It was a wild weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway five years ago that catapulted Carl Edwards into the NASCAR spotlight.
Another career-changing moment at Hampton, Ga., couldn’t hurt this weekend.
Early in his first full season driving the No. 99 Ford, Edwards rolled into the 2005 March race weekend at Atlanta and left with a sweep of the races in NASCAR’s top two divisions – his first victories in what are now the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series.
“Five years ago, that weekend was really huge and changed my whole career,” Edwards recalled Saturday. “Every time I come through the tunnel I remember that and it gives me a really good feeling.”
Edwards is winless since the 2008 season finale.
Edwards put himself in good position for his first victory of 2010. He ran well during both of the day’s practices and qualified fourth for tonight’s Emory Healthcare 500.
Denny Hamlin, who is tied with Jimmie Johnson with the most Cup wins this season (five apiece), won the pole, his first of the season.
Jamie McMurray’s first win of the season is making Kyle Busch wait for another try at Nationwide Series history.
McMurray held off Busch to win the Great Clips 300 Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch, trying to become the first driver in the 28-year history of the Nationwide Series to win 11 races in a season, fell short in his late efforts to catch McMurray. Busch led the most laps but finished second, ahead of Edwards and less than a second behind McMurray.
McMurray won for the first time since 2004 in Darlington.
Helio Castroneves crossed the finish line in front.
This time it counted.
The IndyCar star won the Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway at Sparta, Ky., driving the final 53 laps on one tank of fuel around the 1.5-mile oval and taking advantage when the leaders were forced to make last-second pit stops to fill up.
Pole-sitter Ed Carpenter was second, followed by Dan Wheldon, Tony Kannan and Dario Franchitti. Series points leader Will Power led 82 laps but slipped to eighth after a late-race slip.
Power’s bobble allowed Franchitti to draw within 17 points with two races to go in the season.
The victory was the first for Castroneves since taking the checkered flag in Alabama in April.
The three-time Indy 500 winner was fined $60,000 following a postrace outburst in Edmonton in July, where he was penalized for blocking late in the race.
Officials ordered Castroneves to the back after ruling. He stayed in front instead, crossing the finish line first even as the flagman withheld the checkers until Scott Dixon crossed moments later.
The normally ebullient Castroneves lost his cool in the aftermath, striking a security official.
This time, Castroneves and the same official hugged after Castroneves collected the 24th victory of his IndyCar career.
Mann wins one for women
Pippa Mann became the second female driver to win an Indy Lights race, dominating the 100-mile event at Kentucky Speedway.
Mann started from the pole and led all 67 laps to pick up her first career win, beating James Hinchcliffe by 6.83 seconds. Series points leader J.K. Vernay was third.
The 27-year-old Mann joins Ana Beatriz as the only female drivers to win in IndyCar’s main development series. Beatriz won at Iowa and Nashville in 2009.