CONCORD – Want to know how much of a “team guy” NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs is?
Late Sunday night, shortly after his Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. won the 60th Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gibbs was asked what great accomplishment this week meant more to him: Wednesday’s or Sunday’s.
Gibbs, clearly confused, looked at the reporter asking the question and had a long pause.
“I’m trying to think of what happened Wednesday,” Gibbs said.
“Um, the Hall of Fame …” the reporter said as others in the media center began to chuckle.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Gibbs would be a part of the next class to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with Buddy Baker, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.
“Oh!” Gibbs said. “Obviously, I’m more excited about what happened tonight.”
Stewart and Labonte are both former championship-winning drivers for JGR, but Truex also has a points title (2017), and he was pretty dominant Sunday.
Truex, who also won the 2016 Coca-Cola 600, led 116 laps – the most of any driver. Only third-place finisher Kyle Busch (79 laps led) and 19th-place Brad Keselowski (76) were even close.
Truex ultimately took the win after riding four-wide on the final restart with Busch, Ryan Newman, Joe Logano and David Ragan. Truex went low and flung to the front, eventually winning by a comfortable margin.
“What a race,” said Truex, who’s in his first season with JGR. “Up and down, you never know what can happen in these things.”
Local drivers have tough nights
The night could’ve been better for a pair of drivers with Cabarrus County roots.
After starting the race in the 10th spot, Kannapolis native Daniel Hemric finished 21st, while Northwest Cabarrus High School graduate Bubba Wallace wound up 25th. Wallace started 29th.
Hemric, a Richard Childress Racing driver, was strong in practices, posting a round-best 182.791 mph in the first session. He had the second-fastest speed (180.687 mph) behind Daniel Suarez in the third practice.
In the race itself, Hemric even led seven of the 400 laps in his No. 8 Chevrolet, one of 11 drivers to run out front. But he also had to overcome some obstacles, particularly a slam into the wall on Turn 4 during a restart. At the time, Hemric was driving on four old tires.
Fun for a Viking
While Hemric and Wallace didn’t fare so well, another person with Cabarrus County ties enjoyed a strong – and nearly fabulous – night: Raymond Fox III.
Fox, a Central Cabarrus High School graduate, is the car chief for 600 runner-up Joey Logano. Fox also is the father of former Cox Mill High School baseball standouts Austin and Justin Fox.
Logano, with four fresh tires, nearly out-fought winner Martin Truex Jr. in a five-lap shootout to conclude the race. After seeing Logano take the Monster Energy Cup championship last year, Fox has seen the young driver remain in contention for a repeat.
On Sunday, Logano posted his 10th top-10 finishes in 20 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and earned his ninth top 10 this season. He was disappointed with how the early parts of the race went for him, but he was pleased with his improvement as the night wore on.
“If you had told me I was going to be second after the first two stages, I would’ve taken it,” Logano said. “But when you’re this close, you really want to win. The Coke 600 is a big one. You hate to miss it.”
Logano trails only Kyle Busch in the points standings race. However, at the midway point of the season, Logano currently sits first in stage points (136), followed by Kevin Harvick (128), Busch (123), Ryan Blaney (117) and Chase Elliott (115). Logano is tied with Busch for the most stage wins (five).
Honor and Remember
The most poignant time of the night came at the end of the second stage.
On lap 201, the “Honor and Remember Flag” was taken to the infield between pit road and the start-finish line. When drivers pulled their cars onto pit road, they turned off their engines, and the 1,100-square foot flag was unfurled as everyone in the speedway stood and observed a 30-second moment of silence for military personnel who have died in the line of duty for the United States.
The names of more than 500 fallen service members have been written on the flag by their family members over the years.
It’s getting hot out here!
The temperature here at the start of the race was 94 degrees, tying it for the third-hottest race in 600 history.
The other race with a 94-degree start was the very first event, known then as the World 600, back in 1960.
For the record, the hottest 600 on record was on May 27, 1962.
What a difference turf makes
Last summer, Charlotte Motor Speedway replaced the natural grass on the frontstretch of the infield with synthetic turf. If he wasn’t already, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. probably became a big fan of the fake stuff on Sunday.
On lap 87, Kyle Busch appeared to get loose and bumped Stenhouse, sending the No. 17 car spinning into the road course portion of the frontstretch. Whereas the natural grass might’ve caused damage to Stenhouse’s machine in the past, he instead slid across without getting stuck in potential muck and eased back onto the track near Turn 1.
Stenhouse eventually finished fifth.
The 36 fails inspection
Matt Tifft’s No. 36 Ford twice failed inspection before Sunday’s race. Tifft originally qualified 26th but was forced to start at the back of the 40-car field and lose a crew member as a result of the infraction. He wound up taking 20th place on the night.
Doing it with Flair
WWE star Charlotte Flair, the daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, drove the honorary pace car before the 600. Although she’s been on grand stages before, including becoming the first woman to headline the famed Wrestlemania last month, Flair admitted what she was preparing to do Sunday was in a different category.
“Actually I was more nervous to get certified today than wrestling in front of 100,000 people,” Flair said a few hours before the race. “I just had to make sure (the pace car) was an automatic (transmission).”
Flair is a Charlotte native who starred in volleyball – under her birth name of Ashley Fliehr -- at Providence High School. She went on to play at Appalachian State and later transferred to N.C. State, where she earned her degree.
By driving the pace car for the 600, she’s accomplished something her father never did. Ric Flair, however, was the grand marshal of the All-Star Race 10 years ago, but Charlotte said she plans on out-doing him in the ring.
“I'm halfway there to the number of championships he has had, and I'm going to beat him,” Flair said. “He told me not to speed (in the pace car), but he is just so proud of me, and I know he gets excited watching me perform.”
Former NASCAR artist honored
Charlotte Motor Speedway paid tribute to late NASCAR artist Sam Bass by presenting his wife, Denise, with framed artwork that featured every May race cover Bass produced for the race track.
Bass, who died in February from kidney disease at 57, designed 88 covers over a span of 34 years for the speedway. Bass, who spent much of his adult life living in Cabarrus County after being hired by CMS in 1984, also designed the artwork of many notable drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart.
“He had a special place in a lot of hearts in NASCAR,” Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith said of Bass during the ceremony. “Charlotte Motor Speedway had a really good relationship with Sam over the years. We have had some of the greatest moments and finishes in NASCAR, and that was captured by Sam Bass."
Bass also designed the cars and uniforms for the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and was the logo designer for the Kannapolis Intimidators minor league baseball team.