Carl Edwards cruised to victory in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night.
Edwards took the lead with 21 laps to go when a group led by Denny Hamlin went to the pits. By the time it all settled out, Edwards was in first, followed by Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had decided to get out of the regular pit-stop cycle earlier in hopes of making it all the way on gas.
But Edwards was never challenged, pulling away from Biffle in the closing laps. Earnhardt finished third. Biffle continued his winless streak, now stretching to 68 races.
Edwards did his signature back flip and then ran into the stands with the checkered flag to celebrate with fans. It was Edwards’ first victory with his new team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and virtually assured Edwards a spot in the Sprint Cup Chase postseason.
“JGR is back and these Toyotas are great,” Edwards said. “I can’t believe we won this race.”
With 75 laps to go, all top three drivers — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Hamlin — were searching for their first victory of the season.
Hamlin ended up taking the lead on a later pit stop but had issues with a loose wheel and had to make an unexpected pit stop with 38 laps to go, relinquishing the lead to Truex and dropping a lap down.
Hamlin also was dealing with a migraine during the race.
Truex finished fifth despite leading the most laps, 131 out of 400, in the longest race of the NASCAR Cup season.
Jimmie Johnson lost control on Lap 275, spinning into the inside wall and hitting the safer barrier. He was running fifth at the time.
“For us, the car was just really loose,” Johnson said. “It was fast, but as soon as I would get close to somebody else my car would bug out and get so edgy. Lost it twice, about had it saved both times.
“Once we would get in clean air and get strung out, I could fly up through the field and went from last to fifth there. Then I had a lapped car on the outside and a car I had been stalking on the bottom and then I tried to roll into the top behind the lap car. The thing just bugged out in the dirty air and around it went again. A tough day to try to get the balance right in the car.”
Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth had issues with a loose wheel on the right rear and had to make an unscheduled put stop with less than 100 laps to go. He rallied to finish fourth.
Jeff Gordon finished 15th, completing a busy day.
Hours after he led everyone out as the pace-car driver for the Indianapolis 500, Gordon strapped on his firesuit to race in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It’s how the other half lives. Gordon was able to fly from Indianapolis to Concord in a private jet, arriving in plenty of time to race, starting from the 18th position.
It was Gordon’s 773rd consecutive race since his first career start, at the end of the 1992 season.
Gordon struggled with his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy early in the race, dropping back to 24th position in the first 100 laps because of handling issues. Gordon fought his way back to 14th place midway through the race.
But the Indy 500 moment was definitely an adrenaline buzz.
“It sure was,” Gordon said in Indianapolis. “To come down that front straightaway the first time and hear that crowd cheering for the cars, the drivers, and this amazing event ... to be able to hear that from inside the pace car with the windows down is just amazing.
“Not to mention that the pace car has to get after it pretty good out here because that last lap is 100 mph and through the corners, maintaining that is something. So that was definitely cool. A huge thrill and a huge honor.”