Scott Fowler

Truex wins on wild and welcome night, as five-hour race comes down to final laps

Martin Truex Jr. won the 2019 Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night, duplicating his victory in the exact same race in 2016.

But almost everything else about the two races was different. And the one on Sunday was way better, as Truex made a wild, four-wide pass on the final restart and provided a spectacular ending to a race that lasted nearly five hours but came down to the final few laps.

What we saw Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a glimpse of what NASCAR can still be when done right – numerous lead changes, a promising crowd (not a sellout, but better than it has been for this race in recent years) and an exciting finish. That last part is the most important. In this race in particular, you must give the dedicated fans who stayed past 11 p.m. for the end something good to talk about on the way home.

Said Truex of the move that won the race: “I just yanked it left and said ‘Here’s my chance.’…. We had an amazing car, but we could do that same restart four more times and lose all four of them.”

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Truex also thought he was “finished” less than a quarter of the way through, because he blew a tire and banged into the wall while leading.

“I felt like our race was going to be over at that point,” Truex said.

Instead, his crew fixed up his Toyota, and Truex then drove the heck out of it, winning for the third time this season.

“At the time, it was not good,” Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, said of the early wreck. “We sustained quite a bit of damage… We finally got on the other side of it… And it was crazy to see the car to be that good and be that banged up.”

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A ‘super’ weekend for NASCAR

From everyone’s perspective except Truex’s and his team, this was a far better race than his win in the Coke 600 in 2016. In that snoozer, Truex led 392 of the race’s 400 laps. The whole thing felt about like one of those delays when the officials review a call in a basketball game in a “let’s just get this over with” sort of way.

Although that 2016 race actually was a short one by the 600’s skewed standards, it felt far longer than Sunday night because nothing much happened. Truex won the pole that year and then led more miles (588 out of a possible 600) than any NASCAR driver ever had in a single race.

This time there were 11 leaders, 30 lead changes and just a whole lot more action – the kind everyone wants to see at a Cup event, with sparks flying, cars rubbing and no one ultimately getting hurt.

It was literally the hottest Coca-Cola 600 in the past 49 years. The temperature at the start was a sizzling 94 degrees. It cooled off slightly from daylight to twilight and then into the night for a race that included 16 caution flags (when Truex won in 2016, there were only four cautions).

“I felt like the weekend was really super for our sport,” said Joe Gibbs, the winning team owner.

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Charlotte Flair’s pick

Three hours before it started, wrestling superstar and the race’s pace-car driver, Charlotte Flair, noted that her father Ric was now known as “Charlotte’s Dad.” She was also asked during her press conference who she picked to win the race.

“Whoever the bad guy is,” Flair cracked. When told that was Kyle Busch, she responded: “OK, I’ll go with him.”

That seemed to be a very good pick for much of the evening. Busch led for 79 laps, but was undone in part by his older brother Kurt getting loose and tagging him during the race. He still finished third.

Joey Logano had a chance at the end, staying right on Truex’s bumper, but finished second.

It was Truex who darted low on that final restart to win with a car he said was “beat all to hell.” He began it in third place after pitting to take four tires, but surpassed David Ragan (who had old tires) and Ryan Newman (who had made a two-tire pit stop) and then held off Logano and Busch for the victory.

Speaking of holding it, Truex also mentioned that he really had to go to the bathroom during the race.

“I hadn’t gone since 5 o’clock,” Truex said at about 12:50 a.m. Monday as he started to conclude his press conference. “And that’s the No. 1 question we get asked by the fans: ‘What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom in the car?’ So I’m just letting all the NASCAR fans out there know that I held it.”

It had been a long day for everyone by then. But, for NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway and for Truex, it was also a very good day.



Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.
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