Carl Edwards climbed from his car, stood on the door and landed a backflip near the finish line. He then hopped up on the wall in front of the grandstand, grabbed the checkered flag and waded into the crowd, trading high-fives with fans.
After a miserable week at Daytona, Edwards had plenty to celebrate.
That it came at Phoenix International Raceway only seemed fitting.
Coming through on his promise to dominate after his Daytona disaster, Edwards pulled away on a late restart and snapped a 70-race winless streak on Sunday, the second long drought he’s ended at Phoenix.
“This win feels as good or better as any win I’ve ever had,” Edwards said.
Edwards had a rough 2012 season, missing the Chase for the championship. His downward spiral continued at Daytona, where he wrecked five cars. On his way out of Florida, Edwards said he was ready to dominate and win at Phoenix.
He did just that, leading the final 78 laps on the 312-lap race around PIR’s odd-shaped oval in the first non-restrictor-plate race with NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car.
Edwards got a good push from defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski on the restart with two laps left and pulled away from there, winning for the first time since Las Vegas in 2011.
After parking his car at the finish line, Edwards landed his first backflip in nearly two years and celebrated with the fans — just like he did at PIR after ending another 70-race winless streak in 2010.
“I’m sure it’s a relief for someone like Carl,” said Denny Hamlin, who finished third and had a long winless streak end at Phoenix last year. “He’s now relevant again, he really is and it’s a good sign for their race team for things to come.”
The big duel came behind Edwards.
Despite struggling with his car most of the day, Hamlin made a bold move on the last lap with a pass on the apron below the dogleg. He popped up alongside Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and the two drag-raced to the finish, where Johnson edged him by a few inches.
Keselowski, who was outside Johnson during Hamlin’s move, finished fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up fifth.
“As far down as I was, I was committed, there was nothing that I was going to do where I would back out,” Hamlin said. “I just hoped I would have just slid in front of the 48, then you risk getting punted and spun, and your whole day you’ve worked everything for is taken away in a corner. I held my line and thought I really did the right thing and gave those guys room to pass me back — and one of them did.”