Martin Truex Jr. faced little trouble on the track during a dominant 2017 NASCAR championship season.
But the 37-year-old driver and his Furniture Row Racing team dealt with plenty of off-track adversity — the death of crew member Jim Watson, a heart attack suffered by his owner Barney Visser and a recurrence of ovarian cancer for his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex.
President Donald Trump addressed all three challenges while praising Truex's impressive on-track work en route to the 2017 title during an event on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday. He highlighted the team's "never give up" slogan.
"It was neat for him to recognize that," Truex said. "With racing in general and then you throw in what Sherry has been going through, our owner going through his issues. It's been a crazy, crazy thing. ... It's an unbelievable feeling for us all to be standing here together and celebrating a championship."
Pollex attended the event with many members of the No. 78 team. Visser was unable to attend.
Truex, a New Jersey native, cruised to his first championship, winning eight times and posting 19 top-5 finishes in 36 races. Truex had 26 top-10 finishes and led 20 of 108 stages on the NASCAR season. His No. 78 Toyota was on display alongside the president.
"Does it get lonely being in first?" Trump asked.
Trump thanked NASCAR chairman Brian France as an early supporter and praised NASCAR fans for their patriotism.
"At every NASCAR race you will see thousands of patriotic Americans, from the grandstands to the pit stalls, proudly waving our flag and roaring with joy at the words 'Start your engines.' And I will tell you, one thing I know about NASCAR, they do indeed, Brian, stand for the playing of the national anthem. They do indeed," Trump said, drawing his loudest cheer of the event. "Somebody said, 'Maybe you shouldn't say that, that'll be controversial. I said, 'That's OK. NASCAR's not going to mind it at all.' Right, fellas? They don't mind it at all."
Trump has been critical of NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. The players were protesting the treatment of black Americans by police after several deadly incidents across the country.
Members of the team posed for selfies with the president after the speech. Truex said Trump gave a tour of the White House.
"The way he welcomed us in here today, he went over, above and beyond to take us around and show us things he didn’t have to and take pictures with all the team and really treat us really well," Truex said. "It’s way more than you would expect from somebody at that level."
Truex said seeing the Lincoln Bedroom and where Lincoln worked on the Gettysburg Address stood out. As did being in the Oval Office.
"The people that have been here, the decisions that have been made, the way that the world has changed because of decisions that have been made here," he said, "just walking around, it gives you goosebumps."
Truex presented Trump with a replica helmet.