Carl Edwards emerged as the winner of the Great Clips 300 night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but no one was making it easy for him out there in a race that saw him receive a potentially costly pit lane penalty and then threats from all sides.
"We raced as hard as we could," he said after the race. "It was a blast. We raced hard and we raced clean. I raced with Kyle, and Kevin and Kasey, and it was all good racing."
Notably, all the names Edwards mentioned were Cup regulars doing double duty in the Saturday night Nationwide Series race: Cup drivers took five of the top seven positions, with only Edwards' Roush Fenway team mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. really featuring near the front all evening.
The race had started as the sun set at just before 7:45pm, with Carl Edwards lining up alongside Brad Keselowski on the front row, in what was Keselowski's first Nationwide race since his testing accident at Road Atlanta that left him with a fractured ankle, having opted to sit out the double duty and focus on his Cup racing while he recuperated.
Edwards led through to the first caution of the night on lap 42 when Eric McClure smacked the wall at turn 2 and the drivers took the chance to make their first pit stops. But it did not go well for Edwards, who had an air gun and hose tangle up with the #60 and he dragged them out of the pit box. That meant a penalty that put him well down the field in 17th at the back of the lead lap, the fourth time in the last seven races that he's had problems with visits to pit road, but once the race resumed he was quickly slicing his way back up through the positions.
Kevin Harvick grabbed the lead at the restart despite fears about his water pressure and a fightback from his arch-rival Kyle Busch, the two managing to run hard but without incident; and then it was Stenhouse who came on strong and went side-by-side with Harvick for the lead.
Although Stenhouse is fighting for championship points and Cup regular Harvick is not, that didn't mean that there wasn't a lot at stake in the battle: Stenhouse's main title rival is Elliott Sadler, the driver of the Harvick-owned #2 car: "I feel like I'm racing for the #2's life up here!" said Harvick over the team radio as the two tussled. "I'll get rougher with him the later it goes, if I have to."
As it turned out, Stenhouse fell back after a slow pit stop under the next caution on lap 68 for a spin by Joe Nemechek, while Carl Edwards jumped up three spots and was back into the top three behind Kyle and Kevin on the front row. It was actually another Roush Fenway team mate, Trevor Bayne restarting from fourth place, who made the noise at the restart by going high round Harvick and then low under Busch to briefly take the lead, but his furious pace was short-lived and it was soon Edwards and Busch tussling over the top spot again.
Edwards gradually pulled away from Busch and the others which lasted through a green flag pit stop before the next caution of the night came out for Eric McClure having another issue in turn 2 again. Kevin Harvick led Kasey Kahne to the green flag at the restart, but Harvick spun his tyres opening up a gap for Justin Allgaier to shoot through and lead a couple of laps.