CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Carl Edwards was as much relieved as he was excited to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After all, joining Joe Gibbs Racing means big expectations that he hadn't met this season before the Coca-Cola 600.
Edwards outlasted Greg Biffle to win NASCAR's longest race, getting his 24th career victory, but first time since leaving Roush Fenway Racing to become JGR's fourth entry.
"This does not feel like one of 24 wins. This one feels pretty big to me," Edwards said. "I just cannot thank Joe Gibbs and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing enough. Everyone took a big chance."
It's a gamble that's paying off, much like crew chief Darian Grubb's decision to fuel up earlier than most and stick out on the track at the end after his competitors had pitted for topped-off tanks and fresher tires.
"We were not going to win this race on pure speed. That was obvious the first 550 miles or so," Edwards said. "So (Grubb) put us in a position to win. Those guys were definitely fast and Darian beat them to it."
Edwards is the third Gibbs racer with a victory this season, joining Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin as likely entrants for the 10-race, end-of-the-season championship chase.
"It may be a fuel mileage win, but it's still whoever gets from the start-finish line to the start-finish line over 600 miles the fastest," Grubb said. "So it doesn't really matter how we get there, we came out in front."
Edwards hadn't won in 31 races since June 2014 at Sonoma.
Biffle was second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., pole-sitter Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., who had his 11th top-10 finish in 12 events this season.
Edwards parked his car, did his signature back flip and rushed into the waiting arms of his crew, all jumping around in celebration. He climbed into the stands to grab the checkered flag before heading to victory lane.
The win gave JGR a Charlotte sweep after Hamlin won the All-Star Race on May 16th.
Some things learned from the Coca-Cola 600:
WATCH OUT FOR JGR
Edwards' win capped a dominant couple of weeks for coach Joe Gibbs' racers. Hamlin won the $1 million All-Star race and Kenseth topped qualifying. Even Kyle Busch, who hadn't competed in a points race since severe injuries in a February crash at Daytona, stood strong in the car to wind up 11th.
"It was a big night for us all around," Gibbs said.
FUEL MILEAGE FRUSTRATION
Truex came away with his 11th top-10 finish in 12 Cup races, but this one felt a little hollow. Truex led a race-high 131 laps but lost his chance to win when he had to pit under green with 20 laps remaining.
He finished fifth.
"I don't know what to do about fuel mileage races," Truex said. "One time in my whole career I have come out on the right end of them. I don't know. I guess I don't get good fuel mileage."
Truex is second behind Kevin Harvick in the Cup point standings, but still winless this season.
"Sooner or later we are going to get a little luck on our side, but right now we can't get anything to go our way," Truex said.
SIX-TIME HITS THE WALL
Jimmie Johnson said he will try to figure out why his No. 48 Chevy is becoming "wicked, out of control and unpredictable" when running in traffic. He said he had a similar problem two weeks ago in Kansas — even though he went on to win that race — and at the All-Star race last week.
The looseness in the car twice caused Johnson to spin out in turn four at CMS. The first one Johnson was able to regain control before hitting the wall. The second time he couldn't pull out of the slide in time and went careening into the safer barrier on pit row.
He would return to the race, but finished 40th.
IS ROUSH FENWAY BACK?
Greg Biffle believes the one-time Sprint Cup powerhouse is gradually climbing back into contention. Biffle qualified fourth on Thursday and ended with his first single-digit placing all season. He said if he ended in the top 10, he told his team he was going to stand on his door and celebrate. Yet, he was there at the end with a chance to reel in Edwards before his fuel gave way.
"But I finished second and I'm not happy," Biffle said.
Jeff Gordon will retire with three career wins at the Coca-Cola 600. He missed out on his final chance to win Sunday night when he finished 15th.
Still, it was a pretty special weekend for Gordon, who was the honorary pace car driver at the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day.