What a difference one week can make. After having a potential winning car at Phoenix get destroyed, Carl Edwards proved himself to be ever the opportunist. Claiming the lead on the final round of green-flag pit stops, he led the last 22 laps to win the Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday afternoon (March 6) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Edwards held off a hard-charging (and dominant) Tony Stewart in the closing stages to earn the victory.
“The key to winning today was my team, my Ford team, these guys are unbelievable,” Edwards said. “It’s just a joy to drive these racecars right now.”
That elation was matched by Stewart’s anger, upset over a race victory that slipped away on pit road. Leading 163 laps, his No. 14 Chevy was easily the class of the field but saw its race fall apart after a penalty for having an air hose dragged outside of his pit box. After a stop-and-go with 112 laps left, the team was forced to gamble and take two tires on a subsequent caution to retake the lead.
The race’s final restart, with 65 to go saw Stewart power ahead and build a five-second advantage at one point; however, their last pit stop necessitated four tires, losing precious seconds in the pits while Edwards took two, reclaimed the top spot and held on up front.
“I honestly think we had the car to beat today, [but] we just gave it away,” Stewart said. “I mean, I just – it kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven’t won at yet. This was a big deal today and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it, you – I’m sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend, but just man, it does not sit good right now.”
Sixth through 10th were Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch – who recovered from an early spin to finish a respectable ninth – and Brian Vickers, who bounced back from a disastrous first two weeks of the season with a solid top-10 finish.
Ford’s fourth win in the last five Sprint Cup races would seem to be no surprise after Fusions took the top-four spots in qualifying. Matt Kenseth led the field to green, swapping the lead with Greg Biffle and Stewart early before being forced to make a pit stop over a flat tire. He never recovered after that, with Stewart dominating in place of the No. 17 while Biffle suffered with his own issues – refueling problems left him running out of gas at one point, dropping three laps down to the field.
After the two quick yellows, the race took a green-flag feel. Green flag pit-stops started on lap 50 and after everything cycled out on lap 62, Stewart re-took the lead with Kyle Busch in second, Biffle in third (pre-fueling problem), Kurt Busch in fourth and Montoya rounding out the top five.
On lap 97, the third caution of the race came out due to debris from Kyle Busch’s car after he made contact with the turn 4 wall after having a flat tire. The leaders came in for pitstops and Stewart again came out first with Montoya, Biffle, Kurt Busch and Gordon rounding out the top five. On the restart, Kurt Busch spun along with Kasey Kahne in a separate incident. Amazingly, both cars avoided catastrophe and continued on their way.
Six laps later, on lap 108 one half of the hometown heroes, Kyle Busch, had his engine detonate in turn 2, leading to his chariot becoming a chariot of fire. At the time of the caution, the top five was Stewart, Biffle, Edwards, Montoya and Kevin Harvick. Shortly after that misfortunate event, on lap 150, caution number six came out when David Gilliland slammed hard into the turn 3 wall after a blown tire.
The stage was set for pit stops and the complexion of the race would undertake a different tone as not only was Harvick penalized for being too fast exiting pit road, but race leader Stewart endured his penalty as well. That passed the lead to Edwards with Truex, Montoya, Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard rounding out the top five at that point.
At lap 193, the number seven proved to be an unlucky number for last week’s winner Gordon as he blew a right-front tire in turn 3, which set up another round of pit stops. And in a city long familiar with gambling, Stewart took a two-tire gamble on his stop and took the lead with Montoya second, Truex Jr. third, Edwards fourth and Earnhardt Jr. fifth. The final round of pit strategy followed under green; over the last 22 laps, Stewart would try valiantly to catch Edwards, but fell short to the former substitute teacher despite his best efforts.
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