Carl Edwards is less concerned about how his first Sprint Cup Series win of the season came to be than what it means.
Who can blame him?
After a very public and high-profile move to Joe Gibbs Racing from Roush Fenway Racing in the offseason, a lot was expected out of Edwards and his new No. 19 Toyota team.
Until the series made its annual two-week stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway this month, Edwards’ season had been mostly a mixed bag – he was 18th in the series standings.
JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had already won races, and Edwards had shown flashes of potential but had been unable to capitalize with a victory.
Perhaps flashy was overrated.
Using a late-race fuel-mileage gamble, Edwards turned an average performance in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 into one of the biggest wins of his career.
And with the win came something much more important – an all-but certain appearance in this season’s championship Chase.
“This is pretty big to me. Up to this point in the year, we had just basically done a good job of pulling it all together, and we have not delivered the results we wanted,” said Edwards, who earned his 24th series victory.
“But to get this win and put ourselves in a position to be in the Chase, to be able now to take a deep breath, step back and work on all the little things to be a championship level team.
“This is just a huge opportunity. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”
Don’t get Edwards or JGR wrong, there is still plenty of work to do.
Both Hamlin and Kenseth’s wins came on short tracks, and the organization and manufacturer Toyota still lack a little something on 1.5-mile tracks compared with the teams from Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske.
Still, Charlotte race weeks might turn out to be an important turnaround.
Last week, Hamlin provided JGR its first win in the Sprint All-Star Race and while Edwards and Kenseth might have been helped in the 600 by fuel mileage, Hamlin was a contender for victory late in the race and led 53 of the 200 laps.
“In so many ways, it’s a big deal for us,” team owner Joe Gibbs said of his organization’s performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We’ve been way off on the intermediate stuff. It’s really been a disappointment for us for quite a while. We’ve worked extremely hard.
“It shows you how hard our sport is. We have had a tough time catching up. I’m not saying we caught up, but for the last two races here, it’s a big deal for us.”
JGR now has three of its four teams locked in this year’s Chase – that’s a bonanza in and of itself – and there are still 14 races left in the regular season to continue to improve in preparation for the championship battle ahead.
Edwards has never been known as one who squandered opportunities, and isn’t likely to begin now.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I just have this feeling that we are gearing up for some really great stuff,” he said.
“Everything that has been going on at the shop, all of (Toyota’s) involvement (in) the engine program, and how much everyone is working on that.
“Now we can just focus on building that championship run.”