BRISTOL, Tenn. — This time, Kahne wasn’t able.
A night after coming on strong in the closing laps to win the Busch Series race, Kasey Kahne was dominant early in Saturday night’s Sharpie 500 before Carl Edwards took over in the second half to score his first Nextel Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kahne led 305 of the first 334 laps, but he surrendered the lead for good to Edwards on lap 335 and didn’t have anything for the No. 99 car in a night race that featured side-by-side racing and several long green-flag runs on the newly resurfaced racetrack.
“No matter what happens this year, we won the night race at Bristol,” Edwards said after his win. “I’m very, very grateful to even be here, so just to win this race was huge — it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Kahne was leading by a wide margin before he was slowed by traffic, allowing Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to catch up. The three cars jockeyed for the lead, with Edwards coming out of the battle in first.
Almost as soon as Edwards got the lead, he was forced to surrender it when the field cycled through green-flag pit stops just two laps later.
But he regained it for good during a caution period on lap 371. All told, Edwards ran up front for 182 laps, by far the most laps he’s led in a single Cup event in his career.
“I think the first 300 laps we were the best car,” Kahne said. “After that, I think Carl came out a little bit stronger and I could never get back to him.”
After a tame start to the race, the caution flag flew five times in the final 100-plus laps, leaving Edwards to hold off Kahne down the stretch.
“Those restarts were just wearing my nerves,” Edwards said. “I think it took three or four years off my life.”
Clint Bowyer steadily worked his way up through the field after starting 15th, finishing third and further securing his spot among the top 12 drivers who will race in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship. But despite the good showing, Bowyer couldn’t help but shake his head after coming close to finally securing his first-ever Cup win.
“Bristol’s always been good to me, believe it or not,” he said. “Two tracks I’d love to win at, and that’s here and Daytona.”
Tony Stewart finally found a set of tires he liked on his last pit stop and rode them to a fourth-place finish after running outside of the top 10 for most of the race.
Stewart moved into second in the series standings after some bad luck hit his competitors. Denny Hamlin finished last after blowing an engine on lap 212, dropping him to third in points, and two-time defending race champion Matt Kenseth finished in 39th after wrecking late, falling to fourth.
It was a rough weekend for Kenseth, who struggled in both races at Bristol. His car never seemed to get through the corners well Saturday night, and he couldn’t avoid getting tangled with the No. 88 car of Ricky Rudd as it spun out between turns one and two.
“I saw the wreck and I slowed down as much as I could,” Kenseth said. “I just couldn’t get stopped. I was kind of in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we put ourselves there.”
Earnhardt rounded out the top five, with Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman right on his heels.
After Hendrick Motorsports dominated the first Car of Tomorrow race in the spring, there was more of a balance on Saturday. Kyle Busch, who won the spring race, finished ninth, but Jeff Gordon finished 19th, Jimmie Johnson 21st and Casey Mears 22nd.
Meanwhile, Edwards gave Ford its first victory in a CoT race while three Dodges ran in the top 10.