PHOENIX, Ariz. - Carl Edwards had just enough gas and got just enough of a push from fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski to snap a 70-race winless streak and win Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Edwards, who started 15th, utilized a two-tire pit strategy throughout the day to get to the front and maintain track position. He led two times for 122 laps, most among drivers, but it was what happened in the final three laps that made him have to work overtime.
After taking the lead on lap 239, Edwards was cruising toward victory, but when Ken Schrader brought out the caution with three laps remaining, it brought the field back to his bumper. The question on everyone’s mind was whether or not Edwards and some of his pursuers had enough fuel to go the extra distance.
The drama continued to build as the cars were signaled for one lap to go when Landon Cassill’s car ran out of fuel. He was stopped on the backstretch, but a wrecker was dispatched and pushed him to pit road as the field was coming through turns three and four.
That proved critical because the race restarted instead of having to take another caution lap, which undoubtedly helped Edwards’ cause.
Another thing that helped him on the ensuing restart was having Keselowski behind him on the inside lane. The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion gave Edwards a huge push down the front straightaway and enabled the No. 99 Subway Fusion to gain some distance going into turn one.
While that move helped Edwards, Keselowski came under siege from Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who dive-bombed across the apron coming off turn two to make it three-wide down the backstretch. While Edwards cruised across the finish line, Keselowski got squeezed back to fourth place while Johnson finished second and Hamlin third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five in fifth.
The race was only the second for the pairing of Edwards and crew chief Jimmy Fennig, and it marked the first triumph in only the second start for the new 2013 Gen 6 Fusion.
Edwards and Keselowski carried the Ford banner down the stretch, but a number of Ford drivers took their turn up front. Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. used some early-race pit strategy to run inside the top five and while all three lost track position, they had Fusions that were more than competitive. Joey Logano made a late run inside the top 10, but ran out of fuel with less than five laps to go and ended up 26th.
The Front Row Motorsports duo of David Ragan and David Gilliland both ended up in the garage before the end of the race. Ragan was collected on lap 186 when Danica Patrick cut a right-front tire and hit the wall. Gilliland suffered a similar fate when he cut a right-front on lap 238.
The victory was Ford’s 613th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition and 20th for Edwards. He’ll look to make it a two-race winning streak next weekend when Las Vegas Motor Speedway serves as host.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Subway Ford Fusion – VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW
IT’S BEEN 70 RACES SINCE YOU WON A CUP RACE.
“Thank you and thank you to the fans, too. It’s so cool to see the grandstands packed here at this race track. I thought for the last few laps it was gonna be easy and then they had that caution. It was an awesome restart. Brad Keselowski pushed me and that meant a lot. He stayed in line there and he pushed and we got a Ford to Victory Lane, so I’ve got to thank Brad. I’ve got to thank my crew. These guys were unreal and Subway, this is the Subway Fresh Fit 500. We just won the race in the Subway Ford Fusion. This is insane, very cool.”
THOUGHTS ON THE LAST CAUTION BEING CLOSE ON FUEL.
“Fords get great fuel mileage, so I wasn’t too worried about that, but I was really worried about Jimmie Johnson and Brad and all those guys behind me. It’s just so cool to win this race. I can’t tell you how cool this is. I love Phoenix. This is a blast. I love it. I’m glad to be here.”
BEFORE THE RACE YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD THE SECOND-BEST CAR HERE TO MARK MARTIN, BUT YOU WON.
“I try to be real honest about how fast my car is, but sometimes I’m a little too optimistic, but today I felt really good about it. Jimmy and the guys did a great job. The pit crew is unreal. Every time we came on pit road we would pass a bunch of people and that’s what won this race. Track position was key.”