to a bacterial infection. Jacob Damen’s unexpected death came just days before Truex won on the road course at Watkins Glen, and just before the man’s family was to attend the race at Michigan.
There was the hard decision Pearn had to make in the days after Truex’s victory at Charlotte, which assured his spot in the round of eight, to put his dog down. The pup had become an indispensable part of the family over the past 13 years, a constant companion on his rise through the ranks.
Then there was the news Saturday night that Jim Watson, one of the fabricators on the No. 78 car, had died of a heart attack . The 55-year-old crew member had accompanied the team to Kansas Speedway for the elimination race, helping usher the car through inspection just hours earlier.
True to form, the team rallied through adversity to reach Victory Lane again .
”It’s just like, man, I don’t know if regular life is supposed to be like this,” Pearn said Sunday night. ”And it just keeps going on for some reason. It would be a lot nicer to have all the highs and not all the lows. That’s just how life is and we’re getting the full circle of it.”
No amount of on-track success can make up for the loss of a life. Or the recurrence of cancer. Or the loss of a pet. To call the Furniture Row Racing team’s stunning performance this season a silver lining would be nothing more than a trite clich�.
Yet the track has nevertheless provided an escape from many of those hardships, a place where Truex and his team can focus on the task at hand rather than much more substantial problems.
”The nice thing is they’re a tight race team. Everyone rallies together,” explained Furniture Row Racing president Joe Garone. ”We just try to keep focus on what we need to do.”
So far, they’ve managed to do that week after week.
Their second victory of the year at Kansas Speedway came despite on-track obstacles, too, beginning with a restart violation that resulted in a pass-through penalty. Teams had been told during the prerace meeting that diving below the white line on a restart was against the rules. Truex made the move, but it was Pearn who accepted blame.
”We were talking about what happened (to Watson),” he said, ”and I flat wasn’t paying attention.”
Then, Truex was making his way quickly through the field again when a vibration turned into a more concerning shaking. Worried that a wheel was loose, Truex headed to the pits under green and was again shuffled to the back of the lead lap.
”Just couldn’t believe some of the things that were happening,” he said. ”Then we got back mid-pack and had a couple really good restarts to get some track position, and then really fought the car through that part of the race and had to make some big adjustments. I felt like at the end we got dialed in pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that.”
Truex was chased across the finish line by Kurt Busch and a host of playoff contenders, then did a customary burnout on the front stretch. As he hopped from the car to fulfill a television interview, his team members huddled in the pits and shared in an emotional moment.
There were hugs. There were tears. There was joy and pain and sorrow.
”It’s just a combination of everything,” Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser said. ”We say it every time we get in front of the microphone, Martin is just on fire right now. Every call he makes seems to be the exact call, what he needs in the car. And the guys are able to give him it.”
Regardless of whatever life deals them away from the track.
”A lot of it was this team and the fight in us, in all of us,” Truex said. ”It’s crazy how these things work out, but you just got to give your best effort all the time and never give up.”
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