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Edwards survives multiple restarts to win Food City 500

STEVE WILMOTH, TriCitiesSports.com • Apr 17, 2016 at 6:24 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Carl Edwards won multiple restart battles ahead of myriad chasers to win Sunday’s 56th Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Edwards largely dominated the race, leading 276 of the 500 laps in winning from the pole in an event that featured a season-high 15 restarts. He led the final 104 laps and 233 of the final 307 circuits while keeping his No. 19 Toyota on the point during seven of eight restarts in the last 164 circuts, including the final five over the final 84.

“It was a great race for us,” Edwards said. “It started for us on Friday in qualifying, winning the pole and getting the first pit stall. The whole weekend was just a real testament to our entire team.”

While Edwards was dominating, tire issues befell his three Job Gibbs Racing teammates: Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Busch, the all-time Bristol wins leader, was bidding for his sixth Sprint Cup win at Bristol and third straight series win this year, but he suffered a blown right front tire while running third on lap 53 to bring out the first caution. Busch fell all the way down to 32nd but moved back through the pack to eighth before being involved in an accident on lap 117. Again, Busch moved the No. 18 Toyota back through the field and into the top 10, but the same tire blew a second time on lap 260 and he crashed in turn 2 for his first DNF of the season.

“I have no idea what the issue was. We just kept getting tighter in the long runs,” Busch said. “We drove up from the back to the front a couple of times and showed what we were made of. We probably were one on the few cars today to do that with how hard it is to pass here. But it doesn’t matter when you are in the garage.”

Hamlin spent time against the wall twice while Kenseth blew the same tire as Busch while leading on lap 188.

“We just kept blowing right front tires and I don’t know why,” said Kenseth, the defending race champion.

Edwards was the only JGR driver not to suffer the fate.

“I have the best teammates in the business,” he said. “I know if they can have trouble, I can have trouble, so there was some concern and I was nervous about it. Everybody pushes everything to the edge in this sport. We don’t know what happened, we’ll just go back and look at it and learn from it. But for some reason, we didn’t have any of those issues.”

Behind Edwards, the racing was entertaining and featured multiple contenders in the winner’s rear view mirror.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame a loss of power before the race was officially underway. The issue was blamed on a faulty electronic control unit that surfaced just as the green flag was dropping. Still, Earnhardt worked his way back from two laps down for a runner-up finish.

“We ran a setup we’d never run here before,” he said. “And we weren’t really that good. We didn’t have a top-five car, we had a top-15 car, but we got a lot of luck on the last several restarts being in the right lane on the outside.”

Kurt Busch was only driver to get past Edwards on a restart, taking the point on lap 356. But restarting second on the final restart, Busch couldn’t replicate the pass and could only watch as Edwards pulled away once more.

“That was fun,” Kurt Busch said. “I don’t know if I supposed to be happy about finishing third, but I’ll take it. I was hoping to do the bump-and-run on him (Edwards), but he was too good and I just couldn’t get there.”

Bidding to become the first rookie to win at Bristol since the late Dale Earnhardt in 1979, Chase Elliott ran as high as second before coming home fourth after being shuffled back in the final couple of restarts. The finish was a career high for Elliott, one week after a fifth place at Texas.

“We hit on a few things yesterday in the final practice,” Elliott said. “We were close but unfortunately not close enough.”

Trevor Bayne finish a triumphant fifth, a thrill for the Knoxville native. Bayne also had a mid-race calamity to overcome that dropped him some twenty positions.

“If there is a track I’d choose to run like that it would be Bristol,” he said. “You can’t come back from adversity here if you don’t have a good race car. To get a top five here means the world to me.”

California native Matt DiBenedetto finished a career-high sixth, just ahead of Kevin Harvick, who led once for 13 laps and came home seventh. Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10.

Harvick maintained the lead in the points standings, by one over Edwards. The win put Edwards in the Chase.

“It’s really awesome to have a win,” Edwards said, “so we can now have some fun and focus on a championship.”

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