Martin Truex Jr. and the Furniture Row Racing team led by crew chief Todd Berrier had put themselves in a position for a top-10 or top-five finish Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But a mechanical issue with fewer than 10 laps remaining in the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race thwarted the final effort.
Running in the top-10, where he’d been most of the night, as he flashed under the flag stand with nine to go, Truex radioed to Berrier that he was coming to the pits. A hurried four-tire stop later, Truex returned to the track two laps down and finished with a 25th-place result.
The mechanical problem was a broken right-rear drive plate.
It was a frustrating end to what had been a good day for the Denver-based single-car team. The team fought a tight condition almost from the green flag, using adjustments and air pressure to combat the trend. After pitting with 25 laps remaining, Berrier and Truex found themselves set up for a run to the checkered with a chance to win.
Restarting fourth, on the outside line, Truex held his position for the first few laps, but slowly started losing spots. Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray tag-teamed him a few laps after the green, and Brian Vickers slipped past on lap 385, leaving him eighth.
During that stretch was when the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet started to change. After being tight back to the throttle all night, it was starting to snap loose getting back to the gas. Truex was helpless to make it any better, and eventually had to come in.
“I’m proud of my team for finding speed in our car this week,” he said after the race. “I’m not sure what to do about the rest. Another case of bad luck -- it just won't go away. We ran solid all night until we had the breakage at the end."
After starting 15th in the light of afternoon, it was a struggle to get the car to do much of anything. But, the Coca-Cola 600 is never won while the sun still shines, and Berrier and crew kept swinging at changes.
Just before the first pit stop, Truex reported the car was all over the place in the corners, and the grip went away in the center at both ends of the track. The bumps in Turns 1 and 2 were especially problematic.
Berrier put in some wedge and made an air pressure adjustment to start, and it fixed some things but made others worse. Landing into Turn 1 was a problem, one that stayed with the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet the rest of the night despite repeated efforts.
Still, at Lap 100 of 400, Truex made his way to the top-10 for the first time, and he stayed there all night long until the mechanical problem. Just 13 cars finished NASCAR’s longest race on the lead lap.
Jimmie Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600, his first victory of the season, followed by Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and McMurray in the top five. Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski comprised the rest of the top 10.
The good news is, Truex and the rest of the Furniture Row Racing team will head north to Dover, Delaware next Sunday. Dover, in addition to being Truex’s home track, was also the site of his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.