Commentary

Edwards gets gratifying win

Updated: June 24, 2014, 11:29 AM ET
By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

SONOMA, Calif. -- Welcome back from the dark side, Mr. Roush.

If you haven't noticed, Jack Roush's Sprint Cup organization has been in the news a lot lately. And it hasn't been pretty. Questions have been plentiful, and often pointed:

What's wrong with Roush Fenway Racing? Has RFR hit rock bottom? Is Carl Edwards on his way out? Will Greg Biffle bail, too?

The concern deepened after Roush drivers finished 20th, 23rd and 27th last week at their "home" track in Michigan, where the Ford-powered contingent at RFR is notoriously strong.

Oh, but that was last week.

Sunday at Sonoma, Roush Fenway was back in the headlines. And the news was all good.

[+] EnlargeCarl Edwards
Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesCarl Edwards pours out a little bubbly in Victory Lane.

Edwards held off a furious charge from Jeff Gordon to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350. It was Edwards' 23rd Cup series win -- but his first on a road course. Coupled with his March 16 victory at Bristol, this trophy locks Edwards into the Chase -- so long as he stays in the top 30 in driver points.

This victory also lifts RFR from the NASCAR abyss.

"It was good karma today," Roush told reporters afterward.

Edwards picking up a win at Sonoma is big. But him getting it after holding off one of his NASCAR heroes makes it even more special.

"I'm glad it's a 110-lap race and not 111," said Edwards, who led the final 26 laps and crossed the finish line 0.591 seconds ahead of Gordon. "It would have been a tough last lap if we had to go one more."

Edwards admits his eyes grew wide when he saw the blue No. 24 Chevrolet filling up his rearview mirror on that final lap.

"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 success he's had here and in our sport," Edwards said. "It's just really, really special.

"Literally, I'm a fan of this sport and I grew up watching Jeff Gordon go through those S's and watching how he drove his car, so to be able to hold him off like that means a lot. I'm glad there wasn't one or two more laps in the race because I don't know if it would have worked out that way, but it definitely meant a lot to have Jeff Gordon in my mirror."

The 99 team's two-pit strategy employed by crew chief Jimmy Fennig worked to near perfection. It produced the necessary track position, but it almost cost them down the stretch.

As the tires on Edwards' No. 99 Ford started to go away in the final laps, Gordon made up considerable time. The four-time Cup champion nearly pulled off the pass of the race heading into the final turn of the final lap, diving inside of Edwards, but he didn't have enough to complete the overtake.

Gordon, a five-time winner at Sonoma, said he wishes he could have the last five laps to do over again.

"On that move, you just want to make the guy overdrive the corner, because if you miss the bottom down there, there is a real opportunity for someone to get inside of you," he said. "Carl was driving a really good race, and the tires were definitely falling off bad. So were mine. At that point, I was just trying to keep the wheel spin to a minimum, and see if I could inch up on him every little bit. ... I made one mistake with about six [laps] to go where I overdrove -- maybe five to go -- where I overdrove [Turn] 4. I really think that was the difference. I think if I could have got to him, I probably would have had him."

Edwards winning on Sunday extended a peculiar trend at Sonoma: Ten different drivers have gone to Victory Lane over the past 10 races, and the past eight winners here had never won a Cup race on a road course.

The win also put to an end an extraordinary streak by Rick Hendrick's Cup organization: Hendrick Motorsports entered the weekend having won five straight races -- three by six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. It was the longest win streak since HMS won six straight in 2007, a modern-era record.

Hendrick didn't win, obviously, but all four HMS drivers finished in the top seven. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, Kasey Kahne sixth and and Johnson seventh.

For Earnhardt, a third-place finish on the 1.99-mile road course is worthy of celebration. He entered the race with zero top-10s in 14 previous starts at Sonoma.

"Well, aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," Earnhardt said. "We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I've been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we've just never been able to finish."

Edwards certainly finished. Even teammate Greg Biffle rebounded nicely from his 20th-place finish at Michigan, taking ninth. The question is, how will this race win impact the Roush Fenway organization? Edwards has an idea.

"We've got to go out and take advantage of the places where we run well, and this year it's been the short tracks and the road courses -- it looks like we've got that program going pretty well," Edwards said. "So 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 -- this win -- from last week because that was really the low point of the season, in my opinion."

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