A four-wide dash on the final lap ended with Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity driver Daniel Suarez and former NFL wide receiver Willie Gault taking the checkered flag to win NBC Sports’ NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota.
The 20-lap race ended a series of competitions involving six tandems of NASCAR drivers and ex-NFL players at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Before the serious business began, the day started with a laugh as Joe Gibbs himself jokingly gave the football greats something he figured they may need: Diapers.
The players then ran in single-car qualifying on the 1.5-mile oval to begin the Challenge. Rod Smith, another former NFL receiver, paired with JGR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, ran the fastest time:
Then came the second event: A football throwing competition for the NASCAR drivers, where every ball through a target meant seconds taken off their respective player’s qualifying time.
Busch bested Suarez in their head-to-head match-up – probably a given as Suarez admitted beforehand that he had never thrown a football before.
As for the other match-ups, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer topped JGR newcomer Carl Edwards …
… and Denny Hamlin defeated Matt Kenseth, even with the latter earning three points for putting a late throw through the deepest target.
Edwards may have lost his duel with Bowyer, but his five passing points allowed him and NBC Sports’ Super Bowl XLIX pregame analyst Hines Ward to claim the pole position for the 20-lap race.
For this final event, the players rode along in the passenger seat as their driver teammates raced at more than 180 miles per hour. On the last lap, Suarez went to the inside of Busch/Smith, Bowyer/Christian Okoye, and Kenseth/Doug Flutie as they all barreled into Turn 3.
As Bowyer slipped back, Suarez passed Busch for the lead in Turn 4 and went on to victory.
The ex-NFL stars all came away impressed not just with the speeds, but with the precision that’s needed to drive a race car. During the halfway intermission of the race, Smith had this to say about riding shotgun with Busch:
The Super Bowl XLIX pregame show on NBC will feature a segment of the Gridiron Challenge. Pregame coverage from Arizona begins Sunday at Noon ET.
NASCAR Gridiron Racing Challenge presented by Toyota
Charlotte Motor Speedway – Results
1. 18-Daniel Suarez/Willie Gault
2. 15-Clint Bowyer/Christian Okoye
3. 18-Kyle Busch/Rod Smith
4. 20-Matt Kenseth/Doug Flutie
5. 19-Carl Edwards/Hines Ward
6. 11-Denny Hamlin/Brian Mitchell