Carl Edwards had been grinding for 30 laps, doing everything he could to catch Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a two-way breakaway from the pack at Richmond (Virginia) International Raceway.
When he finally caught him on the last lap Sunday, and in the final turn, he had no time to think about what would be the prudent thing to do. Instead, Edwards focused on the reason they are racing: to win.
Edwards bumped his sometimes-volatile teammate off his racing line in the last turn and passed him to win his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, and the fourth in a row for the Gibbs racing stable.
NASCAR said it was the first last-lap pass for a victory in the history of the premier series at the track, a span of 120 races.
“I wish it was anybody but my teammate that we had to race like that with, but big picture to me is we’ve both got some wins, we’re in the Chase, and it’s fun to have to race your teammate for the win,” Edwards said. “If the roles were reversed, I would have expected him to bump me the same way.”
Then in a bid to throw a bone to Busch, whose car was sponsored by Banfield Pet Hospital, he said: “If my cat ever gets sick, I don’t care how much it costs, I will take it to the Banfield Pet Hospital, if that helps.”
Gibbs said there’s no game plan for how to handle the next team meeting.
“What you do is you just start out and work your way through it, and that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Edwards, who had fallen nearly 1.5 seconds behind after a restart with 36 laps to go, gradually ran Busch down, catching him on the final lap. Then he slipped underneath Busch, a master blocker in late-race situations, and nudged him just enough to allow Edwards to get inside him for his second consecutive victory. It was also the fourth in a row for the Gibbs stable, and fifth in nine races.
“Kyle’s an amazing teammate and it’s like he got really slow there at the end,” Edwards said. “Something happened that last lap, it’s like his rear tires went off or something, and he went down into (Turn) One and I dove it in and I got to him, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got something here.’ Then he went to get down to the bottom to park it in three and four and I’d already decided to go down there, so I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to give him a little nudge.’
“We’ve both got wins. We’re racing for fun and getting these trophies. Just an awesome day.”
After falling so far behind, Edwards was surprised to find himself in position to challenge for the victory.
“Man, I didn’t think we had anything. Kyle was just so good for that run. I was just doing everything I could. He never spun his tires,” he said. “If Dave (crew chief Rogers) hadn’t screamed at me to just go get him, I don’t know if I would have dove it in there that hard.”
Busch seemed less than amused after being denied his third victory in the last four races.
“We just kind of gave it up a little bit there on the last lap, but I guess that’s racing and we move on,” he said. “… We had a really great car. … We were fast, maybe not as good as Carl was on the long runs, but we did everything right, everything we were supposed to do.”
Jimmie Johnson finished third, follow by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick. Gibbs placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, with Denny Hamlin sixth and Matt Kenseth seventh.
The race was the first scheduled for during the day at Richmond since 1997, and the racing made a huge fan of Johnson.
“We had multiple lanes that laid the rubber in the race track and we didn’t have all those marbles built up on the outside, where it really limited your opportunities up high,” he said. “It was fun. The cars were slipping and sliding; there was a ton of fall-off. I enjoyed the long runs. I really like sizing-up guys that I’m racing with and seeing how that works out. And then, at the end we had a bunch of short runs.”
Kahne was trying to hang on to a good finish at the end and missed the drama ahead of him.
“I didn’t watch. I wish I would have. It sounded like a great battle,” he said.
Edwards dominated the first half of the race, leading 120 of the first 200 laps, and he continued to lead until Kevin Harvick slipped underneath him with 170 laps to go. Edwards faded for a time, but wound up leading seven times for a race-high 151 laps. The race featured 23 lead changes, the most here since 2007.
Seven other drivers also led, with Busch, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Johnson also leading for at least 44 laps.
Simon Pagenaud led most of the way and overcame late contact with Graham Rahal to win at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, for his second straight IndyCar victory.
The Frenchman lost the lead briefly after contact with Rahal and was attempting to work past him outside on Turn 15. Rahal appeared to clip Jack Hawksworth, who was a lap down, and his left front wing fell onto the track. He managed to recover and hold off defending champion Josef Newgarden to finish second.
But Rahal couldn’t challenge Pagenaud again.
“I thought he (Hawksworth) was going to stay out and I just came across and just clipped him there,” Rahal said. “He was going to let us by.”
Points leader Pagenaud started on the pole and led 84 of the 90 laps at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but had to overcome a dustup with Rahal, who was trying to give Honda its first win of the year.
Team Penske’s Pagenaud appeared to inch over in an attempt to block Rahal, who made contact with the Frenchman’s right rear with eight laps to go. Pagenaud, who also won last week at Long Beach, went into the grass before working his way back to the front.
“Nice block,” was Rahal’s assessment after seeing a replay.
Race stewards apparently agreed. They reviewed the contact and didn’t impose any penalties.
Rahal had managed to stay in contention despite already driving with a damaged right wing. He did lead six laps after Honda drivers had only managed 18 up front in the first three races.
It’s the fourth time a Team Penske driver has won at the Alabama road course. Two-time winner Will Power was fourth and 2010 champion Helio Castroneves was seventh.
It’s also the track where Pagenaud made his IndyCar debut in 2011, jump-starting his career with a Top 10 finish. His mother, Sylvie, was at the track to witness his win. Pagenaud was second in both of the races he didn’t win this year.
Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya made a huge early move after starting last in the 21-team field, finishing fifth.
Scott Dixon was turned sideways early by Sebastien Bourdais, who received a drive-through penalty. Dixon wound up 10th, his first time failing to manage a podium finish at Barber Motorsports.
Brittany Force raced to her second Top Fuel victory of the season at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Concord, North Carolina, becoming the first female driver to win the unique event.
Force held off the two-time defending race winner Antron Brown, along with Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican, at zMAX Dragway. Force powered her dragster to a final-round performance of 3.764 seconds at 319.98 mph, while defending season champion Brown finished second at 3.779 at 316.75.
Force, the winner last month in Gainesville, Florida, for her first career victory, is the daughter of Funny Car star John Force.
Tim Wilkerson won in Funny Car, Jason Line in Pro Stock, and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle in the distinctive event where teams compete in a four-lane format.
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