Martin Truex Jr. comes out on top after a wild Coca-Cola 600
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
After a relatively slow start to the 2019 season, his first in the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr. has come on strong in recent weeks. His win in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was his third in the past five points-paying Monster Energy Cup Series races and the second of his career in NASCAR’s longest race.
Truex, who also has wins this year at Dover and Richmond, didn’t have an easy night. On Lap 73, while leading the race, he blew a right-front tire and hit the wall, then had another dented fender from an incident with Chase Elliott later in the race.
The damage turned out to be repairable and Truex’s team, led by wily crew chief Cole Pearn, adjusted his car and he was back out front again at Lap 131. He wound up leading a race-high 116 laps and was cruising toward the checkered flag as the laps wound down when Brad Keselowski spun, bringing out the race’s 16th caution flag.
That set up a five-lap dash to the finish line. David Ragan, who was having a great run, stayed on the track and took the lead, forgoing a pit stop because his team had already used the 12 sets of tires each team was allotted.
Ryan Newman took over second place by just taking two tires and Truex lined up third.
Just after the green flag flew, Truex went four-wide to the inside to begin his march forward and quickly sped into the top spot, followed by Joey Logano. Truex then motored away to his 22nd career win, with Logano taking the runner-up spot over Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“I just basically knew that whoever got out front first with four tires was probably going to win with a [five]-lap shootout,” Truex said in his winner’s interview. “You don’t have enough time to get around somebody if it gets single file at all.”
He said his first move was to push his pal Newman.
“I was just pushing Ryan, pushing Ryan, pushing Ryan, trying to get him going, and we came off of [Turn] Two and somehow they got three wide on that front row, and at that point, those three guys just kind of stalled out, and I had just enough momentum,” he said. “I just yanked it left and said, ‘Here’s my chance.’
“There was a hole to go there, and I had just enough of a run to clear a few of them getting into [Turn] Three and then off of Four I was just able to sneak up in front of [Logano], I mean, by like a quarter of an inch. … .Barely, barely fit there, but it just worked out.”
Truex said the before the blown tire, he felt like he had as good a car as he had in the 2016 Coca-Cola 600, when he led all but eight laps en route to a win.
The blown tire, one of several that occurred in the early going, forced crew chief Cole Pearn to raise air pressures on the right-front tire, which meant other changes were needed to adapt to the higher tire pressures.
“Obviously, when you’re in those scenarios when they’re all popping, it’s probably too much camber and too low air,” Pearn said. “It’s not real rocket science when it comes to that, so we had to react and then rebalance the car around being higher on air.”
Pearn said the team’s recent string of success comes after he and the team worked with Truex to help him adjust to the new lower horsepower/higher downforce handling package that debuted this year.
“We just kind of refocused coming here with kind of a different game plan, and really took a positive attitude to it and try and figure out what Martin needed,” he said. “We worked on him a lot to embrace the package and drive in a different way, and he did perfect tonight, and we did better for him. When you can complement each other and both do better, it shows a sign of how good a team we have.”
Logano overcame a slow start to contend for the win at the end. “We just got thrown for a loop there the first few laps of this race, first two, three stages, just, boy, we were junk,” he said. “The guys did a good job adjusting on it and got it to where we were competitive at least. We weren’t fast enough to win, but circumstances could have played in the right way and maybe we could have done it.”
The 600 also saw several underdog drivers have strong runs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fifth, a career first top-five on an intermediate track. Chris Buescher finished sixth, while Corey LaJoie, who races for the small GoFas Racing team, finished 12th.
Buescher, who blew a tire, hit the wall and lost a lap midway through the race, said the crew of his No. 37 Chevy did a great job repairing the damage.
“We were able to come out there at the end and get an awesome finish,” he said. “We have to keep improving a little bit, but it was a pretty awesome night.”
PHOTO CAPTION: The Coca-Cola 600 featured 46 green-flag passes for the lead — exactly twice the number from last year’s race — and 30 official lead changes among 11 drivers. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for NASCAR