HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Sunday was a day rivaled by few in the history of stock-car racing for emotions laid bare. So many tears, so many hugs, so much fire and heat. Martin Truex Jr., who would be working on his family’s clam boats if not for a fortunate racing turn or two, won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. He did it with one of auto racing’s very best chargers, Kyle Busch, filling his rear view mirror over the closing miles, wringing every ounce of speed on every lap from his Toyota, chasing glory.

Truex kept his composure, kept Busch at least three car lengths behind him, chose the best racing lines from the several available on one of the sport’s best 1.5-mile tracks and rode home to the race win and the title.

In doing so, Truex became the first Cup champion from New Jersey. Sunday he was a long way from the Eastern coast where he once did the hard, messy work on his father’s clam boats in the Atlantic, days he was happy to run away from when racing became a possibility. Still, through a series of ups and downs, Truex had no promise of solid success in the sport until Barney Visser suddenly needed a driver at Furniture Row Racing and called him. They built from there, growing a championship-contending team from the unlikely location of Denver, anything but a motorsports capital. “I’m thinking about all the tough days and times where I thought my career was over with and times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me,” Truex said during a wild victory celebration. “Nobody but the people who mattered did – the fans, my friends, my family and this team.”

Appropriately, when asked to lift the 60-pound champion’s trophy in the air for the first time, Truex summoned crew chief Cole Pearn, who traveled south from his home in Canada to become one of NASCAR’s best along pit road, to help with the hoist. They put the trophy into the sky, a long and magical season ending with an exclamation point.

In the moments after Truex climbed from his car, the race with Busch having exhausted him, his team and family rushed toward him. There was a tight hug from Pearn and a bigger one from Sherry Pollex, Truex’s longtime girlfriend and the partner who has traveled a long and often dark road with him over a long period of months as she has battled ovarian cancer.

In the toughest times, through surgeries and the big hammer of cancer-fighting drugs, Pollex persevered, attending races when she could and burning up cell-phone minutes when she couldn’t. On Sunday night, the stars finally aligned for a couple that had fought through uncertain times. This time the tears were big. Real. Lasting. Tears of joy and a shining moment on top of the world.