Pit strategy propels Edwards to win
By Mike Harris
LONG POND, Pa. ó Rain was falling, and the cars were parked on pit road with Carl Edwards in 22nd place. Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne were arguing heatedly on top of the team’s pit box.
Not the most likely formula for winning a race.
Edwards and several other race leaders had pitted minutes earlier after rain began falling on lap 127 of the 200-lap Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway. Nineteen other drivers, taking a gamble on the possibility of a rain-shortened race, had stayed on the track.
“The argument came from when it started raining real hard, then we were trying to blame one another for the idea of coming (onto pit road),” Edward said. “Bob said it was my idea, and I really felt like it was his idea. I had to leave the pit box because I was worried Bob was going to, like, punch me in the neck or something.
“I had to walk away. But, personally, I feel like we have a good relationship. We can be perfectly honest with one another, and that’s really valuable.”
It all worked out fine this time, with the race resuming after a 41-minute red flag and Edwards and Osborne winning the gamble ó whoever’s idea it was.
Edwards was able to stretch his last tank of fuel to earn his fourth victory of the season, second only to series points leader Kyle Busch’s seven wins.
“I was really nervous that we made the wrong call there,” Edwards said after doing his traditional victory backflip off his car. “Bob’s the smartest guy in the world. We were really arguing. We made light of it, but we thought we made the wrong call.”
Osborne said it’s common for him and Edwards to argue.
“We get mad at each other,” Osborne said. “We walk away and then we walk back together and calmer heads prevail and we have a discussion. Ninety-nine percent of the time it works out for us.”
The race started in sunshine, and it appeared Mark Martin, who took the lead from pole-winner Jimmie Johnson at the start and took control, would be the driver to beat all day.
But Martin had problems on two pit stops that put him back into the pack and then dark clouds began moving in, changing some strategies.
Edwards and several other leaders ducked onto pit road shortly after the rain began falling. Others, led by June Pocono winner Kasey Kahne and Martin, who led a race-high 55 laps, stayed out to gain track positon, waiting to see if the rain might end the race prematurely.
Four laps later, the red flag came out.
“We were going for the win,” Kahne said. “If it keeps raining, we win. It didn’t and we got seventh.”
But, despite more threatening clouds and a few raindrops later in the event, the racing continued and Edwards found himself back on top for good when Martin, the last of the drivers on the alternate strategy, had to finally pit on lap 187.
Then Edwards, who made his final stop at the end of lap 166, just had to worry if he had enough gas to get to the end.
Edwards inherited a 5.6-second lead and built it to more than 7 seconds as Osborne kept telling his driver on the radio to take it easy and save fuel. He did ease up over the last few laps and made it easily, beating Tony Stewart by almost 4 seconds ó half the front straightaway on the 2.5-mile trioval.
Stewart and third-place finisher Johnson, coming off a victory last week in Indianapolis, were both on the same strategy as Edwards. Johnson was one of several drivers who coasted across the finish line, out of gas.
Kevin Harvick, who crashed with Joe Nemechek on the first lap, came back to finish fourth, just ahead of David Ragan.
Martin finished eighth.
The victory vaulted Edwards from fifth to third in the season standings, trailing only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, who also leads with seven victories. Busch made a gas stop on lap 199 and fell from fourth to 36th, the last driver on the lead lap. But he still owns a 176-point lead over Earnhardt, who finished 12th.
With only five races remaining until the start of the Chase for the championship, Harvick jumped from 13th to 11th, switching places with former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, who finished 11th Sunday. The top 12 drivers are eligible for the 10-race Chase.