Carl Edwards was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to avoid issues Sunday. Edwards started from the pole and led a race high 276 of 500 laps to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500 his fourth at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Edwards held off Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch on the races final restart with five laps to go to score the 26th win of his career, his first of the season and his first in 18 races. It marked the first time since last August that a winner had started on the pole.
“There were so many different things happening out there,” Edwards said. “Different guys were fast at different times. I have to work on my drag racing stuff, Kurt (Busch) has those restarts figured out. He was tough. Just awesome.”
While Edwards was in control at the front most of the day, the other three drivers in the JGR stable suffered disastrous afternoons. The trouble for JGR started early and began with defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch.
Busch hoping to score his third consecutive Sprint Cup win blew a right front tire while running third on lap 52 and hit the wall bringing out the first of 15 cautions. He would later spin exiting turn 2 after contact with another car and bringing out caution three. He was able to continue but sent to the rear of the field due to a speeding penalty. Then on lap 260 Busch again lost a tire and hit the wall hard. This time the damage was too severe and Busch finished the day in the garage and in 38th place.
Matt Kenseth took the lead on lap 44 and would go on to lead the second most laps of the day, 142 but on lap 187, he too lost a tire. Like his teammate though, the damage was minimal and after repairs, Kenseth was able to continue. He was back to third by lap 323, but lost another tire and hit the wall. There was no caution but Kenseth was forced behind the wall for repairs effectively ending his chances for a win; he finished 36th.
Denny Hamlin was running in the top five at one point. He suffered damage on pit road however during a pit stop then on lap 410, he hit the wall to bring out caution 11. Hamlin would be the only other JGR driver to finish on the lead lap, in 20th.
The collective issues for his teammates were worrisome to Edwards. However he had no issues and was able to secure the victory.
“There was some concern, but for some reason with our car we didn’t have any of those issues,” Edwards said. “Just really proud of these guys and thank you to everybody that makes this happen. This team is awesome and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) doesn’t quit. He can almost read my mind, he can tell me things in the race right when I needed them. It was just a good day.”
The racing was a typical Bristol slugfest that featured hard racing, bent sheetmetal and left several favorites with bad finishes. Jimmie Johnson had a loose wheel and was forced to pit under green, he finished 23rd, one lap down. Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne all ran inside the top five at one point only to see their days end with finishes outside the top 10.
Several other drivers had reasons to smile at the end of the day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 20th but nearly crashed on the initial start after electrical issues sent him to the pits on the first lap and left him two laps down. He rallied back to finish second. Kurt Busch slugged his way through the field to finish third, while rookie Chase Elliott battled for the lead on the final restart with five laps to go and held on for a career high fourth place finish. Trevor Bayne was able to avoid the carnage around him to come home fifth.
Matt DiBenedetto was emotional as he celebrated his career best sixth place finish. Kevin Harvick was seventh; Clint Bowyer also reveled in his best finish of the season an eighth. Ryan Newman and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10. The full results can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Richmond International Raceway in Virginia next Sunday. The Toyota Owners 400 gets the green flag just after 1:00 p.m. with live coverage on Fox.