CONCORD, N.C. – A strong second half and a thrilling four-wide pass on a restart with five laps left propelled Martin Truex Jr. to his second Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Truex, who led a race-high 116 of 400 laps, found himself shuffled out of the lead for a late-race dash after a spinning Brad Keselowski brought out the 16th and final caution flag of the night with 10 to go.
The yellow flag split the pit strategy among the frontrunners, with David Ragan staying out to assume the point, while Ryan Newman won the race off pit road with a two-tire call by crew chief Scott Graves.
That lined them up on the front row for the race-ending restart, with Truex third and Kyle Busch fourth.
When the green flag waved, Ragan got a huge shove from Busch to go to the lead in turn one, but Busch shot the gap between Ragan and Newman to make things three-wide for the lead off the second turn.
Truex pounced down the backstretch as that trio side-drafted and bounced off one another, shooting all the way to the bottom and taking his car four-wide in a banzai effort to seize the lead for good.
By the time Truex was coming off turn four, he had Joey Logano pushing him past Ragan for the top spot, and once he got into clean air the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was gone.
“I was going wherever there was a hole, because I wasn’t lifting,” Truex said of the winning move. “That’s kind of the way it works. It seemed like the second half of the race, for sure, the bottom was really where you wanted to be. I had a hole in the bottom to get into (turn) three, and I knew that was my only shot. I just barely cleared the 22 (Logano) off (turn) four sideways.
“He was on my bumper and had me sideways, but I hung onto it and luckily finished it from there.”
Truex raced away from a determined Logano over the closing moments to notch his 22nd career Cup Series victory and third at Charlotte, taking the checkered flag in front by .330 seconds.
“What a race,” said Truex in victory lane. “This is one hell of a team. We never gave up on it, even when I thought we were done. We blew a tire and hit the wall and just kept fighting.
“There at the end, man … that was pretty wild, with the four-wide on that last restart,” he added. “These 1.5-milers have been tough on us this year, but we’re starting to get them figured out now.”
Truex’s win came despite crash damage from a scuffle with the outside wall while he was leading the race on lap 73, something that the New Jersey native had never done before in his career.
“That’s pretty cool, I think,” Truex noted. “That’s hero stuff, to come back from the stuff that we had to fight though to win this one tonight. I mean, you look at this car, and it looks like we just got done racing at Martinsville (Speedway) with how beat up it is, but we just won another Coca-Cola 600. It’s crazy.”
Logano came home second to Truex for the second time this season, after the two also had a close-quarters, late-race battle for the win that came down to the final lap at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
“I had the run there on that last restart, and if he didn’t clear right in front of me … I could have gotten him, I think,” Logano noted. “I needed to get to his outside, though. If I got to the bottom on him, I was never going to clear him. He was going to stay on my door and my quarter-panel and I wasn’t going to be able to get the job done. I needed to try to get to his outside there the last couple of laps and he knew the same thing and just washed up the racetrack. He did a good job defending the position.
“I wish I could play it over one more time maybe,” Logano added. “When you’re this close, you really want to win. The Coke 600 is a big one. You hate to miss (winning) it, but what a big weekend.”
Kyle Busch came home third ahead of Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, polesitter William Byron and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
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