Inside the first test with Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing’s new No. 19 team

If the new combination of Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and Joe Gibbs Racing ultimately results in a championship, let the record show their first laps together were a bit unusual.

When Truex strapped into the No. 19 Toyota for the first time Wednesday morning during a Goodyear tire test at Auto Club Speedway, he didn’t immediately drive onto the track.

Instead, Truex made laps around an empty garage so the team could calibrate a GPS system.

For eight minutes, Truex slowly circled a long, red-roofed building — over and over and over. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the strange start to his test.

“They told me to go drive around for a bit,” he said. “It was like, ‘OK, whatever, guys!’”

Truex eventually got bored and looped back to the Cup garage so he could buzz the members of his team, who were standing outside the garage stall watching the scene unfold. The crew burst into laughter as the 19 car passed by.

If there were any first-day jitters, they surely ended right then.

Martin Truex Jr. smiles after climbing into the No. 19 car for the first time. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

JGR allowed to get an inside look at the No. 19’s first test as a group, and it certainly didn’t seem like there was much of an adjustment period between the team members. That’s because much of the old Furniture Row Racing team’s road crew lives on, just in a different uniform.

It wasn’t only Truex and Pearn who joined JGR — former 78 team crewmen actually make up the majority of the new 19.

Car chief Blake Harris, engineer James Small, interior mechanic Todd Carmichael, tire specialist Tommy DiBlasi and engine tuner Gregg Huls were all at FRR, and spotter Clayton Hughes also followed Truex to JGR.

Meanwhile, aside from the hauler drivers, only three of the current road crew worked on the 19 car last year: Engineer JT Adkins, front end mechanic Dave Rudy and underneath mechanic Ryan Martin. In addition, shock specialist Drew Bible joined the 19 from Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 car.

“The core of us are from the 78, and we definitely have our little ways we like to do things,” Pearn said. “It’s funny — I’m still not used to seeing the 19 (on the door) because it’s all the same people, it’s the same sponsors (as the 78). But then you’re part of a different group. It’s got a weird feeling to it.”

Pearn started working with JGR on the 2019 roster while last season was still wrapping up, but he said many of the decisions came down to which former 78 personnel were willing to move from Colorado and continue in racing after FRR shut down.

The California tire test, despite being across the country from their new homes, was a boost for a group that otherwise might have rolled into Daytona Speedweeks still unsure of its chemistry.

Not only did the crew get to shake any winter rust when it comes to making changes to the car, but everyone got to bond as well. A team dinner Tuesday night at the Mexican restaurant El Torito following a long flight was the first real chance to get the entire group together (they went to Outback on the second night).

“Everybody gelled really early, and then getting to do this test and be on the road together before the season gets started has been really helpful,” Pearn said.

Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and the No. 19 team debrief after a run during their first test session together. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

As for the test itself, nothing initially seemed abnormal.

“We’re going to run the black ones,” Pearn said, deadpan, while pointing to a large stack of Goodyears.

But it turned out to be one of the more unique tests Goodyear has conducted at a non-plate track. If the new rules package works as intended, all of the big ovals will resemble something akin to pack racing in 2019 — and everyone needed to get data about how the cars would handle around each other.

As a result, the three teams at the test (Truex, Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez’s No. 41) spent much of their time drafting together instead of doing single-car runs.

“Usually at a tire test, you’re out there by yourself all the time,” Truex said. “You go out there, you make your laps when you’re ready, you come back in, change tires. But running with other cars, you can definitely get a lot more information.”

Here’s how most of the test went for the 19 team: Truex would go out to do a run of 15-25 laps with the other drivers while Pearn ran up to the roof of the infield pit suites to watch. They’d return to the garage, where Pearn would lean into his driver’s window and say, “Whaddya got?” Truex, often animated with eyes widening as he spoke, would express his opinion of the latest changes. With no engine noise, other team members would gather behind Pearn to hear what Truex had to say.

