Mar 16, 2014, 9:34 PM EDT
Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing rolled the dice on strategy last weekend at Las Vegas and got rewarded with a Top 5 finish. Tonight at Bristol, another gamble has put them in Victory Lane.
With the caution flag flying at 75 laps to go in the Food City 500, Edwards was one of several drivers that opted to stay out on track while the leaders pitted. He inherited the point as a result and wouldn’t relinquish it again as he went on to become the fourth different winner in as many races this Sprint Cup season.
A multi-car incident involving Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski with 50 laps to go bunched up the field for what was the final restart of the night with 39 laps left. Edwards and Aric Almirola led the field back to the green, but Edwards quickly pulled away and left Almirola to fight Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for second.
“Aric and those guys were really fast. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten by them [without the call],” Edwards said to Fox Sports after the race. “That was a gutsy call.”
But Edwards and the rest of the field would have to deal with one more strange twist in a race that had its start delayed by rain for two hours, endured a three-hour, 19-minute red flag for more rain, and saw several of its leaders (including Harvick) find various calamities.
With three laps left, the caution lights over the half-mile oval came on. But there was no immediate explanation for why.
Then, as confusion set in, a cloud burst occurred over the track and the rain fell once more. NASCAR apparently decided enough was enough, and Edwards rolled across the stripe first under the yellow and checkered flags.
Afterwards, the sanctioning body provided an explanation for the caution light episode.
But later in the night, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton revealed the truth: One of the people in the flag stand over the start/finish line leaned on the switch that was the manual override for the light system.
“It appears that in, not all, but most of the flag stands have a manual override for the caution lights, and due to the weather and due to other things, there’s an area that it couldn’t have been — it wasn’t secured properly, and the flag person leaned against the switch and turned the caution lights on,” Pemberton said.
“We tried to turn them off, and we realized that the override switch was on and they were hung on caution. It was a stupid error.”
No matter for Ford, which enjoyed a banner night at Bristol with Edwards winning, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Stenhouse finishing second, and Almirola finishing in third.
Stenhouse credited a car capable of running multiple lines – in particular, the bottom groove – for his stout performance.
“We focused on that a lot during practice because if you look back at these races, the cars that are up front every race here at Bristol are able to run the bottom when they need to,” he said in post-race.
In his own thoughts, Almirola indicated that his car’s issues in short runs played a part in him being unable to hang with Edwards in the final laps.
“Our car was really good on the long runs, but we were way too tight on the short runs,” he said to Fox. “It seemed like it kept getting better and better the longer it went…I was hoping it would stay green and maybe we would have had a shot to win, but I’m really happy with everybody on this team.”
Almirola’s teammate at Richard Petty Motorsports, Marcos Ambrose, also finished fifth behind Tony Stewart, who took his Chevy to a fourth-place result after needing a provisional to make the field on Friday.