Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a great night for the Toyota contingent up until the time it wasn’t.
To recap NASCAR’s longest races, Toyotas dominated the evening, leading 306 of 400 laps, but Austin Dillon gambled on fuel mileage and won by being out front for just the final two laps. The six affiliated Toyotas were all fast — some really fast — but none of them won.
And the addition of a fourth stage makes sorting out the good and the bad from the standpoint of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing, Toyota’s two top-line teams even more complicated.
So was the long night a case of the glass being half full for Toyota or half empty? It’s an interesting question to ponder.
Let’s break down some of the individual pieces of the race from the perspective of the JGR and Furniture Row drivers.
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The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion won the first stage, led 63 laps, got points in all three stages and got more points (61) than anyone else in the race, including Dillon, who only got 45. But Busch wound up second and was understandably miffed afterward that he didn’t win.
“I don’t know. It’s a frustrating night, man,” said Busch. “I am so, so disappointed. I don’t know – there’s nothing we could’ve done different.”
Martin Truex Jr.
For the third consecutive year, Truex led the most laps — 233 this time — in this event and got 60 points, second only to Kyle Busch’s 62. During the last three Coca-Cola 600s, Truex has led a staggering 756 laps. But he’s only won of those three races. On the other hand, Truex finished third in the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota and took over the points lead after Kyle Larson crashed out of the event. Still, on a night when led almost 60 percent of the laps and got points in all three stages, Truex didn’t win.
“It’s two out of three. Last three years, that’s two of them we lost on full mileage, so that kind of stinks, but big picture-wise it was a good night,” said Truex. “I mean, the Bass Pro Toyota was fast.”
Although he didn’t lead a lap, Kenseth piled up points in all three stages, finishing fourth and getting 55 points as he took home his third top-five finish of the season for JGR. “All our cars were faster as a group, you know, which is encouraging to look at the scoreboard,” said Kenseth. “I think they’re all up there, fairly close to the front. You know our car didn’t drive perfect tonight by any means, but yet we had good speed. … We still got some work to do.”
The Virginia driver made it four Toyotas in the top five with a fifth-place finish in his JGR No. 11. Hamlin won Stage 3 and earned almost as many points (43) as race-winner Austin Dillon (45).
“You know we had a really fast car, I think better than a fifth-place car, but we went through a bunch of adversity,” said Hamlin, who posted just his second top-five finish of the season. “And I just had one really bad restart with 70 to go and that just – this late in the game when the track cools off, it’s too hard to pass to lose that many positions and just tried to do the best I could to battle back from there.”
The rookie Furniture Row driver finished seventh, his best result in 15 Cup starts so far, picking up 39 points. Still, damage from an on-track incident not of his making hurt Jones’ efforts at contending for a victory.
“Getting that damage early kind of put us behind the eight-ball,” Jones said. “I don’t know if we ever had the same race car we had at the start. I think we had a car that would contend up there with probably Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) .”
An 11th-place finish wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad for the rookie JGR driver. “I felt like we had an eighth to a 10th place car all night long,” said Suarez, who picked up 29 points for his efforts. “We were not the best on the long runs, but we were good on the short runs. Just a little behind there at the end with it being a fuel mileage race, we gambled a little bit there and it didn’t quite work out 100 percent.”
Check out this video as the FOX Sports' "NASCAR Race Hub" crew reacts to Kyle Busch's very brief post-race appearance in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center.