Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
While Martin Truex, Jr. was busy stealing the show, there were a few drivers who put on quietly impressive performances. Kurt Busch was impressive all weekend long, leading the way in two of three practice sessions and running inside the top 10 all night long after starting 13th. There were times when it looked as though Busch was poised to make a run at the front, and he spent plenty of laps inside the top 5.
For Busch, who has seldom battled for the lead in 2016, the race was another mark in what has become a stellar season. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since Martinsville and sits second in the standings after Charlotte, the first driver without a victory. His season isn’t perhaps as flashy as some, but he’s getting the job done.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
Racing, at both its best and worst, is about much more than cars that go fast. It’s about people — the men and women who work in anonymity at race shops, the drivers who overcome more than most fans realize during races and the fans who cheer them on no matter how well they’re running. It’s about the small teams who have to do more with less, and the big ones who find something nobody else can.
Sunday, it was about men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice as well. The winners’ celebration was made all the more sweet by knowing that some things matter more than winning, like Martin Truex, Jr. and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex spending time in Victory Lane — and anywhere else — after Pollex has fought a valiant fight against ovarian cancer.
It’s also about the drivers and teams who found themselves far from Victory Lane — the ones who had their hopes dashed but ran as hard as they could every lap anyway. Racing is about elation and heartbreak. It’s about celebrations and tears and sometimes both. It’s the people who make the cars go around, and the ones who cheer for them who matter. Cars don’t go fast without people.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Martin Truex, Jr. started on the pole and he finished in Victory Lane, shattering several race and NASCAR records in the process. Truex’s 588 miles led is the most ever in a NASCAR race, breaking a record set in 1967. His 392 laps led set a record for the Coca-Cola 600. The event also broke race records for both the average speed and time of race. Oh, and Truex had a perfect 150.0 driver rating, too.
Carl Edwards was in stealth mode early, inching his way through the field until a power play on pit road put him in second. He lost a spot on track to Jimmie Johnson, but looked to be in good position to pounce late in the race if Truex or Johnson bobbled. Then came a round of green-flag pit stops with just over 100 laps to go and it fell apart.
Edwards was penalized for speeding on entry, which draws a pass-through under green. He served the penalty, which would have left him at the back of the lead lap, and was too fast on entry again. That drew Edwards a stop-and-go penalty, which cost him a lap, an event he failed to recover from. Edwards went on to finish 18th, far from indicative of his strength.
When… did it all go sideways?
It didn’t, but a lot of fans will complain about it anyway, because there was just one green-flag pass for the lead, and that was because Johnson got lucky on a restart and led for a few hundred yards, if that. But what everyone said Sunday night was not an example of an aero package that doesn’t work or a tire that doesn’t wear, or anything else other than one team turning in a performance so dominant that nobody else had a chance.
There was plenty of racing through the field, and spotters earned their paychecks. Sometimes, a dominating performance is part of the sport, and it should be. Furniture Row Racing — a single-car team that has gained elite status in a sport full of mega-teams — didn’t win because of the aero package.
Not every race is going to look like the final segment of the Sprint Showdown last week, and that doesn’t make those races bad races. A good race doesn’t just unfold up front, and a performance like Truex’s should be a thrill. In any other sport, a performance that left the competition gaping wide-eyed at it’s sheer volume would be heralded. And so should Truex’s race, which was truly one for the history books and the highlight reels.
Why… did Martin Truex, Jr. win the race?
The explanation doesn’t get any easier than it this week: he won because nobody could catch him. So much happens in the course of a race, and the fastest car is by no means any guarantee of victory at the end of hundreds of miles of competition. Sunday, though, Furniture Row Racing brought a car that nobody — not six-time champion Johnson, not a hard-charging and hungry Kevin Harvick, and certainly not anybody else — could race with. It was just that simple, even as the record books were being rewritten.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
AJ Allmendinger; JTG Daugherty Racing: Allmendinger started 15th and faded back to the low 20s early as his team. Like most others, he struggled with the reality of daytime practice sessions on a much hotter day. Allmendinger fought a tight car early and while he fought to stay on the lead lap, ended up a lap down in 16th; a solid performance for a team that looks more and more like they could land a Chase berth as the season goes on.
Ryan Blaney; Wood Brothers Racing: Blaney had a decent qualifying effort, starting 18th, but his teams struggled with the day-night transition as well as facing a costly pit road speeding penalty which sent Blaney to the back of the pack on a restart. A subsequent pit miscue, which forced Blaney to pit a second time after a wheel was left loose, sealed the No. 21’s fate — they still snagged a top 20, which is perfectly respectable, but it wasn’t pretty.
Clint Bowyer; HScott Motorsports: Starting 26th and finishing 32rd is a solid day for the HScott Motorsports organization. It’s the kind of finish the team was starting to get more consistently in 2015, and if they can get back to that over the next few weeks, it’s not unrealistic to think they could step up to some better finishes by fall. While finishes like this one are often a bitter pill for Bowyer to swallow, they’re a step in the right direction for an organization that will need to fill the seat next season.
All the rest:
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Harris Teeter / Bush’s Beans Chevy||15th||16th
Lost a couple of spots at start
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft / QuickLane Ford||18th||20th
Gained a few spots in opening laps; early speeding penalty on green flag stop; loose wheel forced a second stop under caution just past halfway; drove to a top 20 but 3 laps down
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5-hour Energy Chevy||26th||23rd
Given that this is about where this team was in 2015, they’ve actually made some gains over the early part of 2016.
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||MDS Transport / We Hire Vets Ford||33rd||27th
Made some gains as night went on; decent finish overall
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Nikko / Toy State Chevy||31st||28th
Struggled with handling; car didn’t want to turn. 28th was an ok performance for the team
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Military Chevy||17th||30th
Good in qualifying; 7th in final practice; dropped like a stone in opening laps; complained car was tight but never got it right—this team is capable of more and needs to figure things out.
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Bubba Burger Toyota||35th||31st
A pair of penalties (restart violation and uncontrolled tire) left Ragan mired laps down
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Hope for the Warriors / Cosmo Motors Toyota||34th||32nd
Already fighting handling early and unscheduled stop for tire didn’t help cause
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||Thrivent Financial Ford||32nd||34th
Struggled to find balance all weekend; slapped the wall at lap 268
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||Vydox Plus Chevy||36th||35th
Could race peers at times but cautght in situation where only one other car on same lap
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||38th||36th
Team continues to struggle; is it time for wholesale change?
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||CSX-Play It Safe Ford||22nd||37th
Solid in qualifying; slapped the wall just past halfway and drew penalty for too many men on unscheduled stop
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||37th||38th
The team is running every race because of low entries, but they need to pick up performance within this group
|32||Jeffery Earnhardt||GO FAS Racing||Can-Am Ford||39th||39th
Hit the wall hard to bring out third caution but was able to finish
|55||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||World Record Striper Company Chevy||40th||40th
Fell off lead lap by lap 12; behind the wall just past halfway. Official reason for DNF was clutch failure.
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