Race Capsule: Edwards stretches fuel to beat faster cars and win first Coke 600
Flag to Flag: As expected, the 56th Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series saw plenty of single-file racing. Martin Truex Jr. (5th) led a race-high 131 laps after starting 10th and driving straight into the top 5. Kurt Busch flashed speed again as well, starting 14th and surging up to lead 118 laps. Neither, however, would take the checkered flag.
Instead, some quick caution flags sprouted pit strategy and tilled the field. Several drivers seized the opportunity and pitted with around 70 laps to go - the fuel window is around 50-55 laps. Carl Edwards (1st), Greg Biffle (2nd), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3rd), and Matt Kenseth (4th) successfully saved fuel in the closing laps to best the fastest cars of the night. Edwards, who started third and led a couple of laps early in the race, was barely a top 15 entry most of the night. But crew chief Darian Grubb made the call to try and outlast the fast cars of the night. Earnhardt Jr. was the only car in the top 5 that took the risky strategy near the end.
Those fast cars of Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick (9th), Brad Keselowski (7th) all
Unlike the All-Star race, there were comers and goers and the crew chiefs made significant adjustments to make the cars handle in the season's longest race and as the 1.5-mile track transitioned from bright
Jimmie Johnson (40th) spun early, took half the race to join the top 10, then spun again and made contact with the inside wall. Johnson spent almost 30 laps in the garage after that 2nd spin. Both spins were in Turn 4. Justin Allgaier (43rd) hit the Turn 3 wall on lap 137 and saw his night end early. Both Trevor Bayne (27th) and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (37th) brushed the wall and brought out cautions. Stenhouse Jr.'s actually sent him to the garage, spoiling his top 15
Kyle Busch was not in one of the fastest cars most of the
The top 10 were Edwards, Biffle (looked strong most of weekend), Earnhardt Jr. (rallied from 25th to 3rd, then back to 14th, then up to 3rd again after fuel strategy), Kenseth, Ryan Newman (quiet all race, but surfaced at the end), Keselowski (top 5 car most of the night), Denny Hamlin (very strong most of race, got migraine and sick toward end of race and was treated afterwards in care center), Harvick, and Ku. Busch.
Edwards' win moves him up two spots to 16th in points, so all drivers in the top 16 in the standings have won. The drivers inside the Chase cutoff that have not won are Truex Jr. (2nd in points), Jamie McMurray (8th in points, 19th in race), Gordon, Kasey Kahne (10th in points, 12th in race), Newman, Almirola, and Menard. Ky. Busch is now 41st in points, 169 points behind Tony Stewart (21st in
The restarts were exciting in the Coca-Cola 600 and the strategy at the end made for a dramatic finish. NASCAR needs to work on the package for these racecars, but Sunday's Coke 600 ended up doling decent
RaceTweet: Carl Edwards stretches fuel to win first Coke 600. Biffle sporty in Roush ride. Truex Jr. loses again.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Martin Truex Jr. - He led the most laps and certainly had the right adjustments from crew chief Cole Pearn to win his first race and Truex Jr.'s first on a 1.5-mile track. Despite having pitted in the end, Truex Jr. still drove to a top 5 finish.
North Korean Missile Dud: Jeff Gordon - Gordon struggled mightily through the night, running outside of the top 20 at one point. The No. 24 group just doesn't have the speed it did last season, a disappointing truth in Gordon's last season. Gordon drove the pace car at the Indy 500, made his final start in the race he got his first win 21 years ago, and has little to show for it all.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Really, every small team struggled and got chewed up by the field Sunday. But Casey Mears stayed on the lead lap for quite a while and still mustered a 23rd-place finish - after losing his cooling fan and his carbon dioxide filter on the car. Surviving a 400-lap, 600-mile race in those conditions deserves eight thumbs up.
Ghost Driver: Kyle Larson - His struggles continue in car 42. For some reason, the handle disappeared like the Turn 2 grandstands at Charlotte. Larson started 9th, got as high as 7th, then settled into the back of the top 15. But on a long green flag run during the race's midpoint, the No. 42 car fell to 27th and stayed a lap down and out of contention the rest of the night. Chip Ganassi's race teams dominated Indy, but they were fairly absent at Charlotte.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Carl Edwards - There weren't many opportunities to come back from adversity in this race, but Edwards did use the fuel strategy to go from a 13th-or-so-place car to a win. And now he's in the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson Lucky Horseshoe: Greg Biffle - On the same strategy as Edwards, Biffle's car started to choke on gas with two laps to go. But the No. 16 cruised instead to its best finish since Talladega last May and its first top 5 since Pocono last August. Biffle said post-race that if he had even finished in the top 10, he was going to do a
Wheel of Misfortune: Martin Truex Jr. - How many of these races can he lose? When the fastest car leads the most laps and doesn't win, it's bad luck. Truex Jr. has seen so many slip through his fingers and he was very obviously defeated when I talked to him post-race. He had the same look when an Atlanta Motor Speedway win slipped away from him in 2012. When you knock on the door this much, it's bound to fall down.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Ryan Blaney has a unique situation with the Wood Brothers in that he is a Team Penske driver and is getting to drive in a roughly half the Sprint Cup races at just 21-years-old. When his engine blew just after the halfway point in the race, Blaney got on the radio and said,
"I want a [expletive] explanation on these motors!"
His frustration is understandable - he has lost three engines in the five races he has run this season. But his attitude is out of line. Yes, it is the heat of the moment and the circumstances are maddening. Blaney, however, is getting the chance of a lifetime with one of NASCAR's legendary teams. And he came on the radio sounding like an entitled brat. That is not Blaney-like. His dad, Dave, was very laid back just like his son, but rarely showed much temper, if ever. Hopefully he was listening to his son and will give him a round of wedge on his disposition before the youngster gets back in a racecar again.
NXS RaceTweet: Austin Dillon dominates, wins just like he did at Vegas. No one had a chance.
Georgia on My Mind: David Ragan started 7th and was very fast in Saturday's first practice. But he struggled mightily in Sunday's race, falling down a lap and outside of the top 20. Then Ragan's car started overheating and he took it to the garage on lap 353, finishing 41st. Chase Elliott had an eventful night in his 3rd Cup start. He got damage when Clint Bowyer rammed into Danica Patrick in the pits and he also had a bad signal on his radio communications with his team. Nonetheless, he persevered and finished an impressive 18th, one lap down.
Elliott had a decent car in Saturday's Xfinity Series race, but a voltage problem on the No. 9 Chevy cost him spots as the crew had to change the battery. He finished 8th, but lost one point to 2nd-place Ty Dillon in the standings and only gained a couple on leader Chris Buescher. Ryan Sieg struggled to a 24th-place finish. John Wes Townley had major issues with the voltage of the car and lost laps in the pits under green while his team repaired it. He placed 29th. And Kyle Fowler made his first start of the year with new sponsor PowerAll for JGL Racing, finishing 27th after a cut tire and contact with the wall brought out a caution late in the race.
Next: Dover International Speedway is the next stop for all three of NASCAR's national series. The Sprint Cup Series runs Sunday at 1 p.m. on FS1 and MRN and the Xfinity Series races Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on FOX (go figure) and MRN. The Camping World Truck Series returns Friday evening at 5:30 on FS1 and MRN. Dover is a unique track that lends itself to long green flag runs. Seeing who comes out on top will be interesting.