Carl Edwards believed he should have opened the season with two wins, and the disappointment of missing Victory Lane carried with him into Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When he finally broke through Sunday, it came at the expense of Tony Stewart.
Stewart led a race-high 163 laps, but a pit road penalty forced his team to change its strategy. When he used two tires to get back to the lead, the entire field saw that it worked, and Stewart was backed into a corner.
He had to take four tires on his final stop, most everyone else took two, and the longer time spent on pit road shuffled him too far back into the field to make it back to the front.
Edwards, in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, pulled away for the win, while Stewart, who dropped to 22nd after the four-tire stop, unwittingly settled for second.
“We had the fastest thing on the planet today and we just gave it away,” Stewart said. “It kills me to throw away a race like that.”
Stewart was in second place on the final restart of the Daytona 500, but faded to a 13th-place finish. He then led 59 laps last week in Phoenix, only to finish seventh. Although Sunday’s run moved him into the lead of the Sprint Cup Series standings, he was unable to take much solace in knowing he had cars capable of winning the first three races of the season.
“That’s not in my makeup,” said Stewart, who was trying to cross Las Vegas off the list of only two active tracks where he’s yet to win a Cup race.
“This was a big deal today, and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it — I’m sure tomorrow when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend, but just, man, it does not sit good right now.”
Edwards knows exactly how Stewart felt.
He finished second in the Daytona 500, then believed he had the car to beat last weekend at Phoenix. But he was wrecked early in the race by Kyle Busch, and he simply could not shake the disappointment of losing such a great car.
“It means a lot coming off of Phoenix. I went home last week and I had no clue, I just didn’t know how things were going to go from there,” he said. “You don’t get a good race car like that very often, but we had another one today.”
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third and was followed by Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. Denny Hamlin was seventh, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 10.
It was a rough day for most of the contenders, starting with pole-sitter Matt Kenseth’s flat tire early in the race.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch also had an early tire problem while running second to Stewart, and an engine failure ended his race and sent him to a 38th-place finish. Greg Biffle had a car capable of winning until a fuel issue took him out of contention.
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton were both penalized for speeding on pit road, and on the same stop, Stewart was flagged for leaving his pit box with his air hose still attached to his Chevrolet. It dropped him from first to 23rd and essentially sealed his race, because crew chief Darian Grubb had to improvise to get the Chevrolet back to the front.
“I don’t know what happened on the pit stop there, but we had a miscue and had a penalty and had to go to the back, and unfortunately it kind of dealt our cards for us,” Stewart said. “Darian made a good (two-tire) call getting us the track position back, but it also showed everybody else that they could do it, too.”
Jeff Gordon, winner last week in Phoenix, had a tire problem while running 10th and crashed his car. He finished 36th.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting to blow a tire like that,” Gordon said. “There was no sign whatsoever.”
For Edwards, it was his second victory at Las Vegas and the 19th of his career. He closed last season with wins in the final two races, and has proved to be a strong championship contender again this year. He’s now third in the standings, and trails Stewart and Kurt Busch by only seven points.
Kurt Busch is tied with Stewart, but is listed as second in the standings based on tiebreaker criteria. Like his younger brother, Kyle, he was disappointed to leave Las Vegas without a win.
“We gave it all we had,” he said. “We wanted to win this thing, for sure. I came up just a little bit short in my hometown.”