CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. overcame an early flat tire after hitting the wall, then survived a wild restart five laps from the end on Sunday to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the second time in four seasons.
Truex slid into the Turn 4 wall during the first stage of NASCAR’s longest event, damaging his tire and seemingly putting his chances in serious jeopardy. But crew chief Cole Pearn radioed his driver that things were not that bad and to stay calm and remain focused.
“I thought, ‘We’re done. How we going to fix this thing?”’ Truex said. “I didn’t know how bad it was, [but] the guys worked hard, fixed it up.”
That steadied Truex the rest of the way, especially near the end, when he drove low during a four-wide fight for the lead on the final restart at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He had an easier time in the 2016 race when he led 392 of 400 laps.
Truex sprang out low and shot into the front past Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and David Ragan, who stretched four across the track.
“You just never know what can happen,” said Truex, who led 116 laps this time.
Truex held off defending series champion and Team Penske driver Joey Logano and again prevented owner Roger Penske from becoming the first to helm winners at the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on motorsports’ biggest day.
Things began with Lewis Hamilton’s rousing win in the Monaco Grand Prix, which he dedicated to his late friend and champion driver Niki Lauda. Next, Simon Pagenaud gave Penske his 18th Indy 500 victory in a thrilling duel over the final laps with Alexander Rossi.
Penske driver Brad Keselowski won the first two stages and appeared to have the strongest car. But he slipped to the middle of the pack during the third 100-lap segment and never challenged for the victory. He finished 19th.
Busch was third, Chase Elliott fourth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fifth. Truex’s 22nd career win came the same week car owner Joe Gibbs was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Logano said Truex had the faster car in the race. If Logano had gotten to Truex’s outside, he might have a chance to move in front, he said. Truex “knew the same thing,” Logano said. “He did a good job defending his position.”
TAKE CAUTION: There were 16 cautions in the Coca-Cola 600, the most at this event in 14 years. The slowdowns included breaks between stages, but the cautions pushed the race to more than five hours long.
ALL-STAR ISSUE: All-Star race winner Kyle Larson had hoped to build on his $1 million-winning run at Charlotte a week ago in the 600. Instead, he lost grip in the final stage and hit Clint Bowyer to start a wreck that collected seven drivers. Larson said the fault was his.
“Up and down day for us,” Larson said. “I finally put myself in a good spot for about a lap, and I screwed that up.”
Larson has not won a NASCAR points race since Richmond in September 2017, a span of 59 races.
GIBBS’ TIRE PROBLEMS: It wasn’t a completely perfect week for Joe Gibbs Racing. Although Gibbs made the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week (along with two of his championship drivers in Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart), their Toyotas had some on-track problems.
Erik Jones was out of the race after just 22 laps when his car slid hard into the wall and damaged his right front tire. Truex hit the wall on lap 741 while out front with a two-second lead. It was Denny Hamlin’s turn in the second stage as he hit the wall while near the front. Hamlin spun out again on the final lap to finish 17th.
In the Xfinity race Saturday, Gibbs racer Christopher Bell won the pole and led 33 of the first 49 laps when he brushed the wall, his tire caught fire, and he couldn’t continue.
NEVER FORGET: NASCAR held a moment of remembrance for military personnel who lost their lives in service as cars were led into the pits and halted. Drivers turned off their engines, and fans stood quietly during 30 seconds of silence as part of the Memorial Day solemn ceremonies.