After a day of a 78-lap race at Monaco, the 500-mile classic at Indianapolis, and 394 laps of racing at Charlotte, the day labeled as the biggest of each year in motorsports came down to a six-lap shootout with a pair of underdogs that rolled the dice leading the field to green on the final restart.
A caution flag for Brad Keselowski flew with 10 laps remaining after the No. 2 car succumbed to a flat right rear tire. Keselowski was a threat to win throughout the day, and even won the first two stages before tire trouble mired his result, like it did to a handful of others over the course of 600 miles.
NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. takes Coca Cola 600 + more notes on Charlotte
Almost all the lead lap cars pitted, in fact all of them did, except for David Ragan. The two-time plate race winner was going for broke and stayed out on four old tires – something no one else in the field even dared to do.
He would sit on the front row along with Ryan Newman – the Roush Fenway racer that got the car into the top 10 late in the race and elected to take two tires to win the race off pit road.
It didn’t take long for Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano to get by the two drivers that hoped to complete longshot wins, but they had to be pretty daring to do it.
Fortunately for the No. 19 and No. 22, the package NASCAR is running this season favors the drivers ability to control the car as best as drivers have ever been able to. The pair took the underdogs four-wide through the back half of turns 1 and 2 to establish position out front.
From there, it was all Truex Jr.
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) champion pulled away to earn his third win in the past five points races and second Coca Cola 600 victory.
His and crew chief Cole Pearn’s transition to Joe Gibbs Racing has seemingly been coming together tremendously as of late.
“The transition, looking at it now, it’s going well, but it’s come with a lot of hard work,” Pearn said in a NASCAR release. “It’s been a lot of adjustment, but when you land in a company like we did, you’ve just got to thank your blessings and realize how fortunate you are that we could easily have been out of a job and here we are with a great organization and we’re winning races. So [I’m] just incredibly thankful for that.”
With Pearn’s help on Sunday, Truex Jr. overcame a pair of collisions – one with the outside wall and another with rookie Bayley Currey.
But, just like the last pair of seasons, Truex Jr. and Pearn found a way to be there in the end and make a move to earn another winner sticker for the quarter panel.
So much in this day in racing is missed, however, behind the first-place finisher.
IndyCar’s Alexander Rossi even said after the Indy 500 earlier in the day that finishing second didn’t matter. While it’s partially true, especially because of what a win in any of these races can mean for a driver’s career, there were some quite notable finishes throughout the field.
The biggest from what I watched might come as a surprise, but the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have finally proved they have the speed that the manufacturer simply didn’t have last season.
Three of their drivers led the race at some point and combined to lead 83 laps. The lone driver from the team that didn’t lead a lap was seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson has had a rough start to the year, and is still riding that long winless streak, but he finished in the top 10 on Sunday and showed some solace for fans of the No. 48 car.
Just like Johnson, who finished eighth, the rest of HMS finished the race in the top 10. Chase Elliott was fourth, William Byron came home ninth, and Alex Bowman finished seventh in his fourth straight top 10. That’s after Bowman failed to record a top 10 in the first nine races.
Last season, Kyle Larson was the only chevy to make any threat to the ‘Big Three’s’ success through the year, but with HMS on the rise, the manufacturer is in a much better position one third of the way through this schedule.
If they can tune these cars to be better on short runs, HMS might have the best cars in the entire series.
Of course the underdogs that started on the front row in the final restart have something to be proud of as well.
Their gamble paid off, at least a little.
Both Ragan and Newman were hanging on in the top 10 for the first four laps of the six lap shootout. Quite frankly, if there had been two less laps at the end of the race, we’d be talking about how Ragan commanded his car to a fourth place finish.
Though the pair finished 15th and 16th, a top 20 is a solid result for both teams, especially Ragan’s.
The final caution came out at exactly the right time for Corey LaJoie, too.
Hooo, what timing for @CoreyLaJoie, locked in on the lead lap, one of only 15 cars currently on the lead lap
— The Racing Underdogs (@RacingUnderdogs) May 27, 2019
LaJoie was able to come down pit road and put four new Goodyear’s on his car, restarting at the tail end of the 15-car, lead-lap pack.
He managed to finish P12 after starting way back in the 30th spot.
There’s a lot of things to like and dislike with this package, but it seems like more and more underdogs are performing at a high standard, and no matter who you are, that’s cool to see.
Following the Coca Cola 600, Truex Jr. joins Keselowski and Kyle Busch at the top of the Playoff Grid.
|Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid (After Coca Cola 600)|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||3||17|
|Wildcard standings (no wins)||Points||Cutoff|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||303||-8|
The Cup Series returns next Sunday in the northeast as it heads to Pennsylvania for the Pocono 400. The race is scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.