HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Sitting outside along the shore of the speedway's infield lake and enjoying some down time with friends and extended family, Sherry Pollex was smiling and laughing Friday afternoon. Martin Truex Jr . was just inside their adjacent motorhome dressed in his racing suit having a small plate of a late healthy lunch and glancing at a NASCAR practice session on the television. Truex is one of four drivers eligible to win NASCAR's coveted Sprint Cup Series championship in Sunday's Ford 400, starting 11th here at Homestead-Miami Speedway . He is the bona fide high-achieving underdog having earned a shot at the title against retiring four-time champion Jeff Gordon , reigning Cup champ Kevin Harvick and another possible first-time Cup titlist Kyle Busch . All the best to our hometown @FR78Racing team, Driver @MartinTruex_Jr & Owner Barney Visser w/their championship race tomorrow!! — John Elway (@johnelway) November 21, 2015 For a couple on the verge of the highest-profile racing weekend of their lives, Pollex and Truex were remarkably calm and relaxed, their dog sweetly splitting time between the two. Pollex laying comfortably on a couch while Truex leaned back in a chair. Pollex had just gone through chemotherapy for ovarian cancer on Monday -- she gets the extreme treatment every 21 days -- and conceded she was tired and not feeling 100 percent even if she looked it. But she is also the kind of person who shall never give cancer an edge -- in its effect on her mojo or her natural all-American good looks. "We keep our lives really normal,'' Pollex said as Truex grinned proudly from the chair next to her. "My doctor will say, 'I know you, you just had chemotherapy but you're going to the race track and going to talk to everyone.' And I just say, 'of course I am.' "It's not my weekend, it's not about me having cancer. It's about him and the first opportunity in his life to have the biggest weekend of his career and win a championship. We're going to focus on that. We don't even talk about cancer at all.'' Truex is her greatest supporter and for this special championship weekend, she is eager to return the favor again. It's actually a remarkably well-working, mutually beneficial support system. Truex is on the verge of his greatest career achievement and despite the rough treatment and tough diagnosis eager to suck the liveliness out of her, Pollex is eager and enthusiastic to enjoy this special situation -- a lesson in living the day. No matter what happens in NASCAR's big finale, they are both huge winners. "I think it's definitely easier when your team is running good,'' Truex said of his Denver-based Furniture Row Racing operation. "I have 100 percent confidence in my team and every time I come to the race track it's stress free. I know we're going to run well. The stuff I do away from the track really has no bearing. "It's real easy to put on your helmet, focus on your driving. You know what you have to do. The stuff away from the track really has no bearing at all on how we run. At least for me, when I get to the track, I focus on that. Even with everything we've had going on, it really hasn't changed the way I race." Even if it has greatly changed his life. "It is a new perspective,'' Truex said with a slight smile and sweet glance at Pollex. "I realize there's no reason to worry about this stuff (with Pollex) because it's something you can't control. It's easy to separate the two. In a lot of ways, having the distractions away from the track keeps your mind off racing and allows you to focus on it when you're back.'' Truex has certainly channeled his worry and energy this season. His Chevrolet has eight top-fives and 22 top-10s through 35 races. He won at Pocono Raceway in June and it has been a career year by all judgments whether Truex leaves South Florida with a big new trophy or not. But interestingly, instead of using the most heart-wrenching of circumstance as a crutch, Truex has used it to inspire and achieve. Instead of being distracted and deterred, he has used his situation and Pollex's illness to succeed and to live. No matter what happens in the NASCAR season-finale, Truex and Pollex are the big winners.
RELATED: Race results " Final standings " Race recap HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Martin Truex Jr . and his Furniture Row Racing bunch didn't mind the perception as the clear underdogs among the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship contenders. It didn't mean they were content just to be among the elite final four. Despite his team trying alternate strategies and working to find finesse on a finicky track, Truex's bid for his first premier-series crown fell short Sunday with a 12th-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway , leaving him fourth in the final Sprint Cup standings. "The odds were against us, for sure," said Truex , who led just three of the 267 laps. "You know, obviously really proud of everybody, like I said, and you know, we didn't come here saying we were going to be OK finishing fourth. We came here and really tried everything in our power, everything we knew how to do, to put together our best performance. It just wasn't in the cards for us." Truex's best season in NASCAR's top division came to an unsatisfying end, fraught with handling woes as the race transferred from daytime to nightfall. "This is frustrating, man. We're terrible," Truex told crew chief Cole Pearn after the No. 78 Chevrolet failed to break back into the top 10 after the team's next-to-last pit stop. It was the theme of the night for several teams battling their car's temperament, but few had as much at stake as the Colorado-based single-car team. "For whatever reason, we just didn't have a good handle on it from the time we started race practice yesterday," Pearn said. "I don't know. Something about this car or what for this track, I don't know. Mile-and-a-halfs have definitely been our strong suit and for whatever reason, we could not move the needle all weekend. "The race was what it was. We tried to make the best of it and threw everything we could at it, but it just wasn't our weekend by any means." An omen might've come during a Lap 137 pit stop, when a fluke spark from a lug nut on the left-rear tire change triggered a flash fire, keeping the fueler from filling the tank. The team recovered, thanks to a quick yellow flag that followed, but the handling issues persisted. WATCH: Truex's car catches on fire during pit stop With the team struggling to gain ground, Pearn gambled on a two-tire stop during the next-to-last yellow flag when the rest of the title contenders took four. The call for track position vaulted the No. 78 to the lead on Lap 169, but the strategy backfired as Truex dropped through the running order on the ensuing long green-flag stretch. "We were just trying -- we had to try something," Truex said. "We weren't getting anywhere. We made just about every adjustment we could possibly make on our race car and never really seemed like we could find that speed, so we were just taking some gambles. We did two early and it worked out for us pretty well. We did two later on and the race went green longer than we had hoped and we probably lost two spots because of it. "But I think all in all at the end of the day, net‑net, we kind of ended up where we should have. We just didn't have the speed, so we were trying to gamble on some things and trying to get some track position any way we could, just couldn't hang onto it." Despite any possible letdown in the finale, the team celebrated plenty of firsts. Truex and Furniture Row each savored their highest season-long finish in NASCAR's premier series, with Truex setting career-bests in top-five finishes, top-10 finishes and laps led -- all under the guidance of a rookie crew chief. "I'm extremely proud," Pearn said. "I mean, we won a race, had 22 top 10s, we finished fourth in points. If you'd told me that at the start of the year, I would've been very, very, very pleased. The good thing is, I'm really excited about our future. We're heading into a really good place with some good partners down the road and put this team in a spot that they've never been in before. Tremendous amount of things to be pleased for and really looking forward to the future." The future for the Barney Visser-owned team may keep the upward trend going. The team will likely return all key personnel and will shift from longtime manufacturer Chevrolet to Toyota in the offseason, aligning itself with Joe Gibbs Racing , this year's title-winning organization with driver Kyle Busch . Momentum from this season may also help as the team tries to do one better in 2016. RELATED: Furniture Row's Toyota move among several changes in Cup for '16 "I think this is great motivation for us for next year," Truex said. "I think that with the things we have coming and going to Toyota and teaming up with JGR and all that stuff, I think the future is bright for this team, and we're keeping all our guys together, and hopefully this is our first season battling for a championship but not our last. I really feel strong that this is a special group of guys, and if we can keep that together for hopefully the rest of my career, I'd love to drive for them. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens. You never know what the future holds, but excited already about next year, and I think we'll be back here in mid‑December testing already for next year. Not a whole lot of rest, and (I'm) looking forward to spending a week or so down here relaxing and having a few beers, catching a few fish and really just let it all soak in what we've been able to accomplish, and really proud of everybody on our team."
