Surprising Edwards continues late-season surge
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Carl Edwards gambled on a late pit stop for tires, charged from sixth to first in 11 laps and won for the second straight week.
The 26-year-old Roush Racing wunderkind is accomplishing things a driver with his limited experience isn't supposed to -- like thrusting himself into the midst of NASCAR's Chase for the championship with two races left.
Brimming with confidence, Edwards told his team during the stop that if they could get him back out on the track in the top six, he could win it.
"All night the car had been awesome on the restarts," Edwards said. "The last restart it was really good and I just felt like as long as they could get us out in sixth or better, no matter what happened, I just felt really comfortable for some reason.
"That's how I saw my chances, so that's what I told them and they did the job."
And so did he.
Edwards, who was racing in the Craftsman Truck Series before being promoted to Cup midway through 2004 by team owner Jack Roush, would not be denied Sunday, passing teammate Mark Martin for the lead two laps from the end of the Dickies 500.
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart had a solid if unspectacular day. The 2002 champion finished sixth and saw his lead in the Chase for the championship drop from 43 points to just 38 over Jimmie Johnson, who managed to pass Stewart two laps from the end and finish fifth.
Edwards, who now has four victories in his first full season in Cup racing, jumped from a tie for fourth, 107 points behind, to solo possession of third, 77 behind Stewart.
"Four wins, man, I can't believe it," said Edwards, who stuck a perfect landing on his now-traditional backflip off the window of his No. 99 Ford.
"We're not going to change a thing," the winner added. "We're out to win this championship and we'll do it by having fun. That's way, if we lose it, we're still going to have fun."
Debris brought out the sixth and final caution flag of the 334-lap race on lap 319 and both Edwards, who was leading, and fifth-place Stewart, pitted for right-side tires, while Martin and several other leaders stayed on track.
Edwards was sixth when the green flag came back out on lap 323. He got caught in traffic for a while, but quickly moved to third, passed teammate Matt Kenseth for second on lap 330 and erased a 12-car lead by Martin before passing him on the outside coming off turn two on the 1.5-mile oval on lap 333.
That wasn't the only time Edwards mounted a charge, either.
Edwards, who started 30th in the 43-car field, led a total of 82 laps -- all in the second half of the race. He was out front on lap 290 when Greg Biffle spun and brought out a caution. On the ensuing pit stop, Stewart jumped from fourth to first and Edwards slipped to fifth. But Edwards was able to catch Stewart quickly under green, easily passing him for the lead on lap 310.
"My hat's off to Mark Martin," Edwards said. "He almost won this race. It was only the tires that beat him; he had the best car.
"The tires were the deal. If we could get the tires, if I didn't hit the bumps wrong and shoot the car up the racetrack, I knew we could get him, the car was so fast."
Martin wasn't surprised that he got beat by Edwards, who he saw coming fast in his rearview mirror.
"Carl was spectacular," Martin said. "It was a great call. The right car won the race.
"I thought for a while we were going to win it. I saw Matt in my mirrors and he was pretty far back. Then I saw Carl come around him and I thought, 'Uh oh, this could be bad.' I knew we were in trouble then."
Stewart was leading and Martin second on lap 307 when Martin hit the leader as he tried to make a pass. Stewart said his car tightened up after that incident.
Martin walked quickly to Stewart's car to apologize after the race.
"He didn't mean to do it," Stewart said. "I said, aAt least you're man enough.' Fifty percent of the guys will wait for the phone call the next day. That's why I respect Mark Martin more than anybody."
Biffle, who started the day third, led early in the race before losing a lap when he pitted with a vibration. He never recovered, finishing 20th and slipping to fourth in the standings, 122 points behind.
Martin moved up to sixth, one point behind teammate Biffle and 12 ahead of Kenseth, who finished third and gave the powerful Roush team its third 1-2-3 finish of the season.
It was a terrible weekend for Ryan Newman, who started Sunday tied with Edwards for fourth in the points.
Newman won the pole, then crashed on his second qualifying lap Friday and had to start the race from the rear of the field in a backup car. He never got higher than 19th during the race and wound up finishing 25th, the last car on the lead lap. That dropped Newman to seventh, 174 points behind Stewart and all but eliminated from the title chase.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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