NASCAR: Kobalt Tools 400
By Jenna Fryer
LAS VEGAS ó Carl Edwards is off to the best start of his career, and credits ěa giftî from Tony Stewart for his first win of the season.
Stewart had the dominant car Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but had to shuffle his strategy when a penalty on pit road crippled his chances. Edwardsí crew chief Bob Osborne took note of what Stewart was doing, then used it to get his own driver into Victory Lane.
ěThat car was spectacular. He did a really good job driving it, too,î Edwards said of Stewart. ěThat was really a gift for us for him to have that penalty. It may have been the difference in the race there.î
Stewart was the leader when he was penalized for leaving his pit stall with the air hose still attached to his Chevrolet. Crew chief Darian Grubb had to call for a two-tire stop to get Stewart back into the lead, the entire field saw it work, and Stewart was backed into a corner.
He had to take four tires on his final stop, most everyone else took two, and the longer time spent on pit road shuffled him too far back to make it back to the front.
Edwards, in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, pulled away for the win, while Stewart, who dropped to 22nd after the four-tire stop, was unable to chase him down and finished second.
ěWe had the fastest thing on the planet today and we just gave it away,î Stewart said. ěIt kills me to throw away a race like that.î
Thatís how Edwards felt the last two weeks.
Edwards believed he should have won the first two races of the season, and had a hard time shaking the disappointment of not getting to Victory Lane before he arrived at Las Vegas. He was second in the season-opening Daytona 500 ó he called winner Trevor Bayne to ask what he could have done differently on the last lap ó then was certain he had the race-winning car last week at Phoenix before he was wrecked by Kyle Busch.
The win on Sunday, his second victory at Las Vegas and the 19th of his career, now has many thinking Edwards is a solid championship contender. He closed last season with wins in the final two races, and is now third in the Sprint Cup Series standings, three points out of the lead.
ěThis is the best start to a season that Iíve ever had,î he said. ěYou know, Daytona could have gone any way. But Phoenix, that was a very strong performance from everyone. They had a little bit of bad luck there. Today, I felt like we had a solid top three car all day. Thatís three different types of racetracks with success on all three, so Iím really excited.î
Stewart wasnít thinking about the big picture Sunday after finishing second to Edwards despite leading a race-high 163 laps.
Stewart was in second place on the final restart of the Daytona 500, but faded to a 13th-place finish. He then led 59 laps last week in Phoenix, only to finish seventh. Although Sundayís run moved him into the lead of the Sprint Cup Series standings, he was unable to take much solace in knowing he had cars capable of winning the first three races of the season.
ěThatís not in my makeup,î said Stewart, who was trying to cross Las Vegas off the list of only two active tracks where heís yet to win a Cup race.
ěThis was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car thatís that fast and you lose it ó Iím sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down weíll look back and say it was a great weekend, but just, man, it does not sit good right now.î
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third and was followed by Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. Denny Hamlin was seventh, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 10.
It was a rough day for most of the contenders, starting with pole-sitter Matt Kensethís flat tire early in the race.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch also had an early tire problem while running second to Stewart, and an engine failure ended his race and sent him to a 38th-place finish.