CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Even a master strategist like Joe Gibbs wasn't sure his team made the right call.
The owner of Joe Gibbs Racing had followed driver Denny Hamlin, who was on top down the stretch in the Coca-Cola 600. But when Hamlin went to the pits to fix a wheel vibration, Gibbs saw team newcomer Carl Edwards was out front as his fuel was dwindling down.
"I turned around with nine to go and said, 'We can't make this, can we?' " Gibbs said.
Yes, they could. Edwards outlasted Greg Biffle over the final 20 laps to win the Coca-Cola 600, his first victory since joining JGR this season.
"I just had this feeling that we were gearing up for some really great stuff," Edwards said. "I guess for me, it's relief because I don't have to worry about the points."
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. Still, it took crew chief Darian Grubb's call to pit earlier than most and stay out on the track while others scrambled to tank up and get fresh 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."
Most of Edwards' competitors needed green-flag pit stops close to the end. Most figured Edwards would have to stop, too, but he remained on the track and cruised to his first victory at Charlotte.
Biffle, running low on gas, was second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., pole-sitter Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., who had his 11th top-10 finish in 12 events this season.
Truex, of the one-car Furniture Row Racing operation, led the most laps with 131. "It hurts to come home fifth and run that hard and lead that many laps," he said. "But at the same time it's pretty awesome to run like that. Sooner or later we are going to get a little luck on our side."
Edwards parked his car, did his signature backflip and rushed into the waiting arms of his crew, all jumping around in celebration.
Hamlin was leading the pack with less than 50 laps remaining. But Hamlin felt a vibration in a wheel and had no choice but to head to the pits to straighten out — costing him his chance at the victory.
Hamlin finished eighth, then went to the care center to get checked out after complaining of migraines. He returned to congratulate Edwards.
Biffle had his highest finish of the year after struggling to crack the top 10. He said he tracked down Edwards despite his crew telling him to conserve fuel.
"I got pretty close to him with two to go, but then the fuel light came on that the pressure was low," Biffle said.