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45,000 See Edwards Win

By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June21, 2008: It an entirely different manner than what we’ve been accustomed to see, Carl Edwards dove low into the first turn on lap 225 and washed up into the side of Clint Bowyer’s car sending him out of the groove and towards the wall and that move propelled the defending Nationwide series champion to his first win of 2008 in the Camping World RV Rental 250 at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile.
The routine for Edwards continued in the different mode after the win when he passed on his signature back flip instead doing a Polish Victory Lap to salute former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, the late Alan Kulwicki from Wisconsin who made his mark on this speedway many times. Edwards was roundly booed for not doing the back flip but explained that he was not proud of the way the victory came about and the fact that NHRA driver Scott Kalitta was killed earlier in the day and he felt it was not a time to really celebrate in his normal manner.
What made Edwards win more impressive was the fact that he arrived at the track just an hour before the race, his car being practiced and qualified by Erik Darnell, as he was with his Cup team in Sonoma, California for tomorrows race and had to fly here, along with four other drivers, for the race and jump into a car with no practice time. Joining Edwards in this manner was Bowyer, David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose. The fifth traveling driver, David Reutimann had made it Milwaukee in time for qualifying thus avoiding having to drop to the back of the field at the start by having a driver change.
The first 200 laps of the race belonged to the new young lions of NASCAR as rookie Brad Keselowski, the winner of his first series race just two weeks ago, captured the pole for the 250 lap affair and was in front for the first 56 laps of the race with his potent Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Keselowski looked like the car to beat in the early portion of the race that was conducted under the sun but as the race wore on and the sun was replaced by darkness, it cooled the track and thus presented a major challenge to crew chiefs to keep up with changes to the car as the track also changed it’s chacteristics.
The race was slowed on lap 20 for the first time when Bowyer nudged Mike Wallace and he slid up into Brad Coleman causing the later to spin and hit the wall.
The early caution sent Edwards, who had started 39th by virtue of the driver change, to the pits to begin a series of changes in an effort to get the car to the way he liked it. To compound the situation, Edwards was working with a new crew chief for the first time at a race that he had not had the chance to speak even one word to nor practice the car. Drew Blickensderfer, who had been the chief on Matt Kenseth’s Nationwide series team, took over for Edwards in a switch this week that saw Pierre Kittel move over to Kenseth’s team from Edwards. Edwards had moved to 15th by this stop but again had to restart deep in the field.
Keselowski led Mike Bliss, Reutimann, Landon Cassill, Kelly Bires, and Joey Logano on the restart. Logano, 18 years of age and in only his fourth career start, was seeking his second consecutive victory and was the driver on the move after the restart.
By the time the second caution appeared on lap 55 for a spin by David Stremme in the second turn Reutimann had moved into second and was closing in on the leaders. This yellow sent all the lead lap cars to the pit with the exception of Burney Lamar, who stayed out to lead a lap.
Keselowski’s Jr. Motorsports team got him off pit road first but on the ensuing restart he was not as fast as previously and Bliss was able to catch him for the lead on lap 63. It took Keselowski’s tires 20 laps to heat up after the restart and he was able to reel Bliss back in and retake the lead on lap 84 just as Travis Kittleson spun in the third turn.
Despite having made stops just 30 laps ago, all the leaders again made a stop under this yellow with James Buescher’s team electing to just add fuel and a wedge adjustment to turn their driver out ahead of the rest of the field. Buescher, also 18, was driving the Toyota that Kyle Busch had driven to victory earlier in the year so the car was capable to being up front but on the restart, with no new tires versus 4 for the rest, he was no match as Keselowski was able to again exert his prowess and took the lead one lap into the restart.
At this juncture Edwards was running in the top five with Bowyer and Ragan just outside the top five as all three drivers had made enough changes to their cars to be factors in the race.
With darkness now over the track it was Logano, however, who was on the move. Passing car after car, he was able to close in on Keselowski as two more cautions made the drive to the front somewhat easier. Stremme was again involved in the 5th caution when he was hit from behind and turned into the wall on lap 157 and just 9 laps later Cale Gale and Braun came in contact in the fourth turn for the 6th yellow.
On the restart Logan looked for an opportunity to get by Keselowski and that opportunity came right away. Logano made his move as he sailed into the first turn and washed up into Keselowski knocking in his left front fender and sending the car out of the racing groove. The contact altered the handling on his car and despite later pits stops to correct the problem the damage was done and he finished the race in 8th.
Logano ruled the race leading Edwards, Ragan and Bowyer until the 204th lap when the yellow appeared for debris on the back stretch.
With teams not sure of making it to the end on the fuel they had all the lead lap cars again made a pit stop and it was Steven Wallace leading the way off the pit road opting for two tires and fuel while the rest took on all four new tires.
Edwards was right behind Wallace on the restart and wasted little time getting around him to take his first lead of the night but in just two laps it was Bowyer getting around Edwards to take his lead, also culminating his drive from the real of the field to the front.
The eighth caution again involved Kittleson and set up the late race drama that usually follows a long NASCAR race. On the restart it was Edwards who saw that Bowyer was giving him the bottom groove, so he dove into the first turn, and like Logano previously he washed up into Bowyer sending him towards the wall.
Logano was able to get by Bowyer as well and set off after Edwards and was closing in on him when Wallace and Chase Miller tangled in the fourth turn on lap 226.
The restart allowed the field to bunch back up but Edwards got a clean jump on the restart and cruised the final 20 laps to his first win of the season.
“I did not want to pass him like that for the lead,” said Edwards in victory lane. “He has always raced me clean and I didn’t and I’m not real proud of that. He gave me the bottom and I just flat out went in too hard and came right up into him. I hope that somehow he can forgive me because that is just not how I race.”
Bowyer was very upset after the race limiting his comments to: “We fought tight all race long and got it right when we needed it to be right and then to have it (victory) taken from us not right. I’m okay with it but I did not expect that from him (Edwards). I race him clean and expect the same in return. The shoe will be on the other foot someday and he better by okay with it then.”
Logano, who also had to explain away his contact with Keselowski, was very selective with his choice of words as a very young rookie. “It was my fault,” said Logano. “We were racing hard for the lead and the win and drove too hard into the corner and hit him. My brakes were pulsating all race long and I just hit them too hard and drifted up into him and made contact. I’ll take responsibility for that and move forward.
For the Edwards/Blickensderfer union, the start could not have gone better. “Pierre (Kittel) set up this car back at the shop and Erik (Darnell) did the practice and qualifying, I’m just learning this team,” said Blickensderfer. “Carl and I talked all race long and it was the first time were did so, so it is a learning experience for us both and hopefully this is just the way to start off.”
Team owner, Jack Roush, had made the crew chief changes to try and turn the defending series champion season around. Edwards jumped to an impressive point lead early last year and then cruised to the title but had not won since June of last year and the change was made to try and break the current dry spell. It looks as though it worked.
Wisconsin’s Scott Wimmer was in the thick of the race battle during the mid point of the race but was not a factor at the end, finishing 6th. “I certainly would have liked to do better in front of my home state fans but we did not keep up with the track tonight,” said Wimmer. “We were right on for a while but at the end I had all I could do to keep up, we were just too tight.”
Bliss, Keselowski, Jason Keller, and Jason Leffler rounded out the top ten in front of an announced crowd of 45,000.
Despite not being very happy Bowyer extended his series point lead to 188 over Keselowski as the series heads to New Hampshire next week.