Martin Truex was the toast of wine country when he left the road course of Sonoma a winner for the first time in six years.
Truex returns this weekend aiming for another win, but so much else has changed.
He'll bring a new team, different car and new sense of desperation as he tries to force his way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Truex was booted from the Chase last season in the aftermath of the Richmond scandal. In his first season driving the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, Truex hasn't come close to sniffing a checkered flag, buried at 25th in the points standings with only three top-10 finishes and no top fives.
He posted consecutive top-10s and Dover and Pocono before an early-race accident last weekend at Michigan knocked him out of the race.
"We just need to start a new streak in Sonoma," said Truex. "We've had way too much bad luck so far, but we will keep plugging away and hope what goes around comes around."
Truex's previous only Sprint Cup Series win had been at Dover in 2007 and he was on a 218-race winless streak before winning at Sonoma for Michael Waltrip Racing. He led 51 of 110 laps, though it was far from the breakthrough victory he hoped it would become.
He lost his sponsor, and his job following Richmond — a trifecta of bad news that left him scrambling for a ride late in 2013. Truex didn't strike a deal with Furniture Row until November.
Furniture Row, a one-car operation based in Denver, far removed from NASCAR's North Carolina hub, had amazing success last season with Kurt Busch. Busch turned the organization into championship contenders, helping them become the first single-car team to earn a berth in the Chase.
Under the revamped Chase rules, Truex can do the same with a victory. He'd love for a win to jump-start a rough season that has been far from expected from one of last season's top drivers.
"When it comes to winning, this is one race that has been circled on the schedule," Truex said. "However, there are so many excellent road course drivers right now and I am sure this race has also been circled on their calendars as well."
TOYOTA DEAL: Toyota signed a three-year extension to remain the co-title sponsor of the Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.
Toyota Motor Sales USA and the Northern California Toyota Dealers have served as co-title of the race since 2007. Toyota is also Sonoma's official vehicle. The 2014 season marks Toyota's 10th anniversary participating in NASCAR national series competition.
Toyota will also continue as title sponsor of the raceway's annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 preview show on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. The 30-minute special, which airs a minimum of six times during June, has been nominated for a sports Emmy award in past years.
DAYTONA HONORS: Daytona International Speedway will honor four Medal of Honor recipients during the July 3-5 race weekend. Daytona will honor them for the sixth consecutive year. For complete biographies: http://www.cmohs.org/
ARCA COVERAGE: CBS Sports Network will become the newest ARCA Racing Series television partner this weekend when the network broadcasts the Akona 250 at Elko (Minnesota) Speedway on Saturday.
ARCA and CBS Sports Network signed a contract earlier this year for the network to broadcast three live ARCA races this season. CBS Sports Network's coverage begins with the 9 p.m. ET race from the short track in Minnesota.
In addition, CBS Sports Network will televise races July 6 from Winchester (Indiana) Speedway and Aug. 24 at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wisconsin. The stock car series, which has no affiliation with NASCAR, sometimes serves as a support race during the weekend.
AMBROSE CONTRACT: Marcos Ambrose is one driver who can't wait to hit the road course at Sonoma. He's a noted road course ace, with two wins at Watkins Glen and five top 10s and a pole at Sonoma.
Ambrose could use a win to vault him into Chase contention and perhaps solidify his standing with Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose's deal is up at the end of the season, leaving him open to speculation that he'll return to Australia to race in the V8 Super Series.
"I'm in a renewal year with Richard Petty for 2015," Ambrose said. "I'm not really thinking about myself here. I just want the best for RPM. They have decisions to make along the way here. I want to help them make their decisions and be where they want to be."
SLEEPYHEAD: NASCAR driver Erik Jones is set to attend the "Wake Up Nashville!" event on Friday to raise awareness and money to fight narcolepsy. All proceeds from the event will benefit Wake Up Narcolepsy, which works to speed narcolepsy diagnosis through greater awareness and fund medical research for improved treatment.
RALLYCROSS: The Global Rallycross season moves to Washington this weekend at RFK Park. It's the first motorsports event in Washington since the 2002 ALMS race. Former NASCAR driver Scott Speed is the points leader.