Carl Edwards, his promising Sprint Cup career shadowed by a 70-race winless string, finally returned to victory lane Sunday in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Edwards dominated the closing segment of the race but still had to survive a green-white-checkered run to win the second event of the Sprint Cup season.
The big action occurred in Edwards’ wake. Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski took the race’s final green battling for second place, but, on the final lap, Denny Hamlin dropped to the apron on the backstretch to challenge for second. He and Johnson ran side by side to the finish line, with Johnson taking second by a few feet.
Edwards’ victory was his first since March 6, 2011. He led the final 78 laps of the race, which went into four laps of overtime.
The race ended with a green-white-checkered finish after Ken Schrader hit the wall with three laps to go in regulation, causing a caution.
Pole winner Mark Martin led the first 49 laps of the race without a significant challenge, but he pitted on lap 64, apparently because of a vibration. He lost a lap but regained it a moment later when Dave Blaney hit the wall in turn one, causing the race’s third caution. Martin got the free pass.
Martin returned to the lead 40 laps later when he stayed on the track during a caution period caused by Ryan Newman’s meeting with the wall in turn four. Newman later whacked the wall in turn one and parked his Chevrolet for the day.
The race’s first caution flew on lap 22 as Scott Riggs hit the wall in turn four.
Twenty-seven laps later, Kyle Busch lost control of his Toyota and slid into the wall, starting a series of pit stops to repair damage to the car.
The race’s worst accident occurred on lap 185 when Danica Patrick’s right front tire blew, sending her car hard into the outside wall along the frontstretch. She bounced off the wall and into the path of David Ragan, who slammed into the driver side of Patrick’s car, ripping the door from the car body.
Although the hit was one of the hardest of the season, Patrick was not hurt. Ragan continued in the race with a banged-up race car.
"It was a little unexpected,” Patrick said. “I took a hard hit to the right, and then on the left (from Ragan). I'm fine. The cars and the tracks are so safe. As a driver, that's a nice feeling. It doesn't change the fact that we aren't going to get any points really coming out of today, and it would have been nice.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.