Carl Edwards won his first race of the season on Sunday, taking the Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Finishing second was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. followed by Kurt Busch, rookie Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne in fifth.
Edwards, who started from the pole position, led for 276 of the race’s 500 laps around the one-half mile oval. He was the fastest when he needed to be, especially at the end. The caution flag flew 15 times for 102 laps, which prevented long periods of close competition.
After the last two caution flags, which came during the final 15 laps, Edwards restarted strong, eventually taking the checkered flag and headed for Victory Lane. But not before doing his patented back flip while standing from the window of his car.
His win automatically qualified him for the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“So many different things happening out there. Different guys were faster at different times,” said Edwards. “But this is awesome. Now we are in the (Sprint Cup) Chase so we can go have some fun.
Sunday’s victory was the fourth at Bristol for the 36-year-old native of Columbia, Missouri. He had six top-five finishes, including three in the top five, during the first seven races this year. It seemed only a matter of time before he earned his first win.
There were some moments of concern. Edwards’ three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, each with strong cars, all had tire problems. Matt Kenseth led for 142 laps, but his problems dropped the former champion to a 35th place finish. Denny Hamlin finished 20th and Kyle Busch 38th. Was Edwards worried?
“There was some concern,” he said, “but for some reason our car did not have those issues.”
Rounding out Sunday’s top ten was Matt Dibenedetto in sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.
Harvick maintained his season points lead, but only by one point over Edwards, 287-286. Jimmie Johnson is third with 271.
Next week the drivers stay on the short tracks with the Toyota Owners 400 at the three-quarter-mile Richmond International Raceway.