CONCORD, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images North America photo —
One thing was evident Sunday night in the 56th running of the Coca-Cola 600: some things never change, as Carl Edwards stretched his fuel over the final 62 laps to win in NASCAR’s longest race.
The fans were treated to Edwards’ traditional backflip and he also worked his way into the stands to celebrate with the fans.
Should anyone be surprised that Edwards was able to pull off the victory Sunday night with a bold pit call by crew chief Darian Grubb? The FOX TV broadcast mentioned Dale Earnhardt Jr. had nothing to lose by coming down during the race’s final caution, but it appeared from my view the No. 19 team was overlooked. As I looked at the leaderboard in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center, my eyes were on Edwards.
The No. 19 Subway Toyota started in the third position, but Edwards slid back to the top-15 at a time where all lead-lap cars were running similar lap times.
Passing was hard to come by Sunday night when Martin Truex Jr. extended his lead to two seconds over Kurt Busch during the half-way point of the race. The conversation about fuel mileage came up when the caution flew with 70 laps to go for a Michael Annett spin. I asked Race Chaser Online Correspondent James Pike about the fuel window and he told me the average fuel run was 54 laps.
Another caution came out six laps later from debris from the No. 17 car of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and it was time whether to come in to pit or stay out to keep track position.
Earnhardt was the first to peel off to the pits from sixth along with a slew of cars, including Edwards. The No.88 car was the first off pit road, with the No. 19 pit crew gaining Edwards a spot on pit road and right behind Earnhardt.
Edwards got a good restart and was out of front of Earnhardt and Greg Biffle and was the highest-running car who came in to pit.
The fuel mileage talks were becoming a reality and all I could think of was Edwards’ wins in the Chase races at Texas and Homestead in 2008, when he went on a tank of gas over the final 60-or-so laps in both races.
Since those two wins, there was one guy who was clever enough to out-fox the Missouri driver when the subject of fuel mileage came up. His current crew chief, Darian Grubb, beat Edwards several times on fuel strategy, most notably in the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Known for his gutsy calls, Grubb called down his driver at the time, Tony Stewart, to make what would be the final pit stop of the night. The No. 14 car got ahead of Edwards’ No. 99 and Stewart clinched his third Cup championship with the victory in the Ford 400, with Edwards coming up short in second.
Four years later, both Grubb and Edwards are paired in Joe Gibbs Racing first season in fielding a fourth full-time car. Edwards admitted post-race that he was the slowest of the four JGR cars Sunday night, but Grubb worked his magic and Edwards sealed the deal with fuel conservation to win his first Coca-Cola 600.
Before the crew chief swap before the 2015 season, I felt it would help all three drivers: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, out. Jason Ratcliff stayed with the No. 20 team of Matt Kenseth. With Memorial Day now in the books, JGR has three cars that are more than likely guaranteed a spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Keep an eye on Kyle Busch as well, as he is back in the No. 18 Toyota and had an 11th-place showing in Sunday’s night race.
The old shades of Carl Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing may be coming back. The organization swept the weekend at Charlotte with Hamlin winning the All-Star Race and Edwards taking the Coca-Cola 600. I never questioned the pairing of Grubb and Edwards, especially since the crew chief was a part of Denny Hamlin’s four wins in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012.
Grubb gave Carl Edwards his first win in NASCAR’s longest race, but for the crew chief — it was his second win in the Coca-Cola 600. The same fuel saving strategy rang true the first time around, when the No. 25 car went the distance for Casey Mears in 2007.
Fuel-mileage races aren’t dead. They will happen from time-to-time, but have been more rare as of late. These types of races add the element of strategy and end up where the fastest car doesn’t necessarily wins the race.
But as we all know in auto racing, all that matters is that your car crosses the finish line first (without having the victory taken away).
For Carl Edwards, though there have been the times when he’s had the sheer speed in his Sprint Cup career — fuel mileage has always been his ace in the hole.
That proved true again on Sunday night.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.