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NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. turns a corner, Jimmie Johnson hits a wall

Just three months after heart surgery, Brian Vickers returned to the NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series

Martin Truex Jr. is turning the corner after a miserable 2014.

The driver for the one-car team Furniture Row Racing finished second to Kevin Harvick on Sunday in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here.

That came after Truex finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500 and sixth last weekend in Atlanta. All of which is a marked improvement from last year, when Truex finished a dismal 24th in the title standings in his first season with Furniture Row.

Not only did Truex, 34, and his No. 78 Chevrolet struggle last year, Truex's girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"There were days where it was just really hard to even think about racing," Truex said. But he added that "there was never a time when I quit on [the team]."

And in the context of Pollex's struggle, "those bad days are not near as bad at the racetrack as you thought they were," Truex said.

After Sunday's race, Pollex said on Twitter: "So proud of MT & his @FR78Racing team!"

Johnson's long day

Early in Sunday's race, it appeared Jimmie Johnson, the only four-time winner at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, might be poised for a fifth victory here.

But after leading 45 laps, hardly anything went right for the six-time Cup champion and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

A blown tire sent Johnson's car into the wall on Lap 173 of the 267-lap race. Then the same thing happened with 81 laps left, forcing Johnson to the garage for repairs and leaving him with a 41st-place finish.

"I'm disappointed," Johnson said. "We certainly had an awesome race car. We'll come back next week."

Vickers' return

Only three months after having corrective heart surgery, Brian Vickers returned to the Cup series and finished 15th in his No. 55 Toyota after starting 28th.

Vickers, 31, who suffered from blood clots, initially had an artificial patch inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in his heart. But in December, it was discovered that his body was rejecting the patch, so he had surgery to repair the hole.

"A top-15 [finish] considering where we were at three months ago — I'll take it," said Vickers, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing.

"It feels so good to be back in a race car — so happy, so thankful, and I wasn't sure if I'd ever be here again," Vickers said.

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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