LAS VEGAS – Carl Edwards is off to the best start of his career, and credits “a gift” 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. Edwards crew chief Bob Osborne took note of what Stewart was doing, then used it to get his own driver into Victory Lane.
“That car was spectacular. He did a really good job driving it, too,” Edwards said of Stewart. “That was really a gift for us for him to have that penalty. It may have been the difference in the race there.”
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.
“We had the fastest thing on the planet today and we just gave it away,” Stewart said. “It kills me to throw away a race like that.”
Edwards was second in the season-opening Daytona 500, 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 is now third in the Sprint Cup Series standings, three points out of the lead.
“This is the best start to a season that I’ve ever had,” he said. “That’s three different types of racetracks with success on all three, so I’m really excited.”
Stewart wasn’t 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 Sunday’s 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.
“That’s not in my makeup,” said Stewart.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third and was followed by Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.