Johnson on Truex Jr. win: ‘It’s hard to stay that good for that long’
As winner of a record seven races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his storied Sprint Cup Series career, including four Coca-Cola 600s, Jimmie Johnson can really appreciate what Martin Truex Jr. was able to pull off in the latest running of NASCAR’s longest event.
Truex led 392 of 400 laps as Sunday evening turned into night, leading more laps and more miles than any other driver in any other race in NASCAR’s 67-year history.
"This is a long night," Johnson told FOX Sports after finishing third behind Truex and runner-up Kevin Harvick. "I mean it’s hard to stay that good for that long. I think it’s something that they’ll savor for weeks to come. It is so tough to start in the day and end in the night and have the field covered like that."
Johnson also explained why the Truex win was so popular amongst other drivers in the Sprint Cup garage, whereas such a dominant performance by another driver might not be so widely celebrated.
It was the first win of the season for Truex, after leading the most laps in races at both Texas and Kansas but failing to get to Victory Lane. Truex again was in position to contend for the win at Dover when the transmission in Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed him on a late restart and Truex, running in third right behind Johnson, had nowhere to go and plowed into the back of him, ending both of their races.
Truex also came ever so close to winning the season-opening Daytona 500, only to finish second to Denny Hamlin by 0.010 seconds in the closest finish in the race’s history.
"I feel great for him. I went out and high-fived him as he drove on by (on the way to Victory Lane) because he’s been knocking on the door," Johnson said. "I think he’s very well respected and liked in the garage area. And then we’ve all seen how close they’ve been.
"So, I think this is a very popular win for him. I just think Martin is really well liked in the garage. He’s just a good dude, so I’m very happy for him."
Johnson said he was impressed not only by Truex driving a flawless race, but by the adjustments made on Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing car by crew chief Cole Pearn and by the mistake-free night their team had on pit road. It’s rare that a driver is handed a car so fast throughout such a long race, but with that comes its own kind of pressure, Johnson pointed out.
"The pressure to not mess it up is so tough," said Johnson, who once led 334 laps himself while winning the 600 in 2004. "From the driver’s standpoint — plus pit crew, crew chief, adjustments –they did a fantastic job staying on top of the race track and their car’s adjustments from the start of the race in the sun, right on through [the rest of the race]. … It’s a good group, and I’m just really happy for them."
The camaraderie does have its limits, however. Johnson was quick to point that out.
"I don’t want him winning too much," said Johnson, smiling. "I want to get back to Victory Lane myself, but certainly (Truex and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team had) a great performance for the night."
Meanwhile, Johnson said he was very encouraged by his own strong run in the 600, which he last won in 2014.
"It just drove really good all night long. The balance stayed really similar from corner entry to corner exit, which is tough to do here," Johnson said. "I could drive the car, the car wasn’t driving me. And the last few times we’ve been here, I’ve just been kind of hanging on. I think we’re going the right way with the race cars."