Pearn said the biggest takeaway from the test wasn’t necessarily the newness of his team working together, but the new ways it will have to conduct business in 2019. Getting the car to work in a draft will now be more important than raw speed, so crew chiefs will have to find a balance between the two.

“It’s going to be hairy,” Pearn said. “The All-Star Race was short, and now you think you’re going to be four hours of that, basically being pretty chaotic the whole time, is going to be pretty mentally taxing. It’s going to be a lot more to deal with.”

Truex echoed that sentiment and said figuring out the rules package would be a much bigger challenge than figuring out the flow of his new team — which he believes is already in a good place.

“I feel like we’re already integrated into the JGR system and everything is going smoothly,” he said. “The question is going to be how do we make stuff better? How does that work? But with us as a group, so far everything feels like a little bit of a continuation of what we’ve been doing.”

Fans at the test asked Cole Pearn to bring their merchandise to Martin Truex Jr. for signatures. Pearn did, then jogged back to the fans after Truex signed. Pearn joked he was trying to get some “good karma.” (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Explaining the Spire purchase of Furniture Row’s charter

Earlier this week, Spire Sports + Entertainment — a North Carolina-based agency — acknowledged it had purchased the No. 78 team’s charter from Furniture Row Racing and will be starting a race team.

Given the complexity of this situation, there are many questions floating around about what’s going on and what it might mean. Here’s an attempt to anticipate some of the questions and answer them.

Q: Did Spire buy Furniture Row Racing?

A: No. That’s not how this works. Spire bought the charter, which is like a franchise.

Q: I’ve never heard of Spire. Who are these people?

A: Race fans may not have heard of Spire, but every key player in the NASCAR garage has dealt with them. Founded by Jeff Dickerson (former Kyle Busch agent and spotter) and T.J. Puchyr (who formerly ran Braun Racing and Turner Motorsports), the agency now has 25 employees — including company president Ty Norris, who formerly held major roles at Michael Waltrip Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. It’s a mostly behind-the-scenes operation, but Spire has been pulling a lot of strings in the NASCAR world since 2010.

Q: OK, so they have racing people working for them. I still don’t get what Spire does.

A: Spire was originally intended to be a driver representation company, and that remains a big part of the business (Kyle Larson and James Hinchcliffe are among the clients). They handle things like contract negotiations and driver brands, for example. But over the years, Spire has expanded into also representing sponsors (5-Hour Energy, DC Solar, Brandt among them) and even working closely with race teams (Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing) and manufacturers (Toyota). Their client portfolio even includes a racetrack (Knoxville Raceway).

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re telling me one company is negotiating on behalf of drivers, sponsors AND teams? Conflict of interest much?

A: It might sound crazy, but the company doesn’t shy away from it (this despite being named in the Brennan Poole lawsuit over the summer). I asked Dickerson, the CEO, in an interview this week about the appearance of conflict.

“These are the waters we navigate every day,” he said. “We certainly do not hide from anybody what we do. We’re not blind to the appearances and we will work with all of our clients to make them comfortable on what the priority is.”

And what’s the priority? The agency will remain the priority over the race team, he said.

Q: Uh, what? So why did the agency buy a charter to start a race team then?

A: Remember I mentioned how Spire has race teams among its partners? One of those was Furniture Row Racing, and Puchyr, the Spire co-founder, had developed a close relationship with Barney Visser and Joe Garone. In the process of shopping the charter, Visser floated the idea of Puchyr and Dickerson buying it themselves. At the same time, Spire had been looking for something big to make a statement to the industry and potential sponsors —  and a way to have something concrete for their own employees in a volatile business, which sometimes leaves them chasing commissions.

The Spire guys decided to take the leap. The deal was agreed to in September, although Visser couldn’t officially sell the charter until after the season.

“Beachfront property like this doesn’t come available very often and we’re here to do big things,” Dickerson said. “We think this purchase checks a lot of boxes on the messages that TJ and I are trying to send.”

