CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson knows what it’s like to have a dominant car at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But the four-time Coca-Cola 600 champion had never seen anything quite like what Martin Truex Jr. pulled off Sunday night, leading 392 of 400 laps and going unchallenged for his fourth career victory.
Johnson said at times “it seemed like he was just playing with the rest of us.”
Truex shattered a NASCAR record for miles led in a race with 588. The previous record was 502.5 by Jim Paschal in the event 49 years ago.
Truex also set a record for most laps led at the Coca-Cola 600.
“He was so fast and I would flat-foot it around (turns) one and two and have a nose on him, and then he would drive right back by me into (turns) three and four,” Johnson said, laughing. “He was so fast. It was very impressive. I’m happy for him.”
Johnson wound up finishing third, denied a record-tying fifth win at the Coca-Cola 600.
Kevin Harvick, who finished second, said he was simply happy to even see Truex’s bumper late in the race after “swatting flies” in the middle of the pack for the first three quarters of the race.
Harvick made up ground in the final 150 miles, but could never get close enough to challenge Truex.
“Once he got new tires (with 59 laps to go) it seemed like he was able to get out in front of us and we were never able to really make up ground,” Harvick said.
NASCAR had been praised for its new rules packages this season that have helped create tighter racing and more passing this season.
But Sunday night’s race was a gigantic step in the opposite direction with one car clearly dominating the rest of the field.
Truex was never passed during green flag racing and the only laps he didn’t lead came when he pitted and others stayed the track a lap or two longer.
While setting race records are nice, a lack of passing isn’t necessarily a good thing for the sport.
NASCAR will continue to tweak this year’s aero packages, making pre-established changes for races at Michigan and Kentucky in their continuing effort to reduce the amount of downforce the cars generate and create more competitive racing.
Harvick said drivers like what is ahead.
“I think with the smaller spoiler and the less skew and the things that we’re getting ready to do, I think everybody wants to go in that direction,” Harvick said.
Harvick said things are improving from last year when it comes to competitive racing.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were,” Harvick said
Truex has come close to winning several times this season, only to suffer heartbreaking losses in the closing laps including at the Daytona 500.
But now he’s guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Cup championship and established himself as a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season.
Truex, of course, was too caught up in the moment and ready to celebrate after winning his first Coca-Cola 600 to worry about future changes.
“It is just sinking in now that we won the 600,” Truex said. “I’m really proud of my team. … It’s a weekend that you dream about.”