6/23/2014 3:26 AM
Carl Edwards races to 1st career road course win
By JENNA FRYER
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — His future with Roush Fenway Racing is uncertain, but Carl Edwards isn't letting that slow him down this season.
Edwards' win on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway was his second of the season and locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The pivotal moment comes as speculation mounts he's leaving Roush at the end of the season to join Joe Gibbs Racing.
Edwards, who declines to discuss his future, said he's able to focus on the job at hand.
"I think you guys (the media) worry about that more than we do," he said. "We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win the championship. So for me, it's really simple: I just have to give the best I can every week, and that's it."
Edwards grabbed his first career road course victory and ended the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut of five-consecutive races by holding off five-time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon. It came a week after Roush Fenway was shut out at Michigan, where the organization failed to put a car in the top 10 for the first time since 2000.
Edwards took the lead on a restart with 25 laps remaining and seemed to have the win wrapped up until Gordon nearly chased him down on the final lap. Gordon had one good look at Edwards and couldn't pull off the pass.
"My road racing progression, it's been a pretty long climb," Edwards said. "The real special part to me was to stand in Victory Lane at Sonoma and have Jeff Gordon come and give me a handshake as the second-place finisher. I grew up watching Jeff Gordon, and specifically watching how he drove this race track and all the successes he had here, so I mean, that's really super. It's something I'll never forget."
It wasn't a terrible day for the Hendrick organization, which had won every Sprint Cup Series race since Gordon's victory at Kansas on May 10. Instead, HMS settled for all four of its drivers finishing in the top seven.
Gordon, the Sprint Cup Series points leader, wound up second. He said he made one mistake in overdriving a turn with about five laps to go that allowed Edwards to build a healthy lead.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third after rallying from an earlier incident that wrecked Matt Kenseth, and was apologetic on the radio and after the race.
"I tried to screw it up a couple times in the race, but I calmed down and was able to get a good finish," Earnhardt said after his career-best finish on a road course. "I got into Matt, I jumped a curb and jumped into the air and just ran into him. Totally my fault. I hope he's not sore with me."
Kasey Kahne bounced back from an early flat tire to finish sixth and Jimmie Johnson was seventh.
In all, Chevrolet drivers took spots two through seven as pole-sitter Jamie McMurray, using a Hendrick engine, finished fourth and Paul Menard was fifth.
Fords rounded out the top 10, led by Edwards, Marcos Ambrose eighth and Roush driver Greg Biffle was 10th.
The highest-finishing Toyota was Clint Bowyer in 11th.
Here's five things that happened at Sonoma:
GOLDEN YEARS: He turns 43 in August and the aches and pains that come with getting old have given Jeff Gordon back issues. But the four-time NASCAR champion isn't showing it on the track, and finished second on Sunday to maintain his spot atop the Sprint Cup standings.
His performance so far this season is the best he's run in years.
"It's certainly the most consistent, great cars that I've had going week in and week out," he said. "I'm very confident in what I'm getting behind the wheel of every weekend, and that just is because of all the hard work that's going on at Hendrick. The cars are just really, really good, and that's making a lot of fun for me."
BIG FINISH: It wasn't pretty, and a mistake ended Matt Kenseth's race, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Sonoma with a career-best third-place finish. It was Earnhardt's first top-five in 15 career starts.
"Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," Earnhardt said. "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. We've been one of the better cars, and that certainly makes it fun with me not having to be defensive and root and gouge for every little spot."
ANOTHER BAD DAY: Week after week, Kevin Harvick has continued to show he's got one of the strongest cars in the series. But, like so many other races, he failed to get the finish to show for his effort. After leading 23 laps, Harvick wound up 20th because he had nowhere to go after a Clint Bowyer spin and wound up hitting Bowyer.
"Just another day with the fastest car," he said. "We had a chance to win the race and kind of flubbed it up again."
NICE REBOUND: Kasey Kahne remains the only winless driver for Hendrick Motorsports, but he battled back from an early flat tire Sunday to salvage a sixth-place finish.
Kahne was running sixth when he had to make an unplanned pit stop to change his flat, and it dropped him to 32nd with a little more than half the race remaining.
"We had a fast car from the start," Kahne said. "We fell back and luckily we got back to sixth. We easily had a top-five car."
FAST FORD: Carl Edwards' victory was the first at Sonoma for a Ford driver since Ricky Rudd took the checkered flag in 2002. It was also Edwards' first road-course victory, and it extended the streak of consecutive different winners at the 1.99-mile road course to 10.
"My road racing progression has been a pretty long climb," Edwards said, recalling times testing with Boris Said. "A lot of hard work has gone into this."
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