Edwards started Monday with best car, finished it with big win
Carl Edwards didn't restart the rain-plagued Auto Club 500 in the lead on Monday morning. It didn't take long to figure out he would end up there at the finish, writes Terry Blount.
Updated: February 25, 2008, 7:50 PM ETBy Terry Blount | ESPN.com
FONTANA, Calif. -- The 24 Hours of Fontana, officially known as the Auto Club 500, was well worth the wait for Carl Edwards.It took two days to get it done, but the skies cleared Monday and Edwards was the class of the field in his No. 99 Ford Fusion.Edwards was almost four seconds ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson when a caution flag froze the field on the final lap at the newly named Auto Club Speedway."When the day started, I told my guys, 'We've got 'em right where we want 'em,'" Edwards said. "I like to think no matter when we raced, [Sunday] night or today, we really had a good car."We've all had to wait through rain delays. Anxiety builds up, but we're all competitive people and ready to work through it. I enjoy that kind of stuff."What's not to enjoy? Monday certainly was joyous compared to Sunday's weather-related problems.The race continued Monday in front of a sparse crowd estimated at 20,000. After spending five hours trying to dry the track Sunday night, NASCAR pulled the plug at 2 a.m. ET (11 p.m. at Fontana). The show resumed on Lap 88 of the 250-lap event.Edwards was ninth when the race restarted Monday, but it didn't take long to see his car was the best one on the track. Edwards had a three-second lead when a caution brought the leaders to the pits for the last time with 29 laps to go. Johnson's pit crew got him out first on the final stop while Edwards fell to fourth on the restart with 26 laps to go. But it was only a matter of time. Edwards passed Jeff Gordon for second with 18 laps left and set his sights on Johnson. He caught Johnson with 15 laps remaining."We just weren't handling well enough in the turns to stay with him," Johnson said. "He was so quick. I couldn't get any forward traction and just couldn't hang with him. Maybe another practice session would have helped us, but it might have made Carl better, too."They raced side-by-side for a couple of laps, but Edwards was too strong. He zoomed by with 13 laps left and sailed to the victory. It was the opposite of where these two drivers finished at Fontana in September 2007, when Johnson won and Edwards was second. "No one was going to beat the 99 today," Gordon said. "He was unbelievable. Carl was in another league."Gordon finished third despite an engine failure on the last lap."We blew up coming off Turn 2 just as the caution came out," Gordon said. "I couldn't believe it. Thank goodness we had a little luck on our side."Old car or new car, miserable weather or a beautiful day, it didn't make much difference of how things played out on the 2-mile Fontana oval.This was the first race at California with the new model, but the results were similar to the old car. Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorports still were the teams to beat.It was the first win for Edwards at Fontana, but the sixth for Jack Roush's team in 16 Cup events at the Southern California track. Edwards now has finished sixth or better in seven of his eight starts at Fontana.Hendrick Motorsports also has six wins at Fontana, so seeing two of its drivers in the top three is nothing new.What is new is the man leading the standings after two races, along with the manufacturer. Kyle Busch, who left Hendrick to join Joe Gibbs Racing this season, is on top of the Cup points standings for the first time in his career.
Kyle [Busch has] been our teammate and we know how talented he is. If he does this for the whole year, I'll be really impressed.
-- Jeff Gordon
It's also the first time a Toyota driver has topped the Cup standings. Busch finished fourth Monday, equaling his finish last week in the Daytona 500. This is the first time the No. 18 car for JGR has led the standings since 2000, when Bobby Labonte drove it to the championship. Gordon gave Busch at bit of a backhanded compliment: "Kyle's been our teammate and we know how talented he is. If he does this for the whole year, I'll be really impressed."Gordon wasn't so impressed with the Car of Today. The race had some passing up front, usually after restarts. But most of the event was similar to previous Fontana races in the old car with extended single-file racing and the leaders spread out on the track."I anticipated a little bit more action and a bigger draft on the straightaways," Gordon said. "It was a pretty typical race here to me. Right now, we've got some guys who are really hitting on it in this car."Count Edwards and the No. 99 team among those who are hitting it just right.Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.