Q: Can’t someone send a message without risking millions of dollars? And how can an agency possibly afford this?

A: Dickerson sees owning a race team in helping several different areas. For example: When his sales people go into a meeting with a potential client who has questions about the health of the sport, they can now point to this investment as proof they truly believe in racing’s future. Spire is essentially backing up its talk by putting money on the table while showing that it’s not going anywhere.

As for the expense, the 78’s charter was more valuable than others because weekly payouts from races are now based in large part on how a team has performed in the last three seasons. In Furniture Row’s case, it was 11th, first and second in the points. That means the checks from NASCAR after each race should help in repaying whatever loans Spire likely took out to obtain the charter.

Q: Oh, so is it a money grab? They’re just going to run a car and get the check?

Dickerson insists this is a long-term play and the team isn’t looking to just flip the charter. He scoffs at those who would suggest anyone is making big bucks in today’s ownership climate.

It’s different when it’s your butt writing that check and taking that risk,” he said. “This is a significant risk for us that we hope pays off.”

Q: OK, but what about the race team? Who is the driver? Where are they getting cars from? Are they going to be competitive?

A: The team is going to be called Spire Motorsports, and it will run a No. 77 Chevrolet. Those are all the details that have been confirmed at this time. Given Spire’s connections to Hendrick and Ganassi, you could probably guess they’ll end up in some sort of technical alliance with one of them in order to make the team function. (Update: The team will be leasing space in the Premium Motorsports shop and have a partnership — at least on some level — with Premium. However, Premium isn’t running the team.)

It’s hard to predict whether the team will be competitive until we know more about the plans to hire a driver (or drivers), a crew chief, crew, etc.

Q: I’m sorry, but just back up for one more minute. You’re telling me an agency that does business with Toyota is going to run Chevrolets? An agency that negotiates driver contracts and sponsorships with race teams is now going to race against some of the very drivers and sponsors it represents?

A: I asked Dickerson what all his company’s various partners thought of Spire starting a team. He said they were all consulted and gave their support.

“It’s just racing, man,” he said. “We all have raced for a long time and we’ve raced against our friends and our family. I think for three hours on Sunday we can figure it out.”

Column: Furniture Row shows NASCAR teams’ precarious sponsorship situations

In the wake of Furniture Row Racing’s announcement it will shut down after this season, there was a telling quote team president Joe Garone gave to the Denver Post.

“There needs to be a runway when a partner leaves,” Garone said, referring to the loss of a sponsor. “… Had 5-Hour (Energy) not quit, we’d still be racing. That’s the truth. They did (quit) and we weren’t able to replace them.”

Though Tuesday’s news was a shock in many ways — after all, when was the last time the defending championship team announced it was ceasing operations? — it also exposed a situation many NASCAR teams are facing.

What happens when a major, big-money sponsor leaves in 2018? In an era where the cost of running a championship-caliber car has wildly outpaced new sponsorship revenue, teams have built themselves a house of cards to try and keep up with their rivals.

A decade ago, it was fantastic for NASCAR and its teams when major corporations or brands wanted to throw $25 million a year at race cars. Many of them did, and NASCAR was flourishing at the same time.

But companies aren’t spending that way these days, and they haven’t been for awhile now. So when a high-paying sponsor exits the sport — even if it’s “only” $10 million compared to the budgets in the spending heyday — that can be a fatal blow to a race team.

The reality is exactly what Garone said: There’s no runway if something goes wrong. If a major sponsor leaves a team, the chances of finding a replacement are about the same as landing a passenger plane on a cliff without going over the edge.

In that case, there are two options: Spend way less money — which means no more wins or competitive finishes — or call it a day and go home. That is, of course, unless the team owner is a super rich dude with disposable income.

That used to be Visser, but after burning through tens of millions and finally getting sponsorship to fund the team, he couldn’t go back. Not after winning a championship.

