SONOMA, Calif. — Carl Edwards grew up watching Jeff Gordon dominate NASCAR events at Sonoma Raceway. Sunday, in the waning moments of the Toyota/Save Mart 350, all Edwards saw was Gordon in his rearview mirror.
But in another surprise result on the 1.99-mile road course, Edwards held off Gordon over the final eight laps to capture his first career Sprint Cup road course victory.
Edwards, who had finished third in Sonoma in 2011 and 2013, led the final 26 laps for his second victory of the season. Edwards finished 0.591 seconds ahead of Gordon, as a Ford won on the course for the first time since 2002 and Hendrick Motorsports’ streak of victories ended at five.
Edwards is the 10th different winner in the past 10 Cup races at Sonoma and the eighth consecutive driver to capture his first Cup series road course win at the track.
Edwards also became the fifth driver to secure a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Cup.
“The real special part for me was to stand in victory lane at Sonoma and have Jeff Gordon come and give me a handshake,” said Edwards, who now has 23 career Cup victories. “I grew up watching Jeff Gordon and specifically watching how he drove this racetrack. That’s really super. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Aside from the two times he pitted, Edwards was in the top five for a majority of the race. Executing a two-stop strategy, he moved up from 28th after his second pit stop to second place with 30 laps to go.
On the second-to-last restart on Lap85, Edwards passed Marcos Ambrose to take the lead. Gordon had passed Jamie McMurray with less than 10 laps to go to move into second and spent the last few laps making up ground. But he was never in a solid enough position to overtake Edwards before the checkered flag came out.
“I wish I could have had those last five or six laps to do over again,” said Gordon, who now has finished first or second a combined 10 times in Sonoma. “I started overdriving it a little bit trying to catch up. If I had just stayed smooth and stuck with it “ I might have had a shot of at least putting more pressure on Carl to force him to make a mistake or maybe get a run inside of him.”
Edwards’ past nine performances in Sonoma were hit or miss, with four top 10s and five results outside the top 13.
But he was third fastest in Friday’s final practice and qualified fourth, leading Edwards to then tell his car chief, Richie Davis, “I think we’re going to win this thing.”
Halfway through the race, Edwards felt as if his car wasn’t quite good enough to make a run at the lead. But adjustments were made by crew chief Jimmy Fennig, as he brought Edwards into pit lane on Lap70 — one lap earlier than was planned.
A caution flag came out as soon as Edwards left the pit area, expediting Edwards’ drive to the front.
“We were getting beat up out there,” Fennig said, “but the end result worked out to our favor.”
Edwards said of Fennig: “He reminded me to leave nothing out there and to drive as hard as I could. That was what I needed.”
There were 11 lead changes, with pole winner Jamie McMurray leading the first eight laps before he was passed by AJ Allmendinger, who led a combined 35 laps. But Allmendinger fell out of contention after a collision with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap86. Earnhardt finished third.
Kevin Harvick had one of the stronger cars and led 23 laps. But on Lap82, McMurray spun Clint Bowyer coming out of Turn11. Harvick then collided with Bowyer, with both cars suffering damage.
Bowyer recovered to finish 10th, but Harvick finished 20th.
“Today was just another day with the fastest car,” Harvick said. “We had a chance to win the race and kind of flubbed it up again. Just got ourselves bad track position and crashed.”