Edwards survives green-white-checker finish in Subway Fresh Fit 500
A new season brings new hope. And no one in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in more need of hope than Carl Edwards.
On the outside looking in at last seasonâs Chase for the Championship, Edwards has been mired in a winless skid that dates back to March 6, 2011. And his 2013 season got off to a dubious start in Daytona during Speedweeks, where he was involved in four wrecks (and a fifth in a test session in January), ultimately finishing 33rd in the Daytona 500.
Factor in a new contract that he signed in 2011 with Roush Fenway Racing that made the 33-year-old Ford Racingâs figurehead, as well as being given RFRâs ace crew chief in Jimmy Fennig, and itâs easy to understand how the pressure has mounted on Edwards to perform.
Consider the weight lifted.
Edwards led the final 78 laps in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday, holding off Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish en route to the win at Phoenix International Raceway.
âItâs tough to go that long without winning, âEdwards said. âAnd then you come into the season with Jimmy (Fennig) who did so well last year (three wins with Matt Kenseth) â¦ and everybody did so well. Weâve got the fastest pit crew on pit road â and I thought âWeâve got to go win some races.ââ
Edwards seemingly had the scheduled 312-lap race in hand, cruising nearly a half-second in front of Johnson as the laps wound down. However, a caution for Ken Schraderâs blown tire with three circuits remaining forced the event into NASCARâs version of an overtime finish. And with fuel an issue, many were unsure if they had enough in the tank to survive the caution laps and a three-lap shootout on Phoenixâs one-mile layout.
The leaders â Edwards, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. â had plenty in reserve, though. When the green waved, Keselowski pushed Edwards, on the inside lane, by Johnson and the driver of the No. 99 did the rest. In clean air, the Missouri native easily held off the pack, winning his 20th career Cup race.
âI was trying to suspend my emotions after that last caution.â Edwards said. âThere was two laps to go and Iâm saying, âWere going to win this race.â And Brad pushed me â that sealed it right there. I knew that if we were the first ones down into the corner (Turn 1), weâd win this thing.â
Meanwhile, Johnson, Keselowski and Hamlin engaged in a thrilling battle for second. With Johnson and Keselowski door-to-door exiting Turn 2 on the final lap, Hamlin cut across the apron of the track in the dogleg, blocking Keselwoski and pulling even with Johnson. The two came to the finish line trading paint, with Johnson edging out Hamlin. Keselowski was fourth, Earnhardt Jr. fifth.
Johnson, though, was none-too-happy with the deciding restart.
âThe leader is not supposed to slow down before he takes off (coming to the green),â Johnson said. âAnd he (Edwards) did that twice. It put me in a bad position with the 2 (Keselowski) inside of me â¦ and off we went.â
âI was going for anything,â Hamlin said of the finish. âI didnât have much all day. The pit crew and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) really carried us today getting track position. (It was) just so hard to pass. Youâre going to hear it a lot this week that weâve got a lot of work to do this week to get these cars to pass each other.â
Johnson, with finishes of first and second is off to a hot start this season, but Sunday was about Edwards, his new crew chief, a re-tooled team in only their second race together and NASCARâs Gen-6 car, which seems to like clean air as much as its predecessor.
Is Phoenix an indication of what lies ahead for the 99 team? Will Edwards be a driver to deal with throughout the season as he was in 2011, or will he fade into obscurity like 2012?
âI think we are (back),â said Edwards. âBut next week I think is going to be the true test (for the car) â at the mile-and-a-half (track in Las Vegas).â