By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (June 18, 2005) Carl Edwards gambled and won. This time.
Afterward, he was the first to admit that such risks don't always pay off. But after smoking the 42-car field for much of the night in the "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" NASCAR Busch Series race at the Kentucky Speedway, the Columbia, Mo., native figured nothing could stop him from taking the checkered in the end.
Photo by Don Ward
Carl Edwards celebrates his
Busch Series "Meijer 300" Victory
June 18 at the Kentucky Speedway.
Had it not been for a couple of beneficial late cautions, Edwards may not have been doing a backflip off the top of this race car amid fireworks and cheers from the 70,011 sellout crowd at the end of the night.
The late race scenario was set up when Edwards, while leading with just more then 30 laps to go, radioed crew chief Brad Parrott that he wanted to pit for four tires. Parrott didn't argue. Edwards came in on a caution on Lap 169, followed by his Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle, who had been in hot pursuit all night and running third at the time. Martin Truex Jr. and rookie Reed Sorenson, meanwhile, stayed out and moved to the front of the field.
Edwards returned to the track in 11th place on Lap 174 and with time running out to catch the leaders. He was helped by two late race cautions that gave him the opportunity to move up. The race restarted on Lap 192 with Edwards in fourth place.
Edwards sailed around Sorenson on the restart and Bowyer to move into second place behind Truex Jr. when the last caution of the night came at Lap 195 when Biffle slammed the back end of his car into the Turn 3 wall. The race restarted on Lap 199. Edwards faked going to the outside, then ducked back inside in Turn 3 to pass Truex Jr. He held on for the final lap to win by 0.690 seconds. Bowyer was third and Sorenson fourth, putting the series' top four points leaders in the top four spots at the finish.
It was Edwards' third Busch Series victory, sixth top-five and 10th top-10 finish of the season.. He joined Kyle Busch as the only drivers to win consecutive starts in different series at Kentucky Speedway. Edwards won in Sparta in July 2003 as a rookie driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
Following the Meijer 300, Edwards said his decision to pit for fresh tires was one he was willing to stand by, whether or not it proved to be the right move.
"I've always been too hard on myself when it comes to those type of decisions, but my father (racer Carl Edwards) helped me with that," said Edwards, 25. "He said all you can do is make a decision and don't look back and forget about it."
Edwards made the right call but credited the late cautions for making it all work out.
All the (pit stop) calls are generally by committee, but I was the one who said lets pit, Edwards said. We were leading the race and I felt if it went green and most of guys pitted behind me we would not win the race.
Photo by Don Ward
Carl Edwards leads Martin Truex Jr.
and Reed Sorenson late in the race.
I felt if we pitted, I had enough faith in my crew that if everybody came, we would come out first, still be great and we would win the race.
If we were the only ones to pit and we came out 15th, I still felt like we would win with new tires. The only option was to pit in my mind, but it definitely wasnt the best option if there werent the cautions. Martin wouldve won the race.
Getting around Truex Jr. with only two laps remaining was another challenge.
"When they threw the green flag, Martin didn't go right away," Edwards said. "I was right on him. Then I got a run on him in the back stretch. He raced me very clean. He's a good driver, so it was great to beat him like that."
Truex Jr., 24, said, "Carl's car was so much faster than our car that he could run anywhere on the track middle, top, bottom, it didn't matter. It looked like he was running out there on cruise control."
Bowyer, 26, who had won the previous week at Nashville, added, "Carl Edwards was the class of the field. He had the best car out there. When he passed me (late in the race), I thought I was dragging something."
Edwards had slipped by Sorenson and Bowyer rather easily on his way to front, saying," Clint and Reed were gracious and didn't race me real too hard and I was able to get behind Martin."
Parrott said that when Edwards wanted to come in for tires and fuel, he went along with it. "He's the guy behind the wheel," said Parrott, a race team veteran of 22 years. "He told me he needed four tires, so he came and got 'em."
Parrott said Edwards only practiced 22 laps with the car after flying in from Michigan earlier that day. "He really felt good about it, so I trusted his instincts," Parrott said. "Carl's a talented driver. He pushed the envelope again tonight."
