Joe Jennings, NASCAR Correspondent
Watkins Glen, N. Y. – Carl Edwards saved the best for last when he outmaneuvered Brad Keselowski in the late going to capture the Zippo 200, a Nationwide Series race, at Watkins Glen International on Saturday afternoon.
Keselowski had the dominant car through a majority of the race but when late-race caution flags bunched the field, Edwards, who had been chasing the leader, moved in for the challenge. On a restart with 10 laps to go, Edwards sailed to the outside of leader Keselowski and gained the advantage as the field soared through the uphill portion of the track.
Another yellow took place four laps later and once again the two stalwarts lined up side-by-side and again Edwards held forth. Keselowski made a valiant attempt to wrestle into the lead but nearly ended up in a fence for his effort.
This win means a lot to me, and I had a lot of fun racing with everyone.
Driving the Subway Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards finished 1.1 seconds ahead of Keselowski and his SKF/Discount Tire Dodge.
Edwards earned his 38th career Nationwide Series victory and today’s win came in his first Nationwide start of the season.
“This win means a lot to me, and I had a lot of fun racing with everyone,” the winner said. “I missed a shift coming to the white flag – a downshift -- and Brad (Keselowski) got next to me and we battled off the corner. It may have helped me in the end, and I had a lot of fun racing with him and Kyle (Busch). Also, I got into Joey Logano one time being real aggressive, and I feel bad we spun him out.”
Addressing the combative restarts, he added, “Intense with all capital letters. There are so many games being played, and I didn’t get the chance to start from the pole until the final restart. Then I was trying to sense where everybody was, but I didn’t know where they were. Brad ran me hard down into the corner, and I thought he was going to cut back underneath, but he couldn’t get it done. I’m just very fortunate we got a win.”
For Jack Roush, the legendary owner gained his first-ever Nationwide victory at Watkins Glen. “It feels like a hot potato to me. Without any practice and competing for the pole, it was Carl’s enthusiasm that pulled it off.”
New crew chief Scott Graves was overseeing his first race and winning the first-time out was a notable accomplishment. “It was a great opportunity for me and when I was given the chance, I jumped at the opportunity to work with Carl,” he said. “To do this was not only a great opportunity but I am glad it worked out the way it did.”
Although frustrated with the outcome, Keselowski maintained his composure during the post-race interview process. “Obviously, I would like to have had the win, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “I have a lot to be proud of and I will take it. It is so much fun to race when you have cars that good.”
Regarding the final restarts, he said, “The restarts here are all about turns one and two and a matter how aggressive you want to be. I didn’t pull any aggressive moves out of the arsenal, as I don’t need to start any issues in this series with the Chase coming around. I am just banking up ‘nice guy’ points. When the Chase comes, I can use them up, and I plan on doing that.”
On the next-to-last circuit, Keselowski did get alongside Edwards but couldn’t forge ahead. Said the Michigan driver, “Carl (Edwards) missed the last left-hander and was struggling (for control), and when I got up to him in the final turn, he got loose, came up the track and hit me, taking away my momentum.”
In total, Keselowski led four times for 44 laps.
Fast qualifier Sam Hornish Jr. also ran strong throughout the race, ending up third in the PPG Dodge. Teammates Keselowski and Hornish battled hard during the final few laps but no passing occurred.
Said Hornish, the top finishing Nationwide regular in the race, “It was a wild race. I raced with Carl and Kyle (Busch) most of the day, and they were beating each other up pretty good. Having a front-row seat to it a couple of times gave me a good view of it.
“When you have cars that run as well as we do, the Penske guys are going above and beyond what they give us for cars. The engine shop gave me an engine that ran all-day long. I missed a shift once, and I am surprised that I made it to the end.”
Regarding the point race, he added, “You are racing against some of the best people in the business and points don’t matter to them. You have a double threat from them. For me, the restarts were the biggest thing. I feel like we gave up a couple positions being overly cautious, as we knew that today was a day that we could possibly gain in points. We had to be smart and it helped to have a good handling car. We want to win races and get top five’s and be consistent. You don’t have to win every race to win the championship.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took fourth place in another Roush Fenway Ford with road-racing expert Ron Fellows gaining fifth place with impressive moves toward the end.
Kyle Busch started last due to an engine adjustment but gave the crowd a spectacular show as he knifed his way through the field, battling with the leaders during the second part of the race. He ended up in sixth place in his own Toyota.
Kasey Kahne ground out a seventh place finish followed by Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier and Brian Scott.
Danica Patrick’s day went downhill at the start when she got caught up with a spinning car. The front end of her Chevrolet was heavily damaged. She completed two laps and was scored 43rd.
Point leader Elliott Sadler finished 12th and Austin Dillon, who had been second in points, had numerous issues, ending up 23rd -- the last car on the lead lap.
In the point battle, Sadler leads Stenhouse by 13 with Hornish in third 24 points back. Stenhouse and Hornish each moved up one spot due to the misfortunes of Dillon, who dropped to fourth place 29 points behind the leader. Justin Allgaier is fifth place 74 points behind.
The Nationwide Series completes its road course races for 2012 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal next weekend.