BRISTOL, Tenn. – Carl Edwards certainly had a great time at the “new” Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, but just about everybody else left the first race on the resurfaced race track wondering what happened.
Or, more to the point, what didn’t.
After seeing two-wide racing all night and even a three-wide battle for the lead in Friday night’s Busch race, the 160,000 fans at the Sharpie 500 saw a race filled with green-flag runs. While cars did run side-by-side back in the pack, the story up front was much more often one of single-file racing with cars spaced out.
Kasey Kahne started from the pole and led 305 of the first 334 laps. Then, Edwards passed Kahne as they ran behind Michael Waltrip’s lapped car and he brought it home.
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If that makes it sound like it wasn’t terribly thrilling, that’s only because it wasn’t.
There was a rash of late cautions – five in the final 125 laps – but they didn’t change anything. Each time the field would bunch back up on Edwards’ rear bumper, and each time he’d pull away on the restart. Edwards came to the checkered flag to win for the second time this year and for the sixth time in his career in his No. 99 Ford.
"This is the biggest win of my career," Edwards said in victory lane. "Winning here at Bristol is everybody's dream. This is the night race at Bristol, 500 laps, and we won it.
"I am living a dream. I think every short-track racer out there dreams about this."
Kahne was second with Clint Bowyer third and Tony Stewart fourth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Kurt Busch in the final laps to finish fifth, but it didn’t do Earnhardt Jr. much good in his bid to rally to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup. He came into the night 13th in the standings, 163 points behind 12th-place Kurt Busch, but picked up only five points and is now 158 points back with only two races left before the Chase cutoff.
Kahne started in the lead until Edwards passed him on Lap 37. Kahne hung on Edwards’ bumper, though, and fought through lapped traffic to retake the lead on Lap 67.
Ryan Newman moved into second in that exchange, but the big early movers were Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who were up to third and fourth by Lap 71.
The field reached Lap 100 without having seen the yellow flag, with Kahne leading Newman, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and an on-the-move Martin Truex Jr.
The first yellow came after Johnny Sauter got into the wall off Turn 2 on Lap 126, an incident that caused a close call for the leader as Kahne had to make a quick move to the inside to miss Sauter as he came down the backstretch.
Kahne kept the lead off pit road, with Bobby Labonte up to second ahead of Gordon, Newman, Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin, who had also made a big early move after starting from the rear of the field because of an engine change.
Kahne remained in control until, on Lap 210, Hamlin’s engine erupted in a plume of smoke in Turn 4. That brought out the second yellow flag and the second round of pit stops, with Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards and Kurt Busch also in the top five for the restart on Lap 220.
This time, the green was out for only about five laps before Jimmie Johnson got into the rear of Aric Almirola’s car, sending it into A.J. Allmendinger’s and putting them both into the wall.
Things finally began to heat up a little bit shortly after Lap 330 when the leaders ran up on Michael Waltrip’s lapped car. Edwards nosed ahead of Kahne at the line on Lap 331, but Kahne came right back. The next time by, Earnhardt Jr. was second behind Kahne. Finally, on Lap 335, Edwards cleared Waltrip and took the lead, with Earnhardt Jr. moving into second ahead of Kahne.
All of that allowed fourth-place Kurt Busch, the driver immediately in front of Earnhardt Jr. in the Chase standings, to close in, too.
It was developing into an unusual evening at Bristol, and that trend continued as the leaders came to pit road for green-flag pit stops around the 360-lap mark. That would put them in their window to go the rest of the distance on fuel, but everyone on pit road was holding their breath hoping a yellow wouldn’t come out during the round of stops and shuffle the running order dramatically.
They almost made it. On Lap 369, David Ragan spun in Turn 4 and the yellow came out. Only Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon hadn’t stopped, but they weren’t far enough ahead for that to work in their favor.
When the restart came, Edwards was first with Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Earnhardt Jr. behind him. Gordon and Jeff Burton, meanwhile, were among those caught a lap down by that yellow flag.
Ragan spun out again in Turn 4 on Lap 395, bunching the field back up behind Edwards, Kahne and Bowyer for a restart with 98 laps remaining.
Ragan finally had enough after completing the hat trick with his third spin on Lap 420, this time in Turn 1, taking his No. 6 Ford to the garage this time.
Edwards still had the field in his rear-view mirror when the green flag flew on Lap 428. Robby Gordon got spun in traffic off Turn 2 on Lap 439 to bring out another yellow, but still nothing had changed up front.
It didn’t all night.