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Carl Edwards wins Subway Fresh Fit 500

Edwards ends 70-race Sprint Cup drought, then resurrects his trademark celebration in Phoenix.

March 03, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • NASCAR driver Carl Edwards performs his trademark backflip after winning the Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.
NASCAR driver Carl Edwards performs his trademark backflip after winning… (Jerry Markland / Getty Images )

AVONDALE, Ariz. — When the race was over, Carl Edwards parked his No. 99 Ford at the finish line and climbed onto the car's window frame.

Cheers from the grandstands swelled at Phoenix International Raceway, because the fans knew what was coming next.

The question was: Did Edwards still know how to do it?

After all, it had been 70 races since Edwards had won a Sprint Cup Series race and performed his trademark victory back flip from the car.

"I was a little nervous," Edwards, 33, later admitted. "I haven't done one of those in a long time."

But Edwards flawlessly made the flip, jumped into the grandstands for high-fives from spectators and said, "I feel like I can jump over those grandstands right now."

Edwards held off Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500, his first Cup win since he took first in Las Vegas nearly two years ago. Johnson finished second by inches over Hamlin.

It was Edwards' second Cup win on the one-mile Phoenix track and, coincidentally, his first victory here in November 2010 also broke a 70-race winless streak for the Missourian.

Edwards' latest win also was a welcome rebound from his miserable showing at Daytona International Speedway the previous weekend, when he was involved in several wrecks, including one in the Daytona 500 that left him with a 33rd-place finish.

"This win feels as good or better than any win I've ever had," said Edwards, who has 20 career Cup victories.

Although Edwards and the other leaders were running low on fuel, Edwards — who led a race-high 122 laps — appeared to have victory in hand in the closing stages. Johnson was less than one second behind him but unable to close the gap.

But with three laps left, Ken Schrader's spin brought out a caution period, setting up a two-lap, double-file "green-white-checker" overtime finish that bunched the field together.

When the caution lights came on, "I thought, 'OK, we're going to have to earn it,'" Edwards said.

Restarting on the inside lane, Edwards got a big push from Brad Keselowski's Ford that propelled Edwards well into the lead again, ensuring the win.

"I wish I would have used the run to try and make a pass" of Edwards, "but I don't think I could have pulled it off without wrecking Carl," Keselowski said.

Keselowski finished fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth and Clint Bowyer was sixth.

Johnson, the five-time Cup champion and winner of last week's Daytona 500, took the early lead in this year's title standings by eight points over Earnhardt and Keselowski, the reigning champion.

Edwards is 11th in the standings, 31 points behind Johnson.

Pole-sitter Mark Martin, trying to become the oldest winner of a Cup race at age 54, was strong early and ultimately led 75 laps. But his Toyota faded in the second half of the race and he finished 21st.

Earnhardt also had a strong Chevrolet and led 47 laps. "We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race," he said.

The race's worst accident involved Danica Patrick. She was running 26th just past the halfway point when a tire blew on her car, sending her into the outside wall.

The Ford of David Ragan, who was running just behind Patrick, then plowed into her car, ripping off most of the left-side bodywork of Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet.

Patrick, who finished 39th, was not hurt, although "I took a hard hit to the right and then on the left," she said.

Edwards drives for the Roush Fenway Racing team, which this year paired Edwards with a new crew chief, veteran Jimmy Fennig.

After praising Fennig at a post-race news conference, team co-owner Jack Roush said to Edwards, "I'm just glad we didn't run out of gas and glad you could still do a back flip. Those are the two things I was worried about the most."

james.peltz@latimes.com

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