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Carl Does It Again!
Carl Edwards in Victory Lane (Roy Schmidt)
Carl Edwards in Victory Lane (Roy Schmidt)

By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN June 20, 2009 Carl Edwards returned to the track tonight that he turned his 2008 NASCAR Nationwide series season around by winning that race and then left this evening with his second straight Mile victory in the NorthernTool.Com 250 with hopes that it is the same springboard as last year.
But by contrast the victories were as different as night and day. Last year, June 21, 2008 the racing world was stunned by the tragic death of drag racing star Scott Kalitta, a friend of Edwards and the entire racing community. As the day of racing here began to unfold, Edwards, mired in a dismal season following his 2007 season championship, had come to Milwaukee without a victory and a new crew chief not knowing what to expect. As the race wore on it came down to Edwards and Clint Bowyer with Edwards moving Bowyer aside to post the win. Under the circumstances of the day and the race Edwards dispensed with his usual post victory back-flip to a resounding chorus of boos from the fans, most of which did not fully understand the mood of the driver until well after the race.
Fast forward to tonight and the situation was different in the fact that a tragedy did not enter the picture but Edwards did come to Milwaukee without a win this year and with a new crew chief again. This time, however, he did have some experience with Dan Stillman, a native of Menasha, by working him from the outset of the season, yet they continued to fall short to the Gibb’s racing Toyota juggernaut of Kyle Bush, Joey Logano and anyone else driving one of their potent cars.
Both Edwards and Busch came to Milwaukee late this afternoon after practicing for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup race at Sonoma, California having Colin Braun and Johnny Sauter practice and qualify their Nationwide cars prior to their arrival, with both having to start at the rear of the field because of the driver changes.
With Edwards and Busch being the only Sprint Cup regular drivers to make the trek from California to Milwaukee it set the stage for the Nationwide series regulars to shine and shine they did, at least until the pair made their way through the field.
Erik Darnell, from Beach Park, Illinois, whose lineage includes many ties to the Milwaukee Mile and a rookie in the Nationwide series driving for Roush-Fenway Racing emerged from qualifying with his first career series pole position edging Gibb’s racing driver Brad Coleman for the top spot.
Darnell paced the first 14 laps of the race with Coleman, Brendan Gaughan, Stephen Leicht and Ricky Stenhouse Jr in pursuit.
Darnell fought side by side with Coleman leading lap 15 before falling in behind Darnell for the next five laps before taking the lead again on lap 21. Once Coleman made it past Darnell the later began to fall quickly through the field as the handling on his car began to slip away.
Coleman led the next 29 laps as Leicht began to reel him in to take the lead on lap 50 for one lap before Coleman again took the top spot. As these battled side by side, Stenhouse, a teammate to both Darnell and Edwards at Roush-Fenway, closed in and made a bold pass between the pair to take the lead on lap 56 and he remained in front until green flag pit stops began on lap 75.
While all this was happening in front Edwards and Busch were moving through the field and were in the top ten by the 50th lap with Edwards leading the way until being passed by Busch on the 72nd lap.
Brad Keselowski and Edwards took turn leading the race as the pits stops were completed and after every one stopped it was Stenhouse back in control followed by Keselowski, Leicht and Busch. Edwards, by virtue of staying out longer to lead a lap lost valuable time on and off the track and came out in 10th as the field was strung out now, the result of the green flag stops.
Stenhouse paced the race until the 105th lap before Keselowski was able to take control of the race with Busch now in third followed by local favorite Scott Wimmer, who had steadily worked his way through the field to get in the top five.
Keselowski stayed in front until lap 125 when Busch completed his last to first drive to take his first lead of the day. The current Nationwide series point leader and winner of 4 series races this year then began to pull away from the field before the first caution of the race appeared on lap 125 for debris off of the car driven by Trevor Bayne.
The second round of pits stops during this caution saw Busch’s pit crew turn him out ahead of Keselowski, Stenhouse, Leicht, Wimmer and Edwards.
