BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Carl Edwards avoided tire issues that hampered his teammates and took off on the final restart to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Starting on the pole for the second straight week, Edwards led 276 of 500 laps in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota en route to his first victory of the season and fourth on the half-mile oval. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second, followed by Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne.
Edwards’ flawless day contrasted the right-front tire problems endured by teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin after all of them started in the top five.
Busch, the defending series champion and points leader, had trouble throughout the race. He exited after his car smacked the wall on Lap 259 and sustained heavy damage, failing to finish a race for the first time since June at Michigan.
Earnhardt’s finish marked a huge recovery from a stalled car at the start that eventually left him two laps down. He and Kurt Busch made things interesting late by dueling hard with inside-outside moves, none of which mattered with Edwards far ahead.
The race started with a heavy JGR presence up front with Edwards and Kenseth, the defending race winner, leading four Camrys in the top five. Hamlin was fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.
Edwards and Kenseth did their part by combining to lead 242 of the first 250 laps. But for a while Edwards was the lone JGR driver with hope as his teammates all encountered problems around Lap 188.
Kenseth cut a right front tire and hit the wall to bring out the caution, while Hamlin sustained right front damage after hitting another car on pit road. Kyle Busch was penalized for speeding off pit road.
Right front tires were the culprits as the defending series champion brought out two other cautions. Another yellow followed after his No. 18 Toyota hit the wall and sustained heavy damage and dropped fluid in the garage area.
“I just kept getting tighter in the long run, not sure why that was,” Busch said. “I felt really good about things for today. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
Kenseth was soon in the garage after a cut right front tire caused his No. 20 Toyota to brush the wall while running third. Hamlin (20th) had similar right front problems that led Goodyear to take those tires to see what the caused the problem.
Edwards stayed above the fray and was strong on long and short runs. Two restarts in the final 10 laps mattered little as he jumped ahead and wasn’t challenged in earning his 26th career win.
Here are some other things from the Bristol race:
WHO’S HOT: Late in the race, Stewart-Haas Racing had three Chevys in the top 10 with Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Ty Dillon, who was filling in for injured owner-driver Tony Stewart. Dillon was eventually sandwiched against the wall in an incident with Landon Cassill and finished 25th.
WHO’S NOT: Hamlin had some promising moments aside from the tire troubles but still sustained his third straight finish of 12 or lower after consecutive thirds.
FLYING FLAGS: The race featured 15 (so far) cautions for 102 laps.
UP NEXT: Richmond International Raceway on April 24. Kurt Busch is the defending race winner.