Critical pit stop made difference for Edwards

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Carl Edwards’ win in today’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway was set up by an important pit stop at Lap 238.

Edwards was behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. when the caution flag came out for a Lap 236 crash involving David Gilliland. But on pit road just two laps later, Edwards managed to beat everyone else out while Earnhardt was blocked as he was leaving by Casey Mears.

He wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the race.

“[Earnhardt] must have had the timing lines figured out really well, because I was at the max speed that I could go and he shot up there,” Edwards recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh man, I can’t go any faster. I’m gonna get a penalty.’ And Casey was up there and I thought, ‘I’m not exactly sure how this is gonna work out,’ and he turned left. Dale could have run me up into the wall and spun Casey out, and I could tell he thought about it. I think he did because there was that little pause and I thought, ‘He’s gonna do it.'”

“And then he stood on the brakes and kept from tearing all the cars up, so that had to be very difficult for him because I think we all knew right then that that could be the race. I’d like to think I was gonna pass him anyway, but I was a little nervous.”

While Edwards certainly appreciated Earnhardt not causing a mess on pit road, the latter was still, in his words, “frustrated” about a potential victory going by the boards.

“I was on the inside of [Edwards] on pit road and I think I could have beat him off, but [Mears] was trying to get in his stall and I had to lift for that,” said Earnhardt, who finished fifth after leading 47 laps on the afternoon. “And I knew right then…My opportunity to win the race was right there.”

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “