NASCAR: Edwards rides 'ugly' last lap to first road-course win

Posted Jun 23, 2014 by John Duarte
Carl Edwards got his first career win on a road course and the second victory of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when he held off Jeff Gordon during an exciting final lap at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday.
Carl Edwards does his usual celebratory back flip after winning his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series r...
Carl Edwards does his usual celebratory back flip after winning his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season, the Toyota/Save Mart 350, on June 22, 2014 at Sonoma Raceway in California.
299336Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Edwards said he could feel Gordon “right there” as he entered the final lap at Sonoma Raceway. His tires were worn out. He was having trouble getting the car to turn. Gordon was coming and Edwards knew he had to minimize his mistakes. Gordon got up to the race leader's back bumper on the final corner, but that has was as close as he would get and Edwards sprinted for the checkered flag.
“If I didn't do everything perfectly, he would really close on me and I didn't do everything perfectly,” said the elated race winner. “I'm glad it's a 110-lap race, not 111. It would have been a tough last lap if we had to go one more. That last lap was ugly.”
Edwards said he had a feeling that he was going to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 as he completed his practice laps on Friday. The car was handling well and Edwards completing decent lap times. But that all changed come race time, especially during the early stages when the car wasn't performing the way it had in practice. Luckily, that all changed as the race progressed and Edwards praised his crew chief Jimmy Fennig for getting him to the front of the field and putting him in a position to win the race.
“Halfway through the race, I did not think we were going to win it. We were not doing well. I was driving my heart out and I wasn't going anywhere,” Edwards said. “But Jimmy made the right adjustments, he made the right call to get us out front, then he reminded me to leave nothing out there and drive as hard as I could. And that was what I needed.”
It was also all about minimizing mistakes for the second-place finisher. Gordon admitted he “started over driving it a little bit” trying to catch Edwards and that ultimately cost Gordon the race as he made some mistakes. He felt that the race might have turned out differently if he had concentrated getting around the course as smoothly as possible while pressing Edwards.
“(It) Looked like his car really started falling off those last couple of laps,” Gordon said. “If I had just stayed smooth and stuck with it, I might have had a shot.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in the race and said he was happy with the way his car performed all weekend. It was Earnhardt's best finish at the California race track.
“Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us,” Earnhardt said. “The car was fun to drive all weekend.”
There are only two road-course races in the Sprint Cup Series. The second road-circuit race will come in August at Watkins Glen International, in New York.
Road courses are hard on tires and Earnhardt gambled on stopping for fresh rubber “more often than anyone else.” It was a strategy that nearly paid off.
“Jeff and Carl didn't fall off as much as I did,” he said. “I was hoping they might, but they were strong right at the end.”
Gordon has a 20-point lead in the overall Sprint Cup Series standings, but Jimmie Johnson's three wins on the season have him at the front of the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid, where drivers are ranked by number of victories. Sixteen drivers will make it to the Chase, a 10-race shootout for the NASCAR top-level championship.
The Quaker State 400 is next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar. The race runs at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, 2014.