Busch would rule the next 67 laps of the race but it was Edwards that was on the moved steadily moving up catching each driver in front of him and moving into second on lap 169 with Busch then over three seconds ahead of him.
By the second caution of the race on lap 194 for debris Edwards had cut that margin to just over a second and emerged from that round of pit stops right behind Busch, poised to make his move.
On the restart the pair raced nose to tail until lap 203 before Edwards dropped low and pulled alongside Busch as the pair raced the next lap and half before Edwards was able to make the pass.
After the pass Coleman lost the right front tire on his car and hit the wall bring out the third caution of the race.
Edwards remained in control on the restart but it was only four laps before Scott Lagasse Jr. and Justin Allgaier made contact in the fourth turn to bring out what would be the races final caution.
As he had done on the previous restart Edwards jumped to the lead with Darnell, who had worked his way back through the field, overtaking Busch for the number two spot on lap 221, only to loose it back to him with 5 laps to go.
At the finish it was Edwards 4.124 ahead of Busch with Keselowski getting by Darnell to take third. Stenhouse finished fifth to give Roush-Fenway racing three cars in the top five.
A jubilant Edwards made good on the promise he made last year to come back and win this year and do his trademark back flip and he did not disappoint this year to a rousing thunder of applause from the appreciative crowd.
“We are coming together,” said Edwards. “We were not the fastest car in the first run but tonight our team made the right changes and we got better and better and we just had fun. I can’t begin to tell you how hard Mike Beam has worked to get all our Nationwide cars better as well as Dan (crew chief Stillman) and everyone at Roush-Fenway. I can only hope that this does for us what it did for us last year (winning this race).”
Edwards went on to win seven times in the last 19 races and made the championship battle a two way affair after Bowyer had moved to a 300 plus point lead early in the season.
Team co-owner, Jack Roush made an infrequent visit to Milwaukee accompanying Edwards on the flight from California, perhaps as a premonition to the efforts of the evening.
“This win was a long time coming for Carl and it certainly has not been easy in this series,” said Roush. “The competition has set the bar high and we’ve struggled to meet it. Our teams are working hard on all aspects, engines, chassis and pit crew and we saw those efforts began to pay off tonight.”
Busch was his usual terse self after not winning. “I’m not here to finish second”, said Busch. “I traveled all this way to win the race and I didn’t win the race.”
He gave credit to Edwards by saying that he knew Carl had the better hand tonight. “I could see he was better and when the time came he just came up and passed me. Any time I tried to go harder than I was already going, I got loose and that curtailed my efforts to catch back up.”
Keselowski, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s race team said he has a fun night. “Our short rack program is so good that it is just plain fun to run these tracks,” said Keselowski. “We need to get better on the bigger tracks to make a run for the championship and that is our goal.”
Darnell was not pleased despite his fourth place showing. “We we’re fast for 20 laps and then the car got real tight and I just could not hold it down,” said Darnell. “The team made so many changes tonight, the most I have ever experienced in a race, and that kept us in contention. I just did not have the car for the long run tonight and that just killed our chances. It is frustrating because the car was fast and I knew I could have done better.”
Stenhouse, a development driver for Roush, making only his fourth start in a Nationwide car for the team was ecstatic with his first top five finish in the series. “We led laps and I kept the car off the wall, it was a great night.”
Steven Wallace, Mike Bliss, Leicht, Ron Hornaday Jr and Jason Leffler rounded out the top ten.
Wimmer, battled back from a pit road speeding penalty following the lap 208 caution to battle Bliss for the sixth spit before striking the later with his right front fender pushing it on the tire and forcing a pit stop to change the blown tire with just 8 laps to go to finish 18th after being in the top five and ten all race long.
“It is just unfortunate to do so good so long only to loose it at the end,” said a frustrated Wimmer. “We just need a little bit of luck to turn this season around.”
Busch leaves Milwaukee with a 127 point lead over Edwards as the series heads to Loudon, New Hampshire for a race next Saturday.