There is a blurry line in a sports event between “dominating” and “boring,” and Martin Truex Jr. drove all over it Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Truex had the sort of weekend all drivers dream about. He won the pole Thursday and then basically led the entire race. Because the 600 is NASCAR’s longest event, Truex ended up leading more miles (588 out of a possible 600) than any driver has ever led in any NASCAR race ever.
For fans, though, it certainly was no dream race. At least it didn’t get rained out – the iffy weather turned out to never be a factor. It also turned into the fastest Coke 600 race in history because it had only four caution flags. But a race in which top of the leaderboard never changes is not much fun for anyone except that driver’s fans and family.
B-o-o-o-r-ing: That’s what this was in terms of dramatic impact.
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It felt like halftime of an NFL game – a three-hour, 44-minute halftime.
But don’t blame Truex or his team for that. His unadulterated dominance came because no one else could hang with him. His No. 78 Toyota was clearly better than anybody else’s, and the only way he was going to lose was either by a bad mistake or a fuel-mileage issue.
“I’ve been going to races my whole life,” former race car driver Darrell Waltrip said with a few laps to go during the Fox TV broadcast. “I’ve never seen a car that dominant.”
“Never seen anything like it,” echoed Jeff Gordon in the booth.
“I kind of felt like he was playing with us,” said Jimmie Johnson, who finished third.
Said Truex: “It was just a fairytale weekend. ... It seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong.”
Truex was passed only once under green-flag conditions, and only for a few seconds by Johnson. “I just wanted to give him a taste,” Truex joked later, “for being a good sport.”
Truex’s team is an anomaly in NASCAR. Underfunded by the sport’s standards, Furniture Row Racing is a single-car shop. That shop is in Denver, Colo. The No. 78 is the only Sprint Cup car based west of the Mississippi.
Truex has long been a talented driver, but he has often been an “almost” sort of guy since he started driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series in 2006.
Truex made it to NASCAR’s final four in 2015, but then finished fourth. Just last year, in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600, Truex led the most laps but finished fifth. Before Sunday night, Truex had 122 top-10 finishes in the Sprint Cup Series but only three Cup wins.
Most recently, Truex lost the 2016 Daytona 500 by less than 12 inches. Denny Hamlin edged him by 0.01 seconds in what was the closest finish in the 58-year history of the Great American Race.
This one, though, wasn’t close. No one else had enough car, and Truex piloted his rocket expertly.
In terms of recent blowout victories that we’ve seen around this area, it brought to mind the Carolina Panthers gashing Arizona 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game in January or Rory McIlroy easing to a seven-shot victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2015.
Pity the poor announcers who had to make this all sound interesting for hours on end. Waltrip sounded hopeful when he thought Truex was having trouble with his right rear tire as the race neared the halfway mark. But Truex had not lost a tire. He just waggled a bit, recovered and started cruising again.
In Victory Lane, Truex was joined by his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex. She has fought ovarian cancer for nearly two years. Pollex was a tearfully happy presence in Victory Lane on Sunday, saying “this is just icing on the cake” and then crying on Truex’s shoulder.
“I’m going to take it all in,” Truex said. “This is a big day. ... A weekend you dream about.”
For Truex, yes. For fans of great racing, no.
NASCAR has had a number of fabulous finishes this season. This wasn’t one of them – unless you were driving the No. 78 car.
In that case, it was unforgettable.