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Auto racing: Martin Truex Jr. can’t quit smiling after Sonoma victory

Martin Truex Jr. hoists his first trophy since 2007. (Associated Press)
Martin Truex Jr. hoists his first trophy since 2007. (Associated Press)

After 218 consecutive losses, Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t quite certain he’d actually won at Sonoma Raceway when he woke the day after the victory.

“I have not stopped smiling since Sunday, as you can imagine,” Truex said Tuesday. “I woke up Monday morning and looked at my phone to make sure it really happened and I wasn’t just dreaming. It’s been way too long since I felt this good, and hopefully the next one won’t be too far away.”

Truex’s previous only Sprint Cup Series win had been at Dover in 2007, and it took him more than six years to get back to Victory Lane. He’d been close plenty of times with Michael Waltrip Racing, only to come up short in his bid for a win.

This year alone, he led 142 laps at Texas but finished second, was fourth at Kansas after leading 46 laps, had an engine failure on a strong car at Dover and was third at Michigan. In 2011, he finished second or third four times.

So when he finally grabbed that elusive win Sunday on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., he was greeted by 131 text messages, 17 voice mails and 15 emails all offering congratulatory words.

“Not to mention my Twitter page was locked up, and I can’t even get back through to all of them,” Truex said.

Among the well-wishers was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a lengthy text conversation with Truex when he finally arrived back in North Carolina at 3 a.m. Monday morning. Truex won a pair of Nationwide Series championships driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and he and Earnhardt were Cup teammates at DEI for two full seasons.

“I can’t really talk about what all we said to each other, but he was pretty impressed,” Truex said. “He said ‘Do you believe you just won at Sonoma? I tell everybody how good you are, and then you go win at the hardest place on the circuit.’ “

Truex now heads to Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway to see if the Sonoma win was the breakthrough that will lead to more victories.

Labonte streak ends

Bobby Labonte’s consecutive start streak will come to an end at 704 races.

Labonte is not entered to race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway, which will bring an end to the second-longest active starts streak in NASCAR behind Jeff Gordon’s 705 starts.

Labonte confirmed his status on a chat with fans on a racing website. The team will use A.J. Allmendinger.