May 26, 2019 | By Lee Spencer

NASCAR: Another Coke 600 win would do wonders for Martin Truex Jr.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CONCORD, N.C.--Ask Martin Truex Jr., what comes to mind when he hears the words: Coca-Cola 600?
 
The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing doesn’t hesitate. 
 
Without pause, Truex reflects on the race that redefined him as a perennial contender. 
 
“2016—the domination,” Truex said. “Just to be able to do that at this level is something you dream of. The fact that no one will probably lead more laps than that ever, ever, ever, and that’s just crazy to think about. 
 
“Pretty cool, and I wouldn’t say we need to duplicate it, but I would like to try to win another one. It’s a special race to win. It’s one of the crown jewels.”
 
Truex doesn’t believe anyone will ever duplicate that performance. He owned the field that May, starting from the pole and leading 392 of 400 laps. 
 
“We just hit it,” Truex said. “Charlotte is a track that’s like that. When you hit it, you can knock it out of the park here. It’s so hard to get your car doing the things you want it to do that most guys are probably off more than at a normal track. When you do hit it right, we’ve seen it here before, but never like that and it was pretty cool.”
 
Truex went on to win four races that year—his third season with Furniture Row Racing and second under the direction of crew chief Cole Pearn. The following year, Truex doubled his previous win record with eight victories and went on to capture the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. 
 
In two of the last three Coca-Cola 600s, Truex has led the most laps. He has finished on the podium the last three years and won the fall race in 2017 prior to the introduction of the Roval.
 
Ten of Truex’s 21 Cup wins have come on intermediate tracks, but with the new aerodynamic/engine package the driver has struggled to find his groove. He felt confident after first practice on Thursday but drew an early qualifying spot and rolls off 14th on Sunday. Truex was eighth in single-lap speeds in second practice and ranked seventh in best consecutive 10-lap average in Happy Hour.
 
“We’ve been really good at places and off at places. It’s just been one of those things that’s been hard to hit consistently. It’s just the package. We’re going to new tracks that we haven’t been to with it before. We’re going on new tires it seems like almost every time. We just don’t have a lot of information, there’s been a lot of guessing going on and for whatever reason, it seems like the balance on these cars is really, really temperamental and real sensitive. 
 
“If you get off a little bit, I feel like you pay a lot bigger price than maybe what you did before. It’s harder to drive through problems when you have to run wide open.”
 
Truex has won twice with the new aero package this year—although his victories came at Richmond and Dover, two tracks where drivers had the benefit of full horsepower and not the limited 550-horsepower of venues of a mile-and-a-half. He admits it has been a challenge acclimating to racing with less power.
 
“It’s so different, just the whole approach to the weekend from a driver’s standpoint -- the way you drive these cars, the way you manage traffic – all the things that we have to do right now is a lot different from last year and the last couple seasons,” Truex said. It’s been a challenge just to figure it out. At the end of the day, it is what it is and we get paid to win races and try to put ourselves in position to win a championship. We’re just constantly searching and at the same time, that’s what makes this sport so fun.
 
“There’s a lot of different things you have to be good at and they get changed on you constantly, which is frustrating, especially when you have something really figured out like the low-downforce stuff – we were really dialed in. I really liked that package and it suited my style really well, and this has just been a huge learning curve. Just trying to figure it out, work hard and keep chipping away at it.”
 
Certainly, if Truex could win at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, it could be the catalyst the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team needs to attack the second half of the regular season. With four of the 10 Playoff races—and the championship—decided on intermediate tracks, another Coca-Cola 600 win could be a game-changer for Truex.
 
“I think it would be good for us just to have some confidence with it,” Truex said. “It’s been our biggest challenge this year, no question. Kansas, historically one of our best race tracks and we go there and kind of struggled. We know where we missed it. The problem is that you have to show up at a track where you haven’t raced this package before and do the right things. 
 
“That’s still a challenge, and we know what we missed in practice, and we know how we missed it at the All-Star race last week, but the hard part about this sport is being on top of it when you show up. Unloading good – you have to kick your weekend off right because you only have 50 minutes of practice on Friday to qualify good. If you don’t qualify good, your weekend starts off on a bad note. 
 
“This week feels different. I was really happy (on Thursday) and I felt like it was one of the best practices we’ve had all year. Hopefully, that will continue throughout the weekend.”

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