The centerpiece of Thursday evening’s Monster Vitality NASCAR Cup Collection Awards Ceremony was Martin Truex Jr., a first-time champion who earned the title in inventory automobile racing’s foremost division with a Furnishings Row Racing staff that bought its unlikely begin as a single-car operation in Denver, Colorado.
However the sport additionally bid farewell—as a full-time driver—to Dale Earnhardt Jr., not solely by conferring a 15th straight NMPA Most Fashionable Driver Award on the 26-time race winner, but in addition by recognizing his accomplishments with the celebrated Invoice France Award of Excellence.
Earnhardt, in truth, launched Truex, his shut good friend, because the 2017 champion, and there was little question Truex deserved the dignity. Driving the no. 78 Toyota, Truex led the collection in victories with eight and laps led with 2,253.
With the appearance of stage racing for the 2017 season, Truex dominated the brand new format, accumulating a series-best 19 levels wins and sufficient playoff factors to advance to the Championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway with one race left within the Spherical of eight.
Truex then capped the season with a dramatic victory at Homestead, holding off championship runner-up Kyle Busch by .681 seconds.
“I’d need to say the brand new stage racing labored out fairly nicely for us,” Truex quipped throughout his speech, after NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France handed him the championship ring.
Truex’s season, nonetheless, wasn’t with out its troublesome moments. His long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, who was recognized with ovarian most cancers in 2014, suffered a recurrence earlier this 12 months. The “By no means surrender” motto of the No. 78 staff additionally grew to become a mantra in Truex’s private life.
“Nobody has lived that out greater than my life companion Sherry,” Truex stated. “She is the true champion.”
Workforce proprietor Barney Visser suffered a coronary heart assault late within the season and, after surgical procedure, was unable to attend the festivities on the Wynn Las Vegas. Visser’s son Tim accepted the champion proprietor’s award in his stead and guaranteed these on the ceremony that his father was doing nicely.
Furnishings Row Racing fabricator Jim Watson handed away unexpectedly through the Kansas Speedway weekend within the Playoff, and Truex supplied a toast to Watson from the rostrum.
Gallery: Monster Vitality NASCAR Cup Awards Week Las Vegas 2017
“This has been an emotional journey,” Truex stated. “I can’t start to let you know about all of the highs and lows.”
One of many absolute lows occurred throughout 2014, Truex’s first season with the staff. Truex posted just one top-five end that 12 months and ended the season 24th within the collection standings.
“In 2014 we struggled, and also you didn’t surrender on me—thanks,” Truex stated staff president Joe Garone.
It wasn’t till Truex joined forces with crew chief Cole Pearn late in that first 12 months that the turnaround at Furnishings Row began. In 2015 they made it to the Championship four and completed fourth. A 12 months later, they had been champions.
“You’re the most effective crew chief and staff coach I’ve ever identified, and, buddy, thanks for making me a champion,” Truex stated to Pearn.
The honors to Truex and the Furnishings Row group adopted a particular tribute to Earnhardt launched by the NASCAR chairman.
“The Invoice France Award of Excellence is just not given out yearly,” France stated. “It’s for the final word achievement and contribution to the game they love—NASCAR. Typically it’s on the observe. Typically it’s off the observe. And each now and again, it’s each.
“Tonight, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the recipient of the Invoice France Award of Excellence.”
It was completely predictable that Earnhardt would obtain his 15th Most Fashionable Driver Award on the finish of his closing season within the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. The Invoice France Award was a shock.
“It’s an actual honor,” Earnhardt stated after a protracted spherical of applause. “I at all times inform folks on a regular basis that each one I wished to do in racing was to have the ability pay my payments and have the ability to race for a very long time. I’ve simply loved being part of the game.
“I didn’t know whether or not I’d win races or have the chance to win championships. I simply wished to be in it. I really feel fortunate and lucky to have been capable of do some good issues, contained in the automobile and outdoors the automobile. I at all times tried to take lots of delight in taking the game to new locations and introducing it to new folks.
“I’ve bought to thank the followers, as a result of with out them, not one of the alternatives that I ever had in racing would have occurred.”
Earnhardt then had some sage recommendation for Truex.
“I bear in mind once I gained my first race, my dad (the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.) stated, ‘Have fun this,’ and I do know what he meant in spite of everything these years, ‘trigger you by no means get to rejoice that first win once more,” Earnhardt stated.
“You by no means get to rejoice that first championship once more, so we’re going to rejoice it good tonight, Martin.”
In his runner-up speech, Kyle Busch additionally made a tongue-in-cheek reference to Earnhardt. He thanks NASCAR’s hottest driver for “changing all of Junior Nation into Rowdy followers.” That was one of many largest chortle strains of the evening.
Not misplaced among the many festivities was the contribution 2003 champion Matt Kenseth has made to the game. With no concrete plans for subsequent 12 months after finishing his closing season within the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kenseth has introduced a hiatus from the game, one he acknowledges might mark the tip of his profession as a Monster Vitality Collection driver.
“Matt, I want you the most effective sooner or later,” Truex stated from the rostrum. “You’re an superior individual and an incredible driver.”
Truex and Busch, together with Playoff drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, led Toyota to its second straight producers championship.
In a poignant tribute, Bob Carter, government vp, gross sales for Toyota Motor North America, devoted the championship to J.D. Gibbs. The son of staff proprietor Joe Gibbs has been stricken with a critical neurological dysfunction.
“J.D. is a good friend to everybody on this room,” Carter stated. “He’s a father. He’s an incredible individual to be with. J.D., I do know you’re residence watching. You’re recovering. You’re a fighter. This celebration, this producer’s award is on behalf of you.”