Tom Sorensen

For Carl Edwards, going slow in the fast lane pays off

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards crosses the finish line to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 24, 2015.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards crosses the finish line to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 24, 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Carl Edwards didn’t have the fastest car. Edwards wasn’t close. When the sky turned black and the competition became faster, Edwards rolled around the track as if he was out for a Sunday drive.

Put it this way. If the Coca-Cola 600 had been run on I-85 and not at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Edwards would have had no right to drive in the left lane. You have to earn the right to drive in the left lane and Edwards didn’t. If Edwards had been in the left lane, the drivers behind him would have attempted to shame him by flashing their brights.

In other words, Edwards was brilliant. Instead of pushing the pedal to the floor, he eased it as far as it needed to go. He won by conserving fuel, and when his competitors drove into the pits for gas, Edwards continued to cruise around down the straightaways and around the turns.

If everybody drove with the finesse and the consistency of Edwards, half the service stations in and around Charlotte would go out of business.

Greg Biffle, who finished second, was pushing Edwards. Biffle was faster. Of course Biffle was faster. But with two laps to go his fuel light manifested itself. To ensure that he would finish, Biffle had to pull back and maximize his fuel and settle for second.

The victory was Edwards’ 24th and his first at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and it ended a winless streak of 31 races.

When fans talk about the reasons they go to the track, they rarely say, “We want to see drivers conserve fuel.”

They want to see drivers gamble and grind, bump and run.

But if you don’t have the fastest car, what do you do? How do you compensate and compete?

Edwards, 35, won the only way he could, and by doing it he reminded the racing world who he is and what he can do. Edwards had only one top 10 finish in the previous 11 races, finishing 10th in the Duck Commander 500.

Coming in Edwards was 18th in the Sprint Cup standings, one place in front of AJ Allmendinger and one place behind Danica Patrick.

Along with being a testament to fuel conservation, the afternoon and evening were a testament to patriotism. There were war re-enactments, impressive flyovers and thousands of troops at the track. There were ground exercises that featured troops from Fort Bragg, there were Humvees and Howitzers, ropes and rocket systems and a 21 gun salute.

There also was an impressive pre-race performance in the infield by ZZ Top. The highlight occurred when the band played “Sharp Dressed Man.” Fans looked around the infield and asked, “Where?”

But at the end there was Edwards. He already was working his fuel-mileage strategy with 31 laps to go, when he trailed the leader by almost seven seconds.

Lap 370 was the fastest of his final 30 laps at 176.062 mph, and he trailed by nearly seven seconds. He grabbed the lead on lap 380 and never gave it up.

Edwards didn’t run a lap in the final 21 faster than 174.199 mph. And because he was trying to conserve fuel, that lap probably was a mistake. 

His speed on the final lap, with other drivers desperately hoping to catch him, was 171.210.

That’s impressive – as long as Edwards stays out of the left lane.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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