Martin Truex Jr. had the same right-front tire issues as most of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates early in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday evening, getting closely acquainted with the Charlotte Motor Speedway wall. Despite the resulting damage to the sheet metal on his No. 19 Toyota, his final fate was much better.
Three years after he dominated the Coca-Cola 600 by leading all but eight laps, Truex won one of NASCAR’s crown jewels for the second time in much different fashion. This time around, it involved not only being in front at the end of a night that saw the lead change hands 30 times between 11 drivers but also holding off one who never led a lap, Joey Logano, after a dramatic final restart with five laps to go.
The 16th and final caution flag flew after Brad Keselowski, who led 76 laps of his own and looked like a contender early on, spun down pit road with a flat right-rear tire. Truex wasn’t even in the front row for that one, as David Ragan was the lone lead lap car not to pit and Ryan Newman gambled on a two-tire stop.
As expected, neither Ragan or Newman figured in the scramble for the checkered flag, but their presence did mean Truex and Logano had to survive a four-wide moment to get back to the front. Logano had the nose of his Ford right under the back of Truex’s Toyota, but he never really was able to mount a challenge for the lead as the final laps wound down.
Logano ended up second, followed by Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chris Buescher had a strong night despite plenty of damage to his Chevrolet and ended up in sixth place, his best result since Daytona last July.
Truex admitted that he almost gave up hope after blowing a tire and hitting the wall on lap 73. The JGR tire issues had already claimed Erik Jones prior to that and plagued Denny Hamlin on multiple occasions later in the race.
“You never know what can happen in these things,” Truex said in victory lane. “We were so good early on, blew that tire, hit the fence, and I’m like, ‘We’re done. How are we going to fix this thing?’ I didn’t know how bad it was, but the guys worked hard and fixed it up.”
For Logano, who struggled early but came to life late, his only regret was not having a do-over and another shot at trying to get past Truex.
“The first two or three stages, we were junk,” Logano said. “The guys did a good job, Todd did a good job adjusting on it, and got it to where we were competitive, at least. I don’t know… We weren’t fast enough to win, but if circumstances could have played in the right way, maybe we could have done it.”
Instead, fortune favored Truex, who claimed his third victory of 2019 in a span of just five races, tying him with Kyle Busch and Keselowski for the series lead. As the Cup Series heads to Pocono for a race Truex won in 2018, the thought of him and crew chief Cole Pearn finding ways to win even when everything doesn’t go exactly right has to be a bit daunting for the rest of the garage.
“One hell of a team, we just never gave up on it,” Truex said. “Just kept fighting, kept fighting. What a race there at the end. That was pretty wild, so I’m really happy.”
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