5 things we learned from the Coca-Cola 600

Martin Truex Jr. put on a butt-whipping of record proportions Sunday night, leading 392 of 400 laps to crush the field in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

 After a season of near-misses and rotten luck, Truex came through like a champion in a victory that saw him lead more miles in a single NASCAR race than any driver in history. That’s impressive.

 And as great as Truex’s story was — and make no mistake, it was epic — there are some other interesting storylines that went with it.   

Here are five other takeaways from NASCAR’s longest race:   

5. JGR BACK TO EARTH — One of the oddest things about the weekend was that as dominant as Truex was, the four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas ranged from only  pretty good to struggling badly. Given that JGR won seven of the first 12 points races that was a surprise. 

Denny Hamlin was best in class of the JGR cars with a fourth-place finish and Matt Kenseth did well to come home seventh. But both Carl Edwards (18th) and Kyle Busch (33rd) seemed strangely off the pace all weekend.   

4. SMOKE SIGNALS –When Tony Stewart returned to competition at Richmond, he was 118 points out of 30th place. In five races since his return, Stewart has basically cut that gap in half and is now just 60 points behind 30th-place David Ragan. To make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in his final season, Stewart will have to end the Cup season in the top 30 in points and win a race.   

The math says he should make the top 30 easily at the rate he’s going.  Winning a race might be a bigger challenge. Stewart’s best chance to win might be in the July 4th weekend night race at Daytona, an event the three-time champion has won four times.   

3. YOUNG GUNS –It seems like I write this every week, but rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney continue to impress. With his eighth-place finish at Charlotte, Elliott now has nine top 10s in 13 points races. That’s more than Jimmie Johnson, Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Truex.   

And despite a late-race loose wheel and some struggles on pit road, Blaney finished 20th and is 15th in points halfway through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season.

 2. JUNIOR GAINING ON IT — An ill-timed debris caution cost Dale Earnhardt Jr. some valuable track position, as he wound up 14th, which while not great, was his best finish since Richmond. After earlier in the week saying he and his team needed to get better, Earnhardt found some cause for optimism in his Charlotte run.    

1. TOYOTATHON — Toyota is kicking Ford’s and Chevrolet’s collective butts right now. Toyotas have won the last eight points races in the NASCAR national touring series — Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. Chevrolet, in particular, is getting beat up pretty bad right now. Chevrolet has won 13 consecutive Cup manufacturers’ championships, but Toyota is crushing them this year.   

The last time a Chevy won a Cup race was Jimmie Johnson at Auto Club Speedway in March. That means the bowtie brigade went 0 for April and o for May. The weird thing is, though, the top three drivers in points: Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, all drive Chevys.

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