Party Over, Back to Fighting Cancer For Pollex, Martin Truex Jr.

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Published on December 4 2017 6:28 am
Last Updated on December 4 2017 6:29 am

BY ESPN

Martin Truex Jr. has lived the adage that life is a journey, not a destination.

So it was appropriate that the pulse of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Awards ceremony Thursday night at the Wynn Las Vegas centered on the journey of Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team.

There was talk about Truex and his awful first season with the team in 2014. There was talk about how in 2005 a furniture store owner decided to start a team in Denver to try to compete against the big organizations all based in the Carolinas.

And of course, there was talk about Sherry Pollex, the longtime girlfriend of Truex who has battled ovarian cancer for more than three years.

"She is still fighting her disease with tenacity and a never-give-up attitude that inspires millions of people to do the same," Truex said during the ceremony. "She is the true champion."

While Pollex's battle has changed Truex, he was still his natural self beaming with pride over an accomplishment that took him 12 NASCAR Cup seasons to achieve. Truex busted on Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, who had finished second to him among the four finalists in the championship race.

"Sorry, Kyle," Truex said as he opened his speech in the ceremony.

And he gave a shout out to his car owner, who was home after suffering a heart attack earlier in the month. Barney Visser had started the team in 2005, and many thought there was no way a Colorado-based team could win a NASCAR championship.

"Barney Visser is the heart of this team," Truex said. "People thought he was crazy 12 years ago starting a NASCAR team in Denver. Barney, who's crazy now?"

Some would have thought Visser was crazy to continue with Truex after an awful 2014 where he finished 24th in points.

"2014 we struggled -- you didn't give up on me," Truex said to team general manager Joe Garone. "Thank you very much."

Truex also led the crowd in a toast to Jim "Wildman" Watson, a road-crew fabricator who died of a heart attack during the Kansas race weekend.

"Here's to you, Wildman. Cheers," Truex said.

After thanking his sponsors and others, Truex finished his speech talking about Pollex.

"Back to the love of my life -- no, not racing," Truex said. "Sherry, babe, I love you and thank you for the change you've caused in my life.

"You're an inspiration to all of us in this room. And winning is a great feeling. But spending life with you is the real victory."

Pollex had joined Truex for much of the celebration the past 11 days. She had said prior to the championship race at Homestead that she couldn't imagine the moment of Truex winning the title.

So what was it like?

"Dude, it was better than I ever could have imagined," Pollex said Wednesday. "The emotions I felt at the end of that race. ... It was so incredible. I don't know how to describe it to people."

After Truex won the title, the photos of him and Pollex showed their emotion and joy. It was unfiltered, compared to the staged photos of the days leading up to the awards.

"I've seen all the pictures of him and I with our foreheads together and us talking in that moment, and I felt like we were the only two people in the room," Pollex said. "I don't even remember any of those cameras being around.

"That moment for us was probably the greatest moment of our life. I don't know if anything else could ever top it."

It would have been hard to wipe the smile off Truex's face. After the ceremony, Truex talked about his plans in the offseason to go hunting and fishing.

But on Monday, he'll probably spend time in a North Carolina hospital as Pollex receives another chemotherapy treatment.

Maybe, just maybe, the journey of the past 10 months, a championship journey and a week of emotional highs will help.

"Anytime you have a positive emotions or things in your life that you're excited about or look forward to, it's a good thing," Truex said. "Tonight, no matter how great it was, how great this year was doesn't change the fact that Monday that she has to have treatment.

"She knows that. It was just a fun night in general with a little bit of triumph along the way to help make the next week maybe not so tough."


Earnhardt Jr. Named Most Popular Driver

Dale Earnhardt Jr. grinned broadly throughout the NASCAR Cup Awards ceremony Thursday night.

He knew what was coming. And he was going to enjoy it.

About midway through the ceremony, Earnhardt was named the National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver for the 15th consecutive year by receiving the most votes from fans who voted online over the final 10 weeks of the season.

The consecutive streak extended a record already owned by Earnhardt, who will retire with one fewer overall most popular driver awards than 16-time winner Bill Elliott.

While the award was no surprise, the difference in what a year makes wasn't lost on Earnhardt, who was days away from testing a year ago to see if he could come back from the vision and balance issues caused by a concussion that threatened his career. Earnhardt had missed the second half of 2016, did come back for 2017 and then announced in April that he would retire from full-time Cup racing after the season-finale Nov. 19 at Homestead.

"I'm so glad to be in this place I'm in right now," Earnhardt said after the ceremony. "Those were some difficult times and some concerning times. I didn't know how the test was going to go and how I would feel in the car. A lot of questions.

"I had been out of the car for a while so it was a very difficult time. This has not been. Obviously, this is a little sad, but there is a lot of joy."

Earnhardt's role in the awards ceremony wasn't just in receiving the popularity award as well as the Bill France Award of Excellence given by NASCAR. He also played a role near the end, too, as he introduced the 2017 NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who slept on Earnhardt's couch when he first competed in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Truex, who won the 2004-05 titles in that series driving for a team co-owned by Earnhardt, has had an emotional journey over the past few years. Truex won the 2017 title, his first and the first for Furniture Row Racing, while his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex has battled a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

"When the love of his life battles the most evil of diseases and he stands with her to make her fight, his fight, he's a champion partner," Earnhardt said during the ceremony.

"When he's away from the track perhaps enjoying his true passion for hunting or fishing, you realize this: He's a champion friend. He's the man."

At that point, Truex said he got emotional.

"I was lucky I had a few minutes after Dale introduced me to calm down and catch my breath because I was kind of a bit of a mess at that point in time," Truex said.

Truex's speech was emotional, too.

"This is a childhood dream to me," Truex said during his speech. "The team has carried the same motto throughout the season, and that was 'Never give up.'

"No one has lived that out more than my life partner, Sherry. ... She is the true champion."

A two-time Daytona 500 winner, Earnhardt will be part of the NBC broadcast team next year. NBC has the rights to the final 20 NASCAR Cup races of the season.

"It's been a great year to reflect, and I was thankful to be able to compete all season and compete one more season and close the book the way I wanted to close it and do it ourselves," Earnhardt said.