Long: Three thoughts on Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600
CONCORD, N.C. - What stood out in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600:
1 - Joe Gibbs Racing not only completed the Charlotte sweep by winning the Sprint All-Star Race last weekend (Denny Hamlin) and Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (Carl Edwards), but the team placed all four cars in the top 11 in the season’s longest race. The win also marked the organization’s first victory on a 1.5-mile speedway since the 2013 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sunday’s race - JGR cars led 104 of the 400 laps - was exactly what the organization was looking for this spring when it pointed toward Charlotte as a chance to try some new things on its cars. If JGR can transfer what it learned at Charlotte to other big tracks, it could help in gaining ground on the top teams but there’s still more work to do.
2 - Remember when Hendrick Motorsports dominated Charlotte Motor Speedway? This weekend proved forgettable for an organization that had won six of the last 12 Coca-Cola 600s before Sunday. Problems started with all five Hendrick cars - Chase Elliott also ran this weekend - failing to make the final round of qualifying. Then Hendrick saw only one of its cars finish in the top 10 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. in third) and that was because of a fuel gamble. Jeff Gordon fought handling issues and placed 15th. Kasey Kahne was up and down before placing 12th. Elliott finished 18th in his 600 debut. Johnson fought an ill-handling car, spinning twice, the second time he hit an inside wall, and finished 40th. So what does this mean? Probably that this organization will bounce back and dominate at Charlotte in the fall when it’s a Chase race. We’ll see.
3 - Sunday’s race was an example of how the best laid plans can be wasted in a Sprint Cup race. Martin Truex Jr. seemed to be in a good position to win his first race in nearly two years before drivers started gambling on fuel strategy. For the second points race in a row, what happened on pit road cost Truex a chance for the win. At Kansas, the team was short on fuel so he came in a for a quick splash while not changing any tires. Not changing even two tires backfired. Then came Sunday’s race where others gambled and again Truex was left to wonder ''what if’’ after leading 131 of 400 laps Sunday. With as close as Truex keeps coming, it’s easy to think he’ll get a victory at some point. Still, this team needs to prove it can win a race. It’s done everything but win. It’s time to complete the task.