Continuing his early season momentum, Carl Edwards was able to score his first win of the 2011 season Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Edwards took the lead from Tony Stewart after the final round of green flag pit stops cycled through and never looked back.
“It is unreal,” Edwards said. “When you are a kid you dream about this and how cool it would be to go to Vegas and fly a bunch of women there in a private plane and race cars and I did it. I brought my mom, my mother-in-law and my daughter and we came here and raced and I am having a blast.”
The win comes a week after having one of the best cars in Phoenix, only to be caught up in an incident with Kyle Busch. Instead of contending for the win, Edwards was forced to the garage and finished 28th. Knowing he had the car to beat, the disappointment in Phoenix made Sunday’s victory even sweeter.
“It means a lot coming off of Phoenix,” he said. “I went home last week and I had no clue. I just didn’t know how things were going to go from there. You only don’t get a good race car like that very often, but we had another one today.”
While Edwards had a good race car, he certainly did not have the best. That honor went to runner-up Tony Stewart – who was gunning for his first career victory at Las Vegas, one of only two tracks he has yet to win at.
Leading 163 of the 267 laps, Stewart dominated the day but was forced to overcome a pit road penalty that mired him deep in the pack just over 150 laps into the race. Entering the pits the leader, the rear air hose was caught on the back of Stewart’s car as he drove away, thus drawing a penalty from NASCAR.
With track position and clean air such advantages, Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb knew it would take a Las Vegas-style gamble if they wanted to win big. When last week’s winner Jeff Gordon brought out the seventh caution of the day on Lap 194, the No. 14 team took their chances on pit road by changing only two tires, gaining 14 spots and giving them the race lead.
Continuing to pull away with a fast car it appeared the gamble had paid off. Yet, when the leaders made their final stops of the day under green flag conditions, Stewart was forced to take four tires, while Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya took only two.
That extra time on pit road allowed Edwards to take the lead and pull away from the battle for second between Stewart, Montoya and a fast-approaching Marcos Ambrose.
After Edwards cruised to victory, Stewart called to his team saying, “I want you guys to explain to me how we lost this race today.”
“I honestly think we had the car to beat today, we just gave it away,” Stewart said. “I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back, and unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us. Darian made a good call getting us the track position back, but it also showed everybody else that they could do it, too, and we couldn’t run two and a half runs on a set of left side tires. Just shot ourselves in the foot two weeks in a row now.”
Despite the disappointment, Stewart’s second-place run moved him to first in the points standings heading into the first off-weekend of the season. That news did little to calm the visibly frustrated driver after the race.
“It kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven’t won at yet,” he said. “This was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it, you I’m sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend, but just man, it does not sit good right now.”
For Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing team, on the other hand, things continue to go their way. In the last five races (including the final two events of 2010), Edwards has three wins and four top-2 finishes. Sitting third in the standings, Edwards are beginning to focus in on the championship – just three races into the season.
While he was not quite ready to talk championship just yet, team owner Jack Roush knows how well things are going thus far in 2011, saying, “I feel the stars are lining up.”
“It’s way too early for us to start thinking championship,” Roush said. “I encouraged everybody to think about…one of the two races before Homestead in the fall to make the same amount of risk and to be as conservative as we might be if [the championship] was within our grasp. But we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball; we can’t make a misstep, we can’t squander the opportunities now that we’re running better than we did last year. But it certainly feels more like 2008, even better.”
This is the earliest in the year Edwards has been to Victory Lane since he won this race in 2008. That year, Edwards and his No. 99 team went on to win nine races and was runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the Chase. Three years later, Edwards says this is “the best start to a season that I’ve ever had” and explained he is in a better position to win the championship.
“I feel like I have a better understanding of how the sport works, and I think that I’m more prepared to use these fast race cars and do a better job to try to win this championship,” he said. “It’s something that Jack [Roush] and I have talked a lot about over the years. You know, there is definitely a process to becoming the best you can be at this level because all the guys are so savvy. So I feel like I’m in a better position now than I was three years ago to get all the points we can and all the wins we can this year.”
Although early in the season, the points battle has been shaken up by strong runs by unexpected drivers and struggles by some of those expected to contend. Names like Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt are solidly in the top-10 in points after three races, while Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton – all considered contenders coming into the season – leave Las Vegas 30th, 31st and 32nd in the points respectively.
“A lot of people knock the new points system saying they didn’t put enough emphasis on winning,” Edwards pointed out. “But when you look at it from the wild card perspective, the bonus points in the Chase, those two things alone make winning extremely important right now.”
