All afternoon long, Carl Edwards saw his Joe Gibbs Racing compatriots smack their cars off walls. Tires were blowing to the point where it felt like his own right fronts were ticking time bombs.
Somehow, Edwards kept things together and backflipped his way into Victory Lane in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The No. 19 car led 276 of a possible 500 laps after starting on the pole. It's Edwards' 26th win of his career and his first of 2016.
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
NASCAR provided the requisite backflip:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, his third time already this season coming one spot short of a win. Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five. One of the most notable finishes of the day was from the relatively unheralded Matt DiBenedetto, who took pride in his sixth-place outing, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Jimmie Johnson moved into first place in the point standings despite finishing 23rd. Johnson is in third place in total points but remains ahead of Kevin Harvick and Edwards thanks to his two wins so far in 2016. Harvick, who leads in overall points, came in seventh place for his seventh top-10 finish of the year.
|8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||250||0|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||214||0|
A week after earning his second win of the season and moving to the top of the standings, Kyle Busch earned his first DNF (did not finish) of 2016. Busch blew a right-front tire on Lap 52 and Lap 260, the latter sending him into the wall and behind the pit box for good. He was also involved in an incident on Lap 117 when Chris Buescher spun him out.
NASCAR's official feed provided a look at Busch's crash:
“We just kept getting tighter in the long run,” Busch said, per Tom Jensen of Fox Sports. “Not sure why that was. We had a really great car yesterday; fastest in practice and felt really good about things for today. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports offered a proper categorization:
The race also proved miserable for Matt Kenseth, who had a car to beat before his own tire issues cropped up. Kenseth led 142 laps early on before his day fell apart. He smacked the wall while leading on Lap 187 and then did it again later in the race, effectively ending his day. It was a comedy of errors for Joe Gibbs Racing on Sunday, as their setups appeared fast but their tires seemed made of paper mache.
Kenseth was frustrated back in the garage area, per Rea White of Sporting News:
We just keep blowing right front tires, I don’t know why. The first one was a little confusing, I knew I blew a right front, but I thought they were telling me it wasn’t flat so I was a little confused. This one just blew a lot earlier and the angle was a lot worse hitting the wall. We really weren’t very tight, our Camry was pretty fast today. I was encouraged again today even though we don’t have the result. I have a smile on my face and we’ll go to Richmond and try again.
Turn 2 was also a major pain for Denny Hamlin, who wound up finishing 20th despite striking the wall during the race's homestretch. Hamlin dropped a lap off the pace before recovering his way back to a respectable finish. Still, the whole Gibbs team was in a perpetual state of frustration.
Also among those struggling Sunday were Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson, who were both seeing their seasons turn around before struggling at Bristol.
It's nonetheless borderline amazing that Edwards was able to overcome the failures of his teammates and bring home the win. It was clear throughout the week that the Gibbs cars were good. Their tires were just complete failures. For whatever reason, though, Edwards' car held together and gave him his fourth Bristol win.
Edwards admitted he was worried about his tires, per Joe Menzer of Fox Sports: "There was some concern. But for some reason with our car we didn't have any of those issues. ... This team doesn't quit. And (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) is awesome. He can almost read my mind during a race. He'd tell me things during the race right when I needed them. So it was just a great day."
Earnhardt spoke of his return from two laps down to a second place finish, per Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports: "We got a lot of luck on those last several restarts to start on the outside. And gained some spots just being in the right lane. We didn't have a good enough car to run in the top five today but [crew chief Greg Ives and crew] did a great job getting those laps back."