FONTANA, Calif. Daylight or dark, Sunday or Monday. It really didn’t matter to Carl Edwards.
“l told our guys we’ve got them right where we want them,” Edwards said after winning the rain-delayed Auto Club 500 on Monday.
“We could have had a 55-hour red flag and we were still going to go out there and race as hard as we can.”
Things didn’t get quite that bad for Sprint Cup teams at Auto Club Speedway this weekend – it was only about 16 hours from the time the race was stopped Sunday evening until it resumed Monday morning.
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But Edwards was right about the performance of his team and the No. 99 Ford.
“The reason we won this race today was preparation,” he said after passing Jimmie Johnson on Lap 238 and leading the final 13 laps for his eighth career Cup victory.
Johnson, who finished second, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who was third, were prepared to have to deal with Edwards after Cup teams tested here last month.
“I felt after the test that Carl and a couple of the Roush cars were cars that we had to keep our eyes on,” Johnson said.
A year ago, it was the Hendrick team’s Chevrolets that got all the early attention when NASCAR’s new car was rolled out. Hendrick cars won the first five races using the new car while Edwards found himself trying to urge his team owner, Jack Roush, to start an aggressive testing program with the new vehicle.
But now, at least based on this first test of the car on a downforce track like this 2-mile oval, it seems at least possible that worm might have turned.
“I hope this is a sign of how our season is going to go,” Edwards said. “I hope it’s an indication we’ve caught up with them, I believe we are. But if there’s one thing we learned it’s that we have to stay on top of it.”
Johnson’s team won its second straight championship in 2007 and was trying to pick up his fifth win in the past seven races. His No. 48 Chevrolet was leading when action resumed Monday with Lap 88 and wound up leading more laps (76) than Gordon (68) or Edwards (64) in a race that looked pretty much all along as if one of those three would win.
But Johnson said that after the preseason test he felt like it was his team that had a lot to learn this weekend,“Our test here was discouraging,” said Johnson, who finished 27th in the season-opening race at Daytona.
“It has been a great weekend for us. We learned a lot about the cars and made up a lot of ground. I really feel we’re getting on to things.”
Johnson’s team gave him the lead on the final pit stop. Gordon was behind him for the restart with 26 laps left with Edwards back in fourth behind Jamie McMurray, who took just two tires on that stop.
Edwards moved around McMurray immediately and took second from Gordon on Lap 233. It took him five more laps after that to vanquish Johnson.
“I was just trying to go wherever he wasn’t and he was trying to go where I wasn’t,” Edwards said of his battle for the lead with Johnson. “I am lucky that was a little bit loose and I was able to get by him.”
Edwards’ victory allowed Roush Fenway Racing to win this race for the fourth straight year. Two-time defending race winner Matt Kenseth finished fifth, behind fourth-place Kyle Busch’s Toyota. Greg Biffle, who won this race in 2004, finished 15th.
“We are going to have a great year,” Roush said. “That monkey isn’t going to ride as high as he did on our backs last season.”