Indeed, Edwards had a whirlwind weekend. After qualifying for the Nextel Cup's Batman Begins 400 in Brooklyn, Mich., Edwards flew to Kentucky on Saturday to compete in the Meijer 300 Busch Series race. He earned the pole position with a blistering track qualifying record of 181.287 mph. that afternoon.
Following the Busch race, Edwards hopped back on a plane and headed back to Michigan for Sunday's race. He had hoped to repeat his earlier feat this season in Atlanta of back-to-back Busch-Nextel Cup series titles, but his Roush teammate Biffle won in Michigan. Edwards finished fifth.
Photo by Don Ward
Travis Tritt entertains
a large crowd prior to
the "Meijer 300" at the Kentucky Speedway.
Edwards came into Kentucky on a roll, after having won the previous Sunday in the Nextel Cup's Pocono 500 in Pennsylvania.
As of mid-June, Edwards had won two Nextel Cup races and three Busch Series races this year, keeping him atop the points race in the Busch Series. The big-smiling Missourian says he is "living a dream" these days.
He admits to "stepping into a perfect opportunity to drive for Roush Racing," considered to be among the top teams these days. Besides Edwards and Biffle, the well-financed Roush Racing team has in its stable Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Mark Martin, who is retiring after this year. On June 19, Roush Racing announced it would replace Martin with 28-year-old Busch Series driver David Stremme.
During a live pre-race interview on FOX TV prior to the Batman Begins 400, Edwards said, "I tell people all the time I live two lives, and one life was all the time and work of getting to this point. To get this opportunity to drive for this race team is really a dream come true."
Asked about the transition from Busch Series cars to Nextel Cup, Edwards said, "It is a different animal. The tires are different, the horsepower is different and they are set up different, so you really have to back off a little. I've been too aggressive at times and crashed these cars, so I have learned to adjust when I go from the Busch car to the Cup car."
Off the track, Edwards this month was featured among People magazine's "Hottest Bachelors." He was teased about that on FOX but just flashed his big smile and kept his focus on racing.
Edwards insisted late Saturday night that he was still fresh and "ready to race 1,000 laps if I have to." Asked on Sunday's TV show how he felt, Edwards replied, "Great. I'm ready to race."
And why not? From this young driver's perspective, he's riding on top of the world.
Meijer 300 Race Notes:
Michael Waltrip created the night's first of 10 cautions early in the race when he spun in Turn 4 on Lap 12 and hit the wall. He parked his damaged car and left for Michigan for the following day's Nextel Cup race before the Meijer 300 had ended.
Rusty Wallace started seventh after turning his best lap of 179.289 mph in qualifying. He finished 24th and was never a threat after having started seventh. Prior to the race, he was honored with a plaque to mark his long career. It was presented by Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning. Wallace is in his last season as a driver after having announced his retirement earlier this year. Other pre-race activities included Legends racing on the quarter-mile track, a lawn mower race on pit road featuring Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, introduction of the honorary grand marshal, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the appearance of three U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters that flew in and hovered over the infield. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly also was introduced.
Earlier in the day, qualifying was delayed after Blake Feese went out 14th and turned the then sixth-fastest qualifying lap of 178.036 mph on his first attempt, but spun his No. 5 touched the wall in Turn 2 on his second qualifying attempt. He was evaluated and released from the infield care center. His damaged car drew lots of spectators in the garage area, where NASCAR safety officials carefully studied the vehicle. Feese was able to race with a backup car.
In all, there were five Nextel Cup drivers in the Busch field Waltrip, Wallace, Edwards, Biffle and Sterling Martin, who had the best performance outside of winner Edwards by starting 27th and finishing sixth.
Despite Edwards' three Busch Series victories this season, Reed Sorenson holds the points lead. Edwards lost the lead when he was unable to compete in the June 12 race after it had been postponed a day because of rain, thereby conflicting with the Nextel Cup Series' Pocono 500, which Edwards won. Edwards now has two Cup victories at Atlanta and Richmond and three Busch Series wins. This was his 17th career start in the Busch Series and his first at Kentucky.
Reed Sorenson maintained his points lead in the series following the Meijer 300, despite finishing fourth. He is also the top rookie in points so far this season.