NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins Coca-Cola 600

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins Coca-Cola 600

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. overcame a failed tire, contact with the wall and 600 arduous miles to claim his third victory of the season and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. It was a difficult race that produced many failed front tires, and drivers and teams struggled to find the right mix of balance to maintain pace. Brad Keselowski opened proceedings with the fastest machine, only to trail off as the track cooled late in the night, while Truex overcame contract with the outside wall to have the fastest car on track in the second half of the race. Penske Racing showed they were up to the challenge with all three cars running inside the top five late in the race before various issues took Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski out of contention, leaving Joey Logano to come home second.

Next up, after two weeks of racing in Charlotte, is Pocono Raceway. Truex won this race last season, with Kyle Busch coming in second only to return later in the season and hoist the trophy on the return visit. Kevin Harvick led 89 laps last spring on his way to finishing fourth, but this week's race is again shaping up to be a battle between Joe Gibbs and Penske Racing. Hendrick Motorsports has been making strides recently and cannot be counted out, though.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was one of the favorites Sunday night in Charlotte, but early contact with the outside wall gave him a

Martin Truex Jr. overcame a failed tire, contact with the wall and 600 arduous miles to claim his third victory of the season and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. It was a difficult race that produced many failed front tires, and drivers and teams struggled to find the right mix of balance to maintain pace. Brad Keselowski opened proceedings with the fastest machine, only to trail off as the track cooled late in the night, while Truex overcame contract with the outside wall to have the fastest car on track in the second half of the race. Penske Racing showed they were up to the challenge with all three cars running inside the top five late in the race before various issues took Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski out of contention, leaving Joey Logano to come home second.

Next up, after two weeks of racing in Charlotte, is Pocono Raceway. Truex won this race last season, with Kyle Busch coming in second only to return later in the season and hoist the trophy on the return visit. Kevin Harvick led 89 laps last spring on his way to finishing fourth, but this week's race is again shaping up to be a battle between Joe Gibbs and Penske Racing. Hendrick Motorsports has been making strides recently and cannot be counted out, though.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was one of the favorites Sunday night in Charlotte, but early contact with the outside wall gave him a more difficult job. The car headed toward the wall late in turn 4 with less than 30 laps remaining in the first stage, but the team overcame the damage to run at the front and dominate until the finish. His three wins have him safely in playoff contention, and another top finish in Charlotte was almost expected from this team. His latest Pocono triumph was in this race last season when he led 31 laps from fourth position on the grid. Truex can never be written off, and his usual consistency is starting to show again.

Joey Logano – Logano had a very quiet start to the Coca-Cola 600. He struggled with handling and ran in the middle of the pack for much of the distance until things started going his direction in the final stage. With 50 laps remaining, Logano was charging toward the front. With 30 laps remaining he was stalking the lead in second position but just didn't have enough to overtake Truex on the final restart. Logano won from pole at Pocono in 2011 and finished ninth after starting seventh in this race last season. Penske Racing seems to have found its edge again, and this should be a good venue for them to fight for the win again.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse and Roush Fenway Racing continue to make progress in their quest to return to the pinnacle of the series. Despite getting spun by Kyle Busch early in the race, Stenhouse soldiered his way into the top 10 and even made it into the top five with less than 40 laps remaining in NASCAR's longest race. He battled hard to hold position and kept fighting tooth and nail for a finishing spot inside the top five in an impressive evening for his No. 17 team. He did just that and claimed his first top-five finish of the season as his reward and climbs closer toward a spot in the playoffs. Stenhouse's best Pocono finish came in 2017 when he finished 11th.

Paul Menard – Menard dug deep and found speed and consistency Sunday in Charlotte to be a top-10 contender. He hasn't had the best season thus far but may be finding his feet with Wood Brothers Racing. Menard has two Pocono top-10 finishes from 24 career starts. He finished 11th in this race last season from the 20th starting position. While he isn't yet a driver fantasy players can choose every week, he's starting to show some of the promise that drew players to him in the past and is beginning to consistently bring home top-15 finishes. Sunday's run is a signal that at certain tracks to come, Menard could be a legitimate contender in the top 10.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson is showing the consistency he has lacked in recent seasons, which should put him in position to steal a win or two before the season concludes. His performance last week in Charlotte was methodical, as he claimed his sixth top-10 finish after starting 15th. While he isn't the dominator he once was, he isn't floundering to find his way like it has appeared more recently. The results are building and so is the team's confidence. It wouldn't be surprising at this point to see Johnson climb into regular top-five finishes with the chance to fight for a win from time to time. Johnson has three Pocono wins from 34 career starts, finished eighth in this race last season and should be in store for another top-10 run this week.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – A blown tire ended the day early for Erik Jones. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was one of the drivers tipped to have a good night at Charlotte, but he ended up as the first car out of the running Sunday evening. The young driver will have to wait another week to find success in the 2019 season, but he may not have to wait long. Jones has three top-10 finishes from four career starts at Pocono in the Cup series, and this week could be one where he quickly overcomes the demons of the past few weeks. He finished third at Kansas, sixth at Dover, and next week's visit to Pocono could be a good one to reverse the current trend. Fantasy owners will want to watch his practice and qualifying pace.

Kurt Busch – Early in Sunday's race, Busch complained about the direction his car was headed, but the team overcame the struggle and had him inside the top 10 at the start of the final stage. The recovery didn't last long, though. Busch was racing Ryan Blaney on the restart and lost control, making contact with brother Kyle, ripping the front fender off the car and finishing 27th, four laps down to the leaders. He's still seeking his first win of the season but has had success at Pocono. He won three times there in his career thus far. He finished ninth and led 11 laps in the fall race last season and could use another top-10 run after last week's disappointment.

Denny Hamlin – Late in the second stage Hamlin became yet another Joe Gibbs Toyota machine to lose a front-right tire and head into the wall. His bad luck continued in the break before the final stage when he missed his pit stall and had to reverse into his box, losing a lot of track position after having worked his way back into the top 10. Things only continued to go downhill when he hit the wall another two more times before the checkered flag appeared. Hamlin has four career wins at Pocono, including his first two Cup starts at the track, which he won from pole. He crashed out of this race last season but finished 10th on the return trip.

Kyle Larson – After a stellar All-Star Race weekend, Larson had a significantly more difficult race in the 600. The team wasn't quite among the fastest all evening but did get Larson to the front of the pack early in the final stage. He had an issue early on the restart and began dropping through the field before finally spinning and collecting Austin Dillon with heavy contact. The damage was more than enough to end both drivers' nights. It looked like Larson's luck was about to turn with his commanding All-Star performance, but that doesn't seem to be the new trend after Sunday. He was runner-up in last year's Pocono race and has an average finish of 11.8 from 10 career starts at the track.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chris Buescher – Despite being one of the many cars to have collected the outside wall with a right-side tire failure, Buescher continued to work on his car and pulled it forward to within touching distance of the top 10 in the final laps. That track position stuck through the final restart, as he was able to come home with an impressive sixth-place finish, his third top-10 finish of the season. Buescher won at Pocono in 2016 and finished 17th after starting 27th in this race last season. His confidence and momentum now are higher than they have ever been, and more top finishes will be in store for this team with their Joe Gibbs Racing technical alliance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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