There are more teams than not in Furniture Row’s position — the teams who rely on sponsorship to survive and don’t have a billionaire to fall back on. As such, those teams could find themselves in the same situation: One sponsor decides to leave, and that could be it.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist here, but here’s an example: What if FedEx pulls out of racing at some point? Do you think the No. 11 car can find sponsorship at the same level? Maybe, but…

Look, I understand being jolted by the Furniture Row news. It’s a serious situation. But if this is really a wake-up call for you, then you either haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in NASCAR or you’ve been in a bit of denial about it.

Either way, nothing is going to change at this point. I highly doubt teams are going to agree to some sort of spending cap, and NASCAR can’t take costs out of the sport fast enough. So this is the reality.

Where does that leave things now?

For one, questions about where Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn will land next season — while interesting and relevant — don’t speak to the big picture.

After all, if there are no race teams, there’s nowhere to race. The current team model in NASCAR is broken — and has been for some time now — and everyone can only hope the Furniture Row news is an isolated case due to unique circumstances rather than the start of a frightening trend.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Bristol night race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…


The next time someone asks me what I like about NASCAR, I’m just going to point to this year’s racing at Bristol.

NASCAR was at its best on Saturday night. There were great battles for the lead all night, fantastic moves throughout the field, unpredictable outcomes, high emotions and almost too much to keep track of at times.

It was fun! Three hours of pure entertainment that never got boring and had intriguing subplots from the opening laps.

Is it being greedy to ask for more?

“Bristol is an awesome place,” Kyle Larson said afterward. “If we could race here every Saturday and Sunday, our grandstands would be packed, our TV ratings would be very high. Let’s build more Bristols.”

Amen! For all the talk of what ails NASCAR and how it could be better, the issue so often comes down to the tracks themselves. And it continues to feel like more short tracks could solve a lot of NASCAR’s problems.

Yet the reality of adding more short tracks seems so unlikely at the moment.  Instead, NASCAR is locked into this intermediate track racing and now has seemingly come up with a solution to slow down the cars in order to put on a better show next season.


If only someone in power could slam their fist down on the table and say, “NO! Enough. That’s not what we need. The real solution is to shake up the schedule and start going to more short tracks.”

No, it wouldn’t change things overnight, but 20 short track races per season sure would do a lot for the health of the sport.

The problem is it’ll never happen. It’s a pipe dream at this point. So we just have to somehow accept there’s only two more short track races for the rest of the year.

Sigh. At least we had Saturday night.

2. Kurt makes case for No. 4

Any race winner who isn’t part of the Big Three at this point is going to spend a week being the focus of the “Are they the fourth driver?” storyline.

It just happened with Chase Elliott after Watkins Glen. Now it’s Kurt Busch’s turn. Kurt, c’mon down! You’re the next driver to get the spotlight as No. 4!

But “Who is the fourth?” is a valid question because it seems so up in the air, doesn’t it? I have no idea who would be the last driver at Homestead if all of the Big Three were to advance.

Elliott? Busch? Clint Bowyer? Denny Hamlin? Larson? Those seem to be the top candidates, but that’s a lot of drivers for one spot.

Seriously though, it might very well be Busch. He has playoff experience, is still at the top of his game and Stewart-Haas Racing continues to show it’s consistently the best team at this point in the season.

But there’s also a chance by the time you read this column in a couple weeks, we could all be focused on someone else.

3. Common sense, please

I totally get that people were angry with Kyle Busch for wrecking Martin Truex Jr. while going for second place in the final stage.

But to say he did it on purpose? C’mon, guys.

There would be absolutely no logic or reason for Busch to suddenly wreck Truex, his pseudo-teammate (Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row share information and debrief together) and fellow title contender (how dumb would it be to start a feud at this point in the season?).

It wasn’t a battle for the lead and it wasn’t a bump-and-run situation, because there were still plenty of laps to go. Busch just screwed up. I would bet almost any amount of money he didn’t do it on purpose.

He said as much after the race, though surely not everyone will take his word for it.

“I crashed the 78, so that was my bad, totally,” he said. “Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner. Knowing there were still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.

