Martin Truex Jr. earned his first career victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc., winning at Dover International Speedway on Monday hours after the death of longtime NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr.
Truex won for the first time in 58 career points races on what the New Jersey native has long considered his hometown track. He ended a dominant five-race winning streak for Hendrick Motorsports, leading 216 of the 400 laps on the Monster Mile in NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow.
"In times of change, and times when people don't really know what's going on and they need some direction, I am just happy to be the one in Victory Lane," Truex said. "Couldn't have come at a better race track. Just unbelievable, man."
But news of France's death overshadowed the race. The flag at Victory Lane was lowered to half staff shortly after the announcement, and drivers paid tribute to the man who transformed NASCAR. Truex even was reminded over the radio by his crew to remember and honor France after the race.
Certainly the day's wait for the Autism 400 was worth it for Truex, now closing in on being one of the top 12 drivers for the Chase. The blowers were still out while the cars were out on the grid waiting for their pace laps. But the sun peeked out right as the green flag dropped, which led to a clear and clean day of racing.
Pole sitter Ryan Newman, who led most of the first half of the race, was denied his first win since 2005 and finished second. Carl Edwards, who won the Busch Series race here on Saturday was third.
Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five.
Hendrick Motorsports had won five straight races and nine of the past 10 Nextel Cup races, but only points lead Jeff Gordon (9th) finished in the top 10 at Dover. Casey Mears was 13th; Jimmie Johnson was 15th and Kyle Busch 17th.
Mears won the Coca-Cola 600 last week, giving Nextel Cup two first-time winners in consecutive races. It was the first time the series had consecutive first-time winners since Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek in 1999.
Truex had not seen his success on the Busch Series circuit -- consecutive championships in 2004 and 2005 before joining DEI -- carry over into Cup. But he gained momentum two weeks ago when he won the Nextel Open at Charlotte and earned a spot in the in NASCAR's All-Star race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoped to turn a second-place qualifying effort into his first win of the season but instead was plagued by tire woes, dropped four laps back at one point and finished 22nd.
Earnhardt congratulated Truex in Victory Lane, telling his teammate that he knew he could win.
"He's been a great friend, and I'll see him at the house tonight," Truex said. "We're going to have some fun."
Story Courtesy: CBS.sportsline.com & AP Wire Reports