BRISTOL, Tenn. – Carl Edwards avoided the tire problems that plagued his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season in impressive fashion.
Edwards started on the pole in the No. 19 machine and led a career-high 276 laps on his way to his fourth career Sprint Cup win on the high-banked, half-mile track. His other Bristol victories came in 2007, 2008 and 2014.
“It was a really great race for us and it started on Friday,” Edwards said. “Well, it started this winter building these cars. The car was really fast in qualifying. We had the first pit stall and that meant a lot for the guys and they were just flawless on pit road. The car was really fast and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) did a good job of managing everything. We didn’t have any trouble.
“It’s just a testament to everybody at the shop and our whole team. It’s really awesome to have a win so that now we can really have some fun and focus on this championship.”
Edwards is the third Joe Gibbs Racing driver with a victory this season. Kyle Busch has two and Denny Hamlin has one. Their victories all but assure each a spot in the championship Chase.
Sunday’s race, held under bluebird skies and with temperatures approaching 80 degrees, was slowed by a season-high 15 cautions.
Edwards used his position to his advantage on restarts. The outside lane is the preferred lane on restarts. Edwards chose it and held his position on two restarts over the final 10 laps.
The last restart came with five laps to go and witnessed Dale Earnhardt Jr. surge past Kurt Busch and rookie Chase Elliott for second place. While Earnhardt and Busch raced for the position, Edwards pulled away to his 26th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Carl just did a great job managing the racecar and keeping it out of trouble,” crew chief Dave Rogers said. “There were some hairy moments. Jason Hedlesky, our spotter, he did a great job of keeping Carl in the right groove….It was a great racecar and a great weekend.”
Earnhardt rallied for a second place finish after falling two laps down in the early going because he was forced to make a pit stop on the opening lap to reset the engine control unit in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
It was his second runner-up finish in as many weeks and third this season.
“We just did a lot of good things today and got real lucky on a lot of restarts,” Earnhardt said.
Busch finished third in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy and Elliott earned a career-best fourth place finish in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Knoxville native Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing ride.
“That was fun,” Busch said. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be happy about finishing third but I’ll take it. On that last restart, I felt like Carl was going to be tough to beat and I was hoping to do the bump and run on him in Turn 3 on the high side. I just didn’t quite get there. I’m really happy with the crew, all the adjustments. We battled hard today. It’s a lot of fun to race at Bristol.”
Edwards led at halfway followed by Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney. His teammate, defending race winner Matt Kenseth led 142 of the first 250 laps, but lost the lead after experiencing a tire problem on Lap 187 that sent him into the Turn 2 wall.
Kenseth was able to continue but had another right front tire fail when he was running third later in the race.
He wasn’t the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to experience tire problems. Kyle Busch entered the weekend looking to win his third consecutive Sprint Cup race but his day ended after 258 laps because of a second blown tire. The reigning series champion was running 10th at the time. He finished 38th.
The second tire problem forced Kenseth behind the wall. He returned to the race but was 35 laps down and finished 36th. Hamlin was running 15th when he also cut a right front tire late in the race. He finished 20th.
Kenseth wasn’t certain if the tire woes experienced by three members of the same team were the result of the setups on their cars.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything much different than we’ve ever done here,” Kenseth said. “Same tire and pretty similar setups that we always run. No major handling problems, so I honestly don’t know.”
The issues experienced by his teammates were of concern to Edwards.
“I have the best teammates in the business and if they can have trouble I can surely have trouble,” he said. “I was nervous about it but Dave did a good job talking to me about how hard we were pushing the tires and what we had going on there. So I felt pretty comfortable after talking to Dave after a couple of stops.”
His team owner praised the performance by driver and crew chief.
“Our three other cars all had issues and thank goodness the 19 was up front almost all day, no tire issues, no anything,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “Great job by Dave and Carl. They have a great chemistry going.”