My Brain on NASCAR: Subway Day at Phoenix
A losing streak that lasted so long even Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won a race since it began was snapped on March 3, when Carl Edwards took the checkered flag at Phoenix International Raceway.
Edwards, driving the No. 99 Subway Ford, led 122 laps on his way to winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Giving the command for the drivers to start their engines was actor and new Subway spokesman Brian Baumgartner, who stars as voracious over-eater and general sloth-in-residence Kevin Malone on the terrific NBC sitcom "The Office."
I was watching the UNC Tarheels put a beatdown on the Seminoles at Florida State at the time and missed the prerace festivities, but I'm willing to bet that Jared Fogel, AKA America's Unlikeliest Celebrity, was also lurking somewhere around the track. That guy makes more races than some of the drivers.
Long story short, it was officially Subway Day. Let the conspiracy theories begin.
In all honesty, it really was quite the perfect storm for this loyal race sponsor, which has also featured drivers Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart in its advertising campaigns. Seventy races had come and gone since Edwards' last win — at Las Vegas in March 2011 — and while I still question the wisdom of his trademark celebratory backflip, he earned it fair and square.
(Note to sponsors: Maybe someone should design a cool-looking skateboarder-style helmet for Edwards to wear in Victory Lane. It might save him a really bad headache with the added bonus of saving his team owner Jack Roush a few sleepless nights. Keeping the boss happy is never a bad thing.)
It was truly a great day for Subway, but after 70 races and two years it is safe to say that Edwards is back? He thinks so.
"A lot of people that have been in sports understand this, but when you're struggling it seems like time slows down. You're working harder, you're trying more, you're questioning yourself more," Edwards said after the race. "I'm very, very happy to be back in the mix here. A victory is huge, and for so many reasons. Last year we didn't make the Chase. For me to sit home while everybody was at the Chase stuff and at Vegas, that was a little bit of a shock to me. I did not like that at all.
"To get a victory helps us be in a better position for the Chase. It just feels good to win, and I'm just very glad to be here."
Ford lost Edwards' former teammate Matt Kenseth, one of the manufacturer's most dominant drivers, to the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team this season, so it's nice to see Edwards step up and fill the gap. His Roush Fenway Racing colleagues Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are doing their part, as well; both drivers are currently sitting in the top 10 in the driver standings.
One last thing: If anyone knows of a restaurant chain, like Chipotle or maybe Buffalo Wild Wings, that wants to make someone a celebrity in exchange for eating their food, I would totally be open to discussing that. Just sayin'.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Phoenix race turned on pit road
Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service
Getting off pit road first under caution on Lap 238 made all the difference in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500, the way both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards saw it.
Edwards was first out of the pits and went on to win the race. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was second off pit road and faded to fifth at the finish.
When David Gilliland blew a tire and hit the wall on Lap 236—the sixth blown right front tire of the race—Earnhardt led the field to pit road for tires and fuel two laps later. He and Edwards rolled down pit road side by side, but Earnhardt had to check up to avoid hitting the Ford of Casey Mears, which was blocking his progress.
"Well, I hate to be frustrated at Phoenix, but I think we are," Earnhardt said. "We had a real good car. We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race. Just didn't get the breaks on pit road. We kind of got boxed in. ... I think we could have beat him off pit road, but somebody (Mears) was pulling in their stall in front of us, and I just had to lift and give the spot to the No. 99 (Edwards). That was the race, in my opinion, and we almost had it won right there."
Edwards had a similar view of the situation.
"First of all, I think we came onto pit road fourth, something like that," Edwards said. "We came out first. I was in front of Dale. He must have had the timing lines figured out really well because I was at the max speed I could go, and he shot up there, and I thought, 'Man, I can't go any faster; I'm going to get a penalty.'
"Then Casey was up there, and I thought, I'm not exactly sure how this is going to work out, and then he turned left and Dale could have run me up into the wall and spun Casey out. I could tell he thought about it. I mean, I think he did because there was that little pause, and I thought, he's going to do it.
"And then he stood on the brakes and kept from tearing all the cars up. That had to be very difficult for him, because I think we all knew right then that was the...that could be the race."
Edwards sped away at the restart on Lap 243 and never looked back, leading the final 78 laps.
Bold move pays for Hamlin
On the final lap—the fourth overtime circuit—of Sunday's race, Denny Hamlin saw an opportunity to take advantage of a second-place battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.
At the exit of Turn 2, Hamlin darted down to the apron, cutting across the unique dogleg on the backstretch, as Johnson and Keselowski were battling side by side. Hamlin returned to the banking at the entry to Turn 3.
Though Johnson got back past Hamlin before the finish, Hamlin held off Keselowski for third and, as he put it, "overachieved" at Phoenix.
"I wasn't concerned too much, because as far down as I was, I was committed," Hamlin said of the move that gained him a position. "There was nothing I was going to do that was going to back out. I just hoped that I would have slid in front of the 48 (Johnson), but then you risk getting punted and spun and your whole day you worked everything for gets taken away in a corner.
"I held my line and really thought I did the right thing to give those guys still an opportunity to pass me back, and obviously one of them did."