Edwards wins battle in the dirt with many top NASCAR stars in the field


ROSSBURG, Ohio -- Carl Edwards outran fellow NASCAR Nextel
Cup stars Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon on Wednesday night to win a
charity race on a small dirt track owned by driver Tony Stewart.

Edwards won the third annual Nextel Prelude to the Dream at
Eldora Speedway, a 53-year-old track carved out of farmland in
western Ohio.

"It's just unreal," Edwards said, referring to how close the
race was and how Gordon and Busch pressed him. "I've sweated out a
lot of finishes in a dirt car when you can't see behind you. I knew
they were right there on my tail though."

About 20,000 people jammed the small grandstand, surrounding
stands and grassy hillsides to watch the spectacle.

Edwards started in the No. 2 position, quickly overtook Ken
Schrader and held off the surging Gordon, and then Busch.

The event on the oval, high-bank track featured 26 drivers, each
driving a 2,300-pound late-model stock car packing more than 800

Gordon, who finished third, took the lead on the 11th lap of the
30-lap race, but was almost immediately overtaken by Edwards, who
never trailed again.

"I was right in the middle there, and Carl got back by me on
the bottom," Gordon said. "I just lost a little bit of momentum
there and just wasn't able to get it back."

Gordon raced at Eldora as a youth, but last ran on dirt in 1991.

"Eldora is one of those places you're always in awe of -- the
first time you come here, no matter how many times you come here.
There is no other track like it," Gordon said. "It's high-banked.
It's fast. It's the Talladega of dirt. I take a lot of pride in the
fact that I raced here as a kid growing up and the things I learned

It was the first time racing on dirt for stock car rookie Juan
Pablo Montoya, the former Formula One driver who won the
Indianapolis 500 in 2000.

He hit the wall during a qualifying heat, crumpling his front
fender. His crew was able to repair the damage, but he had to start
in the 25th spot.

"I picked up a lot of respect for the guys that run in dirt,"
said Montoya, who finished 15th. "It's very hard to appreciate how
tough it is. It takes a lot."

Stewart was involved in an accident on the 17th lap when Bobby
Labonte hit the wall, causing Stewart to hit the back of Kasey
Kahne's car and then the wall. Stewart finished 22nd.

Other big names included Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Bill Elliott.

Thousands of fans clogged the rural roadways around the small
track and choked the entrances to see the race, which was broadcast
live on HBO Pay-Per-View.

A sea of trailers, vans and buses camped in parking lots. People
finished tailgating and packed up their lawn chairs as the race
drew near.

Frank Graham, of Dayton, groused about how far away he had to
park, but lightened up as he walked up to the entrance. Wearing a
white T-shirt emblazoned with the name "Stewart," Graham said he
was also excited to see Gordon and Montoya.

Graham said he was interested in seeing how the drivers would
handle the dirt track.

"It handles completely different. They slide, they slide around
the corners," he said. "They all think they can race, but you get
up here and it kind of separates the men from the boys when they do

Bernie Wheeler, of Kettering, said he appreciates the history of
the 50-year-old-plus track, which helped give rise to NASCAR.

"Isn't this how it all started years, and years and years ago?
It was dirt tracks," he said.

For Graham's wife, Diane, it was a chance to see the drivers.

"It's the closest you get to real Cup trackers," she said.
"That's why I come."

Eldora, known as The Big E, is about 40 miles north of Dayton.
Stewart bought the speedway in 2004 from Earl Baltes, who built it
in 1954.

Proceeds from the race go to the Tony Stewart Foundation and the
Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., which serves
children ages 7 to 15 with life-threatening health issues. The camp
was formed by NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Kyle Petty and wife,
Pattie, to honor the life of their late son, Adam.

"I feel so fortunate to have a facility and a lot of friends
that are also supportive of Victory Junction," Stewart said. "It
wasn't hard to put this event together from the standpoint of
getting the drivers to come."