In a season of dominance, Martin Truex, Jr.’s latest victory at Charlotte was done by teamwork and adversity rather than classing the field the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has grown accustomed of seeing.
The story this season has been Martin Truex, Jr. dominating the field. However, even the sport’s present Goliath showcased adversity in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Truex, Jr. had to work his way towards the front after a disappointing 17th starting spot and with the help of his Furniture Row Racing team, his car improved and scored his sixth win of the season, advancing into the Round of 8.
Truex, Jr. led the final 57 laps after passing stage one and two winner Kevin Harvick and held off Chase Elliott for his second win at Charlotte. Harvick finished in third, followed by Denny Hamlin and rounding out the top 5 was Jamie McMurray.
Truex, Jr. thanked his entire race team for making his car better after struggling to find speed this weekend.
“I’m thanking them for being the best there is. So lucky to get to do this. It’s one of those weekends. A lot of pressure. We qualified poorly and I was mad about it and (crew chief) Cole Pearn was mad it. 20 minutes later, we’re like ‘Alright, I know this is where we went wrong’ and he’s like ‘Yeah, that’s where we went wrong. We screwed up and we’ll get them Sunday,’” Truex, Jr. said. “I’m just thankful for him, this whole team, (car owner) Barney Visser and everybody for giving us what we need. Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing for the chassis and the collaboration from the aero side. These guys worked really well together, so I got a lot to thank those guys for.”
Cole Pearn told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider he was worried about his car’s performance at Charlotte after having strong cars all season.
“It showed at the beginning of the race that we were definitely not where we needed to be. No race practice and not coming at Charlotte since May is very difficult trying get it right. I didn’t know what the track was going to be like. I didn’t know what the car was going to be like, but we knew where we were off and how to get it there and then the pit crew just put us back in the race,” Pearn said. “We had to gut it out for sure. I got to thank everybody back at the shop. We worked some ridiculously long hours this week to get this car where we wanted to be and I can’t thank them enough. It’s unbelievable to be a part of this group right now. Even when you’re down, to be able to pull through and then come out in victory lane and not have to worry about our single worst track next week at Talladega is a very good feeling.”
During the final pit stop, Truex, Jr.’s pit crew got his No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota in front while Harvick lost ground in the pits and restarted fourth. Harvick managed to get by Hamlin for third after leading a race-high 149 of 337 laps.
“My pit crew was flawless. They got us track position and we were able to keep it. Never give up attitude and so proud of those guys and it’s an honor to drive for. Really happy to win here again at Charlotte, my second home,” Truex, Jr. said. “At this time of year, you want to click on all cylinders and we did. We just did everything right. There were no mistakes, so I’m proud of everybody and hopefully we can continue it.”
Despite his pit crew being on the money most of the race, Harvick said it was the track’s grip that hurt his chances of sweeping all three stages and catching Truex, Jr.
“It’s about where we were going to run, second or third. We just kind of lost a little bit of the track as the VHT was starting to wear off in the second half of the race, but my team did a great job all day,” Harvick said. “For the most part we had good stops all day. Just the timing of the bad one came at the end. But for the most part they did a great job and everybody in the field had a bad stop at some point. Good day for our Jimmy John’s/Busch Ford and everybody doing a good job with the speed of the cars.”
“I would get close and then I would get loose. As the day went, I just got looser on the entrance to the corners. Cars started bouncing pretty bad and started losing grip as the VHT went away and kind of lost what I had at the beginning of the race to ark into the corner and do all the things that I needed to do to get to the middle of the corner and be in the throttle,” Harvick added. “I knew where I was running was kind of questionable as to how long it would last and the entry was the first part that gave up for me. I just had to be really cautious getting in there and that’s where I lost my speed from the first half of the race.”
Harvick moved from sixth in the playoff standings up to third, 37 points behind Truex, Jr. and 26 points to the good of making the Round of 8.
Several drivers were exhausted after the race because of the hot conditions. Among those exhausted were Matt DiBenedetto and championship contender Kyle Busch.
Busch’s bid of winning three straight races came to a scratching halt after bringing out three cautions that damaged his right rear fender and bumper. Busch coasted to a 29th place finish and left Charlotte 12 points ahead of the cutoff line.
Daniel Suarez was the highest finisher among the non-playoff drivers in sixth. Jimmie Johnson finished seventh, followed by Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson rounding out the top 10.
The race had 14 lead changes among eight drivers and it was slowed down 10 times for 44 laps.
After the opening race in the Round of 12, Matt Kenseth is one point behind Jamie McMurray from making the Round of 8. The other three drivers outside the top 8 are the Ford trio of Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
For the Ford camp, their chance of halting Toyota’s playoff dominance will come in fruition at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ultimate equalizer, Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 15 in Talladega, Alabama.
Stenhouse, Jr. captured his first of two wins this season May 7 as he and the rest of the “Blue Oval” brand will look to extend its streak to five straight victories at the 2.66-mile circuit.