Martin Truex Jr. was so utterly dominant in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 that Jimmie Johnson said Truex “was playing with us.”
Johnson was right. His comment implied that Truex, while driving away with one of the most convincing victories ever seen at Charlotte Motor Speedway, did so with a hint of mischief.
And maybe Truex did.
When Truex was asked if he was concerned after Johnson passed him briefly for the lead late in the race, Truex replied:
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“I had to give him something for being a good sport. I just wanted to give him a taste of what it might feel like to lead this thing.”
Truex said that with a laugh, and qualified it with: “I’m just kidding.”
But there was an element of truth in what Johnson and Truex said. When a driver dominates a race like Truex did, what else is there to do but throw up your hands and laugh?
Truex led for 588 of the race’s 600 miles – a NASCAR record for most miles led in a race. He led for 392 of 400 laps, a Charlotte record. Starting from the pole, his average speed of 160.44 mph and the time in which the race finished (3 hours, 44 minutes, 8 seconds) were also 600 records.
As Johnson suggested, he and the rest of the field served as the Washington Generals to Truex’s Harlem Globetrotters.
“We didn’t have anything for the 78,” said ninth-place Joey Logano, who had won the previous two races at Charlotte (last fall’s Bank of America 500 and last week’s Sprint All-Star race). “Martin Truex was on fire (Sunday) and really all weekend. They had it figured out.”
Said Greg Biffle, who finished 11th: “He’s been like that everywhere as long as he’s not in traffic. As long as he stays out front, he can win these things. These cars are like that, but they’ve got something figured out, too.”
Almost a 5-time winner
Biffle was referring to four races earlier this season that Truex might have won had it not been for unfortunate circumstances.
Truex finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500 to Denny Hamlin in a photo finish. At Texas, he led a race-high 141 laps, but finished sixth on old tires after he missed a pit stop. At Kansas a few weeks later, he again had a dominant car, leading 172 laps before a faulty bracket behind a tire cost him. He finished 14th.
Two weeks ago at Dover, Truex was in contention until he was caught up in a big wreck during a late-race restart. That was about all Truex could take.
“I just want to get out and punch somebody,” Truex said on his radio. “Like seriously, like hard. Like as hard as I can.”
A different outcome
Everything went right for Truex on Sunday, however. That didn’t prevent some doubt to creep in as the miles wound down. That’s what happens with the kind of rotten luck he’s had this season.
“It just seemed like everything was going the way we needed it to do,” said Truex. “Then we come down to the end of the race and we’re out there leading, and I’m like, all right, when is the caution going to come out? And it didn’t.”
Despite the bad luck he’d had before coming to Charlotte, these have generally been good times for Truex and his Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing team. Truex made the Chase last season and advanced to the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A key change
The team switched from Chevrolet to Toyota this season and is an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which is based in Huntersville.
“That’s huge for us,” said Furniture Row owner Barney Visser. “We think we add something to all of that, and we obviously share all of our information with them. But no, I thought we’d get there. It’s just been kind of a steady progress.”
It’s led to several races in which Truex’s No. 78 Toyota has been in great position to win, but hasn’t been able to finish things off.
It might have happened again Sunday. At one point during the race, Truex complained to crew chief Cole Pearn that the car was tight.
That alarmed Pearn, who told Truex to bring the car in for an earlier-than-scheduled pit stop.
“He was probably a lap away from blowing a right front (tire),” Pearn said in a post-race news conference. “I wasn’t going to tell (reporters) that, but it was close.”