Edwards pulls away from Junior to win at Las Vegas
No. 99 team escapes penalty from runaway tire in pits
During the Sprint Cup Series' brief sojourn in Las Vegas, it wasn't a roll of the dice that propelled Carl Edwards to his second consecutive victory and the ninth of his career.
It was the roll of a tire -- and what didn't happen afterward.
With the help of a judgment call from NASCAR, which opted not to penalize Edwards after a tire rolled away on pit road, Edwards streaked to victory in the UAW-Dodge 400 Sprint Cup race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a two-lap dash after NASCAR stopped the race for nearly 18 minutes to clean the track in the wake of a wreck that wiped out contenders Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, Edwards pulled away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win by .504 seconds.
The victory gave Edwards the series points lead for the first time in his career, by 21 points over Las Vegas pole-sitter Kyle Busch (11th Sunday) and by 41 over Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman (14th). If Edwards remains atop the standings before the next race remains to be seen after NASCAR found an "issue" with the 99 car in post-race inspection.
Greg Biffle finished third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton. Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Travis Kvapil, Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin completed the top 10 in a race punctuated by a record 11 caution periods.
As strong as his car was, Edwards' closest call came during the tire incident on pit road. During a pit stop on Lap 215 of the 267-lap race, the crew of the No. 99 Ford failed to secure a tire removed from the car. Though the tire bounced off the pit wall and across pit road, TV coverage showed a non-network cameraman inadvertently interfering with the crew's attempts to secure the tire, and NASCAR did not assess a penalty.
That enabled Edwards to restart third on Lap 220, instead of at the tail end of the longest line. He eventually took the lead for good on Lap 238.
"That's nice of them," Edwards said on his radio after learning he had escaped a penalty.
"We'll get [Sprint Cup Series director John] Darby a nice Christmas gift. He's a reasonable man," replied crew chief Bob Osborne.
The NASCAR rule book states: "During a pit stop, if a tire is not controlled and/or travels more than halfway across the pit road, a lap or time penalty may be assessed. If in the judgment of NASCAR officials, a team made every effort to control a tire and circumstances beyond their control cause the tire to travel across pit road, a lap or time penalty may not be assessed."
Edwards had rallied from a pit road speeding penalty early in the race, but a penalty late in the race would have doomed his chances.
"At the end, I was very nervous that we were going to get a penalty after the tire got away," Edwards said later. "But NASCAR made a call in our favor after reviewing the tape, and I'm grateful for that."
So was Osborne. "It was stressful, but results are what we're looking for, and I'm glad to be here," he said.
Three cautions after that nerve-wracking pit stop, on a restart with five laps remaining, Earnhardt (second at the time) spun his tires, Gordon dropped low and Kenseth went high to pass the No. 88 Chevrolet. As the cars exited Turn 2, with Edwards in the lead and Kenseth and Gordon in his wake, the No. 24 Chevrolet of Gordon washed up to the outside, clipped Kenseth's No. 17 Ford and started a wreck that crippled both cars.
Gordon's Chevy slid back across the track and ploughed into the inside retaining wall at an entrance to the infield, ripping the radiator out of the chassis. NASCAR stopped the race to clean the track for a restart with two laps to go.
"That red flag just really killed us," Earnhardt said. "We were terrible on cold tires. I had a good car, and I'm really proud of my team, but I would have liked to have had a shot at Carl on hot tires there."
Notes: Jimmie Johnson, who was attempting to win the race for the fourth year in a row, finished 29th, two laps back. ... Busch led 56 laps and finished 11th. ... Edwards led a race-high 86 laps. ... Kenseth, who dropped to 20th, led four times for 70 laps. ... Gordon finished 35th, failing to finish his second race of the season. He had one DNF all last season.