Martin Truex Jr. makes history while dominating Coca-Cola 600
Martin Truex Jr. was tired of being the driver of the fastest car that had not yet been to Victory Lane this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
So on Sunday, as the evening sun gave way to the darkness of the night in NASCAR’s longest race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Truex did something about it and made history while he was at it in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
Leading more laps and more miles than any other driver in any race in NASCAR’s long and storied history, Truex rolled to a dominant win like no other in the Coca-Cola 600 at the 1.5-mile track.
It was the first win of the season for Truex, who last won at Pocono last summer, 34 races earlier.
"It’s just kind of sinking in now that we won the 600," an emotional Truex told FOX Sports as he fought back tears in Victory Lane. "I’m just really proud of my team. … everybody who made this possible, believed in me and gave me this opportunity. (Crew chief) Cole Pearn and my guys, they’re just something special."
Truex was pretty special himself behind the wheel on Sunday, as he drove a flawless race with a car that was clearly the class of the field underneath him from start to finish.
Truex had led the most laps both at Texas and at Kansas earlier in the season, but in both cases failed to win the race. Truex also finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500, losing to Denny Hamlin by 0.010 seconds — or less than six inches — in the closest finish ever in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.
This time, Truex left no doubt whatsoever, absolutely dominating the race like no one had ever done before in 56 previous Coca-Cola 600s. Truex ended up leading 392 of 400 laps — or 588 of the 600 miles.
The 77 laps Truex led right from the outset were the most any pole winner had ever led at the start of a 600. And the 196 he led out of the first 200 of the event represented the most anyone has ever led over the first half of the race.
By the time there were 60 laps remaining, Truex officially had led more miles in a single NASCAR Premier Series race than any other driver in the sport’s history.
Despite the complete domination, the Truex victory was a popular one in the Sprint Cup garage — as evidenced by the many other drivers who lined up on pit road to offer hearty congratulations. They all know the story behind the driver’s on-track heartbreak, which includes the struggle Truex and his long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, went through as she battled ovarian cancer.
Truex said he never doubted his day would come to grace Victory Lane again, despite the many near-misses.
"I had confidence. I had faith. I had confidence in my team," he said. "I’ve got a lot of great people behind me. Sherry, she gives me a lot of inspiration and we just keep fighting. We never give up. We never quit. We always just keep digging and just proud of my guys for sticking behind me.
"The pit crew has come a long way. They did a great job tonight and I hoping I’m not leaving anybody out — (Series sponsor) Sprint, the fans … thank you all. So many fans that support us the last couple of years with so many heartbreaks, so I really appreciate that and I just had a lot of fun racing tonight.”
Jimmie Johnson pulled to within a few car lengths — or less than half a second — with 73 laps to go. And Kevin Harvick tried to apply some pressure, too, when his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet came to life as darkness descended on the track.
But in the end, neither Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet nor Harvick’s car, nor the cars of any other driver, could seriously challenge Truex for any length of time.
Johnson passed Truex briefly with 56 laps remaining, but was credited with leading only one lap and actually led only a small portion of that lap before Truex quickly passed him back and surged ahead again.
The only other anxious moment Truex had as the laps wound down came with 7 to go when Kyle Busch slapped the outside wall and had to limp to pit road in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But he was able to do so without bringing out a caution flag that would have forced a double-file restart.
Harvick ended up finishing second, 2.572 seconds behind Truex. Johnson was third, with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.
Considering Truex’s dominant car, Harvick said he was happy to finish second after spending much of the earlier part of the race nowhere near the front.
"Well, I saw him for about 50 miles or 75 miles," Harvick said of Truex. "The rest of the night I never saw him. I was back there swatting flies in the middle of the pack. I didn’t have a lot of time to see the 78."