Sunday went from being the longest race of the year for drivers to the biggest relief for one man. Carl Edwards has been searching for a breakthrough moment all year, and finally got one during the Coca-Cola 600.
As for the other 42 cars in the field, questions about why they couldn’t catch Edwards will haunt them. In one of the sports biggest spectacles of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing swept both races in Charlotte. Before moving on to Dover, here’s a look at the six takeaways from Sunday night.
1. Backflip is Back
It took 12 races to get to this point, but Edwards finally appears comfortable with his setup in a JGR Toyota. Before Sunday, his highly-publicized split from Roush-Fenway Racing had not gone to plan. But that all changed when he backflipped on the Charlotte track.
Thanks to a gamble from crew chief Darian Grubb and Edwards’ ability to conserve fuel, the No. 19 machine made its maiden voyage to Victory Lane.
“It’s so cool to get this win—we’ve had such bad luck,” Edwards said. “And we were the slowest of the (JGR cars) tonight, but we had Darian on the box. He made the right call, he put us in a position to win, and it worked. … This is truly a gift. I took advantage of it to win, and we’ll get better.”
It was clear all night long that Martin Truex Jr. had the best car on the track, but his strategy was flawed again. Truex’s downfalls are paying off for other drivers as Edwards was the beneficiary this time around. A year after capturing wins at Bristol and Sonoma, the backflips aren’t over this season.
2. Juggernaut Junior
Another week, another top-three finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t been playing around since his win in Talladega. While his fuel saving strategy didn’t pay off quite as well as it did for Edwards, Junior is still looking like a championship contender midway through the season.
The wins will come. Didn’t have the best car but I had a blast running toward the front all night. Great effort by the @nationwide88 gang.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) May 25, 2015
As Earnhardt points out, the wins will most certainly come. Pocono, a track he swept last season with two victories, is coming up in two weeks. Daytona is shortly after on July 5. Rattling off a few more victories would certainly help build even more confidence before the Chase gets under way.
3. Roush Rallying?
It’s been a rough year thus far for Roush Fenway Racing, but at least one driver regained some speed in Charlotte. Greg Biffle turned in a solid performance in the Sprint Showdown to earn a spot in the All-Star race then followed that up with a second-place result in the Coke 600.
That was his first top five and only second top-10 finish of the season. It was a shocking result even for Biffle.
“You’re always picking up bits and pieces where you can, some different testing and different shocks, and all of a sudden like all those little things that we found have gotten us some speed,” Biffle said. “I think it kind of surprised all of us when we kind of hit on it that it was kind of right there. We’re going to look at exactly what we’ve done, and like I said, kind of try and keep trending in that direction. But it wasn’t any one thing.
“There isn’t one thing we’re missing, it’s a bunch of it. It was probably off on aero. We’re probably off on suspension and all those things.”
When Biffle and RFR can turn the “kind of” remarks into “definitely,” this team might finally take off. Having only one veteran driver in Biffle to find those results makes things difficult, but it appears a corner has been turned. Now if he can just get Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to turn it with him.
4. Three Up
Carl Edwards – Coming into Charlotte, Edwards had just one top-10 result on the entire season. Now he has two after his gamble paid off along with a Chase berth. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Denny Hamlin – Despite suffering through a migraine and dehydration during the race, Denny Hamlin still finished inside the top 10. After winning his first Sprint All-Star race the prior weekend, it appears Hamlin is back in the championship hunt. Just get the man some water, coach Gibbs!
— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) May 25, 2015
Kyle Busch – Because why not just use three JGR drivers? In his first points race this season, Busch fought his way to second place at one point before finishing 11th. If this is what he can do during 600 miles, there’s no reason to be concerned over his health moving forward.
5. Three Down
Jimmie Johnson – The defending Coca-Cola 600 winner was gunning for a second straight with an “aggressive setup.” That ended up biting him in the rear—literally—as he spun out after the back of his back end got loose and he careened into the pit wall. Johnson finished near the back of the pack, but can rebound at Dover, another track he’s dominated during his career.
Kyle Larson – What happened to Kyle Larson? The 2014 Rookie of the Year has looked like a shell of himself in 2015 and that trend continued in Charlotte. Currently outside of the top 20 in points, Larson hasn’t finished inside the top 10 since Bristol on April 19. He came away with an average finish of 8.5 at Dover last year, so maybe this is his week to finally bounce back.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – On a similar note, where has Ricky Stenhouse Jr. been all season? The back of the back, mostly. He finished 37th, his eighth finish outside of the top 20 this season. Just one top 10 and more struggles than success don’t look promising for the young driver.
6. Three Tweets
Denny Hamlin comes into the media center to congratulate Edwards. NASCAR moderator: “Denny Hamlin has been treated and released.” :b
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 25, 2015
— Toyota Racing (@ToyotaRacing) May 25, 2015
— Nate Cook (@Nate_Cook3) May 25, 2015
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