Few drivers have had as bad a run with luck as Martin Truex Jr. He’s had absolutely dismal seasons, like in 2014 when he first took over the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing entry (one top-five, five top-10s, one lap led all season long and a 24th-place points finish). He’s had good rides just collapse on him, like his No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing ride following the 2013 season. He’s come extremely close to winning after dominating a race, like at Kansas a few weeks ago where he started on the pole and led 172 of 267 laps only to have a pit stop penalty end his run prematurely.
So to come to Charlotte, win the pole for the Coca-Cola 600, then set a race record by leading 392 of 400 on the way to victory, there’s no doubt that Truex and the No. 78 crew truly deserved a visit to Victory Lane, especially after all that they’ve gone through. To do it in such a fashion, leading roughly 98 percent of a race (588 of 600 miles, a NASCAR record), is even more fitting considering how close that No. 78 has been to winning in 2016 and how strong that team has been this year. It was a perfect way to end the perfect weekend, and hopefully, it’s a sign of more victories this year for Truex.
“I can’t believe we led that much,” said Truex. “I was just out there running and the laps were clicking off, and it’s like, dang, halfway already. Usually, in this race you get halfway, and they’re like, it’s halfway, and you’re like, oh, my goodness, like seriously, that’s it? We’ve been in here forever. The race just — I guess because we were leading and there wasn’t a lot of caution laps and went green for so long, it went by quicker than normal, and the next thing I know there was 100 laps to go, and I was like, holy crap, there’s only 100 laps to go. The next thing I knew there was only 50. The race went by really quick, and I guess that’s because we were leading and things were going well.”
So where does this leave that team? Obviously, they’re Chase bound come September, and to get a lock on a Chase spot so soon must come as a relief for that team. Not that they wouldn’t have qualified for it any other way; the No. 78 team has been consistently fast this season and wouldn’t have had any trouble making the Chase on consistence alone. Rather, they can breathe easier now and race accordingly for more wins.
On that note, with Cole Pearn sitting on top of the pit box it won’t be difficult for Truex to go after more wins. Since taking the Crew Chief spot in 2015, Pearn has been exactly what Truex needed to gain his confidence and his competitive edge back behind the wheel. In 49 races, Truex and Pearn have brought home two wins, 10 top-fives, and 28 top-10s. If he hasn’t been at the front, he’s normally been near the front week after week.
This team is championship caliber. They were in the Final Four last year at Homestead, finishing fourth in the final points. Now that they’re aligned with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, they’re looking to redeem themselves in the title hunt and possibly clinch that Sprint Cup championship. Winning the Coca-Cola 600 after coming so close so many times this season was the first shot fired by Truex and his team. It’s safe to expect more from them before the year is up.