ThatsRacin

Slow, steady wins Charlotte race for Carl Edwards

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Sometimes, the slowest car wins the race.

Carl Edwards, who had the slowest car most of the race among his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, played a fuel-mileage gamble to become the improbable winner of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The win is the first of the Sprint Cup Series season and the first at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Edwards, who moved to JGR from Roush Fenway Racing in the offseason.

With the win, Edwards gains all-but certain entry into this season’s championship Chase.

“It’s just unbelievable and I’m so thankful to all the people who took a chance and started this fourth team (at JGR). It’s just so cool to get this win,” said Edwards, who snapped a 31-race winless streak with the 24th series win of his career.

“We had such bad luck and we were slowest of the JGR bunch tonight. Darian Grubb (crew chief) up on the (pit) box, made the right call and put us in a position to win and it worked.”

On the final caution of the race, Edwards was among a group of cars including Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, who pitted for fuel on Lap 338 of 400 when the most of the lead-lap cars stayed on the track and hoped to make it to the finish without another stop.

They all did, with Biffle the only one who said he may have started to feel the effects of running out before getting to the finish.

Earnhardt ended up third and Kenseth fourth. Martin Truex Jr., who led the most laps (131) and had the fastest car, pitted a final time late in the race under green and ended up fifth.

“We came in and got fuel because we could make it to the end – not sure why more didn’t,” said Earnhardt. “It seemed like once you got inside the (fuel) window, you would come down pit road.

“Our car didn’t work too well in the back (of the pack). We were conserving fuel there at the end, saving all we could hoping we had more than (Edwards) and (Biffle) who ran too hard.”

Kenseth, the pole-winner, took command early in the race, leading 26 of the first 29 laps.

As the race wound into its second 100 miles, however, Kurt Busch and Truex began to take turns leading the field and had two of the most dominant cars.

Jimmie Johnson spun exiting Turn 4 to bring out a caution on Lap 90. Luckily for him, he didn’t damage his car in the incident.

At the halfway mark of the 600-mile race, Truex held a solid lead over Kurt Busch followed by Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt and Brad Keselowski.

On Lap 273, Johnson once again spun off the exit of Turn 4 and this time his No. 48 Chevrolet slammed into the pit road wall, doing extensive damage to his car and forcing him to the garage.

With 100 laps remaining, Truex continued to remain in command, followed closely by Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Michael Annett wrecked on Lap 328 to bring out the seventh caution of the race. All of the lead-lap cars pitted for fuel and tires and Hamlin came off pit road first and took over the lead on the restart on Lap 333.

What turned out to be the race’s final caution came just three laps later after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slapped the wall.

Most teams thought it was too early to pit again, but the call turned out especially well for Edwards, Biffle and the rest.

“I’ve never wanted anyone to run out of gas so much in my life,” Biffle said of Edwards.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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