Carl Edwards is flipping out — but this time it’s off of his winning Ford.
Edwards finally ended his NASCAR Sprint Cup winless streak on Sunday, snapping it at 70 races with a victory at Phoenix International Raceway. He led 122 circuits, including the final 78 laps.
“That’s awesome,” Edwards said over the radio. “Awesome. Thank you, thank you guys.”
Several changes for 2013 have helped Edwards regain his swagger.
The addition of veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig has provided a calm and steady voice on the pit box. Fennig’s work ethic is second to none.
Edwards started the season with a new pit crew — mostly made up of the former No. 17 crew — that spent nearly 10 seconds less on pit road during their nine pit stops than any of the other top-10 teams.
“Those guys are just bad to the bone,” Edwards said. “Those guys have frustrated me on pit road for years, and it’s neat to have them doing pit stops for the 99 team now. It’s pretty awesome.”
And with a push from fellow Fusion driver Brad Keselowski on the final restart before the green-white-checkered, Edwards had an advantage over Jimmie Johnson, who lined up beside him.
Edwards, who acknowledged that his relationship with Keselowski has not always been the best, said the move was “huge.” Although there were questions as to how the relationship would work once Penske Racing joined the Ford camp, it was clear that the vision of a One Ford concept paid off on Sunday.
“I knew if we made it to Turn 1 first, we were going to win that race,” Edwards said. “He could’ve gone three wide, he could have made that a heck of a lot harder, and that was pretty big.
“We all know that Brad and I have not had the best history. It was pretty bad at one point. But we’ve worked a lot through Ford in the offseason, we did our media day, Brad and I talked a little bit about how we planned on helping one another this season, and that I think was an amazing example of what we can do together to make sure Fords get to Victory Lane.”
When Toyota pooled its resources together in 2012, it resulted in three teams qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time since 2008. Certainly, with Penske Racing entering the Ford fold, there will be more resources to draw from between the current championship operation and Roush Fenway Racing.
On Sunday, Toyota’s top-finishing driver Denny Hamlin described Edwards’ accomplishment as becoming “relevant again.” Hamlin said he couldn’t imagine going 70 races without a win.
“No. I’d be in the nut house after 50,” Hamlin said with a laugh. “You know, I think in Pocono ’09 it was like, I don’t know, maybe 50 or something for us, and it felt like an eternity. It really sucks when you miss out on ones here and there.
“But I’m sure it’s a relief for someone like Carl that he’s now relevant again. He really is. It’s a good sign for their race team for things to come. When you win really the first real race of 2013, you’ve got to feel pretty good about your program.”
Edwards countered with “at least he didn’t talk about my irrelevancy when I was irrelevant.”
Although Edwards says it’s “hard to explain,” he swears his confidence was never lost during the drought. When asked about it earlier on Sunday, he replied that it wasn’t “a fair question” for him to answer because he always felt his next victory was around the corner.
“When you’re struggling it seems like time slows down,” Edwards said. “You’re working harder, you’re trying more, you’re questioning yourself more. (SPEED commentator) Kyle Petty (asked) earlier, we were being interviewed he’s like, ‘where were you last year?’ I was there. That’s one of the longest years of my life to work that hard and not get the victory.
“I’m very, very happy to be back in the mix here. A victory is huge and for so many reasons. Last year we didn’t make the Chase. For me to sit home while everybody was at the Chase stuff and at Vegas, that was a little bit of a shock to me. I did not like that at all.
“To get a victory helps us be in a better position for the Chase. It just feels good to win, and I’m just very glad to be here. So yeah, I hope Denny is right. I hope we’re relevant or more than relevant all year. I hope we dominate this thing.”
And if Edwards is right — and everything is cyclical — he might be more than relevant. It might just be time for Edwards to be a force again.
Where the rubber meets the road
Several drivers battled issues with right front tires — starting with Scott Riggs on Lap 22. Ryan Newman blew two right front tires, one on Lap 98 and again 44 circuits later. Newman finally parked his car on Lap 141 — and called it a race.
Danica Patrick destroyed her car after 184 laps when her right front tire blew, then David Gilliland experienced the same issue on Lap 237 as did Ken Schrader who brought out the eighth caution on Lap 310.
From reports Hamlin received throughout the race, tires “weren’t wearing at all.” He said his left-side tires did not wear through entire fuel runs and “typically, that’s not supposed to happen.”
“Right fronts are going to blow if the left sides have no grip, all the right has to carry the load,” Hamlin said. “So until we get better tires on the left, the rights will continue to blow. Don’t matter how hard you make them.
“I did a tire test here not too long ago, and they’re trying to get these green, I guess, tires into the series, and what it’s doing is it’s changing the entire compounds and the way the tires are built and everything like that, and it’s a learning curve. Every time those tires go on, it just seems like passing is a little more difficult, and then it makes the right side tires blow typically because they’re so hard on the left that the rights just can’t take all that pressure.”
Representatives from Goodyear could not be reached immediately following the race.
2: 70-race drought-ending Sprint Cup wins for Carl Edwards at Phoenix International Raceway, the last one was in 2010.
11th place: Finish for AJ Allmendinger — his best run in five starts with Phoenix Racing and his best result since he finished ninth at Kentucky Speedway in June of last year.
15: Races since Juan Pablo Montoya led a lap. Before Sunday the last time was at Watkins Glen.
16: Top-10 finishes at Phoenix for Jimmie Johnson in 20 career starts.
16th place: Finish for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — the highest-finishing Sprint Cup rookie.
Kurt Busch battled the flu all week and valiantly fought his way up from the back of the field at the start of the Subway 500 into the top 10 in 31 laps and to sixth on Lap 103. But on Lap 247, Busch slid into the wall and damaged the body of his car, resulting in a 27th-place finish.
“We went from a smooth-running top-10 car to a disheartening finish,” Busch said. “Too many things went wrong on that long green-flag run towards the end of the race. It was like a switch flipped and we had a completely different car. We had no zip and we paid the price. After Daytona, and now Phoenix, we’re being tested. But we had enough positive flashes the past two weeks to know that we can run up front.”