Carl Edwards may have been pipped to the pole position for the OneMain Financial 200 Nationwide race by a single thousandth of a second by Elliott Sadler earlier on Saturday, but he was always the man to beat. At the end of 200 miles of the one-mile concrete oval speedway, no one had been able to.
"Today I had a very fast car," beamed Edwards after the race. "Anybody driving that car would have done really well. That was a lot of teamwork. The pit stops
were great, the strategy was great and we hung on for the win. It was a lot of fun."
Sadler had a good start at the green flag at Dover, while Edwards had to content with Joey Logano, but there were only six green laps before a caution for debris and at the restart Edwards blasted into the lead - and that was pretty much it. Sadler was shouldered aside by Logano, and before long he was also passed by Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, and Brad Keselowski, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. next up as the highest of the non-Cup regulars.
Logano was losing touch with Edwards and so Bowyer decided he would take up the chase, quickly cutting back Edwards' 1.8s lead by a third before the second caution of the afternoon on lap 40, a planned competition yellow scheduled so that teams could check on how cars were faring after the track had been washed clean by overnight rain.
Brad Keselowski took to the front by taking two tyres under the mandatory stop, but Edwards once again blitzed the restart and took back control. He held the lead up to the next debris caution on lap 79 and through the ensuing pit stops, and when the race resumed it was once again The Carl Edwards Show with Ryan Truex, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. making up the supporting cast.
There was a scare for Edwards just after the midway point when he radioed in to the team that the engine was sounding funny and might be on the verge of a problem, but after easing off for a while and letting Clint Bowyer reel him in somewhat, nothing developed and Edwards was able to gradually put the power down again and pull out the lead once more. Any hopes Bowyer might have had evaporated as it became clear that it had just been a false alarm.
Edwards and Bowyer were making their final pit stops of the race on lap 158, handing the lead over temporarily to Keselowski for the second time in the race, when Brian Scott had to check up to avoid running into Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and ended up locking his brakes and running into the water barrels protecting the leading edge of the pit road entry wall. That brought out the fourth and final caution of the afternoon.
"I thought he was gonna pass me there down the back straightaway and then he kind of lifted and I was waving my hand," said Stenhouse about the incident from where he sat. "I think his crew chief probably told him that they were gonna pit too. I got to pit road really good and all of a sudden I kind of heard something on the outside of me and I looked just at the time he was hitting the barrels and I tried to ease over far enough left so that we didn't get hit in the right rear. It was pretty crazy and a close call for sure."
Keselowski handed the lead back to make his own stop under the caution, and Edwards led Keselowski, Reed Sorenson, Kahne and Bowyer to the green for a final 33-lap green flag run to the chequered. Sorenson's position was controversial, as he had appeared to come onto pit road when the pits were still technically closed, but although Sorenson's crew chief Trent Owens was fully expecting a penalty, no word came from the NASCAR hauler to that effect and so Sorenson maintained his position.
It was an uneventful run to the finish from there, Edwards completely safe in the lead as he went on to claim his 36th Nationwide victory, and Brad Keselowski able to hold off a late charge from Clint Bowyer to stay a full second in front of the #33 for the runners-up position.
About the only thing that wasn't inch-perfect for Edwards all afternoon was his trademark celebrations on the start/finish line: "Everything went great, other than my backflip, which was terrible. I was nervous about doing it on the banking, but it was just an awesome day."
With Kasey Kahne taking fourth place, the highest-placed Nationwide Series regulars eligible for championship points were Edwards' Roush Fenway stablemates Rickey Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne in fifth and sixth respectively, with Sorenson holding on to seventh place ahead of Ryan Truex and Mike Bliss.
"Man, I wanted a top five, you work hard for these things to get top fives and top threes and wins," said Bayne. "We ran up front most of the day there, the last 150 laps, and then we had a bad caution and almost got a lap down there in the pits and we kept going instead of pitting. We lost a few spots of track position and never really got those back."
In the Nationwide championship, that puts Stenhouse on 1025pts, in the lead by 22pts over Elliott Sadler. Sorenson is on 976pts, Aric Almirola on 951pts after an average finish of 15th at Dover, and Justin Allgaier on 939pts as the championship starts to look rather settled and decided with just five more rounds before the end of the 2011 season.
"I think we're in control for sure, but we've got to control what we do," said Stenhouse about the championship. "We've got to not make mistakes. We've got to bring good, fast race cars to the race track ... I think we've got a race team that's pretty determined to win this thing."
Full race results and qualifying
and practice times available.