Last-lap passes are a rarity in NASCAR, but not so this season. On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series saw its third last-lap pass for a win with Carl Edwards driving his way to a second consecutive checkered flag.
In the Daytona 500, JGR came away on the right side with Denny Hamlin’s win. In Phoenix, it was Edwards losing to Kevin Harvick on the final stretch.
So what made Sunday different? The two cars battling for the win were both from the Gibbs stable. And Edwards didn’t give Kyle Busch any mercy, pulling a bump-and-run move in Turn 4 to clinch a fourth straight win for Gibbs.
Edwards’ crew chief Dave Rogers knows the JGR shop will be a little uncomfortable this week, but said the move was what’s best for NASCAR and its fans.
“If we look at the big picture, today was a great day for NASCAR,” Rogers said. “Our fans don’t want to see teammate orders. They don’t deserve teammates to fall in line. They deserve good, hard racing.
“I think it would be very disappointing to our fans if Joe [Gibbs] imposed a team order and told us, ‘Hey, have a parade instead of a race.’ … That’s just a testament to Joe Gibbs Racing for allowing us to put ourselves in that position.”
The final pass was easily the most exciting, but NASCAR’s rule changes have brought the competition back to life. Sunday’s race saw 23 green-flag lead changes – the most since 2007 at Richmond. After last fall’s race was completely dominated by Matt Kenseth, Sunday at least saw more parity at the top.
Competitive racing is great, except for the loser.
Busch has shown a volatile personality in the past, but remained scripted in the post-race press conference about his teammate’s move. He deflected questions about Edwards, simply stating that his “Banfield Camry was awesome” and “my team gave me a great car,” on multiple occasions.
So, would Busch do the same in Edwards’ shoes? In a heartbeat.
“We still finished first and second and nobody got wrecked,” Edwards said. “But you can’t just sit there. If the roles were reversed, I’d expect [Busch] to bump me the same way. That’s hard racing.”
Joe Gibbs didn’t show as much emotion during the post-race presser that he normally would for his driver’s winning. However, he did share that this was somewhat of a nightmarish situation for him.
“Kind of my fear is always at the end when you’ve got cars as good as we have and drivers as good as we have that you’ll wind up with two of your teammates battling there,” he said. “You wish it wouldn’t happen. … It’s one of those things that we’re going to work our way through.”
After watching Jimmie Johnson push Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a victory at Talladega last year, fans were questioning the team aspect on NASCAR. Following Sunday’s race, there’s no question that drivers are still out for wins regardless of who they battle to get there.
It’s not so much about wanting to take out a teammate, but the necessity of winning. With both teams already in the Chase and a chance at another checkered flag, Edwards saw a chance and took it – simple as that.
“There’s no time to consider much,” Edwards explained. “Really, to be honest, the last 30 laps or something I was just head down driving as hard as I possibly could. … You’re left as a racecar driver [asking], ‘What do we do here?’ We’re here to win a race.
“At this point in the season, we’ve both got wins. Really it’s about going out for trophies and having fun.”