Martin Truex Jr. has more at stake than a championship

Part of Martin Truex Jr. absolutely wants to win the NASCAR Cup title for his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex.

Few would blame him. When Pollex, 38, prays, she doesn’t just pray for her cancer to go into remission.

“This is sad, but you pray that it comes back somewhere that they can operate,” said Pollex, who has had two major surgeries and approximately 35 chemotherapy treatments since being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2014. “I feel like if they can open me up and get it out, then I have a chance.

“But if it starts spreading everywhere in my abdomen and they can’t operate, then my odds greatly decrease.”

Pollex appreciates Truex wanting to win for her and people rooting for Truex because of her, but part of Pollex absolutely doesn’t want Truex to have her on his mind Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

If Truex can beat Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in the season finale to win the Cup title, Pollex — daughter of former Xfinity Series championship owner Greg Pollex — knows just how big a racing feat he and the Furniture Row Racing team will accomplish.

“I can’t even think about that moment because I can’t think about it without crying,” Pollex said. “Because I can’t think about what it would mean not just to us personally but to that whole team and how much they’ve overcome. … We were terrible (in 2014). We couldn’t get out of our own way.

“And nobody thought this team would ever compete for a championship. I want him to win it for all those reasons. I don’t want it to be about my cancer.”

It might be Truex’s moment, but Pollex’s fight has helped shape Truex, and it has given him perspective as he has surged to the NASCAR elite after a decade of trying to find a way to go from good NASCAR Cup driver to a great one.

Her battle motivates him to dig deep and perform on the racetrack. And he does it without even the appearance of competing while emotionally drained.

He’s a good actor. Ask him why it doesn’t wear on him, and he has a simple answer:

“It has,” he said.

Good cars and faith in teammates will carry a driver far, and it could carry Truex to build on a racing résumé that includes the 2004-2005 Xfinity titles. He has a series-high seven victories this year and has led a series-high 2,175 laps, building on a 2016 where he won four times and led 1,809 laps.

All the while, Truex has tried to be there for Pollex since the August 2014 diagnosis, surgery and 17 months of chemotherapy treatments. The cancer returned in May, and Pollex underwent successful surgery to her spleen and liver in July. She currently receives a harsh dosage of two chemotherapy drugs every four weeks.

“I have just figured out how to get through it, I guess,” Truex said. “There are a lot worse things that could happen. I guess I always look at the positives and say it could be a lot worse. … Being successful on the track helps.”

Truex knows all about the struggle to achieve success on the track. In six of his first seven Cup seasons, he didn’t win a race. In his first nine seasons, he finished outside the top 10 in the standings.

Many perceive him as the victim in the Michael Waltrip Racing race manipulation scandal that cost him a spot in the Chase in 2013 and caused him to end up losing his ride.

Truex found a new home at Furniture Row Racing and had a miserable year on the track in 2014 as Pollex battled cancer.

“It’s always been a job,” Truex said. “I feel like when we’re at the racetrack and I’m with the team and I’m in the car, I don’t feel like it’s a job. The rest of the time, I do.

“Just the travel and the constant being on the road, being away from home, having to leave Sherry at home when she’s doing chemo and things like that, it wears on you.”

With her latest treatment a couple weeks ago, Pollex could travel to Phoenix last week and will travel to Homestead this weekend. Truex would love to reward her for her fierce, fighting spirit by hoisting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy.

“It’s just part of the motivation,” Truex said. “It’s part of my life now.”

Truex has no concerns that if he doesn’t win the championship that he will feel as if he let Pollex down. He has no concerns that emotion could overwhelm him at a critical time in the race Sunday.

Truex, 37, won back-to-back Xfinity Series titles in 2004 and 2005. He knows the importance of championships.

“I know at the end of the day it’s still racing,” Truex said. “It’s not the end of the world. The world is going to go on, life is going to go on if you don’t win it.

“I didn’t use to [feel that way]. When I was younger, it was the end of the world. In ’04 I might have thought my world was going to end if I didn’t win it. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve grown a lot. I’m a lot more mature. And a lot older.”

Learning the statistic in 2014 that only 20 percent of people in Pollex’s condition live five years will tend to cause a person to mature.

“At that moment in time in his life, the only thing that was important to him was being successful on the racetrack,” Pollex said about Truex as a young racer. “It wasn’t really about his personal life or who he loved or who he cared about or his family.

“Not that he didn’t love and care about his family or me; I think things have changed since then and you just have a different perspective on life. You can’t go through what we’ve been through and not let it change you. I wake up every day and stare death in the face.”

The perspective possibly increased even more this year. Pollex often says “no one knows what our last day is going to be,” and no team knows that better than Furniture Row Racing.

Road fabricator Jim Watson died of a heart attack at a go-kart outing with the team in Kansas last month. Team owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and is recovering. Crew chief Cole Pearn also lost one of his best friends unexpectedly during the season.

“We believe I’m going to beat it and I’m going to be different,” Pollex said. “What’s the alternative? You wake up every day and you believe you’re going to die? Nobody wants to live like that.”

Pollex will finish chemotherapy this winter, and doctors have told her that if she doesn’t go on an experimental drug program early next year, the cancer likely will come back soon. The new drugs have a 50 percent chance of preventing a recurrence over two years, Pollex said.

The battle continues.

“Not much has changed since 2014 when she got diagnosed other than we are running a lot better than we were then,” Truex said. “But aside from that, it’s really the same.”

Maybe a little bit of New Jersey attitude has kept Truex focused as he has put his head down and tackled the challenges.

“I’ve heard stories all my life of how and seen people go through some really hard stuff,” Truex said. “I know the health part of it for her is tough.

“But I feel like we can get through it. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We can kind of see the other side. We’ve just got to keep pushing.”

He proved just that a few days after Pollex’s surgery in July when he won at Kentucky.

“I had those thoughts like: ‘Why does this have to happen to us right now; why can’t it happen in the offseason or why can’t it be when he has so much on his plate?” Pollex said. “He seems to handle it so well.

“The racetrack for him is a time that he can forget about all that and he can put his helmet on and just be Martin Truex Jr. — he doesn’t have to be ‘Martin that has somebody at home that is fighting cancer.'”

But he is. As an advocate for research for both ovarian and pediatric cancer, Pollex knows their story resonates with the avid race fans as well as the casual race fans. Truex’s success, in part, gives Pollex a platform to tell her story, to help their foundation reach its goals.

“It’s been really cool to read everything on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and see people say ‘You’ve been such an inspiration to me,'” Pollex said. “It’s so humbling to think that you can do that. Maybe that’s why God put me on this path so I can do that for other people.

“If that’s the case, I’m fine with that. I hate that it causes pain for my family and for Martin. If inspiring other people is what makes it worth the battle, that’s cool, and I feel lucky to be that person.”

While she knows many people have interest in their story, she just hopes that if Truex can win the title Sunday, the team’s story gets told.

“I don’t want him to win and people to be like, ‘Oh my God, that is so awesome that he won because she is fighting ovarian cancer,’ ” Pollex said. “I want people to be like, ‘Oh my God, he won because he worked his ass off to get to this point and this team, nobody thought they could do it, and look at what they’ve done.’

“I hope in that moment, if he wins, that people don’t make it about me. Because it’s not about me. It’s his moment. Not mine.”

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