CONCORD - The longest day in racing ended with Martin Truex winning while cars crashed on the backstretch and fireworks erupted overhead.
After more than five hours of fender-banging fun, Truex went four-wide on the final restart, a heart-stopping moment at a track that rarely puts on a decent race, and drove away from the field on the final laps.
It was a fitting end to a wild Sunday night. Reporters angrily pushed and shoved each other afterward. It was that kind of race.
Truex had hit the wall earlier in the race, one of several cars to blow tires and slide into the corner fences. But as the long race went on, his team had time to rebuild his Toyota and make it the fastest car on the track at the end.
“What a wild race,” he said afterward. “The longest race known to mankind.”
It was his second win in a race some of the best drivers have never won.
The third-hottest day in the history of the race played tricks with the teams, most of which struggled to figure out the changes in the track and the effects on cars and drivers.
While the racers screamed and hollered all night, the cars seemed to slow down as the race went on. That’s never happened since the race was moved to its evening start in 1993.
There were 46 green-flag lead changes, 30 at the line, which was more than the last four 600s combined. Most of them were early in the race. After the sun went down, the racing became familiar to Charlotte fans.
Boring. Spread out. Truex driving away.
He was one of the drivers screaming at his team earlier in the day, complaining about how his car was handling in the 94-degree, mile and a half furnace. Truex drove one of several Toyotas that ended up in the wall late in the evening.
A team spokesman for Joe Gibbs Racing suggested the mistake was on JGR and not Goodyear.
The situation just added to oddity that was the 60th Coca-Cola 600. Then again, this might be the most odd race in the sport.
It’s certainly the longest, and the addition of 16 caution flags pushed the race to the verge of Monday morning.
The history of the 600 is mixed with first-time winners and inexplicable non-winners. More than a dozen drivers in NASCAR’s hall of fame never won at Charlotte, some of the biggest names in the history of stock-car racing.
Truex has now won it twice, the last time in the most dominating performance in NASCAR history, this time in one of the most puzzling.
The new aero package NASCAR introduced this year created some wild moments, mostly on restarts as 40 cars bunched together over and over again, forcing cars into the walls and into the artificial grass in the front stretch.
But the package, combined with the fickle nature of Charlotte Motor Speedway, left most of the teams confused once the sun went down. Of the 11 drivers who led laps, only a few were competitive at the end.
And on the final restart, after the race pushed past the five-hour mark, things went from mild to wild. After dominating the race over the final hour, one last restart pushed Truex to the third position behind a front-row of drivers who hadn’t been up front all night.
Ryan Newman and David Ragan were simply in the way when the green flag fell with five laps to go. On the backstretch, Kyle Busch pushed between them to go three-wide. And then Truex did something no one can remember anyone ever doing at Charlotte. He dove low, and suddenly there were four cars side-by-side going into the third turn.
“I told myself I had to go for it,” he said. “The seas parted and I went low. I barely cleared them coming out of 4.”
Joey Logano gave him one last push before Truex got his car pointed in the right direction and drove to the checkered flag.
The longest race of the season ended the longest day in motorsports. And the old World 600 was finally worth watching.
It ended with cars crashing, fireworks overhead and tempers flaring among those carrying microphones. No one knew how the night was supposed to end, but it was somehow appropriate.
When we meet here again, we’ll be on the Roval. Rest assured no one will know what to make of that race either.