Carl Edwards got his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing in his #19 Toyota and his first win in 31 races, and subsequently rushed into the stands with the checkered flag to celebrate with the fans. Even Edwards’ sticky Coke-coated shoes couldn’t stop him from winning NASCAR’s feat of endurance, the Coca-Cola 600.
With 37 laps to go, then-leader Denny Hamlin comes into the pits for four tires and some migraine medication. He wasn’t feeling very well, and had to pit anyway. This allowed Martin Truex Jr. to take the lead instead.
Many of the leaders in the race started to pit with around 20 laps left in the race. Many opted for four fresh tires, although Jeff Gordon only took two right-side tires to try and spend less time in the pits. After traffic was reshuffled in the series of pit stops, Carl Edwards took the lead. Edwards didn’t come in for fuel with the others, but instead, relied on having filled up enough earlier to make it to the end.
With only two laps left, Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Matt Kenseth for third place, and Edwards opened up more of a gap on second-place driver Greg Biffle. He’d managed his fuel well enough until then, and it was clear that he could use a little more at the very end to open up a bigger gap on the second-place car.
After the checkered flag dropped, Edwards was ecstatic and relieved to make it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the final battle for the championship where race winners from the regular season automatically gain entry. This season hadn’t been going great for Edwards. His previous results for the season only included one top-ten finish, and he came into this race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 18th place in the driver standings. That wouldn’t make into the Chase.
“I’ve been stressed,” Edwards told USA Today. “I’m so competitive and I’m not happy with how we’ve performed and the results we’ve had. I feel like this is a gift. This is truly a gift.”
Edwards also stuck the landing on his backflip off the car like a boss. Now that’s excitement.
“We were not going to win the race on pure speed,” explained Edwards in the post-race press conference. Edwards explained that he went to his crew chief and said, “Our opportunity to win this race was on pure fuel mileage.” Strategy, not speed, was the key to winning this race, just like any other enduro.
Denny Hamlin, unfortunately, was more sick than he let on during the race. According to Motorsport.com, he was admitted to the infield care center after the race was over for dehydration. After the race, everyone found out at once that Hamlin had been released when Hamlin came into the press conference to congratulate his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate on the win. Even with a pounding dehydration headache, Hamlin still managed to finish the race in 8th place.
Another performance of note was that of another Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, who was injured at Daytona earlier this year. Kyle hadn’t been in a race since then, and his first race back was the longest one on the schedule: the Coke 600. By the end of the race, Busch was running with the leaders in the race, and even got around brother Kurt Busch for a while, who’s been driving like a man out to prove his worth all season. Kurt made his way back in front of Kyle to finish in 10th place, but Kyle finished right behind him for a commendable 11th place finish.
“I’m a little surprised I feel as good as I do,” Kyle said to USA Today. “I expected to be more beat up and tired. Honestly, I’m not. I feel like this was a good night and a great accomplishment. Coming back this quick was a huge task.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing team is all back, it seems, both on the track as well as in the standings.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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