RELATED: Updated series standings " Chase Grid FORT WORTH, Texas -- Martin Truex Jr . said he wasn't sure if there was or wasn't contact, and having just climbed from his No. 78 Chevrolet on pit road, he hadn't had time to survey the side of Furniture Row Racing entry. But the distinctive donut, the result of contact with the tire of another car, was hard to miss just below the driver's-side window. "We just got together a little bit on the front straightaway," Truex said of late-race contact with Brad Keselowski as the two battled for the lead in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway . "I don't know if I went down or he came up. He said he thought he came up. It's all good, it's hard racing." A loose wheel and power steering issue -- the issue was that he had none -- dropped Truex from contending for the win to hanging on for a top 10. He finished eighth, and is fourth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with only one race remaining to determine the field of four that will compete for the championship later this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "We had a chance at the win there, I think," said Truex . "Racing with Brad at the end and the right front started shaking and the car just got really tight. Then it was just (a matter) of trying to keep the thing on there for 15 laps and make it to the end. It's just a shame. We had a really good car today. "The 2 (of Keselowski) was stout all day long but toward the end it looked like we got a little bit closer to him. Before that last caution we were actually catching him a bit. I don't know; I wished we would have finished better but all in all I guess it was an OK day." RELATED: Keselowski discusses racing with Truex Consistency helped put the No. 78 in the Chase picture, and a win earlier this season at Pocono Raceway guaranteed his spot in the 16-team field. He had 14 top-10 finishes in his first 15 starts to open the season. And that consistency is starting to resurface with four finishes of eighth or better in his last five starts. Truex led only a single lap, but given Keselowski's dominance on the day, few others spent any time out front as well. His team managed to avoid the tire issues that plagued some teams on the 1.5-mile track, and he quickly showed that his 23rd-place qualifying effort wasn't a sign of things to come. It helped his cause, he said, that Keselowski was unable to win and thus sew up one of the remaining spots in the finale. "That certainly helped a little bit. I was cheering pretty hard for Jimmie Johnson ," Truex said of Johnson's pass for the lead in the waning laps. " … We're still in good shape. Next week would have been a lot easier had we gotten second or third and we had a chance at it. It's disappointing when those finishes slip away but … all in all we're in good shape." Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske , was quick to confer with his rival on pit road. Though disappointed with the outcome -- Keselowski led 312 of 334 laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race only to lose the lead to Johnson four laps from the finish -- there appeared to be no ill feelings as a result of the contact with Truex . "It certainly is never helpful when you make contact with another car, your own car or theirs, Keselowski said. "As far as whether it hurt my car or not, I couldn't answer that."
Martin Truex Jr . address the statement that the No. 78 team is the underdog team heading into the Championship Round but that they deserve to be there and are focused on winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Martin Truex Jr . talks about finishing 12th in the Ford EcoBoost 400 and fourth in the Championship standings, and how the No. 78 team will learn and build from this season for the future in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Martin Truex Jr .'s No. 78 car catches on fire during green flag pit stops on Lap 138 in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
RELATED: Race results " Updated standings " Bubble watch AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A green-flag pit stop and subsequent caution nearly undid a season's worth of work for Martin Truex Jr . and his Furniture Row Racing team here Sunday evening. But when the skies opened up again and brought an end to the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway , Truex found himself officially locked in, one of four drivers that will compete for NASCAR's Sprint Cup championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I feel like we've overcome a lot of obstacles, a lot of odds," Truex said of the Cole Pearn-led No. 78 team. "Just proud to be a part of this group and looking forward to having the opportunity to do something we've dreamed about our whole lives next weekend." He'll be joined by Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in next weekend's title determining race. Truex , 35, entered Sunday's race fourth in the points standings and six points ahead of Carl Edwards ( Joe Gibbs Racing ). Once the race, which was initially delayed for seven hours due to rain, got underway, the two drivers were never separated on the track by more than a couple of cars. Shortly after the race had passed the halfway mark, Edwards had managed to trim the deficit to three points. Green-flag pit stops began and both drivers had come to pit road when the second caution flag of the race appeared for a crash involving Joey Gase and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . What initially looked to be a devastating turn of events wound up being only a minor setback for Truex and the No. 78 team. Both drivers were among those caught a lap down, but Edwards, the first driver not on the lead lap, was the beneficiary of the free pass, putting him back on the lead lap. Truex , however, was one of the "wave-around" cars and because he had already completed his pit stop, rolled back into line in 14th, just two spots behind the JGR entry. Subsequent attempts at a restart were delayed by rain, and when the skies eventually opened up, officials declared the race over. Officially, 219 of the 312 scheduled laps were completed. With no restart, no positions changed hands and Truex was officially scored in 14th, edging Edwards (12th) to secure the final Chase spot by five points. "I was real concerned until I looked at the scoreboard, and then I was like 'OK, we're going to be fine. We're going to be back on the lead lap if we get going here,' " Truex said of the fallout front the caution flag. "Really the only guy we were racing was one car ahead of us. We felt OK about it, but you never know who could have (gone) up there and snuck out a win. "It was just one of those deals where I couldn't believe we got caught by the caution after running almost 200 laps almost green the whole race. We pitted a lap before the caution came out and that's a tough deal. That's happened to us … I can't believe how many times it's happened to us this this year. It's got to be 15 or plus times. We pit, the caution comes out and you're stuck a lap down. "It's really frustrating because we were having a solid night up to that point, certainly not as good as we'd hoped, but solid. It's always frustrating when those things happen." Edwards was hopeful that officials would get the track dry and allow the race to continue. "We want to race for sure," he said. "I don't care if we do this thing with row boats or on foot or whatever we got to do. I want to go race." Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Truex , moves on, still in contention. For Edwards and the No. 19 team, ousted after coming so close, there was the understandable disappointment. Disappointment, crew chief Darian Grubb said, because of "how hard they've worked all year to come down to something as simple as a rain out." His team was a first-year outfit added to the JGR stable for 2015 with Edwards coming on board. The group won twice, at Charlotte and Darlington. "We feel like we could have raced our way back in there and have a shot at it," Grubb said. "We were still five points out, just like we were five points (out) coming in. We knew that was going to be a tough situation, but it ended up that bit us and I hate it for these guys."
RELATED: Junior leaves Newman stranded at the airport Joey Logano and crew had some logistical issues getting out to Phoenix International Raceway -- namely, they didn't have a ride. Logano wound up hitching up with Dale Earnhardt Jr . , known for taking other drivers on his plane to the race weekend, who was on his way out west with fiancée Amy Reimann and Logano's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor Martin Truex Jr . and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex. In other words, the Team Penske driver was the fifth wheel. "We just rode up there. Truex was on there and their girlfriends and fiancées were there, so I was hanging out, just fifth-wheeling it," Logano said Friday at PIR. But hey, there were some friendly pooches on board, so at least he had some company. What could go wrong? "The dogs were on (the plane), the dogs were cool," Logano said. "One of the dogs got sick, that wasn't so cool. It was a little stinky but it was OK." Our money's on Gus. RELATED: Junior’s new puppy poops in Truex ’s bus Hilariously, Logano and his wife wound up watching the classic travel miscue film, 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' starring John Candy and Steve Martin . "We were watching 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' which is ironic because team plane broke," Logano said.
Despite giving a bit of an indecisive answer earlier in the week about who he would root for to win Sunday's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Dale Earnhardt Jr . was clear on the "Dan Patrick Show" on Thursday -- Jeff Gordon 's his guy. "I'm going to obviously pull for my teammate, Jeff Gordon , because I want the boss man (Rick Hendrick) to be happy with Jeff winning the championship, and that's a hell of a way to go out," Earnhardt said on his morning appearance on the NBCSN program. "He's been racing for, what, 20-something years now and still has the ability to go out and win races and battle for championships all the way to the very end. What a storybook ending that would be." Junior had previously said in a Twitter Q&A after his win at Phoenix that he's "a company man, but I'm also pulling for (friend, Martin Truex Jr .)." RELATED: So, Junior, who are you rooting for? But if it came down to it, Junior implied he'd block Truex's No. 78 Chevrolet -- or anyone else -- on the final lap if it helped Gordon win his fifth and final premier series title. "I would block. … I can't pull over to give (Gordon) a spot, I can't let him have a position to give him a point, but yeah, I would block," said Earnhardt. "And I'll race those other guys ( Truex Jr ., Kyle Busch , Kevin Harvick ) very, very hard when I'm around them. Those other three competitors are going to get some hard competition from me and any of the other teammates that are out there."
Martin Truex Jr . takes a single-car operation into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.