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Edwards Enjoys Reliving Old Times With Old Pals

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 12 2012

Carl Edwards remembered how to secure a Nationwide Series checkered flag after Saturday's race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Relegated to the role of spectator, Carl Edwards reported that he was warmly greeted in the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage as the weekend began at Watkins Glen International.

“We haven’t been on the track yet, so they’re all pretty happy to see me. So that’s good,” Edwards joked Friday morning. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Turns out Edwards had a blast Saturday afternoon, when he reintroduced himself via a victory in the 18th annual Zippo 200. Edwards pulled-off a rare outside pass against archrival Brad Keselowski barreling uphill through Turn 2 of WGI’s signature esses on Lap 73; lost the lead to Keselowski on Lap 76 and regained the point for good after the pair raced side-by-side on Lap 77.

A caution triggered by Austin Dillon from Laps 78-80 set up a two-lap shootout to the checkers, with Edwards maintaining the lead en route to his first series victory around WGI’s 2.45-mile/11-turn layout. Driver of the No. 60 Subway Ford Mustang, Edwards notched his 38th career series victory in 245 starts to break out of a third-place tie with Kevin Harvick on the all-time wins list.

Edwards also logged the first NNS win for team founder/co-owner Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing at the historic facility, while Scott Graves walked into Victory Circle in his debut as NNS crew chief.

“This win means a lot,” said Edwards, who finished 1.130-seconds ahead of Keselowski. “I’m really glad that Jack and Ford and Subway and everyone put this together so that I could run this car. Scott did a great job with the car. We had virtually no practice (one lap in the rain Friday) and it almost qualified on the pole (second Saturday) and won the race.”

Twenty events into the 2012 schedule, Edwards admitted he missed competing fulltime in Nationwide.

“I’ve missed it a little more than I thought I would,” Edwards said Friday, as a steady rain blanketed the Finger Lakes Region. “Overall, I miss racing with those guys on Saturdays. I miss the group of people that are over there in that garage and one thing I’m really excited about is getting to race with some of the guys that I haven’t really raced with much. I’ve been watching a lot this year and watching guys that are really doing well. I’m excited to see how I stack-up against them, so there’s a little bit of nostalgia and a little bit of excitement racing with new folks.”

As it played out, Edwards spent much of the 82-lapper racing against Sprint Cup stalwarts Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Edwards and Keselowski managed to keep their emotions in-check, right to the last lap. “I missed a shift coming to the white flag – a downshift – and he (Keselowski) got next to me and then we battled off the corner,” said Edwards, the 2007 NNS champion. “It might have actually helped me in the end, but I had fun racing with him and Kyle.”

Keselowski, who led a race-high four times for 44 laps, was followed across the line by pole-sitter and Penske

The Flip returned to the Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. Roush Fenway rising star Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth with road-racing veteran Ron Fellows rounding out the top-five.

Edwards’ pass for the lead on the restart on Lap 73 was executed within three laps after he stood sixth on the grid following a caution for debris in the inner loop.

“We went down into Turn 1, so I decided – if anything – I was going to be a little too aggressive down there and Brad gave me enough room on the exit to run beside him,” said Edwards, who led a total of nine laps. “He didn’t run me off the racetrack, which was really nice, and I was just able to hang on the outside of him and get around him in that first ess. That was a good start.

“The starts here are very difficult because you drive down into that first turn and it’s downhill. Everyone is fighting for the bottom. You’re all going through the gears and it’s probably hard watching to realize that none of us don’t have any practice going into Turn 1 at that speed. We’re used to going in at race pace, so you really have to pick your braking points very carefully and that one worked out really well.”

As disappointed as he was with second, Keselowski said he exited his No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger “proud of the day.”

“Good, hard racing. Nothing wrong,” said Keselowski, the 2010 Nationwide champion for team-owner Roger Penske. “The restarts are the best chances to make a pass. We definitely had one of the fastest cars out here. A lot of fun when you have fast cars. I learned a lot. I kind of feel like I gave away a little bit of a win. I’m banking on nice-guy points on that one.

“Obviously, he (Edwards) missed the last left-hander. He struggled to get into that corner. I was really strong there and pulled up to his outside door. I went into (Turn 11) and Carl was outside and he got loose, came up the track and hit me. That kind of took away all my momentum. I didn’t have a chance at it from there.”

Edwards opted to not run NNS this year after winning eight events in 2011 while finishing in a points tie with Tony Stewart at the conclusion of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff. Stewart earned his third championship on the basis of more victories.

“This was the first time Carl felt like it was worthwhile for him to run a Nationwide car this year,” Roush said. “Running the two practices – Nationwide and Cup – was really hard on him and hard on (wife) Kate, I think, for what he would carry home at night. So anyway, this was a rare opportunity to have Carl in a Nationwide car. This is Scott Graves’ first role as a crew chief, as far as I know. So he has a perfect win success record as a crew chief.”

Graves, who began his career at RFR six and-a-half years ago on the engineering side, said he jumped at the opportunity to work with Edwards. “I was a little nervous to start, but I think as I got through the race and got comfortable with just the things you’re supposed to do as a crew chief – talking on the radio and trying to make some of the decisions – I definitely started to come into it and enjoy it a little bit more. I would absolutely love to have the chance to do this more.”

Hornish confirmed that his No. 12 PPG Dodge was bad-fast, the better to contend with interlopers like Cousin Carl, Keselowski and Busch.

“You have some of the best guys in the business, plus the points don’t matter to them,” Hornish said, “so you have a double threat with them. The restarts were the biggest thing. Just trying to get through the restarts, I felt like we probably gave up a few positions here and there just trying to be overly cautious. That’s what you have to do.”

Earlier, Sudden Sam won his first Coors Light Pole Award in 54 Nationwide starts with a lap of 72.027-seconds and 122.454 mph.

“I felt like today was the day that we were going to have an opportunity to gain on the championship point lead,” said Hornish, who began the race fourth in the driver standings and 34 points behind leader Elliott Sadler. “When we have days like this and we can be smart about the things that we do, it always helps to have a good-handling race car to allow you to do that.

“We want to win races but we know we need to get top-fives and be consistent before that happens. You don’t need to win every race to win the championship. You just have to be smart and that’s what we’ve done so far.” Hornish now sits third in the championship, 24 points behind Sadler.

Edwards also took a moment to apologize for contact that sent Joey Logano into the spin cycle, a mishap that resulted in a 22nd-place finish for the No. 18 GameStop/BuyMyTronics.com Toyota Camry.

“I was just doing everything I could to get the position in Turn 7 and I got up beside of him and I expected him to know that I was there,” said Edwards, whose winning average speed was 91.100 mph. “I don’t think he knew I was there and he turned down from the bottom. I hate it that he spun around. I’m sure it hurt his day, but we were just racing as hard as we could there.”

Logano, a five-time NNS winner this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, declined post-race comment.

Points-wise, Stenhouse’s fourth-place result allowed him to move from third to second in the standings, 13 points behind leader Sadler (783-770). Stenhouse began the day in third, 21 points behind the leader. Sadler finished 12th in the No. 2 Charter Chevrolet Impala while Dillon and his damaged No. 3 Advocare Chevy wound up 23rd. Dillon slipped to fourth, 29 points behind the leader.

“Yeah, that’s what we wanted to do, is finish ahead of those guys,” said Stenhouse, driver of the No. 6 Ford EcoBoost Mustang. “Really, we were trying to come out with minimal points lost but we ended up gaining a few and getting a top-five on a road-course. That’s huge.”

Meanwhile, Edwards’ most recent NNS win – and trademark back-flip – occurred at Charlotte Motor Speedway last fall, 23 races ago. “The back-flip…I was a little nervous about because I hadn’t done one of those in a while,” said Edwards, who likely would have had points deducted by the Chinese judge in London for a slight hop out of his landing. “I had to stop and think, ‘OK, feet-over-head. Look at the ground.’ I’ve been watching the Olympics, but that doesn’t really seem to help when you have to do it yourself.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 12 2012
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