Martin Truex Jr. left no doubt at the Coca-Cola 600 that Joe Gibbs Racing remains the powerhouse team.
Still, those chasing JGR have reason to be encouraged for the second half of the NASCAR season.
Truex overcame a flat tire after hitting the wall early, then won a four-wide race on the final restart for the win, his second in four seasons in NASCAR’s longest race. Teammate Kyle Busch was close behind in third.
The JGR racers have won eight of 13 races the first half of the season, including two of the most coveted races — Denny Hamlin in the Daytona 500 and Truex at the 600. And Truex showed it’s not just behind the wheel where Gibbs’ talent lies. When Truex tagged the wall 74 laps in, he was certain his run was finished before it really got going.
But crew chief Cole Pearn calmed Truex and his team went to work, adjusting and tweaking until Truex felt he had a winning car back in his hands the final two stages.
“That’s hero stuff,” Truex cracked.
Pearn knows this is no time to rest, no matter how impressive the results. The testing and planning resume at Pocono next Sunday, and all the way into the playoffs.
“When you complement each other, it shows how good of a team we are,” Pearn said.
All signs point toward JGR maintaining its dominance. There’s evidence, though, the rest of NASCAR is ready to challenge down the stretch, led by newly named NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs.
TEAM PENSKE: Team Penske has been the most dynamic of the chase groups this season. Brad Keselowski has three victories and defending series champion Joey Logano one. Logano came a few feet away from beating Truex to the front on that final restart, but could not match his rival when Truex found the clean air. It was Logano’s seventh top-five finish of the year, including a win at Las Vegas.
Keselowski won the first two stages at Charlotte before fading. Ryan Blaney, a third Penske car, also spent much of the night in the top 10 challenging for the top.
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: Chase Elliott has the lone win that JGR or Penske does not have, finishing in front at Talladega last month. Elliott was also in the mix for the 600 win down the stretch before ending in fourth. Hendrick’s three other entries all finished in the top 10 with Alex Bowman seventh, struggling Jimmie Johnson eighth and William Byron ninth.
Byron, at 21, became Charlotte’s youngest pole winner and led 31 laps.
Johnson, the seven-time series champion , came to Charlotte concerned about his performances and chances to compete strongly moving forward. He left with more a sense of his old self, even though his winless drought grew to 72 races.
“We stayed in the mix for most of the night, so that was encouraging,” Johnson said. “We’re going the right way.”
ROUSH FENWAY RACING: It has been a struggle for one of NASCAR’s flagship organizations. Still, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman made their presence known at Charlotte — and not for Newman’s seemingly settled feud with Clint Bowyer at the All-Star Race a week ago.
Stenhouse finished fifth in the 600, his best showing this season. Newman was there at the end when he gambled to take two tires on the last pit stop and started second on the final, race-deciding restart. Newman faded to 16th.
CHIP GANASSI RACING: Kyle Larson ended his winless drought with a win at NASCAR’s All-Star Race at Charlotte last week. He raced among the leaders much of the night until he kicked off an accident involving seven cars 85 laps from the end.
STEWART-HAAS RACING: The biggest happening for this team at Charlotte was Tony Stewart’s inclusion in the latest NASCAR Hall of Fame class. Kevin Harvick, who won 14 races in his three previous seasons with the team, is winless this year. He had a strong car early yet finished 10th while Aric Almirola started second and ended 11th. Bet on Harvick, a past champion, to push his team and organization to get back on track.