CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. believes there are more dominant Sprint Cup days ahead, perhaps even all the way to a championship.
Truex led a Sprint Cup record 588 of 600 miles to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night, NASCAR's longest race of the year.
"It's insane to think about that," Truex said of leading 392 of 400 laps to win his fourth career race and first since Pocono last June. "Nobody else has ever done that. So many greats in this sport, so many huge accomplishments."
Now, Truex is right there with all of them.
After finishing off the victory, Truex even apologized to Charlotte executive Marcus Smith. "I'm really sorry I stunk up the show," the driver said, "but I wasn't about the let off. I really wanted to get this win."
The result was a spot back in the NASCAR's season-ending Chase, where Truex made the final four a year ago with a shot to take the title at Homestead on the series' final weekend.
"That's all you can hope for," he said.
Truex has been knocking on victory's door all season long but hadn't gone through until now. He was a few feet behind Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin at the end to finish second.
Truex led the most laps at Texas and Kansas this season, yet came up empty.
A sign his luck had changed at Charlotte? Crew chief Cole Pearn said Truex was about a lap from blowing a front tire when he came into the pits for a change, maintaining his large lead.
"I didn't want to tell him," Pearn joked.
It might not have mattered if Truex knew, especially with the powerhouse Toyota he had. He won the pole on Thursday, quickly grabbed the lead and barely gave it up. Truex said Jimmie Johnson passed him briefly at one point to lead "for about 100 feet," he joked before retaking control.
Truex hopes he can build on this effort the rest of the season.
Things learned from the Coca-Cola 600:
SINGLE-CAR TEAMS CAN WORK: Furniture Row owner Barney Visser said his group made the right moves to steadily build a NASCAR contender since Regan Smith earned the team's first NASCAR win at Darlington in 2011. Some big ones were switching to Toyota, aligning with Joe Gibbs Racing and hiring Truex.
PENSKE WOES: It wasn't a great day for The Captain, Roger Penske. His four strong contenders for the Indianapolis 500 struggled, while at Charlotte, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano both came up short. Keselowski was fifth, but never really in it. Logano was running third when a pit penalty knocked him back a lap.
HARVICK'S DAY: Kevin Harvick was the best racer not named Truex, finishing second after passing Johnson down the stretch. Harvick was closing in on Truex when the race's final caution came out with 59 laps to go. The leader came in to get fresh tires, left the pits first and was never pressured again. "I really thought we were just going to drive right by (Truex), but I got tight those last two runs compared to the run that we were really good and made up all the ground," Harvick said.
KYLE BUSCH'S STRUGGLES: It's been a bad few outings for defending series champ Kyle Busch, who had lived among the top five most of the season. He was 30th at Dover two weeks ago, 10th at the All-Star race here last week and 33rd on Sunday.
HALFWAY HOME: The Coca-Cola 600 was the 13th Sprint Cup race, halfway through the 26 events that make up the pre-Championship Chase portion of the season. Truex became the eighth winner in 13 events this season, certainly guaranteeing him a chance to race for a title this fall. Busch has three wins while Johnson, Keselowski and Carl Edwards have two each.