Prior to Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star race, Carl Edwards had finished second in NASCAR’s two biggest races. At Daytona his furious charge on the final lap was only good enough to follow Cinderella story Trevor Bayne across the finish line. In Darlington two weeks ago Edwards again followed another first time winner across the line in the Southern 500, Regan Smith.
[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”238″][/media-credit]At Charlotte, the No. 99 Aflac team was not about to let another big one slip through their fingers. Right from the green flag it was clear that the man to beat would be Edwards as he quickly marched to the top three were he would remain the rest of the night. Kyle Busch, who finished second, knew that once Edwards got out front there was no catching him.
“We got beat tonight on speed and unfortunately were second best,” he said. “When he [Edwards] passed me for the lead there in the third segment, he just drove it five car lengths further than I could drive it into turn three. It stuck. His car would turn and roll the bottom. He slid up off the bottom maybe a foot. If I would have done that, it would have been a lot more than a foot, it would have been a few lanes. His car just had a lot of front grip in it tonight. They did a good job with it.”
Edwards took home a $1.2 million dollar payday. It was his first All-Star win but he became the third driver to win the All-Star race for team owner Jack Roush. It came after what will be described as domination. Edwards won the second and third segments and then went on to lead all 10 laps in the fourth and final segment.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” said Edwards who then went on to thank his crew for winning the race off pit road. “My pit crew stepped up tonight, they did an unreal job on that last stop. If we wouldn’t have come off pit road first it would have been a very difficult race. It took me about 10 laps to get around Kyle [Busch] and those guys, so it would have been a very tough race. Those guys get a lot of credit for this win.”
After the third segment all teams came down pit road for a mandatory four tire stop. The race off pit road would determine the restart order for the final segment. The Aflac team beat Busch’s team and his teammates of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth off pit road. From there it was about a clean restart and clear sailing as Busch never mounted a challenge and held off David Reutimann as Edwards drove away.
“The restart was good. Man, that thing really runs,” said Edwards of the final segment and his car. “That was a great restart and it could have gone either way. Kyle could have really hung in there and it would have been really tough race, so I’m glad we were able to get him.”
Edwards made it look easy as he won and didn’t make a mistake all night. Until it came time to do a victory celebration where he spun the car into the infield and the front end dug down into the grass. In doing so it got ripped apart as he went airborne but it didn’t put a damper on the team’s celebration.
“You never know what comes from misfortunes,” he said. “It was definitely unfortunate that I tore up that racecar. Like Bob [Osborne] said, we got another one at the shop. It might be the difference in winning the race at the Coke 600. I’m going to have confidence that something good will come out of it.
Edwards would continue to explain later, “I usually pull down there, do a back flip. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to do a slide to the grass. This will be great.’ As soon as I turned to the grass, I found the drainage cover there, I guess. It just dug in the splitter. I didn’t expect that.”
What Edwards does expect is another repeat performance in one week. He’ll enter the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend looking to do the double. Last season Kurt Busch won the All-Star race and backed it up by winning the 600 the following week. The race is another NASCAR crown jewel that Edwards has never won.
“We really have struggled at this racetrack,” said Edwards. “Jack has had a ton of success here. It’s fair to say that we have been not very good here and sometimes terrible. I think that we figured some things out. Bob and the guys have done a really good job. I think it bodes well for the 600, for sure. I would hope we can come back here next week with as good or better a car and definitely a lot more confidence than we had before we got here this weekend.”
While Edwards did acknowledged he learned a few things that could be applied later in the season, “This is the first time I’ve come here and run like this, so it’s huge for me. If you look at our whole season, we’ve run really well at almost every racetrack. It’s been a really good season. That’s because of Jack, Robbie Reiser, all the guys at the shop working to get everything in order.”
In order to make sure that like Saturday, he’s no longer the man finishing second on NASCAR’s biggest nights.