4 March 2013
Edwards finally back to winning ways
"Obviously I blew a right front. No real warning. I wasn't that tight either; I was sliding a little bit," she told reporters afterwards. "It was a little unexpected. I took a hard hit to the right, and then on the left. I'm fine.
"Probably Daytona was a little bit bigger," she continued when asked if that was her biggest hit so car in stock car racing. "And it was on the right and the left. So whenever those right-fronts go, they always hit hard because you don't broadside. You kind of hit more straight on. I took a hard hit on both side, but I'm fine. NASCAR is doing a good job with safety."
David Gilliland was the next driver with a blown tyre, bringing out the seventh caution on lap 237. This was good timing at last for Kyle Busch, who finally got the free pass back onto the lead lap with this latest yellow after repeatedly missing out since his own spin nearly 200 laps before; but it was less ideal for the rest of the field, who had to make a tactical decision on whether they were in range to try running a fuel strategy from here to the finish or not.
Carl Edwards won the race off pit road this time and lined up alongside Earnhardt for the green flag; but the #88 spun its wheels at the restart, gifting the uncontested lead to Edwards who needed no second invitation to run with the opportunity. Johnson took over second place and Brad Keselowski claimed third from Earnhardt, who at least managed to hold off Denny Hamlin in the #11.
While Hamlin had shared his JGR team mate's pre-race misfortune with his engines requiring him to start from the back, unlike Busch he'd kept his nose clean ever since and quietly worked his way back through the running order during the afternoon to make it into fifth place. However, Hamlin afterwards denied that he'd actually achieved all that many passes in the new Generation 6 Toyota, crediting his pit crew for winning him most of his track position on Sunday.
"Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th place with 30 to go, I would have stayed there, I wouldn't have moved up," he said. "I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars. This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right."
Edwards was feeling rather more kindly disposed toward the Generation 6 cars as it kept him more or less untouchable out in the front. The last thing Edwards wanted or needed with three laps to go was another caution closing things up, but that's just what he got when Ken Schrader had a tyre go down, sending the race into green-white-chequered overtime. For drivers already anxious about making their fuel stretch to the finish, this was a crucial moment: the leaders all stuck to their gambit, while Mark Martin now running in 12th position was the highest-placed driver to pit.
"Fords get great fuel mileage, so I wasn't too worried about that," insisted Edwards afterwards. "But I was really worried about Jimmie Johnson and Brad and all those guys behind me."
Before the final restart, Hamlin was allowed to pass Earnhardt for fourth place after the #88 was thought to be struggling to maintain sufficient pace and possibly running dry. At the green flag, Hamlin also managed to get past Brad Keselowski for third place and then laid siege to Johnson for second place. Ultimately the #48 retained the advantage, and meanwhile Edwards had things well in hand over both of them to claim the chequered flag a second ahead of last week's Daytona 500 winner.
It breaks a 70-race winless streak for Edwards, who had abysmal an 2012 championship after finishing the previous year in the runner-up position to Tony Stewart for the title. The relief of finally resuming business as usual with a welcome return to victory lane was evident on Edwards' face even as he performed his trademark backward flip off the driver's door of the #99.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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