I thought Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was a pretty dramatic race. I really have a lot of fun when we have a race that has things unfold like we saw the other night. When that caution flag flew with 64 laps to go and the pits opened with 62 to go, I just knew we were right on the edge of the fuel window.
Now I have to be honest, I was a little more than surprised when only six of the 16 drivers on the lead lap were the only ones to come to pit road. What did you really have to lose with only 16 drivers on the lead lap? So I was surprised more didn’t come to the pits. Dale Earnhardt Jr. summed it up the best on his radio when he talked about rolling the dice and trying to steal a win. They had that luxury because they already had a win in the bank and are in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Probably the biggest thing I took away from Sunday’s race was the resurgence of the Toyotas and, in particular, Joe Gibbs Racing. If you remember, it was about a month ago that everyone was asking, "What’s wrong with the Toyotas?" Now here we are heading to Dover at the end of May with Joe Gibbs Racing having won three races. With Carl Edwards winning the Coca-Cola 600, he became the third of four JGR drivers to lock himself into the 2015 Chase. On top of that, JGR won its first Sprint All-Star Race plus got Kyle Busch back behind the wheel of his No. 18 Toyota.
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So that’s a classic example of how quickly things can turn around for a team and a manufacturer in our sport. Stop and think about everything JGR has been going through. They lose marquee driver Kyle Busch literally the day before the Daytona 500 to a bad crash in the XFINITY Series race. Company president J.D. Gibbs has been battling medical issues. They added a fourth team from scratch, plus the Toyotas as a whole have been struggling this season.
Now here we are a third of the way through the season and everything has changed. I think they have proven to everyone that if you can just stay together, keep your head down and keep working on it, things can change for the better in a big way. Now obviously the company’s focus is to get Kyle a win and up to 30th in the points come the end of the September Richmond race so that he can join his three teammates in the Chase.
Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 was another one of those comers- and goers-type races. For a while there it looked like no one was going to beat Kurt Busch, but as we got later into the evening, the handling went away on that car. It was a race where we saw Jimmie Johnson spin out twice which, trust me, is extremely rare. As you heard Jimmie say later in the garage, they already have three wins in the bank, so they were being really aggressive in trying some things that might pay off when the Chase starts. Again, like his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., by having those wins, the No. 48 has the luxury of testing some things because they know they are locked into the Chase.