Martin Truex Jr. has Charlotte Motor Speedway figured out.
But fuel-mileage, that’s another thing.
After dominating the Coca-Cola 600 a year ago, Truex again had the strongest car through most of Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But a daring fuel-mileage gamble by Austin Dillon pulled off the victory, leaving Kyle Busch second and Truex third.
Truex has now led 625 of a possible 800 laps in the past two Coca-Cola 600s. But he and Busch could never quite catch up to the lead Dillon amassed by choosing not to pit.
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Eight drivers took that risk, notably Jimmie Johnson, whose tank started running dry with about three laps left. Dillon, the grandson of well-known car owner Richard Childress, won his first race in NASCAR’s top circuit.
Truex made up most of a deficit of about 10 seconds, but it used up his Toyota to an extent he couldn’t get to Dillon to take back the lead.
“I definitely burned myself up trying to get through traffic,” said Truex. “Our car was definitely looser that last run. I lost quite a bit of time in traffic. Just too loose in general.
“We made a little mistake in that last adjustment, and that cost us.”
Busch appeared inconsolable post-race and was abrupt in his comment when asked if he was surprised by Dillon’s successful fuel gamble.
“I’m not surprised about anything. Congratulations,” Busch said.
Truex made a big turnaround in his performances at Charlotte Motor Speedway after going to Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colorado.
“I used to dread coming here,” Truex said of the 1.5-mile track. “Then probably our two best runs were here. In ’15, we picked up on that and ran better.”
Truex said this success is as much about the quality of communication with his crew as it is about Truex’s own comfort driving here.
“When I come here, I know what I need my car to do,” Truex described. “The hardest part is getting your car to do the things you want to do. That’s credit to the team, to take the feel I need and get it right. That’s so challenging.”
Charlotte Motor Speedway applied a surfacing agent to the upper half of the track to improve traction. Truex said that made a major difference Sunday, compared to how the track ran during the previous week’s All-Star race.
“I think it was a huge factor. Last week the middle- to high-middle groove was non-existent. Where typically there’s the least grip, tonight it was the best grip,” Truex said, adding that the lower groove Sunday felt bumpy and slippery.
Truex doubts the sealer applied here would work universally on NASCAR’s tracks, but he certainly encourages Charlotte Motor Speedway to keep using it.
“The pavement here is different than anywhere else we go. It was really good here,” Truex said. “The bottom was so slippery, I don’t know what kind of race we would have had” without that sealer.
Of course, the way Truex has driven at Charlotte of late, he’d probably figure things out regardless:
“(We bring) fast cars, and we’ll keep coming back with them.”