AVONDALE, Ariz. — Carl Edwards pulled away on a late start to snap a 70-race winless streak Sunday, the second long drought he’s ended at Phoenix International Raceway.
Edwards broke the longest slump of his career by winning at Phoenix in 2010. He won for the first time since Las Vegas in 2011 by leading the final 78 laps on the 312-mile race around PIR’s odd-shaped oval.
Coming off a miserable week at Daytona, where he wrecked five cars, Edwards got a push from defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski on the restart with two laps left. He pulled away to win the first non-restrictor-plate race with NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car.
Edwards did his celebratory backflip for the first time in nearly two years, then went into the stands to celebrate with the fans — just like he did after his last win at PIR.
Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson was second by inches and Denny Hamlin finished third with a bold pass on the apron during the final lap. Keselowski was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up fifth.
The last race at Phoenix, in November, set up Keselowski for his first Sprint Cup title after Johnson blew a tire. It also featured quite a sideshow.
A running feud between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon boiled over late in the race, setting off a brawl in the pits and Bowyer on a WWE-style dash to Gordon’s hauler.
The drivers tried to downplay the confrontation after arriving in the desert this week, but it’s been hard to avoid, with video of the scrap-and-dash being shown all over in promos for the race and in replays.
The only running this time was Ryan Newman: across the track and away from his car after it blew a right-front tire for the second time in 140 laps.
Inside his car, Mark Martin failed in his bid to become the oldest Sprint Cup winner.
The 54-year-old became the second-oldest driver to start up front in a Sprint Cup car, a few months short of Harry Gant’s mark. Martin led the first 49 laps and 26 more later on, but couldn’t sustain it in his bid to become the oldest Sprint Cup winner, finishing 21st.
Danica Patrick had a rough follow-up to her breakthrough week at the Daytona 500.
She became the first woman to win a pole and lead green-flag laps during NASCAR’s season-opener, sending her popularity to a new level.
Patrick couldn’t stay with the leaders at Phoenix, ending her day with one of the hardest hits of her career. It happened with about 100 laps left, when the right-front tire on Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet went down and slammed her into the wall.
Patrick’s car careened back into David Ragan, flipping her hood over the windshield and shredding the left front fender as protective foam from the driver’s side door flew onto the track.
She came to a stop along the inside wall with a trail of debris covering about half the home straightaway behind her. She climbed from the car and was quickly cleared by the medical center.
“Whenever those right-fronts go, they always hit hard because you don’t broadside, you hit more straight on,” said Patrick, who finished 39th. “It took a hard hit both sides and I’m fine, so NASCAR is doing a good job at safety. But no real good warning. The car wasn’t all that tight and most of the (problems) were in the rear, so there was no real vibration that told me that was going to happen.”