BRISTOL, Tenn. - Carl Edwards gave Ford its second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win and led a sweep of the top three spots in capturing Sunday’s rain-delayed Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Edwards led the final 78 laps after crew chief Jimmy Fennig decided to keep him and his No. 99 Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Fusion on the track instead of pitting when Martin Truex Jr. brought out the caution for hitting the wall in turn two.
“When Jimmy said we were gonna stay out I thought, ‘That’s a good idea,’ but then nobody stayed out around us and I thought, ‘Oh boy, that might not be the greatest thing,’ but it turned out to be perfect,” said Edwards after winning his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol. “Our car was just fast or faster than it had been all night after that, so there was no detriment to our performance. It didn’t hurt us in any way staying out and helped with all that track position, so that was good.”
Besides Edwards, fellow Ford drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola employed the same strategy and wound up having a three-way battle to the checkered flag. In the end, both young drivers posted their best career finishes as Stenhouse finished second and Almirola third.
“I was thinking I would use the bumper if the opportunity was there,” said Stenhouse when asked what his plan was if a final restart had taken place and he was forced to battle his Roush Fenway teammate on the final lap. “If you get the win, you’re in the Chase and you can let the rest take care of itself later. That’s what I was really thinking if we went back green.”
Almirola was equally frustrated by the result because he was so close to getting his first series victory.
“It’s frustrating because I had one shot to race Carl for the lead and these races are so hard to win,” said Almirola. “It was a great day for us and I’m not disappointed at all with third, but when you see it and you can taste it and it’s that close, you wonder what could have gone different.”
Topping off the night was Marcos Ambrose, whose fifth-place run gave Richard Petty Motorsports a pair of top-five performances and Ford four of the top five overall.
“These cars go a lot faster around this track than the old style cars and we had to really dig in our feet,” said Ambrose. “The groove went to the very fence and we had to really watch ourselves there and keep adjusting the car all night.”
A race that was delayed over an hour at the start due to rain was halted after 124 laps when more precipitation forced a red flag for 3 hours and 19 minutes. The result was a night race that saw drivers run two and three-wide through the corners as rain continued to threaten and end the event at any moment.
The final twist of the night came in the closing laps as Edwards was on his way to a sure victory, but the caution came out for no known reason with three laps to go. As the cars slowed to prepare for what appeared to be a green-white-checkered finish, rain began falling and NASCAR ended the race under caution.
“After review of the situation post-race, what had happened in the closing laps of the race, it appears that in the flag stand one of the flag people had leaned on the switch that is the manual override for the caution lights,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. “At that time when the flag stand realized that the caution lights were illuminated the flag man threw the flag and then after that happened we froze the field from the tower.”
The end result was a 1-2-3 Ford sweep for the first time since last season when David Ragan, David Gilliland and Edwards took home the top three spots at Talladega. It also marked the first time Ford Racing has won consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races since 2012 when Ambrose and Greg Biffle won back-to-back at Watkins Glen and Michigan.
Brad Keselowski, who was bidding for a second straight win after taking the checkered flag in Las Vegas a week ago, had that opportunity taken away when he was collected in a multi-car accident after Kevin Harvick had some mechanical issues and hit the wall. Even though he was able to nurse his No. 2 Miller Lite Fusion to the finish, he ended up 14th. Still, it was good enough to take over the series points lead by 10 over Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Ford teams will look to make it three in a row when the circuit heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
FORD FINISHING ORDER
1st – Carl Edwards
2nd – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
3rd – Aric Almirola
5th – Marcos Ambrose
12th – Greg Biffle
14th – Brad Keselowski
20th – Joey Logano
22nd – David Gilliland
31st – David Ragan