“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”

Busch and Truex crew chief Cole Pearn have a good relationship as well, so again — while the 78 team might be mad in an emotionally charged moment, they surely know it was unintentional.

“Maybe I’ll send them a sorry cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra,” Busch said. “They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyway, but it ruined their day from being able to get a win or even a second.”

4. You’re ruining it for everyone, you idiot

After the race, Kyle Busch walked out of the infield tunnel and up the ramp to where drivers get in their golf carts. Fans typically line the chest-high fence there for autographs, and Busch actually stopped to sign a few despite his sour mood.

As he got in his golf cart, though, a fan went after Busch. According to several eyewitnesses, the fan gave Busch some not-so-friendly pats on the arm before reaching into the golf cart and making much harder contact. That brought Busch out of the cart to defend himself, and the two men were chest to chest as public relations woman Penny Copen stepped in between them. Police then arrived to detain the fan.

As if it wasn’t obvious, that is a totally unacceptable situation. No fan should ever, EVER confront a driver after the race. Between this and the guy who accosted Denny Hamlin on pit road at Martinsville last year, everyone is walking a fine line. It’s not going to take much for fans to completely lose access to the drivers, which is something that has made NASCAR great over the years.

Busch, no matter how much you may dislike him, shouldn’t need to be fearing for his safety when he’s leaving a racetrack. This is ENTERTAINMENT, after all. The drivers are putting on a show. It’s not some political demonstration where two sides clash in the streets.

Don’t make NASCAR bring in riot police to get drivers out of the track. If you see this start to happen at a track, don’t be afraid to alert security. You’re not snitching, you’re saving your fellow fans from losing valuable access to the stars of the sport.

5. Playoff picture

This is turning into such a weird season. Not only have three drivers dominated at the top, but there’s virtually zero points drama at the bottom when it comes to the playoff bubble.

I can’t remember if there’s been a cutoff race where it was only win-and-in, but this year’s Brickyard 400 is shaping up to be that way.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. missed a chance to capitalize on his best track, pitting under green twice with problems Saturday to finish five laps down while Alex Bowman snagged a top-10.

That leaves Stenhouse a whopping 79 points behind Bowman for the final spot with two races left.

Even if someone else wins Darlington or Indy — like a Daniel Suarez or Ryan Newman — there still won’t be much playoff drama with the points. That’s because Bowman is 32 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the 15th playoff spot, which is where the line would move to.

This storyline is not a huge deal — since whoever is the last person in the playoffs isn’t going to beat the Big Three anyway — but it’s kind of odd to see the standings look this way.

Martin Truex Jr.’s future with Furniture Row Racing remains unsettled

It’s still not clear what team Martin Truex Jr. will race for next year, which is quickly becoming one of the season’s most surprising subplots.

Truex is the defending Cup Series champion and has already won four times this season, so performance clearly isn’t an issue. And yet, here he is in mid-August — the traditional heart of Silly Season — with no contract for 2019.

So what gives?

“Right now, we need sponsorship,” Truex said of Furniture Row Racing. “That’s as simple as it gets. So it’s hard to say. Is there a 50 percent chance we get that in the next couple weeks, or is there 100 percent or 2 percent? I don’t know. I can tell you everything really is based upon that.”

No. 78 team sponsor 5-Hour Energy announced it was leaving the sport in July, which means Furniture Row must find a replacement (all indications are team owner Barney Visser feels he’s spent enough of his own money funding the team in the past) to be paired with Bass Pro Shops.

Truex said it was “hard to put a number” on the chances he’d be back in the 78 car next year, which speaks to the complications of the economic climate in NASCAR. While NASCAR continues to promote the positives about the state of sponsorship, the reality is Truex and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson both need new sponsors for 2019.

And without a replacement sponsor, it’s hard to sign a driver to a new contract. After all, where would the money come from?

