After losing out on the 2011 Sprint Cup championship by the narrowest of margins to Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards decided to cut out the distractions and focus on his 2012 Cup season. One of the 'distractions' was his long-time commitment to the Nationwide Series, and Watkins Glen was the first time that he'd returned to the series since the end of last season.
As it turned out, the return to Nationwide actually proved a most welcome distraction from what had been a frustrating, winless time in Sprint Cup this year. One race, one visit to victory lane is just what the doctor ordered: "This is huge for us, itï¿½s nice to be in victory lane," he said after claiming the win.
Edwards had started on the front row of the Zippo 200 at the 7-turn, 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International road course in New York state alongside polesitter Sam Hornish Jr., but the early danger came from Hornish's Penske team mate Brad Keselowski starting in fourth place alongside Paul Menard on the second row.
Keselowski was able to use an early restart opportunity on lap 10 to get second place off Edwards, and then two laps later was able to hurdle the curbing and trust that Hornish wouldn't do anything to knock them both out of the race, allowing him to take the lead on lap 12.
The restart had been for a caution triggered by a cut tyre sent Alex Popov into the guardrail, the yellows being needed for the ensuing debris. But there had been an even earlier incident on the very first corner of the first lap, which while it didn't bring out a caution did end up putting Danica Patrick out of the race, a 43rd place the worst result of her NASCAR career to date.
It actually wasn't her fault, and was purely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: Ryan Truex had lost control of the #20 on the downhill run into the turn 1 right hander, and spun onto the grass. Unable to stop, he slid down the slope until the car ran back onto the track at the exit of turn 1: Patrick just happened to be the car coming round the bend when Truex materialised, and she had no where to go but right into him.
"I drove in the corner and got wheel-hopped and spun out back in front of everybody," explained Truex. "It was either wheel-hop and hope I didnï¿½t run into my teammate in front of me and take out the field, or turn in the grass and spin out and not hit anybody, and I chose the grass. I had no control after that."
At first, Patrick's team hoped that the damage was merely cosmetic - merely a crumpled engine cover obscuring Danica's vision. The mechanics beat that back into place and secured it with tape before sending it back out again, but the amount of water running out was all too evident and indicated the radiator was shot. Patrick brought the #7 back into the garage to see if there was anything that could be done, but the damage did indeed prove terminal.
"One thing leads to the next in these situations," said Patrick after calling it an early day. "When they got the radiator changed - and they did it really quickly - I went to fire it, and there was water coming out of the tail pipe. It wouldn't turn over."