Carl Edwards earns first road course win at Sonoma (VIDEO)

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In what has been a tough season overall for Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards has been their most consistent performer. On Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, he gave the Roush camp another boost.

Edwards took the lead on a restart at Lap 86 and kept it the rest of the way to earn his second NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the year in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

The Sonoma triumph is Edwards’ first career win on a road course, and also makes him the track’s 10th different winner in as many races.

Additionally, Sonoma has now spawned a first-time road race winner for the eighth consecutive race.

“That last lap was ugly,” Edwards said to TNT. “I grew up watching Jeff Gordon do well here and so to have him in my [rear view] mirror, it’s very special…This team has been working very hard, the whole group has, and it’s very special to be a part of something like this.

Edwards and his No. 99 team were able to make a two-stop strategy work out for them in a race where multiple strategies took hold.

“Early on, it was bad for us,” crew chief Jimmy Fennig said. “But we pitted at Lap 70 and the caution came out, and it played right in our hands. And when you have somebody like Carl behind the wheel and put him out in front, he’s gonna get it done.”

And adding more prestige to the win, he got it done against Gordon, a five-time Sonoma winner.

Gordon took second from pole sitter Jamie McMurray with nine laps remaining, but appeared to stop making progress when he pulled in around 1.5 seconds behind Edwards.

But the California native mounted one last charge on the final lap, getting close to Edwards at the Turn 11 hairpin before settling for second. With that, Hendrick Motorsports’ five-race winning streak in Sprint Cup points races came to a close.

“That last lap, I gave it my best effort and closed up on him,” Gordon said. “I just drove into [Turn] 11 as hard as I could. We’re weren’t that good going into 11 anyway and he didn’t overdrive it. I was hoping he might slide up and I could get a run underneath him.”

But while HMS was unable to keep their streak going, the team still had a great day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took advantage of fresher tires to charge all the way to third for his first-ever Top 10 result at Sonoma. Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson also did well with sixth and seventh place finishes respectively.

McMurray, who happens to enjoy Hendrick power as a member of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished fourth. But it wasn’t an entirely clean journey for him as he spun around Clint Bowyer in a Lap 81 incident that also collected Kevin Harvick; Bowyer rallied to finish 10th, while Harvick ended up 20th.

Paul Menard followed up his Top-5 at Michigan last weekend with another Top-5 today in Northern California, his third of the season.

Marcos Ambrose, picked by many as a contender for this race, finished eighth after a late fade on worn tires. Edwards’ teammate, Greg Biffle, finished ninth.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT SONOMA – Toyota/Save Mart 350
Unofficial Results
1. Carl Edwards, led 26 laps
2. Jeff Gordon, led 3 laps
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Jamie McMurray, led 9 laps
5. Paul Menard
6. Kasey Kahne
7. Jimmie Johnson, led 1 lap
8. Marcos Ambrose, led 5 laps
9. Greg Biffle
10. Clint Bowyer, led 5 laps
11. Ryan Newman
12. Kurt Busch
13. Casey Mears
14. Brian Vickers
15. Martin Truex Jr.
16. Joey Logano, led 3 laps
17. Austin Dillon
18. Danica Patrick
19. Tony Stewart
20. Kevin Harvick, led 23 laps
21. David Gilliland
22. Brad Keselowski
23. Aric Almirola
24. Michael McDowell
25. Kyle Busch
26. Denny Hamlin
27. Cole Whitt
28. Kyle Larson
29. Alex Bowman
30. Michael Annett
ONE LAP DOWN
31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
32. Reed Sorenson
33. Justin Allgaier
34. J.J. Yeley
35. Boris Said
36. David Ragan
TWO LAPS DOWN
37. A.J. Allmendinger, led 35 laps
38. Tomy Drissi

39. Alex Kennedy, Lap 104, Rear Gear
40. Josh Wise, Lap 95, Running
41. Ryan Truex, Lap 91, Running
42. Matt Kenseth, Lap 74, Accident
43. Landon Cassill, Lap 29, Engine

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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