HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Martin Truex Jr. scoffs when people say he's always had the talent and he has finally found a place where he has quality equipment.
He certainly loves driving quality equipment, but the 2017 NASCAR Cup champion believes he has improved as a driver from when he arrived at Furniture Row Racing in 2014.
"They might think that, but ask my crew chief, ask my engineer if I'm the same driver," Truex said. "Ask my car owner. I'm not the same driver. I'm better than I was. And they are better than they were. And we're better together.
"That's the real key. We've all learned together. We've all made each other better. We've learned to find the little things that matter."
Truex captured the 2017 championship by winning the season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He led 78 laps, including the final 51. On a restart with 34 laps remaining, Truex got a perfect jump and put enough distance between himself and Kyle Busch, who burned up his tires trying to catch Truex in the final 15 laps.
"I don't know how we won that thing," Truex said. "Never give up. Dig deep. I told my guys we were going to dig deeper than we ever have today, and 20 [laps] to go I thought I was done -- they were all better than me on the long run all day long.
"I just found a way. I found a lane that I could use and I found a lane that was blocking enough of their air that they couldn't use it and just made it happen. I can't believe it."
Few would have believed it for Truex four years ago, when he found himself without a ride as Napa Auto Parts dropped sponsorship from Michael Waltrip Racing as part of the fallout of the team's ordering drivers down pit road at Richmond to try to get Truex into the 2013 playoffs. Truex didn't know what was happening and ended up getting a points penalty that kept him from competing in the playoffs that year.
"There was a night where I sat on the porch and thought there was a chance I may never race in the Cup Series again, at least competitively," Truex said. "It was late in the season, found out I wasn't going to have a sponsor, obviously, for the next year.
"I didn't know of any rides available. ... It was just a matter of luck and timing to be honest that it all came together. Obviously the rest is history."
History was taken care of by Furniture Row Racing, which needed a driver as Kurt Busch had left for Stewart-Haas Racing. Truex found a home.
And then came the miserable 2014 season, when Truex struggled on the track and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, found out in August she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser told Truex he could take the rest of the season off and his ride would be there in 2015.
Truex declined that offer, the car being a therapeutic place for him, even when it ran like a ton of bricks. Late in the season, he started to improve for a simple reason: The team stopped telling him how to drive and he stopped telling the team that the cars stunk and they needed to be fixed.
Engineer Cole Pearn was elevated to crew chief after the 2014 season, and their camaraderie grew.
"They show me things on how to drive; I show them things on the car that I think we should do," Truex said. "We work it out together. That's part of our mindset, our belief in each other.
"We all feel like we're all the best at what we're doing. If I tell them I need this right rear spring or I need this air pressure, they're like 'OK.' They do it."
The results have been nothing short of magical. Truex won one race in 2015 but advanced to be among the four finalists. He finished fourth in the standings.
He won four races in 2016 but was knocked out of championship contention in the quarterfinal round with an engine failure at Talladega.
There appeared to be no stopping Truex in 2017. He won the third race of the year at Las Vegas and then seven more, including Sunday at Homestead.
"It's just overwhelming," Truex said. "To think about all the rough days and bad days, the days that I couldn't run 20th; to be here, I never thought this day would come and to be here is so unbelievable."
For Truex and Pollex, it shows that hard work and faith can reap dividends.
"We always say if you can fight a struggle with a positive attitude and just have a smile on your face and find the good and the silver lining in everything, in the end you'll come out and karma will pay you back and good things will happen to you," Pollex said.
"We try to do as much as we can with our foundation and Sherry Strong to help other people, and I keep telling Martin if we continue to do that, good things will happen to us, and this is the best thing that could happen."
Some would call it fate that Truex, with possibly not as good a car as Busch, could hold off the driver who some believe has the most talent of anyone in the Cup field.
As Truex said, he isn't sure how much he should attribute to his skill and how much to divine intervention on a day where the driver of the No. 78 led 78 laps.
"It was meant to be wasn't it?" Truex said. "Are you serious? Seventy-eight laps. You know, some things are just meant to be, I guess. That's all you can say.
"Last year wasn't meant to be. We worked just as hard as we did this year. And this year, it all came together. It felt right. It was our time. It is proof right there. There is a higher power."
But Truex also elevated his game.
"I feel like I've run 20 laps before like that a lot in my career, but never with that on the line," Truex said. "In 2015, I think I could have done it, but I don't know.
"Before 2014, I know I couldn't have. I would have been probably spun out a bit, nervous as all hell. But tonight, I was like, 'OK, I've just got to find a little bit.' I found it and it was like, 'OK, here we go, I got this. ... Just don't screw up, dummy.'"
Crew chief Pearn believes Truex made the difference.
"I continue to believe every day [in] his talent level," Pearn said. "And a lot of times we get a lot of credit as a team because maybe in his career he didn't have the success he's had since we've been together.
"Really, he's a champion. ... Really, he put it on his shoulders there because we were out of ideas. We were doing everything we could, and we made the best calls we could. I can't take away from that. But at the same time, he put it on his shoulders and made it happen."
It's unbelievable to many that a team based in Denver could win the title. But Visser -- who was sitting at home because of heart surgery a few weeks ago -- never pinched pennies when it came to running well. He uses his Furniture Row trucks to haul parts and pieces on a weekly basis to North Carolina from Denver.
"I feel like we're going to be in this position for a while," Truex said. "We're not going anywhere. I think we're still getting stronger. Sorry to everybody else. That's how I feel. Look at our four years together, we went from nobodies to winners to weekly contenders last year.
"It's not like we just all of a sudden came on the scene and figured something out. It's not like we have a trick or some big secret that nobody's figured out."