DOVER, Del. -- Bill France Jr. was a dream-maker.
He took over the NASCAR reins from his father, Bill France Sr., and for three decades sculpted it into something that allowed young men all over the country to reach for the stars in a 3,000-pound stock car.
Add Martin Truex Jr. to that list.
Truex scored his first career Nextel Cup win Monday at Dover International Speedway, winning the Autism Speaks 400 in runaway fashion on the same day that NASCAR lost "Little Bill" after his long battle with cancer. He was 74.
"Man, I just don't know what to say," Truex said after putting Dale Earnhardt Inc. in Victory Lane for the first time in 2007. "I've got to thank all these guys and everyone at DEI for all their hard work in times of change and times when people don't really know what's going on and they need some leadership and some direction.
"This is just unbelievable, man. What an unbelievable race car we had today."
Unbelievable is right. Truex started 26th on the grid in his No. 1 Chevrolet but found a comfortable inside groove early on The Monster Mile.
Truex then delivered a monster performance on the high-banked concrete oval. He led 216 of the 400 laps, taking the lead for good with 54 to go and winning the season's sixth Car of Tomorrow race by 7.355 seconds. He'd led a combined 54 laps in all 61 previous Nextel Cup starts.
"I told a bunch of people I thought I had the car to beat at Happy Hour and today we kind of proved that," Truex said. "It was nice for once to have that feeling and to go out there and back it up."
The race turned into a two-car shootout between the surprising Truex and the No. 12 Dodge driven by pole-sitter Ryan Newman, who led 135 laps before settling for second place. It was the best finish by a Dodge driver all year. Carl Edwards finished third.
"Michael Nelson [crew chief] and the guys did an awesome job in the pits today," Newman said. "I don't think they could have done any better, and that's all I can ask for. Our car just wasn't quite fast enough to beat the 1 car at the end. Martin drove a smooth race and did an excellent job. He was patient at the same time."
Perhaps more than anything, Truex showed that there will be life after Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, folks, DEI is not dead after all.
"I still don't understand where everyone is coming from when they thought that DEI was going to go away just because Dale Jr. [is leaving]," Truex said. "[DEI] started before he started driving. It's been around a long time.
"Junior's a great asset. He's been a great teammate for me. He's been a mentor for me. But we can go on, we can win races. … It's nice to put them in the spotlight a little bit. … It feels good to hush up all that and solidify the fact that we're here for real and we're going to win races. …"
What did Junior think of his teammate's first victory?
"He just said that he knew I could do it and that he would see me tonight," Truex said of his post-race meeting with Earnhardt Jr. "I'm sure we'll have a [good time.]"
The Autism Speaks 400 -- postponed by rain on Sunday -- produced the second first-time career winner in a row. Casey Mears scored his first Cup victory last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Monday's finish also produced a rare setback for Hendrick Motorsports, which had won nine of the last 10 points races and all five COT events run to date.
The top Hendrick driver at Dover was series points leader Jeff Gordon, who finished ninth. Teammate Jimmie Johnson was running third when a right rear tire on his No. 48 Chevrolet went down and he was forced to pit. He ended up 15th. Casey Mears finished 15th and Kyle Busch was 17th.
"It was a really hard-fought ninth-place finish," said Gordon, who started sixth. "I started off the race great. I drove to the front and thought we were going to have an awesome day, but it just went downhill from there. We were really loose. We made all kinds of adjustment but never really seemed to be able to get it right."