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HAMPTON -- During the past two months, Carl Edwards had been pounding on the gates of victory lane from every direction. He figures to break through soon.
Edwards led 32 laps Sunday night in challenging for the victory in the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, ultimately finishing second by 1.316 seconds to Tony Stewart, who scored his first victory of the season.
During the past eight races, as the arc of his season has risen considerably, Edwards has had only one finish—12th at Bristol—outside the top seven. During that stretch, the Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver has had two seconds and two thirds.
Edwards is locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which will begin in two weeks, and, as one of the circuit’s strongest performers during the last 8-10 weeks, figures to be a formidable challenger for his first Cup championship.
Edwards was wrestling for the win as late as lap 300 (of 325) Sunday night. He, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson were waging a tight and exciting battle for first on lap 296 when Brad Keselowski spun in Turn 2 bringing out the caution flag.
Edwards emerged from the round of pit stops in first place, but Stewart, whose team also had a good stop, surged to the front quickly and stayed in the lead during the final 25 laps to end his winless string.
The second-place finish was almost as good as a win for Edwards, who said his car was one of the best he’s ever had.
“When Jimmie and Kasey and I were racing two- and three-wide for the lead there for a few laps, there was one point I was laughing going down the front straightaway,” he said. “It was just fun. That’s what racing is about is having some fun, and I feel like this race track really lends itself to that style of racing, so I enjoy it and it was a good coincidence that my crew and my car were on their game tonight as well.”
Edwards’ recent surge has boosted his confidence for the weeks ahead.
“Tony just had such a fast car there at the end, but we’re back,” he said. “We’re doing it. We’re scoring more points than anybody. We’re heading into the Chase.
“It hasn’t been good, but the last couple of months have been great. I’m excited about going to Richmond. I’m real excited about starting the Chase. We had something that could win the race tonight, and that’s a blast.”
Oddly, Edwards had led only six laps through the entire season entering Sunday’s race. He led 32 laps Sunday night.
Stewart scored his 38th career victory in scoring his third win at AMS. He was particularly strong early and late in the race, totaling 176 laps led. He had not won a race since last October.
Stewart rallied late in the race despite having repeated problems on restarts. He lost the lead or a shot at the lead several times on restarts as he battled spinning tires on the green flags.
Stewart’s crew helped with that problem by putting Stewart out front on the final round of pit stops.
“I didn’t hit a restart all night until right there at the end,” Stewart said. “What a night. It was the last pit stop that got us track position and gave us the opportunity. When I got back in traffic I was in bad shape.
“I’ve never been so happy to win in my life.”
Following Stewart and Edwards were Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch.
Other Ford drivers in the top 20 were Matt Kenseth (11th), AJ Allmendinger (18th), David Ragan (19th) and David Gilliland (20th).