Carl Edwards was feeling like he had missed his chance up until the end of the race at Vegas.Ã‚Â After finishing second at Daytona and suffering from an early wreck last week, Edwards felt he had something to prove for himself, for his team, and for his fans.Ã‚Â While Tony Stewart had led the race for the majority of the day, Edwards was working his way through the field quietly, running lap times very close to those of Stewart while he was leading, and a late race pit gaffe penalized Stewart allowing Edwards to get the win.Ã‚Â Taking his first victory for 2011 meant more to Edwards than trophy.Ã‚Â After spending time with the Airmen on Nellis Air Force Basse, Edwards wanted to thank them for all that they do, and all the votes of confidence they gave him.
“This means a lot, coming off Phoenix,” said Edwards, who led the final 23 laps. “After last weekend, I had no clue — I just didn’t know how things were going to go from there. You don’t get a good race car like that very often, but I had another one.”
“I’ve got to thank the Air Force, the Thunderbirds. They let me fly with them on Thursday, and this trophy is going over there in that hangar (a reference to nearby Nellis Air Force Base). They taught me a lot about discipline and about believing in what you do. I can’t thank them enough.”
Tony Stewart was the story for most of the race however.Ã‚Â After qualifying 15th Stewart only took 23 laps to get to the front, and then he never left it.Ã‚Â After leading for 127 of 150 laps he came in under caution for his regularly scheduled pit stop. But when he started out of his pit box, the air wrench was still attached and he was forced to serve a pass-through penalty for dragging equipment that put him on the tail end of the lead lap.
“I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back, and unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us,” said Stewart.
On the next caution Stewart’s team made the call for a 2 tire stop to regain track position, and Stewart showed everybody that his car was fast no matter how many tires you put on it.Ã‚Â After regaining the lead and getting back out front he pulled away and led the field until the final round of green flag stops.Ã‚Â Stewart now needed 4 tires as he had too many laps on his left sides.Ã‚Â Taking 4 tires and fuel proved costly.Ã‚Â With a pit stop time of barely 13 seconds, Edwards took only 2 tires and gained more than 6 second in the pits giving him a 4 second lead over Stewart.Ã‚Â Stewart gained on Edwards in the final laps pulling to within 2 seconds but there just was not enough time for Stewart to retake the lead.
Stewart was understandably and visibly upset after the race feeling like thy had given the race away.
“It showed everybody else that they could do it, too, and we couldn’t run two-and-a-half runs on a set of left-side tires,” Stewart said. “I honestly think we had the car to beat [Sunday], we just gave it away. The fastest thing on the planet and gave it away.”
” Darian (Grubb – Crew Chief for the #14 of Tony Stewart)Ã‚Â made a good call getting us the track position back, but it also showed everybody else that they could do it, too, and we couldn’t run two-and-a-half runs on a set of left-side tires.”
“It kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven’t won at yet,” Stewart said. “This was a big deal [Sunday], and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it, you … I’m sure [Monday] when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend, but it does not sit good right now.”
Edwards felt for Stewart, as much as competitors can, and pondered the penalty.
“I didn’t know exactly what the penalty was, but I knew and my guys knew that those kinds of things can just ruin your day. Even if you don’t have the fastest pit stop, we always try to do everything we can not to get penalties, but it’s tough,” Edwards said.
Stewart wasn’t the only one who suffered from Pit Road problems however.Ã‚Â Greg Biffle in the #16 Ford had started out in the top 4 but when a fueling issue caused him to run out of gas on the track, he fell behind the pace and ended up a lap down, never to recover.
Matt Kenseth, who had started from the pole, suffered from a cut tire on lap 13 and never got back to the leap lap until getting a Lucky Dog free pass on lap 201 which gave him his lap back for being the highest scored car 1 lap down.
While both Kurt and Kyle Busch had run up near the front, both suffered on the track at various points in the race.Ã‚Â First Kyle Bucsh hit the wall after cutting right front tire, and shortly after that his engine exploded in a spectacular ball of flames ending his chances for the day.Ã‚Â “On the restart there [on Lap 107], I was going to bide my time and try to get back through traffic with plenty of time to go, and ‘kablooey’ — it just broke,” Busch said.
Kurt Busch spun midway through the 267 laps at Las Vegas, his hometown track, after which he never recovered his rhythm and finished in 9th place, allowing Stewart to gain enough points on him to tie for the points lead.
Dale Earnhardt Jr showed that the off season changes within Hendrick’s Motorsports have certainly been having an effect.Ã‚Â After 2 weeks of solid runs Jr finished in 8th place which gained him enough points to move into 12th in points.