Lead Lap: Edwards Flips In Phoenix
Two years ago, Carl Edwards challenged Tony Stewart for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship right down to the final lap of the final race at Homestead-Miami. Stewart won the title, and Edwards lost his way to Victory Lane. That is, until Sunday.
Edwards and the No. 99 team broke a 70-race winless streak, capturing the 312-lap race at Phoenix International Raceway. “Cousin Carl,” winning his sponsor’s namesake event, celebrated with his trademark backflip off the drivers’ side door at the start/finish line and then climbed into the stands for an exuberant (if brief) celebration with the fans.
Prior to the event, Edwards expressed his displeasure with a newly-acquired nickname. A few people had called the driver “Five-Time” after crashing five different cars during SpeedWeeks at Daytona (the moniker is normally used in reference to the five Cup Series championships won by Sunday’s second place finisher, Jimmie Johnson). After the race, Edwards exhorted anyone frustrated with a lack of success in life to just “keep diggin’.”
GETTING TO THE POINTS: Johnson’s win at Daytona and runner-up finish at Phoenix put him atop the Cup Series points, eight clear of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and defending series Champion Brad Keselowski. Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer sit 18 points behind the leader in a fourth-place tie headed into this Sunday’s event in Las Vegas.
DRIVER DISCONTENT, PART ONE: Speaking of Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 was speaking – and not in the happiest terms – of Edwards’ perceived actions at the final restart Sunday. With a ‘green-white-checkered’ finish looming , Johnson claimed leader Edwards slowed down at the restart and then punched the gas after the start line, causing the field to bunch up and taking away momentum from the rest of the leaders. Johnson alleged Edwards broke “restart protocol.” On SPEED immediately thereafter, analyst Kyle Petty called Johnson’s complaints “sour grapes.” For his part, Johnson had to hold off charging Denny Hamlin, beating doors with the No. 11 to the line after Hamlin dove across the apron of the track to gain position toward the finish (a legal move at Phoenix).
DRIVER DISCONTENT, PART TWO: Commonly heard from drivers and teams after Sunday’s race was the complaint that, much like in Daytona, the new “Gen-6” cars couldn’t pass well and were difficult to drive at Phoenix. The track’s two-year old racing surface went through a number of changes during the event, owing to the partly-sunny-partly-cloudy weather conditions during the day.
DANICA WATCH: It was not the best of weekends for the Daytona pole winning No. 10 team. A miserable qualifying effort left Danica Patrick starting 40th in the 43 car field; a hard wreck on Lap 184 left Patrick out of the race with a 39th place finish.
ROWDY ROCKS NATIONWIDE: Kyle “Rowdy” Busch won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Phoenix, and it wasn’t close. Busch led 142 of 200 laps to take the win, with Brad Keselowski second. Sam Hornish, Jr. leads the season series.
MOMENT OF CLARITY: The World Of Outlaws event on the new dirt track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds will be held on Friday, March 22nd – not the next day, as we reported last week. NASCAR champion Tony Stewart is announced to be a participant in the inaugural WOO event in Stockton that night; World of Outlaws will race the next night at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico.