BRISTOL, Tennessee: Carl Edwards started first and finished first, surviving a rough day for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and dominating Saturday’s (Sunday in Manila) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He beat second-placer Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line by 0.766 second.
Edwards led the final 104 laps and managed to hold off charges over the final three restarts of the race’s 15 cautions to score his 26th career win and fourth overall at Bristol, his second in the spring race.
“This is awesome,” Edwards said. “Now we’re in the Chase. Now we can go have some fun.”
Earnhardt battled his way back from his car stalling at the start and rallied to finish second with Kurt Busch third and rookie Chase Elliott fourth, his career best in his first full Cup season. Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five finishers.
Kyle Busch, going for this third straight Cup victory in 2016 and defending race winner Matt Kenseth, both Edwards’ team-mates, hit the wall, as did the third team-mate Denny Hamlin during the race. Tire issues apparently biting them, but Edwards was immune, leading 246 of the 500 laps.
Kevin Harvick, who had arguably the fastest car in the closing stages of the race, never got a chance to show it, because he kept drawing the inside lane for every restart. The speed at Bristol is in the outside lane, and Harvick ultimately ran seventh with a No. 4 Chevrolet that was much better than its finishing position.
Simply put, it was another wild, action-filled afternoon at Thunder Valley, but for Edwards, it was simply an extension of what he and the No. 19 Toyota team have been accomplishing this season.
Edwards posted his seventh top 10 in eight races, climbed to second in the series standings (one point behind Harvick) and, first and foremost, all but assured himself of a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It was a really great race for us,” said Edwards. “It started on Friday well, started this winter building these cars. But the car was really fast in qualifying, got the first pit stall, and that meant a lot to the guys. They were just flawless on pit road. The car was really fast, and [crew chief]Dave [Rogers] did a good job of managing everything.
“We didn’t have any trouble, and really it’s just a testament to everybody at the shop and our whole team. Really awesome to have a win so now we can really have some fun and focus on this championship,” he added.
TNS WITH REPORT FROM THE TIMES