Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford took the lead on Lap 85 and ran away with it, out racing Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the finish Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Sonoma Raceway. The two-pit stop strategy of his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, paid off.
Edwards led just the once, for the last 26 laps. It was the first road course victory of his Sprint Cup Career. His Margin of Victory ahead of Gordon was 0.591 seconds. This victory, the first for Edwards at Sonoma Raceway, was the twenty-third in his Cup career, and the 135th for team owner, Jack Roush.
Edwards was the tenth consecutive different winner at the 1.199-mile road course in the heart of Northern California’s celebrated Wine Country.
Edwards said “That’s a moment I’ll never forget, to be standing in Victory Lane and to have held off Jeff Gordon with all of the successes he’s had here and in our sport. I grew up watching Jeff Gordon here at Sonoma, so it was an honor to beat him. It was really tricky the last few laps; but it definitely meant a lot to have Jeff Gordon in my mirror. That was the best I had, and it almost wasn’t good enough. I’m gonna go get a Subway sandwich.”
Edwards played coy when asked about his future plans and whether the uncertainty affected him during the weekend. All weekend rumors swirled regarding his re-signing with Roush, going to JGR, and/or getting the M&M’s sponsorship currently enjoyed by Kyle Busch. “I think you guys worry about that more than we do. We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win championships. So for me it’s really simple I just have to give the best I can every week and that’s it.”
Third through fifth were Dale Earnhardt No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; pole sitter Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Chevrolet; and Paul Menard No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet.
Left to Right: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jamie McMurray, and Paul Menard. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.
The Top Rookie was Austin Dillon No.3 Dow Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, who started twenty-sixth and finished seventeenth on the lead lap.
Early favorites didn’t fare as well as expected. Second fastest qualifier, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 JTG Daughterey Chevrolet led twice for 35 laps – the most of any leader, but ended up thirty-seventh after being spun and hit by Earnhardt. “We led a lot of laps today and we were good enough to win the thing, no doubt. I’s just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that’s tore up. It’s just tough.”
Third fastest qualifier and Top Rookie, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet was shuffled back to sixth place early on, and then ran afoul of someone by Lap 28 and despite continuing on, he fell backwards and ended up on the lead lap in P28.
Marcos Ambrose No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford always seems to be one to watch due to his road racing skill in stock cars and V8′s. He’s nearly won at least once at Sonoma. This weekend, however, the Aussie had a bad qualifying run and started twenty-third. He charged through the pack time and again; and Ambrose led once for five laps before falling back to eighth, despite several passing/racing attempts near the end.
Left to Right: Austin Dillon, Marcos Ambrose, and Jeff Gordon. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.
Gordon said “I just wanted to make him overdrive the corner. I really tried to put the pressure on him. I was just trying to keep the wheel spin to a minimum. I overdrove Four. That made a difference. I was better in the faster sections. He was faster in the slower sections. I wish I had five laps to do over again. I think I coulda had a shot.” It was Gordon’s third runner-up position in the last five Sonoma races.
Earnhardt said “Carl had the best strategy. The Chevy was really good all week. I made a couple of mistakes during the race.” He owned up to one of his mistakes on his radio after he hit Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, causing Kenseth to take a really hard crash into the Turn Seven tire wall. It was the first DNF for Kenseth in fifteen Sonoma races. Junior said “My bad. I don’t know what the (expletive) I was doing. I jumped that curb and ran into him. I am sick at my stomach getting into Matt there. I just hopped that curb, and it threw me right into him. I shouldn’t have been running him hard I guess, I just got up on that curb and it just launched me over into the side of his car. I really hope he isn’t hurt too bad. We had a fast car all weekend. The guys did a good job on the strategy, and gave me great tires at the end so I could be on the offense. Proud of Steve (Letarte); the whole job the team did. The car was fast all weekend. It was a lot of fun.”
Earnhardt also “tangled with Allmendinger and spun him out in Turn 11. I thought I left him enough room. I don’t know how bad it was for him.”
The hits just kept coming.
Licking their wounds included Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota; Kevin Harvick No.4 Outback/Budweiser Folds of Honor Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet; Jimmie Johnson No.48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Kyle Larson; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford; Danica Patrick No.10 Go Daddy Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. EcoPower Roush Racing Ford; and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota;
Cautions breed cautions. There were six cautions for 19 laps in the 110-lap race. Three were for accidents involving seven cars, one stall, and two for track surface conditions.
There were nine leaders and eleven lead changes keeping the racing exciting. Allmendinger led twice for the most laps – 25. Other leaders were Harvick-twice for 23 laps; pole sitter McMurray twice for nine laps; and one time for Bowyer-five laps; Ambrose-five laps; Logano-three laps; Jeff Gordon-three laps; and Johnson-one lap.
Gordon continues to lead the Driver Standings, with 580 points. Second through twelfth are: Johnson-560; Earnhardt Jr.-555; Kenseth-515; Keselowski-512; Edwards-509; Logano-483; Ryan Newman-473; Harvick-472; Larson-470 and Top Rookie; Kyle Busch-465; and Menard-459. Fifty-three drivers have earned points, with another ten who have run but are ineligible to get points in the Cup Series.
Left to Right: Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.
Everyone cleared Tech with no problems. The top two cars, No.99 Ford and No.24 Chevrolet will be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center in North Carolina, with additional routine track inspection completed on No.23-Rookie Alex Bowman Toyota, No.38-David Gilliland Ford, No.7 Michael Annett Chevrolet, and No.32-Boris Said Ford.
The next Sprint Cup race is 28 June 2014 at Kentucky Speedway.
For those sharp-eyed road racers who saw and wondered about seeing a corner worker waving both the yellow caution and blue flag simultaneously, here’s the NASCAR explanation, as explained to the drivers in their Sunday morning meeting: NASCAR uses the standard corner worker flags in a different way. The all-blue waved flag means the track trouble is right ahead. For NASCAR the passing flag is the blue flag which has a yellow stripe. There evidently is no surface flag (yellow and red stripes used for oil, debris, etc.)
Sonoma Raceway is one track which gets it. John Cardinale, the late VP of Communications started a post-race tradition which continues on – a veritable spread of snacks and edibles for the hard-working media.