Carl Edwards wasn’t the class of the field but led when it mattered as he won NASCAR’s longest race Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Edwards led the final 21 laps of the 400 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Coca-Cola 600 as his Joe Gibbs Racing team elected to stretch out his fuel mileage for 61 laps. The move paid off as Edwards was able to stay out as others pitted and he scored the 24th win of his career and his first at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is back and these Toyotas are great,” Edwards said. “I was the slowest of the group tonight and I just had the best guys on the pit box here and did a great job.”
Most of the race belonged to Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch. Truex, who had only led 9 laps at Charlotte in his entire career, led a race high 131 laps and Busch 118 laps, but it was the fuel mileage game that came into play in the closing stages and it was a game Edwards and crew chief Darian Grubb played better than anyone else.
“I mean that’s what made the race for us,” Edwards said. “Darian (Grubb, crew chief) does such a good job and ever since Tony (Stewart) and I battled for that championship, I’ve wanted to work with him and now I can. That’s what he does on the box – he takes a mediocre day like that and he puts us in a good position.”
The key for win for Edwards came on lap 338. Edwards was among a group who pitted while those who had led most of the race stayed out. From that point Edwards stayed out, as the rest of the leaders eventually had to peel off and pit. With 21 laps to go Edwards found himself with the lead and needing only to outlast the rest of the field.
The main competition in the waning laps came from his new JGR teammate Denny Hamlin who had looked strong all race long. But a loose wheel with 34 laps to go sent Hamlin to the pits under green and left him deep in the field. Truex went back to the lead at the point but had to stop with 21 to go giving the lead to Edwards. The only threat in the final laps came from Edwards’ former teammate Biffle but fuel became an issue as Biffle said he was losing fuel pressure and was simply trying to get a good finish. No one was able to close the gap in the final laps and Edwards was able to score his first victory since joining Joe Gibbs Racing this season his first in a Toyota and his first since Sonoma last year.
Biffle held on for second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Truex Jr. fifth.
“Hell, I didn’t even know guys could make it on gas,” an obviously frustrated Truex said. “I didn’t know what was going on. Just can’t catch a break there. I don’t know what to do about that. We had a great car. Had a chance at it and it stinks to come up short like that on fuel mileage. I’ve never once in my whole career gained positions on a fuel mileage deal. I don’t know what I have to do to catch a break on them deals. It is what it is. We will get one.”
Ryan Newman was sixth, Brad Keselowski seventh, Denny Hamlin who led 53 laps was eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth and Kurt Busch
“I’m really excited for the team and the organization,” Biffle said. “We’ve been working really, really hard on our cars. It’s been well documented how bad we’ve been running, so it feels good.”
Edwards had issues early on. After starting third he reported that his feet were sticking. Crew Grubb said later that Edwards had stepped in Coke syrup crews use to keep their pit boxes sticky. After a wet rag and some baby powder, the issue resolved itself.
“Hopefully all that back luck we’ve had got – I guess it got negated or equaled out by the good luck today,” Edwards said. “It’s just a great day.”
There were eight cautions for 39 laps and 22 lead changes among 9 drivers. The full race results can be found here. The updated championship point standings can be found here. The next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway next Sunday with live coverage on Fox Sports 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET.