By Jerry Bonkowski
Journalists are not supposed to show emotion or favoritism toward subjects they write about.
That’s one of the first things they’re taught in journalism school.
But this one time, I’m going to break that rule – and say “good for you” to Martin Truex Jr.
Let me explain:
The New Jersey native has gone through more adversity in the last 16 months than arguably any other driver on the Sprint Cup circuit.
An attempt by an official of Michael Waltrip Racing in September 2013 to influence who ultimately made the Chase for the Sprint Cup not only led to Truex’s disqualification from the Chase, it also cost him his ride at the end of that season when NAPA pulled its sponsorship.
It wasn’t Truex’s fault at all. But he ultimately paid the biggest price.
Fortunately, Truex was able to pick up the pieces, replacing Kurt Busch with the single-car Furniture Row Racing team at the start of the 2014 season.
Unfortunately, however, Truex ultimately wound up suffering through the worst season of his Sprint Cup career.
He finished a career low 24th in the final season standings, failed to win a race, and earned just one top-five and four other top-10 finishes.
But that paled in comparison to what Truex went through off the track in 2014. His fiancée, Sherry Pollex, waged a courageous fight with ovarian cancer. Virtually every second Truex spent away from the racetrack was with Pollex.
Truex even thought about taking a leave of absence from Furniture Row to be with Pollex, but she insisted he keep his mind on what he does best, and that things would eventually turn around for him.
Those words couldn’t have been more prophetic in 2015 – and also laid the foundation for the beginning of what could potentially be one of the best feel good stories in NASCAR in a long time.
The first bit of good news: Pollex is still fighting the good fight with her disease, but her prognosis is much more positive.
And with Pollex getting better, Truex has been able to see his driving and competitiveness go up, as well.
He’s off to one of the best starts to a season that he’s ever had. In the first three races, Truex has finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, sixth the following week at Atlanta, and runner-up this past Sunday in Las Vegas.
Last season, there was little for Truex to smile about.
This season, it’s rare not to see Truex smiling, both professionally and personally.
Following his second-place finish in Las Vegas, Truex is now up to fourth place in the standings, the highest any Furniture Row driver has ever placed in the rankings in the team’s 10-year existence.
Truex is also just 16 points behind new points leader Kevin Harvick, who also won Sunday’s race in Las Vegas.
Given the momentum he’s riding and the goodness he’s feeling – not to mention the countless messages of support to Truex and Pollex on social media – Truex could be in a perfect position to win this Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
If he does, it would be his third career Sprint Cup triumph and the first since 2013, when his hellish nightmare began.
While race car drivers are used to ups and downs professionally, Truex will be the first to admit that he’s emerged from the adversity he’s gone through as a better man first, and a better driver second.
“I really can’t put it into words,” Truex said after Sunday’s race. “I’m just proud of everyone. I’m obviously proud of Sherry and what she’s been through and everything I’ve learned from her to be a better person.”
And as for the better driver part, Truex and Furniture Row are quickly becoming NASCAR’s little engine that could. Even though the odds may be against them, being a one-car team and all, they proved at Las Vegas that they can beat those odds – just like Sherry is doing.
It’s a feel good story that even a hardened journalist can’t help but smile at.
Jerry Bonkowski writes for NASCAR Talk at NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.