The Sprint Cup Series’ first venture to a road course this season did produce an unexpected winner, but not a new one.
And the victory could not have come at a better time.
One week after Roush Fenway Racing put in one of its most disappointing performances of the year at Michigan, it celebrated the highest of highs with a trip to Victory Lane in wine country.
Carl Edwards outdueled Jeff Gordon over the final seven laps and held on to win Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, earning his first career victory on a road course.
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“From my perspective, what I see as a driver is just everybody working very hard and we get the results on the days when we can, but I hope it picks up the organization a little bit from last week because that was really the low point of the season in my opinion,” said Edwards.
“I grew up watching Jeff Gordon and specifically watching how he drove this race track and all the success he’s had here – this win is something I’ll never forget.”
Last week’s struggles are not likely to be forgotten any time soon, either.
None of Roush’s three drivers – Edwards, Greg Biffle or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished in the top-10 at Michigan, which hasn’t happened since June 2000 on a track where Roush has a record 13 victories.
Edwards is the only one of the three to have won a race this season. His two wins now lock him into this season’s Chase but the Chase is dominated by tracks on which Roush has struggled this season.
“We’ve been racing and trying to improve our mile-and-a-half program and we’ve been working really hard at it,” said Jimmy Fennig, Edwards’ crew chief.
“To have two wins right now and be locked in (the Chase) feels good.”
For much of the first half of the race, it appeared the win would be decided between A.J. Allmendinger and Kevin Harvick.
Harvick led 26 laps and was still in contention for the win when he was collected in an accident with Clint Bowyer on Lap 82.
Allmendinger led 35 of the first 53 laps but was taken out of contention on Lap 86 in an incident on a restart involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers. He ended up finishing two laps down.
It was on that restart where Edwards, who was running second, bolted past Marcos Ambrose to take the lead for the first and only time.
He successfully held off a challenge from Jamie McMurray on another restart and then worked hard to stave off a fast-approaching Gordon on the final laps.
“I wish I could have those last five or six laps to do over again,” said Gordon, who has five career wins at Sonoma. “It looked like Carl’s car really started falling off those last couple laps and I might have had a shot at least putting more pressure on him to make a mistake.
“Our car was great and I felt confident it was going to be in the race. It was exciting when they dropped the green to have a car like that.”
Edwards said he knew he was running out of time as the race closed.
“I’m glad it was a 110-lap race and not 111,” he said. “It would have been a tough last lap if we had to go one more.”
Earnhardt finished third – a career-best at Sonoma – McMurray was fourth and Paul Menard was fifth.
Gordon continues to lead the series standings and holds a 20-point advantage over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
“It was a fun race, a tough one – certainly tough for the guys making the calls in the pits,” Gordon said. “The cars drove unbelievable on new tires and you just felt like King Kong – just because you could drive it so aggressively.”