Sunday, March 3, 2013

Edwards Snaps 70-Race Winless Streak

 Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Carl Edwards' last victory came at Las Vegas in March 2011.  That year, he almost won the championship, losing a tie-breaker to Tony Stewart at Homestead.  In 2012, Edwards' team fell off the rails, finishing inside the Top 5 only three times.  At Phoenix, Edwards and new Crew Chief Jimmy Fennig worked their pit strategy the right way, and Edwards was able to win his first race in almost two years.

Carl Edwards does his signature flip after winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500 (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Mark Martin won the pole for the 56th time in his career, and he led the field to the green flag for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.  Martin was able to pull ahead of Kasey Kahne heading through Turns 1 and 2 and was able to lead lap one.  Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin had to start in the back of the pack after engine changes before the race.  By lap 10, both Joe Gibbs Racing drivers had cracked the Top 30. 

The caution came out on lap 21 for Scott Riggs, who cut down a right-front tire in Turn 3 and hit the wall.  Some of the drivers in the back of the pack pitted, but the leaders stayed out under the caution. 

The race restarted on lap 28, and Martin was able to keep the lead after clearing Kahne.  Jimmie Johnson restarted third, and he was able to work his way past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate for second place.  On lap 36, Kurt Busch cracked the Top 10.  Busch wrecked his primary car in qualifying and had to start in the back after he switched to a back-up car. 

Martin leads Kahne at Phoenix (Jonathan Ferry/Getty Images)

On lap 48, Kyle Busch spun through Turn 2 after getting loose, bringing out the second caution of the day.  Busch's team brought the car down pit road, and Busch lost a lap while they worked to get his car repaired.  Busch made contact with the outside wall when he spun, and it caused his splitter to drag.  The leaders came down pit road, and Kasey Kahne was able to beat Mark Martin off pit road after taking two tires.  While on pit road, Clint Bowyer made contact with Travis Kvapil trying to exit his pit stall.  Bowyer had to come back in to make repairs, and he would restart in 35th.

The race was about to go back to green, but Martin Truex Jr.'s car suddenly slowed, and he coasted down pit road with a broken rear-wheel axle.  The race finally restarted on lap 56, and Juan Pablo Montoya restarted first after not pitting.  He picked the inside line, and Greg Biffle was able to hang with him on the outside until he made the pass for the lead on lap 57.  When Montoya was passed, Aric Almirola almost made contact when he tried to look under Montoya. 

Biffle had pulled away from Montoya, but by lap 63 Montoya had caught up to him.  On lap 64, Martin hit pit road for an unscheduled stop, and his crew changed right-side tires.  Martin had radioed in that he had a vibration.  On lap 65, Montoya was able to complete the pass for the lead. 

The caution came out again on lap 66 for Dave Blaney, who was spun by David Stremme in Turn 1.  Under the caution, Martin hit pit road again because he was complaining of having a possible loose wheel.  Martin would restart 36th.

The race restarted on lap 70, and Montoya was once again the leader on the restart.  Biffle was able to beat him coming out of Turn 2, and Almirola was trying to pas him as well.  Kevin Harvick tried to work his way past Montoya, but he was able to pull ahead to keep his position.  On lap 79, Kahne was able to get around Montoya for fourth, and he set his sights on the leaders. 

The caution came out again on lap 98 for Ryan Newman, who blew a right-front tire in Turn 4.  The leaders came down pit road under the caution, and Carl Edwards won the race off pit road. 

Under the caution, Mark Martin stayed out and he was the leader when the race went back green on lap 104.  Martin was able to clear Edwards heading through Turn 1.  Brad Keselowski was able to clear Edwards as well, and he moved up to second. 

On lap 127, Keselowski was able to get to the back bumper of Martin, and Martin let him underneath him.  On lap 141, Ryan Newman pounded the outside wall in Turn 2, again for a right-front tire.  The caution was good news for Martin, who was going to have to pit before everyone else because he didn't pit under the last caution.  The field came down pit road, and Carl Edwards led the field off pit road, again only taking two tires. 

The green flag came back out on lap 147, and Edwards was able to clear Jimmie Johnson heading into Turn 1.  Edwards began to complain of his car overheating on lap 162, and his team saw that he had a sandwich wrapper stuck to his grille.  Edwards was able to use the lapped car of Joe Nemechek to get the wrapper off his car and get more air to his engine. 

On lap 185, Danica Patrick blew a right-front tire coming out of Turn 4, and she headed straight to the outside wall.  After hitting the wall, she came back down across the track and hit David Ragan, ending both of their days and bringing out the sixth caution of the day.

Danica Patrick's wrecked car is taken to the garage (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The wreck left a lot of debris all along the frontstretch, and the pace car took the field down pit road to avoid cutting down anyone's tires.  When the pits finally opened, most of the drivers only took two tires, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. got off pit road first. 

The race restarted on lap 194, and Earnhardt was able to clear Edwards for the lead.  Johnson got around Edwards for second, and was looking to get the lead from his Hendrick teammate.  Johnson stayed on Earnhardt's bumper until around lap 215, when Earnhardt began catching lapped traffic and pulled away from Johnson by a few tenths of a second. 

Matt Kenseth started to catch Johnson with less than 80 laps to go, but he wasn't able to get around him because the caution came out again on lap 237.  David Gilliland cut down a right-front tire coming out of Turn 2, and slammed into the outside wall.  The field came down pit road for what would be their final pit stops of the race.  Edwards once again came off pit road first, and was followed by Earnhardt and Johnson.

The race went back to green on lap 242, and Earnhardt spun his tires, allowing Edwards to shoot away into Turn 1.  Johnson also got around his teammate to move up to second.  With 65 laps to go, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch slowed.  Kurt got loose and hit the wall, and Kyle slid up the track while trying to avoid hitting his brother. 

With 36 laps to go, Brad Keselowski was able to get around Earnhardt for third, and set his sights on Johnson in second.  With 30 laps to go, Johnson began catching Edwards for the lead, but many believed that Edwards was backing off to save fuel to make it to the end.  While that was happening, Keselowski was able to knock off a lot of time between he and Johnson. 

With ten laps to go, Keselowski caught Johnson, and began fighting for second place.  With four laps to go, Joey Logano slowed on the track, and took his car to the pits. 

With three laps to go, Ken Schrader hit the outside wall, and brought out the caution.  Most of the leaders were told to shut off their cars, as most of them were very close on fuel.  Pit road was open, and only a few drivers took the opportunity to pit, including Mark Martin.

Edwards led the field to the first green-white-checkered.  Edwards was able to get ahead of Johnson with a shove from Keselowski.  Johnson got alongside Keselowski, and was working on the high side.  Hamlin caught up to the duo, and dove onto the apron going along the backstretch to take second place on the final lap.  Edwards was able to save enough fuel and win his first race of the season.

Jimmie Johnson finished second, beating Denny Hamlin to the line by inches.  Brad Keselowski finished fourth, and was followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Clint Bowyer finished sixth, and Matt Kenseth was seventh.  Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Jeff Burton rounded out the Top Ten.  Kasey Kahne finished 19th, and Mark Martin finished 21st after pitting under the final caution.  Kyle Busch finished 23rd after spending most of the day one lap down.  Danica Patrick finished 39th after her hard wreck on lap 184.

Carl Edwards' first victory in almost two years came down to the final laps, in a nail-biting fuel mileage finish.  But Edwards was able to hold off the five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and defending champion Brad Keselowski for the win.  Next week, Edwards will return to the site of his last win when the Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas for the Kobalt Tools 400.  The race can be seen next Sunday at 2:30 p.m., only on FOX.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

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