Truex didn’t just dominate Sunday’s race, he administered an old-fashioned, woodshed whipping. On a weekend punctuated by unpredictable weather and constantly changing track conditions, Furniture Row was the weekend’s only constant. They were seventh in opening practice, climbing to third-fast in Round Two before winning the pole with a fast lap at 192.328 mph. They also topped Happy Hour, before placing the field solidly in their rear-view mirror at the drop of Sunday’s green flag, and keeping it there all night long.
"It seemed like he was just playing with the rest of us,” said four-time Coke 600 winner Jimmie Johnson afterward. "I would flat-foot it around (Turns) One and Two and have a nose on him, then he would drive right back by me into Three and Four. It was very impressive.”
There have been other dominant days in NASCAR’s history. The late Jim Paschal set the previous NASCAR record for miles led in a single event; leading 502.5 miles in the Coke 600 nearly half a century ago. Jeff Burton led green-to-checkers – 300 consecutive laps -- at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September of 2000, but those performances paled in comparison to Truex’s Sunday dominance.
With apologies to Leonardo DiCaprio, Truex was King of the World at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday, ending his agonizing run of early season disappointment with one of the greatest performances in the history of the sport.
In their inaugural season with Toyota, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn have had more than their share of “close, but no cigar” moments. They led the season-opening Daytona 500 just 50 feet from the checkered flag, before falling to Denny Hamlin by a mere .011 seconds. That Daytona debut was precursor for the weeks to come, as Truex contended for victory time after time, only to fall short of Victory Lane.
He led 141 laps at Texas Motor Speedway last month, only to finish sixth when a late-race caution flag left him alone on the race track while his closest pursuers pitted for fresh tires. He led 172 laps at Kansas before a broken screw lodged behind his right-front wheel on a decisive late pit stop, forcing an unscheduled return to pit road that turned certain victory into a demoralizing, 14th-place result. He contended again at Dover two weeks ago, leading 47 laps before being swept-up into a late-race restart crash caused by Jimmie Johnson’s balky transmission.
"All you can do is focus on what you're doing,” said Truex of his 2016 trials. “Focus on how to get through those moments and figure out what it takes to win the race.”
The New Jersey native has experience in “getting through those moments.” His longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was declared cancer-free in January after waging a heroic battle with ovarian cancer; a battle that gave the couple a renewed set of priorities and a new appreciation for a team owner – Barney Visser -- who stresses the value of family, above all.
"He really and truly treats (everyone) like family," Truex said. "It's a big deal to all these guys to get to share this with him tonight."
"It's been frustrating," said Visser of the 2016 season. "But I've learned to live with the frustration. Racing will do that to you."
Truex admitted wondering what might go wrong in the final laps Sunday, imagining what horrifying twist of fate might rob him and his team of their moment, yet again.
"There was a few moments toward the end of the race where I was thinking, 'Please, I don't want a caution,’ he said. “When you see the white flag, you have a finger or two crossed on the steering wheel, trying to get to the end."
Sunday’s performance validated Visser’s decision to align his team with Toyota in 2016. But it’s not like major changes were needed.
Truex finished fourth in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup; in title contention all the way to the final event at Homestead Miami Speedway. But Visser -- a Vietnam paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade -- has always charted his own course, both in business and in racing. Unhappy with his place in Chevrolet’s Sprint Cup Series pecking order, the Colorado businessman announced plans to switch manufacturers at season’s end, abandoning successful partnerships with Chevrolet and Richard Childress Racing in favor of the uncharted waters of Toyota.
"He took a chance,” admitted Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson Sunday night. “Arguably, he was crazy to do that. He was running so well with his other partnership.”
FRR set realistic goals for the opening weeks of the campaign, with Visser cautioning it could be “late May or early June” before his team made full use of its new affiliations. Sunday night, he stood near the back of Charlotte’s raucous Victory Lane celebration, looking a bit bewildered amid the confetti, booming pyrotechnics and spraying champagne.
His team had won twice before – a Southern 500 score with Regan Smith in 2001 and Truex’s win at Pocono Raceway a year ago – but Visser had never been there to celebrate in person.
"It's finally time to be here," he said. "I've experienced (winning) at home, but this is great. I could do this every week."
"This is the most excited I've ever seen him," laughed Truex. "I'm pretty sure he even hugged me."
With a return to Pocono’s Tricky Triangle just a week away, there could be more celebrations to come.