BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) – Carl Edwards claimed a rain-soaked win at Bristol Motor Speedway, where weather wreaked havoc on yet another Sprint Cup race.
The rain caused two delays lasting more than five hours – one that delayed the start Sunday by almost two hours, and another that stopped the race for 3 hours, 18 minutes. But when the drivers got on the track, they raced fast and furious.
Much like the season-opening Daytona 500, which was stopped by rain for almost six hours, the threat of more bad weather bringing a sudden halt to the race forced the drivers to go hard every single lap.
So when a caution with 77 laps remaining sent most of the field to pit road, Edwards’ crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, made the call to leave his driver on the track. The move gave Edwards the lead on the restart with 70 laps remaining.
He had no trouble pulling out to an easy lead and had victory in sight when the yellow caution lights came on with two laps remaining. No one was sure what the caution was for and Fennig even wondered if water damage might have inadvertently caused the lights to turn on.
Then the sky suddenly opened and NASCAR had no choice but to declare the race over.
NASCAR said after the race that someone in the flag-stand accidentally leaned on a switch to trigger the lights. NASCAR was forced to issue a full caution “because operation of the lights was comprised.”
“No harm, no foul, let’s act like it just didn’t happen,” Edwards told NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton.
Edwards led Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. across the finish line. Aric Almirola from Richard Petty Motorsports was third as Ford drivers swept the top three spots – one day after a Ford team won the Twelve Hours of Sebring sports car race for the first time since 1969.
It was Edwards’ 22nd career victory, third at Bristol, but first of the season – and the one that should clinch him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship under NASCAR’s new qualifying format.
“We’re in the Chase and we’re going to go win this championship,” said Edwards, who celebrated with his traditional backflip off his car onto the slick track. “I wasn’t sure about the backflip.”
Stenhouse was disappointed he didn’t get a shot to race his teammate for the win.
“I was thinking that I would use the bumper if the opportunity was there,” he said. “If you get the win, you’re in the Chase and you can let the rest take care of itself later. That’s what I was really thinking if we went back green. I was thinking about doing whatever I could to win.”
And Almirola also was having trouble accepting the final outcome.
“It’s frustrating because I had one shot to race Carl for the lead, and these races are so hard to win,” he said. “It was a great day for us, I’m not disappointed at all with third, but when you see it and you can taste it and it’s that close, you wonder what could have went different.”
Tony Stewart salvaged a horrific start to the weekend – he qualified 37th – by finishing a season-best fourth.
Marcos Ambrose was fifth as both of RPM’s drivers finished inside the top five.
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin was sixth in the highest-finishing Toyota and was followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. Brian Vickers was ninth and rookie Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.
The race was run in front of a sparse Bristol crowd as the weather forecast called for a 100 percent chance of rain. It wasn’t wrong and the start was delayed nearly two hours, then drivers made it to Lap 124 before the race was stopped by rain again. The second stoppage pushed the race into evening and under the lights on the 0.533-mile bullring.
There was plenty of action to keep those in attendance entertained, including a bizarre debris caution that caused what looked to be toilet paper to be strewn everywhere. Two other incidents occurred when Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson were each running in second place.
Kenseth was the leader when the race resumed following the lengthy rain delay. He was passed by Kurt Busch but holding second and in traffic when caution came out because Danica Patrick spun Cole Whitt.
Kenseth lightly ran into the back of Busch as he tried to slow down for the caution, but he was drilled from behind by Timmy Hill, who came around the track at a considerably higher speed.
“I just got peeled straight from behind real hard,” he calmly radioed his Joe Gibbs Racing crew.
Kenseth had to pit for repairs and dropped to 24th – 10 seconds behind the leader.
Hill took responsibility for the accident.
“This place, things happen real quick,” Hill said. “I saw (Whitt) spin, by the time I got communication, it was too late. Everybody was checking up. I ran into the back (Kenseth). I had no reaction time. It’s on me, really.”
Kenseth recovered and was racing back with the leaders later in the race, only to hit the wall late. He finished 13th.
Johnson was second before the rain delay when his tire came apart. He had to pit for repairs and dropped to 39th, two laps down from Kenseth.
Crew chief Chad Knaus grumbled on the radio that the tire wasn’t flat.
“The tread just fell off of it. There’s nothing wrong with it. The rest of the tire is ... great,” Knaus radioed. He then sarcastically said he was certain the team would be blamed for the tire falling apart.
“I’m sure it’s something we did. I’m sure it’s our fault.”
Goodyear quickly responded via Twitter, posting that Johnson’s team didn’t change the right front tires on its first pit stop. Going 115-plus laps caused the right front tire to wear through, Goodyear said.
Johnson wound up 19th.