WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Since losing the Sprint Cup title last year to Tony Stewart by the slimmest of margins, Carl Edwards has struggled.
It's been 54 races since his last Cup victory — at Las Vegas in March 2011 — and he's fallen out of the top 10 in points this year, in desperate need of a win to make the Chase for the championship.
He can still wheel it in the Nationwide series, though, and proved it Saturday. Edwards won his first start of the season in the series, holding off nemesis Brad Keselowski on two late restarts at Watkins Glen International.
"We got the trophy, and that is nice to win a race," said Edwards, who stuck his customary back flip off his car afterward. "We really need to win a race in the Cup series. I think this will help with that. It never hurts to get to Victory Lane.
"The back flip I was a little nervous about. I haven't done one of those for a while. I had to stop and think, OK, feet over the head, look at the ground. I've been watching a lot of the Olympics, but that doesn't seem to help when you have to do it yourself."
While Edwards was smiling, Keselowski grimaced. Edwards missed a shift as the two raced to the white flag and banged Keselowski's No. 22 Dodge into the wall.
"He came up the track and hit me, put me in the wall there," Keselowski said. "That kind of took away all of my momentum. I didn't have a chance after that."
Edwards qualified 18th for Sunday's Cup race at Watkins Glen, the Finger Lakes 355, and Keselowski will start fourth.
Maybe that's a good thing considering their history.
"I didn't pull any aggressive moves out of the arsenal," said Keselowski, who started fourth Saturday and led a race-high 44 laps. "Whether it (the hit by Edwards) was intentional, obviously, I don't need to start any trouble over here in this series when I have the Chase coming around. I kind of feel like I gave away a little bit of a win. I'm banking on nice-guy points on that one."
AMBROSE'S DRIVE: A year ago, Marcos Ambrose outdueled Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkered finish at Watkins Glen International for his first and only Sprint Cup victory. Ambrose was fast in Friday's rain-shortened practice and qualified fifth Saturday.
A victory on Sunday in the Finger Lakes 355 would vault Ambrose and Richard Petty Motorsports into the wild-card picture for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, though he's somewhat far back in points (18th but tied with Joey Logano) and likely would need another win to have a chance to make the 12-car postseason field.
Ambrose has one win and four top-fives at Watkins Glen for an average finish of 2.3 and an average green flag speed of nearly 120 mph. Both are tops in the series, making Ambrose a driver to be reckoned with.
Though he's desperate for a victory on an oval track, Ambrose likes what RPM has done this season. Ambrose has won his first two career poles this year and has five top-10s.
"We're proud of winning the race here last year and we're pleased with how we've gone this year," Ambrose said. "We're not a super team, but we're a really strong two-car team, probably one of the strongest out there right now. We feel like we've had a good year, but not a great year, and we need to finish off really strong."
This will be the first race since Dodge announced Tuesday that it was leaving NASCAR at season's end. For Ambrose, who drives the No. 9 Ford for RPM, it's not good news.
"RPM is still looking at all their options as far as manufacturers go," said Ambrose, who won the pole on the road course at Sonoma in June but finished sixth. "I think for the sport, Dodge pulling out was not a great thing. It's been really healthy to have four manufacturers in the sport, so as a fan of NASCAR I'm disappointed that Dodge made that choice, but I understand it.
"For us, we're building to the future at RPM and I look forward to playing my part and helping them make good choices. I think it's exciting times for RPM. They've got a lot of options."
NOT SO CLOSE ANYMORE: Tony Stewart won his third Sprint Cup title last year with a huge amount of help from Hendrick Motorsports.
Stewart-Haas Racing still gets its engines and technical assistance from Hendrick, but that relationship isn't quite so close since Stewart fired crew chief Darian Grubb after winning five races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last year.
Grubb, who worked at Hendrick for several years, has moved to Joe Gibbs Racing and SHR no longer sits in on Tuesday meetings at Hendrick every week.
"It's not that we don't need to go, it's just that Darian had a unique relationship with Hendrick," Stewart said. "The information still is an open book back and forth, so we are still sharing the same amount of information."
Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon agreed.
"We definitely had a good relationship with Darian when he went over there. It was kind of a mutually agreed-upon situation that was a positive for everybody," Gordon said. "But it's still an open book, and when we need to reach out to them, they are great. And when they need to reach out to us, we are just as open. But they are not involved in our meetings as much as I actually would like them to be."
ROAD KINGS NO MORE: Once upon a time and not so long ago, you could almost pencil in the names of either Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup road races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Not so anymore, even though the dynamic duo, the top two road racers in NASCAR history, have combined to win nine races at The Glen and seven at Infineon.
The times, they sure have changed. Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, and Juan Pablo Montoya have won three of the past four races at The Glen, while Kurt and Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Montoya, and Clint Bowyer in June have won the last six races at Sonoma.
"I actually think it's pretty cool to see how many guys just keep getting better every year," said Kurt Busch, who easily bested Gordon last year at Sonoma. "I think it's just a situation where you have more and more guys getting better at it."
Stewart has a record five wins at Watkins Glen International, one more than Gordon, who hasn't won here in a decade.
SPARK PLUGS: Aric Almirola's No. 43 paint scheme for this week was designed by life-long Petty fan Kevin Gates, a graphic designer who just submitted a sketch on a whim and sponsor Smithfield decided to use it. As part of its nationwide Feeding the Hungry initiative, Smithfield also donated 30,000 pounds of food to a food bank in Watkins Glen. ... Jeff Gordon has led a series-high 243 laps at Watkins Glen, 17 more than Tony Stewart. ... Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth has a new deal to drive with somebody else next year but still doesn't know when it will be announced.