Road-course Carl: Edwards wins for first time at Sonoma (VIDEO)
Not known as one of NASCAR’s elite road racers, Carl Edwards scored a surprising victory Sunday afternoon, when he captured the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
In the process, Edwards became the 10th consecutive different winner on the 1.99-mile Northern California road course.
It was the eighth consecutive time that the Sonoma race winner was a driver who had never won on a road course before. And it was the 23rd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race victory for Edwards, who is widely assumed to be on his way out at Roush Fenway Racing, bound for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.
Edwards took his only lead of the day in his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford on Lap 85 of 110-lap race, when he passed Marcos Ambrose on a restart.
From there, Edwards held off fast-closing Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win his second race of the season and become the fifth driver to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard completed the top five.
"A lot of hard work has gone into this, and to be locked into the Chase is huge," Edwards said. "Now we can focus really hard on our program for the final 10 races."
What was particularly surprising about the victory was it came just one week after Roush Fenway’s horrible showing at its home track, Michigan International Speedway. Edwards credited team co-owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fennig with keeping the team on track, despite its earlier struggles.
"Well, these two guys (Fennig and Roush) sitting next to me, they give everything they’ve got all the time, and even though we’re not obviously running as well as we want at the bigger tracks, like Jack said, we prepared for this race the very best we could, and we’ll prepare for Kentucky the best we can," Edwards said.
"From my perspective, what I see as a driver is just everybody working very hard, and we get the results on the days when we can," Edwards added. "But I hope it picks up the organization a little bit, this win from last week, because that was really the low point of the season in my opinion."
The Edwards victory was the second for Roush Fenway this year and it came after Hendrick had won the last five races in a row.
"Gosh, I wish I could have had those last five or six laps to do over again," Gordon said. "I started overdriving it a little bit trying to catch him a making a few mistakes, and I made one in particular that really cost me."
For Earnhardt, it was his career-best Sonoma finish.
"Well, aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," Earnhardt said. "We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I’ve been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we’ve just never been able to finish."
As usual, the Sonoma road race was a raucous affair.
For the second year in a row, McMurray started from the pole in his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet and he led the first eight laps before being passed by No. 2 qualifier AJ Allmendinger.
Kevin Harvick took second from McMurray on Lap 18, as the field began to get strung out.
Green-flag pit stops for those on a three-stop strategy began on Lap 20, with Harvick taking his first lead on Lap 22. Harvick lost the lead on Lap 32, when he pitted under green, handling the lead back to Allmendinger.
On Lap 54, McMurray took over the top spot from Allmendinger, and one lap later pitted, giving the lead to Jeff Gordon ahead of Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Marcos Ambrose.
Gordon gave up the top spot on Lap 58 when he pitted, making Harvick the leader again.
On Lap 71, Jimmie Johnson, McMurray and Gordon all passed Harvick just seconds before the yellow car out for debris in Turn 3.
On the restart, Bowyer took the lead, but Earnhardt got off the road and bounced back and into Matt Kenseth, drilling him into the tire barrier in Turn 7, bringing out another yellow on Lap 76.
Then, on Lap 82, McMurray turned Bowyer, who had a flat left-rear tire. Bowyer spun in Turn 11, then got hit hard by Harvick. Bowyer and Harvick both suffered heavy enough damage to take them out of contention, effectively eliminating two of the best cars in the field.
Out front, the top five was Ambrose, Edwards, Johnson, McMurray and Allmendinger.
When the green came out on Lap 86, Edwards and McMurray passed Ambrose, as Allmendinger and David Gilliland had separate crashes, with the track staying green. The contact destroyed the front end on Allmendinger’s car after he had led 35 laps.
On Lap 91, things got ugly. Brian Vickers turned hard right coming out of Turn 11 and sent Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning, as the caution came out again.
Edwards was not a contender early, but once out front he broke to a big lead. Gordon passed McMurray for 22nd on Lap 102, and set out after the leader. But Gordon didn’t have enough time and Edwards held on to win.
Gordon got onto Edwards’ bumper in Turn 11 on the final lap, but just couldn’t quite catch him.