Gordon Ends Drought After Moving Busch
Edwards The Man To Beat After Second Place Run
Bayne Marks New Chapter In Wood Brothers History
Not A Fan Of Earnhardt, I Became One That Day
Brian Keselowski: The Cinderella Story of Daytona
ESPN Commentators Fire Back At ‘Rigged’ Comments
Give Me The Super Bowl Of Stock Car Racing
Wendell Scott Is a Story Everyone Should Know
NASCAR Alters Point System and Chase
Logano Says Nationwide Rule Will Not Affect Him, Will Affect Keselowski
Kulwicki and Allison Left Lasting Legacies On and Off Track
NASCAR Is A Better Live Viewing Experience Than The NFL
Johnson Wins Historic Fifth Straight Title
Fuel Mileage Race Brings Chase Closer Than Ever
Hamlin Wins Crazy Day In Texas
Wild Finish To The Wild Card Race
Who Said It Was Over?
Kahne Calls Split Mutual, Moves On
McMurray Wins, Title Contenders Narrow
NASCAR Going Green With E15 Fuel
Who Is To Blame For NASCAR’s Decline?
Stewart Back In The Chase With Win
Biffle Comes Up Big In Kansas
Johnson Wins, Other Chasers Falter
Bowyer Hit Hard By Penalty
Bowyer Saves Gas, Earns Chase Win
Hamlin Solidifies Points Lead With Victory
Is A Teammate An Advantage In The Chase?
Stewart Smokes ‘Em On Final Restart
A Favorite Heading Into The Chase?
Chase Clinch Scenarios – Atlanta
Racing For The Love Of The Sport
Busch Quiets Critics With Historic Win
Vickers To Return In 2011
Busch-Johnson Rivalry Could Reignite
Do Bonus Points Matter In The Chase?
Harvick Wins, Locks Chase Berth
Montoya Finally Gets The Win
Allmendinger Signs Multiyear Deal With RPM
Atlanta Loses Cup Date For 2011
Hard Hit Overshadows Race
Gibbs Offers His Thoughts On Fine
Newman Admits To Being Fined
Roush Hospitalized After Plane Crash
McMurray Makes History for Chip Ganassi
Newman’s Thoughts On Brad & Carl
Martin Insists He Will Drive No. 5 In 2011
Edwards and Keselowski Heat Up The Off Weekend
Victory Lane Rain Tastes Much Better
Harvick Wins Wild Coke Zero 400
The View From Kevin Harvick’s Pit Box at Pocono, Where DeLana Wore Her Firesuit
Ambrose’s Mistake Gives Johnson The Win
Hamlin Wins Wild Race at Pocono, Harvick and Logano Feud
Burton and Busch Ready To Move On
Penske, Ganassi Battle From Indy To Charlotte
Brian France Forging His Own Legacy, Often Away From The Track
Busch-Hamlin Feud Ends – For Now
Emotions Rule The Day At Hall of Fame
One Busch Wins, The Other Whines
Vickers Out For Season, Drivers Weigh In
Busch, Gibbs Win The Weekend
NASCAR Hall of Fame Open For Business
Artifact Stolen From NASCAR Hall of Fame
Gordon Still The Guy To Beat
A Sneak Peek at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
New Kyle Shines In Victory Lane In Richmond
Old School Meets New School
Johnson-Gordon Rift Shows Larger Trend
Another Wild Weekend In Talladega
Hornish ‘Fairly Confident’ He’ll Be With Penske Next Year
Hamlin Fights Pain, Beats Competiton
Kahne Goes From the King To The Emperor
Newman Needed Four Laps For Phoenix Win
Hamlin Enjoys Some Goody’s Pain Relief
Mears Tapped As Stand-In For Hamlin
Drivers Adjusting To Spoiler
Johnson and Busch: A Rivalry In The Making
Bristol Legends Crash
Rogers Admits Frustration, Refuses To Be Rattled
Edwards and Keselowski Meet With NASCAR
Harvick, Edwards Feuding
Get Ready For More Action
‘Have At It, Boys’ Put To The Test
Time For NASCAR To Get It Together
Luck Wins Races, Not Championships
An Inspiring Moment With Our Veterans
New Rules Force Teams To Adjust
Danica Finally Races
Biggest Dangers Are Off The Track
Superspeedway Concerns Nothing New
Racing expos connect fans with NASCAR
The next decade of NASCAR
D.J. Richardson’s legacy: Do more for NASCAR’s ‘weekend warriors’
Danica Patrick is all hype
Sprint Cup predictions revisited
Four-timers’ club: Johnson vs. Gordon
Three DNFs doomed Hamlin’s Chase
He came, he drove, he almost won
For sale: One ruined career
Family of girl injured at Talladega will be at race