“I’m starting to hear rumors,” Truex said in acknowledging the growing Silly Season talk about himself. “That’s kind of how it works in this sport. I’ve been in this position before.

“I’ve got a great team. Barney has done a lot for my career and it’s something we all want to keep going. We just need a little bit of time to let the dominoes fall in place and see if we can keep it going. If not, I have to figure it out from there.”

Furniture Row issued a statement to SportsBusiness Journal earlier this month saying “not fielding a team in 2019 is not an option.” But until a new sponsor is found, there seems to be an unknown about what the future looks like.

All of it has likely caught even Truex by surprise. As recently as July, a confident Truex indicated he and the team weren’t in a hurry to get a deal signed.

“It’s not really a pressing issue for me,” he said the week after 5-Hour’s announcement last month. “I know what the team wants. I know where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s nothing like that. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feeling like it will get done when it gets done.”

News Analysis: 5-hour Energy leaving NASCAR, Furniture Row

What happened: 5-hour Energy, one of the main sponsors for Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing, announced it would be leaving the team — and the sport — at the end of this season in what it termed a “business decision.”  5-hour joined Truex’s No. 78 this year after being the full-season sponsor on Erik Jones’ No. 77 last year. Prior to that, 5-hour was linked with Clint Bowyer during his time at Michael Waltrip Racing and HScott Motorsports (2012-16).

What it means: Even winning at a frequent rate doesn’t ensure continued sponsorship anymore. Truex is coming off a championship season and has been one of the “Big Three” drivers with four wins already this year. And yet, for whatever reason, 5-hour decided it was time to spend its marketing dollars somewhere other than NASCAR. That’s a discouraging sign, especially since Monster won’t be the Cup Series title sponsor for much longer and thus would have freed up 5-hour to go wherever it wanted.

News value (scale of 1-10): Seven, for a combination of reasons. Truex is a big-name driver losing a big-name sponsor, for one. But it’s also newsworthy that yet another major sponsor is departing from NASCAR after spending a couple hundred million dollars in the sport over seven seasons at the Cup level. It’s yet another punch in the gut for those hoping NASCAR’s slide will end soon.

Three questions: Can Furniture Row find a replacement, or will team owner Barney Visser have to put his company on the hood again? Does this end the speculation Furniture Row could re-expand to a second car next season? What does it mean for NASCAR when a company stops spending its money altogether instead of just staying involved at a reduced commitment level?

The Top Five: Breaking down the Pocono race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway…

1. Three’s Company

Every NASCAR fan knows two drivers have been the best this season: Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. They’ve combined for nine wins, 50 playoff points and approximately two gazillion laps led.

Quietly, though, Martin Truex Jr. has been close all season — just not quite with “winning speed,” as he put it last week.

But now, after winning Sunday at Pocono? It suddenly looks like Truex is right there with the top two.

“I would say we had winning speed today for sure,” Truex said. “… Today was the first weekend in awhile — even though we’ve been finishing good — that everything made sense. We had a game plan and everything went the way we thought it would, and it was just a smooth weekend. It felt like we were doing all the little things right.”

Yes, clean air and track position benefited the No. 78 car late in the Pocono 400. Busch couldn’t track him down despite having four fresher tires.

But as crew chief Cole Pearn noted, Truex was running third in Stage 1 and was able to pass both Busch and Harvick for the stage win. And in the final stage, the trio was running nose to tail — just unable to make any passes because they were all so close in speed.

So to Pearn and Truex, that showed the 78 car has made gains.

“It hasn’t come without hard work, I promise you that,” Pearn said.

With 14 races down, three drivers have hogged 11 of the wins. Only Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon have gone to victory lane aside from those three (and two of those were superspeedway wins).

It’s been the Busch and Harvick show until now, but it seems they might have to make some room on the marquee.

2. Truex 2017 vs. Truex 2018

Truex being a low-key guy can kind of fool you into thinking he’s more chill about the racing than he really is. Actually, he knows what’s up.

