No doubt Carl Edwards will always have a certain affinity for Phoenix International Raceway. Sunday Edwards broke a 70 race winless drought holding off Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin to score his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win since Las Vegas in 2011. The winless streak tied his career high; the first winless streak he ended with a win at the same track in 2010.
Sunday Edwards with new, veteran, crew chief Jimmy Fennig led the final 67 green flag laps and survived a green-white-checkered flag finish to score the 20th victory of his career. Behind him Johnson and Hamlin dueled on the last lap with Hamlin rocketing past then third place Keselowski on the backstretch apron and challenging Johnson for the spot right to the checkered flag with Johnson winning by literally a car nose.
“I thought for the last few laps it was going to be easy and then they had that caution,” Edward said. “It was an awesome restart. Brad Keselowski pushed me and that meant a lot. He stayed in line there and he pushed and we got a Ford to Victory Lane, so I’ve got to thank Brad. I’ve got to thank my crew. These guys were unreal and Subway, this is the Subway Fresh Fit 500. We just won the race in the Subway Ford Fusion. This is insane, very cool.”
The only scare for Edwards, who led a race high 122 laps, came with three to go when Ken Schrader crashed bringing out the races final caution. Edwards was able to stretch his fuel mileage, hold off the challengers and score the win.
“Fords get great fuel mileage, so I wasn’t too worried about that, but I was really worried about Jimmie Johnson and Brad and all those guys behind me,” Edwards said. It’s just so cool to win this race. I can’t tell you how cool this is. I love Phoenix. This is a blast. I love it. I’m glad to be here.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in fifth behind Keselowski with Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton rounding out the top 10.
The biggest crash of the day occurred when rookie Danica Patrick’s Chevy blew a tire exiting turn 4 on lap 185. She hit the outside wall hard and careened to the inside of the track and was hit on the driver’s side by the Ford of David Ragan peeling off the driver’s side of the Chevy. Both drivers were able to walk away. It was the same fate suffered by her Stewart –Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman on lap 140.
Johnson maintains the Sprint Cup points lead with Earnhardt, Keselowski, Hamlin and Bowyer filling out the top five.
“Very exciting finish there,” Johnson said. “To come across the line like that with Denny (Hamlin) was exciting. I didn't think Carl (Edwards) followed restart protocol and slowed us down before we took off. But, outside of that, it was pretty much a perfect day. Very good start to the season.”
After crashing five times during Daytona Speedweeks, Edwards came to Phoenix 30th in points. With his win Sunday, Edwards moved 19 spots and leaves in 11th.
“I’m telling you we are back,” Edwards said. “This is going to be good. Whatever it is you are doing out there, don’t lose hope. You just keep digging and things can work out. This is awesome – one of the coolest wins of my life.”
The series next stop is in one week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.