Joe Gibbs Racing proved ready for the challenge of the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series endurance test with Carl Edwards claiming victory in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin joined Edwards in the top ten with fourth and eighth-place finishes respectively, while Kyle Busch narrowly missed out with an 11th-place finish.
Edwards’ win gave Toyota its 300th victory across all three NASCAR National Series.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 Subway Toyota in the third position and proved quick at the drop of the green flag racing alongside his teammate and pole sitter Matt Kenseth and leading the opening two laps. He would spend much of the first 100 laps battling inside the top ten but varying strategies on pit road would shuffle the field and Edwards would drop back outside the top ten. The No. 19 Camry found the handling a bit more difficult back in traffic and Edwards would continue to fight to regain a position in the top ten. With the longest race of the year winding down, crew chief Darian Grubb would make the call to utilize fuel strategy to bring the Subway Toyota back to the front of the field. The call worked to perfection as Edwards managed to hold off the competition while saving enough fuel over the final 64 laps to earn his first victory since joining JGR prior to this season. Edwards, who led the final 21 laps of the night joins teammates Hamlin and Kenseth with victories this season.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 DEWALT Toyota from the pole and after battling his teammate Edwards over the first couple of laps he would settle in to lead the next 25 laps. Various pit strategies would shuffle the field a bit and Kenseth would find himself outside the top ten shortly after lap 100. The DEWALT Camry would make its way back into the top ten and was running seventh with 100 laps to go when Kenseth reported a strange vibration. He would take care of the car until a caution allowed him to bring it down pit road. Kenseth would fall a lap off the pace in the process, but managed to get the lucky dog and earn a spot on the lead lap once again on lap 329. Much like his teammate Edwards, Kenseth and the DEWALT team managed to stretch their final fuel run to the end to earn an impressive fourth-place finish.
Denny Hamlin, who gave Joe Gibbs Racing its first Sprint All-Star Race victory last weekend, started the No. 11 FedEx Office Camry from the fifth position and proved fast throughout the long night. Hamlin would battle inside the top ten nearly all night. He would take his first lead of the night on lap 44 and returned to the top spot again on lap 330. Hamlin, who reported on his radio late in the race to be suffering with a severe headache caused by dehydration, appeared well positioned for a possible win. The No. 11 FedEx Camry would have to relinquish the lead and come down pit road with 38 laps remaining however after reporting a possible loose wheel. The night was far from over however with the majority of lead lap cars still requiring at least one more stop to ensure making it to the finish on fuel. As the leaders began to pit Hamlin began to climb back into contention. Amazingly enough, several cars, including his teammate and race-winner Edwards, would make it to the finish on their fuel strategy. Hamlin would earn an eighth-place finish on the night.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 Skittles Toyota from the 17th position and left no doubt that he was fully ready to go in his first points race following an injury in the season opening XFINITY Series race at Daytona that caused him to miss the first 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season. Busch wasted no time in moving his way into the top ten and by lap 135 he was in the top five for the first time. He would remain in the top five over the course of the next 150 laps. An amazing restart on lap 292 had Busch move the Skittles Camry from fifth to second, but the handling would fall off a bit over the course of the next green flag run and he would drop back to fifth again with 33 laps to go. Busch would join several other leaders pitting under green for a final time and a final splash of gas that would ensure they would make it all 400 laps. Six cars who had stopped on the previous caution managed to extend their fuel run to 64 laps and that left Busch just outside the top ten in 11th. It was an incredible effort by Busch and a strong performance by crew chief Adam Stevens and the entire Skittles team. The 33 points earned are the first points of the season for Busch who will be seeking a spot in the top 30 with a win to qualify for the Chase. He currently sits in 41st place.
Edwards captured the win and was followed by Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kenseth and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five. There was eight cautions on the night for a total of 39 laps and 22 lead changes among nine different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head north up the coast to Dover, DE next Sunday, May 31. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast The FedEx 400 live with coverage starting at Noon (race begins at 1 PM ET).