For example: Truex was able to rattle off a stat about the number of quality passes he made in the Coke 600 (91) and knew the precise number of races where he’s had crashes vs. races that resulted in top-fives (four vs. nine).

That’s a pretty solid point that has been lost in the wake of Harvick and Busch’s dominance. Truex already has nine top-fives (every race he didn’t crash) and didn’t get his ninth top-five last year until Watkins Glen.

So in Truex’s mind, the No. 78 team’s performance hasn’t been that far off what it was in his 2017 championship season. The difference is the amount of adversity it has had to overcome in some races — like on pit stops, for example.

“We’ve had more battles this year,” Truex said. “Last year, it was almost like we couldn’t do anything wrong. This year, we’ve had to really work a lot harder for it, but I feel like we’re still right there, and today was a perfect example.”

As the summer goes on, it may turn out Truex is able to firm up his playoff points and go on a similar run to what he did last year. If it’s circumstances that have been holding him back, then watch out.

“Sometimes you can have the best of everything, and if things don’t go your way it’s impossible,” he said. “Today we did all the little things right and had a little bit of luck on our side as well, and that’s what it takes at this level.”

3. Poconope

Cup and Xfinity used two completely different aero packages this weekend, with a speed difference of roughly 20 mph. Either way, the result was the same: Once the leader got into clean air, he was hard to pass.

Busch had four fresh tires and two late restarts to try and get the lead from a driver who was on older tires, but he couldn’t do it. Track position won out.

“It was a little disappointing the tires didn’t mean anything more than they did there at the end,” Busch said. “Guys that had 10, 11 laps on their tires were able to still outrun us and beat us (despite) us having fresher rubber. Clean air was king.”

Look, here’s the thing: As much as everyone talks about rules packages or tires or whatever it may be, it’s pretty difficult to put on an entertaining show when you’ve got a track with mind-numbing straightaways (long enough to land an airplane!) connected by turns that weren’t exactly designed to promote passing.

Maybe it’s just that Pocono, for its odd charms, isn’t conducive to great racing. Side-by-side action and passes for the lead can happen here — especially on restarts — but they’re often the exception rather than the rule.

4. More work to do

Chevrolet put three drivers in the top seven (and five in the top 11) at the Coca-Cola 600, which sparked conversation about whether the manufacturer was starting to make gains.

After Pocono? Well, hold that thought.

Kyle Larson finished second, but he was the only Chevy in the top seven. Jimmie Johnson seemed to be getting a bit closer to contention (and drove his butt off), but he still only finished eighth.

Once again, the Fords and Toyotas collectively seemed to be a step ahead of the Chevrolet teams — as has been the case all season.

However, there’s some good news for Chevy: With 12 races until the playoffs are set, four Chevy drivers are in the top 16. That’s not terrible. Kyle Larson is ninth in points, Jimmie Johnson is 12th and Chase Elliott is 13th — plus there’s Dillon’s victory that already gave him a playoff spot.

In addition to that, Alex Bowman is only nine points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the final position on points.

So even though a Chevy driver hasn’t won since the Daytona 500, the manufacturer might still end up in decent shape when it comes to potential playoff representation.

5. Up next

It’s been all about two drivers dominating the season, and now there might be three — as we mentioned above.

But wait! What if there was a FOURTH driver in the title hunt? Well, if there was someone else to challenge the frontrunners, it would be Larson (although he’s not out there saying that yet).

“I’m the only one that doesn’t have a win in the front four,” he said. “Three of those guys are definitely head over heels better than the rest of us, but I think from fourth- to sixth- or seventh-best car, it’s pretty close.”

But what if he did have a win? This seems like a good time to mention his name, because next week’s race is at Michigan — a 2-mile track. And guess what Larson’s record is in the last five races on 2-mile tracks (Michigan and Fontana)? The answer is first, first, first, first, second — including three straight wins at Michigan!

So at this time next week, the conversation might be all about how it’s four drivers who seem to be head and shoulders above the rest — not just two (last week) or three (this week).