BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Carl Edwards took his first celebratory back flip of the season and easily stuck the landing.
“I considered not doing it,” he said. “I haven’t done one for a while.”
He earned that acrobatic moment because his No. 19 Toyota gripped Bristol Motor Speedway much better than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Sunday.
Edwards avoided tire issues that plagued his teammates and took off on the final restart to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on the half-mile bullring. In fact, he made it look easy.
Starting on the pole for the second straight week, Edwards’ Camry led eight times for 276 of 500 laps en route to his first victory since September at Darlington and fourth at Bristol. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second, followed by Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Trevor Bayne.
“We didn’t have any trouble, and that’s just a testament to everyone at the shop and whole team,” said Edwards, who now trails new points leader Kevin Harvick (seventh) by a point.
“It’s really awesome to have a win so we can really have fun and focus on the championship.”
Edwards’ flawless day contrasted the right-front tire problems endured by teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin after all of them started in the top five.
Busch, the defending series champion and points leader coming in, had trouble throughout the race. He finally exited after his car smacked the wall on Lap 259 and sustained heavy damage, failing to finish a race for the first time since June at Michigan.
“I just kept getting tighter in the long run, not sure why that was,” said Busch, who had two other tire failures and was penalized for speeding off pit road. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
Kenseth led three times for 142 laps and seemed to be one of the few drivers capable of challenging Edwards before his day ended early after he cut a right front tire a second time and hit the wall.
Hamlin had problems too, enough to cause Goodyear to announce it would examine all of those tires from Busch and Kenseth to determine if the failures were due to the tire makeup or the aggressive setups drivers use at the high-banked track.
“Because all of them had the same problem, we wanted to take a look,” Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker said.
Earnhardt meanwhile had to overcome a dead battery that stalled his No. 88 Chevy at the start and initially left him two laps down. He battled back to get on the lead lap by Lap 200 and eventually dueled Kurt Busch hard late with inside-outside moves by both to create some drama.
None of it ultimately mattered with Edwards out front.
“We didn’t have a good enough car to run in the top five today, but (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and those guys did a great job getting our laps back,” Earnhardt said. “We were just lucky on those restarts as to where we lined up and that really helped us.”
Edwards stayed above the fray and was strong on long and short runs. That was evident on two restarts in the final 10 laps, when he jumped out and wasn’t challenged in earning his 26th career win.
“I’m sure it looked better than it felt for me,” Edwards said. “You can’t be far enough ahead of these guys.”
Here are some other things from the Bristol race:
WHO’S HOT: Late in the race Stewart-Haas Racing had three Chevys in the top 10 with Harvick, Kurt Busch and Ty Dillon, who filled in for injured owner-driver Tony Stewart. An incident with Landon Cassill left Dillon 25th but SHR had a decent day.
WHO’S NOT: Hamlin had some promising moments aside from the tire troubles but still sustained his third straight finish of 12 or lower after consecutive thirds.
‘OMAHA’ STAKES: Super Bowl 50 champion quarterback and former Tennessee great Peyton Manning was a guest in Earnhardt’s pit stall. The two hung out before the race before Manning audibled and left early. “He probably left when we got two laps down,” Earnhardt said.
FLYING FLAGS: The race featured 15 cautions for 102 laps.
UP NEXT: Richmond International Raceway on April 24. Kurt Busch is the defending race winner.