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Staying in Sonoma pays off for Edwards

June 27, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

SONOMA, Calif. -- More practice time allowed No. 99 team to find right setup for third-place finish

For Carl Edwards, staying was the hardest part. The Sprint Cup points leader bagged his planned trip this weekend to the Nationwide Series race at Road America to focus on his effort at Infineon Raceway, a decision that meant watching helplessly as fill-in driver Billy Johnson was knocked out of the Wisconsin event with mechanical problems.

But it also meant a little more practice time on the Northern California road course, which seemed to pay off when Edwards surged to an out-of-nowhere third-place finish in Sonoma that allowed him to push his points advantage to 25 on second-place Kevin Harvick.

"It was tough to watch the race [at Road America]. But I think staying was the right decision. It paid off. It was a good call."

--CARL EDWARDS

"It was tough to watch the race [at Road America]. But I think staying was the right decision," Edwards said Sunday. "It paid off. It was a good call. We could have finished poorly here, ended up on the fence over there like Tony did or something. Anything can happen. It turned out to be the right call and it paid off, so it was a great move."

That would be Tony Stewart, who wound up hanging from a tire barrier in Turn 11 after taking a retaliatory punt from Brian Vickers. Edwards caught a little damage in one of the many melees that erupted Sunday on a road course becoming well-known for producing hard feelings, and had to make an extended stop on pit road for repairs. But the No. 99 car came around in the second half of the race, allowing Edwards to tie his best-ever finish on a road course in NASCAR's premier division.

"We were looking pretty good at the end of the race," crew chief Bob Osborne said. "But we had to keep working on it, no doubt. We needed to tune on it to get it as good as it could possibly be."

Edwards, who is also running full time on the Nationwide tour, was originally scheduled to wheel the No. 60 car in Saturday's event at Road America, where he was defending champion. The plan was to skip Saturday's Sprint Cup practice sessions at Infineon, and put the setup of Ford colleague Marcos Ambrose in the No. 99. But late Friday, unhappy with how his performance in Sonoma was trending, Edwards called the CEO of his Nationwide car sponsor and asked to put Johnson in the car in Elkhart Lake.

"That was the call of the weekend right there," Edwards said. "It ended up giving us the two hours of practice we really needed to work on the car, and that's what made this a good day for us. ... It was not the most fun way to spend Saturday -- I would much rather have gone and raced over there. But it was great for everybody to come together. Bob did a great job with the strategy. Early in the race we were terrible. We were back there mired in the pack."

Edwards' 23rd-place starting spot was to blame for that, putting the driver in a tough position on a road course where winners almost always start near the front. But over time the car improved, and the timing of cautions helped Edwards climb to 12th, and then to third, and then to second behind eventual winner Kurt Busch with 17 laps remaining.

"The cautions fell at the right time for us [Sunday]," Osborne said. "Between Carl watching what was going on and the guys on the box looking at all the data, we were able to make the right decisions as a group, and that paid off for us."

Jeff Gordon passed Edwards to take second place with two laps remaining, denying the Roush Fenway driver a chance to improve upon his previous best finish on a road course, third at Watkins Glen International in 2009. But afterward, given where he had started, Edwards was far from displeased with the outcome.

"I think this was a huge weekend for us," he said. And Osborne believed Edwards' decision to remain in Sonoma and practice his Sprint Cup car on Saturday played a role in it.

"I 100 percent believe it did," the crew chief said. "Anytime you can put more practice in the pavement and get more ideas run through the car to get a feel for how the car is going to react, is better."

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