by Brody Jones
What a difference one week can make. After having a potential winning car at Phoenix get destroyed in a freak mishap with Kyle Busch and despite not having the most dominant car of the afternoon, Carl Edwards proved himself to be ever the opportunist. Edwards claimed the lead on the final round of green flag pit stops and led the last 22 laps to win the Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Edwards held off a hard-charging (and dominant) Tony Stewart in the closing stages to earn the victory.
Matt Kenseth lead the field to green and held the point for the first three laps before Greg Biffle took the lead. On lap 8, the first caution of the afternoon came out for a solo spin by Robby Gordon in Turn 3. After several of the leading cars came in to get fuel, the top-5 was Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 13. On the restart, Stewart blew by Jeff Gordon to take the lead. At the same time, Matt Kenseth had a flat tire and was forced to make a pitstop. One lap later, rookie Andy Lally brought out the second caution of the afternoon with a pirouette of his own in turns 1 and 2.
After the two quick yellows, the race took a green flag feel. Green flag pit-stops started on lap 50 and after everything cycled out on lap 62, Stewart re-took the lead with Kyle Busch in second, Biffle in third, Kurt Busch in fourth, and Montoya rounding out the top-5. On lap 97, the third caution of the race came out due to debris from Kyle Busch’s car after he made contact with the turn 4 wall after having a flat-tire. The leaders came in for pitstops and Stewart again came out first with Montoya, Biffle, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top-5. On the restart, Kurt Busch spun along with Kasey Kahne in a separate incident. Amazingly, both cars avoided catastrophe and continued on their way.
Six laps later on the restart, one half of the hometown heroes, Kyle Busch, had his engine detonate in turn 2, leading to his chariot becoming a chariot of fire. At the time of the caution, the top-5 was Stewart, Biffle, Edwards, Montoya, and Kevin Harvick. Misfortune would strike Greg Biffle as, due to problems filling up his car all day on pitstops, he ran out of fuel in the middle of a green flag run. Shortly after that misfortunate event, on lap 150, caution number six came out when David Gilliland slammed hard into the turn 3 wall after a blown tire. The stage was set for pitstops and the complexion of the race would undertake a different tone as not only was Harvick penalized for being too fast exiting pit road, but race leader Tony Stewart, in his haste to exit the pits, took his air wrench along with him and had to take a pass-through penalty, giving the lead to Carl Edwards with Martin Truex Jr., Montoya, Earnhardt Jr., and Paul Menard rounding out the top five at that point.
At lap 193, the number seven proved to be an unlucky number for last week’s winner Jeff Gordon as he blew a right front tire in turn 3, which set up another round of pit-stops. And in a city long familiar with gambling, Tony Stewart took a two-tire gamble on his stop and took the lead with Montoya 2nd, Truex Jr. 3rd, Edwards 4th, and Earnhardt Jr. 5th. Tony Stewart had checked out on the field with over a four-second lead, but with 32 to go, he had to come in for his last stop. And when the dust settled after the pit-stops, it was Carl Edwards out front with Montoya 2nd, Stewart back in 3rd, Marcos Ambrose running in 4th, and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 5.
Over the last 22 laps, Tony Stewart would try valiantly to catch Edwards, but fell short to the former substitute teacher despite his best efforts, and despite leading 163 of the 267 laps on the afternoon.
After the race, Edwards was very pleased with his performance.
“The key to winning today was my team, my Ford team, these guys are unbelievable,” Edwards said. “It’s just a joy to drive these race cars right now.”
Stewart would be forced to settle for second. He was not too happy about that.
“I honestly think we had the car to beat today, [but] we just gave it away,” Stewart said. “I mean, I just — it kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven’t won at yet. This was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it, you — I’m sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend, but just man, it does not sit good right now.”
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, followed by Marcos Ambrose in fourth, Ryan Newman rounded out the top-5.
Sixth through tenth were Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, who recovered from his early spin to finish a respectable ninth, and Brian Vickers bounced back from a disastrous first two weeks of the season with a solid top-10 finish.
After Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon’s problems, there was a bit of a shake-up in the top ten of the points after this race with Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tied for the top spot. Stewart is technically the points leader due to having the best finish so far on the season between the two drivers. Carl Edwards moves up to third in points with his win today, with Juan Pablo Montoya tied for third as well. Ryan Newman is currently fifth in the points standings. A couple of early surprises in sixth and seventh in Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr., respectively. Denny Hamlin is eighth, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, and Hendrick teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin are tied for tenth in points.
The Sprint Cup Series has the week off next week, but in two weeks, the series makes its first trip to the racing equivalent of the great Roman Coliseum in the half-mile bullring better known to NASCAR fans as Bristol Motor Speedway. Will Jimmie Johnson regain his missing swagger at Bristol? Will there be a familiar face in Victory Lane, or could we see a first time winner? And better yet, whose tempers will be flaring at the end of the day? Tune in two weeks from today to find out, or you can do as the great American author Hunter S. Thompson used to say and “buy a ticket and take the ride”!