There's a first time for everything, and Carl Edwards found that out on Sunday at Sonoma as he won his first race on a road course in California.
Edwards outlasted several other strong drivers like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both of whom were contending for the sixth straight victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Edwards' backflip was, of course, perfection, with him waving the checkered flag after the huge victory:
The win also comes on the heels of reports that he'll be leaving the Roush Fenway team after this season, per Tom Jensen of Fox Sports. If this is indeed his final year with the team, he's certainly making the most of it.
It was the second first-place finish of the season for Edwards, but his first ever at Sonoma after finishing third at the course last year. Jeff Gluck of USA Today noted Edwards' prior excellence at the track, having come up short on more than one occasion:
Edwards led a resounding 26 laps of the 110 in the race, as he really separated himself down the final stretch. The Roush Fenway Racing driver started from the fourth position, contending for the lead throughout.
For Earnhardt Jr., the race was a major success. The Hendrick driver has never made his presence felt on road courses, but put together his most impressive performance at Sonoma, as Hendrick mentioned:
With the lone race at Sonoma in the books, here's a look at the final results, Sprint Cup standings and recap from the race. Full race results can be found on NASCAR.com.
|Save Mart 350 Results|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||0|
|2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||555||2||8||11|
The first road-course race of the season started off with several big names contending for the lead, but saw many of those top drivers run into problems.
Brad Keselowski, who came into the race sixth in points with a win and seven top-five finishes, was one of the drivers who had early issues. He voiced his displeasure with his car:
The 2012 Sprint Cup champion continued to fall off the pace, finishing outside of the top 20 for only the fourth time this season.
While Keselowski isn't typically a powerhouse on the road courses, Jeff Gordon came into Sunday's race with five wins at Sonoma and a streak of eight straight top 10s at the track. The Hendrick driver started the race from the 15th position and climbed up near the top 10 early in the race.
But Gordon wasn't happy with his No. 24 machine, either:
Gordon would ultimately recover from his woes to start the race, finishing one behind the leader. The second-place finish marked yet another strong run from the prolific road-course racer but wouldn't be good enough to earn him a sixth victory at the track.
One of Gordon's teammates also played a significant role in the final result. Earnhardt Jr., who recently won at Pocono, was involved in a wreck that left Matt Kenseth out of contention late in the action.
Earnhardt took ownership of the accident and spoke about the wreck, per NASCAR:
Fox Sports: NASCAR and NASCAR Stats provide more information on the crash:
While Kenseth was stuck with a DNF, another driver who has been great on road courses saw his day take a turn for the worse.
Clint Bowyer, who led five laps during the race, was spun out by pole-sitter Jamie McMurray on Lap 81. The spin drew a yellow flag along with a furious reaction from Bowyer, per Jenna Fryer of The Associated Press and Richard Allen of RacingWithRich.com:
A few other drivers would see their day end prematurely, including Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Following the opening road-course race of the season, the Sprint Cup drivers now head back to an oval in Kentucky Speedway. The 1.5-mile track has been dominated by racers like Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Kenseth in recent seasons.
Each of those racers has dominated Kentucky over the last three years with a combined 428 laps led. Though he hasn't won, Jimmie Johnson has held the lead for 203 laps at Kentucky and has not finished outside of the top 10 at the track during that same span.
The Sprint Cup will see a much more familiar look at the oval track, along with many of the top names in the sport contending for a win.