Concord, N.C. (May 25, 2009) – The Coca-Cola 600 is known as a marathon race – 600 miles, 400 laps and the longest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. This grueling annual event, held on Memorial Day weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway challenges not only the drivers, but their equipment and teams as well. Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion team were geared up for the race that was scheduled for Sunday, but moved to Memorial Day due to rain for the first time in its 50-year history. The race was stopped three different times for rain and once for a national moment of remembrance before finally being called a full day after its scheduled start – 173 laps short of a full event. Despite less than exciting action on the track, there was plenty of nail biting on pit road, as the Coke 600 came down to taking a chance and hoping for the best. Crew chief Bob Osborne took a chance on the final caution of the race and opted for two tires when other competitors took four. Edwards won the race off of pit road and was scored in fourth position when the race was red flagged and ultimately called. But as the saying goes: the bigger the risk, the larger the rewards – David Reutimann took the lead when he gambled and didn't pit with the leaders during the caution. A huge risk, but Reutimann was rewarded with the win when the race was called two hours later.
Edwards qualified the Aflac Ford 19th for the Coke 600 and moved up to 13th place by lap seven and the first caution of the day. Since he was pleased with the handling of the No. 99 and there was a competition yellow scheduled for lap 40, Osborne kept Edwards on the track. By the mandatory caution on lap 40, Edwards’ Ford was reportedly “free in,” so air pressure and wedge adjustments were made during this pit stop. The adjustments seemed to make a positive difference, as the No. 99 was fifth on the scoring tower on lap 73, when the race was stalled for rain.
Since rain changed the track conditions, Edwards’ Aflac Ford began to handle “too loose.” The No. 99 crew would work to remedy the handling issues through two scheduled pit stops with air pressure, wedge and track bar adjustments. Though Edwards continued to report struggling with the overall handling, he maintained a top-10 running position, where he was scored on lap 162 at 3:00 p.m. when NASCAR halted the race for a national moment of remembrance.
Just after the race was restarted, more rain began to fall and caution was thrown. Osborne directed Edwards to pit. While most competitors took four tires during the stop, Edwards only took two and gained six positions. The race was red flagged on lap 167 and Edwards was scored in fourth place.
After a lengthy delay, the drivers were called back to their cars and the green flag was waved on lap 179. Edwards ran in and around fourth place until lap 220 when yet another caution for rain was displayed. Osborne again took a chance and called for a two tire pit stop, while everyone else that pitted took on four tires. The call paid off and Edwards won the race off pit road. However, several cars opted not to pit and Edwards was in fourth place when the race was red flagged for a final time on lap 127.
“I think Bob made the right call,” Edwards said after climbing out of his Ford for the rain delay. “To finish fourth, that’s a good run for us. That’s probably as best we deserve to be with the car we’ve got and that’s progress. I just can’t get my Aflac Fusion to handle well overall. It’s not just one thing. I was out there driving around thinking about it and a year ago it seemed like there was a little more disparity and a little more variation between the cars. There were slow cars and fast cars and now it’s like a slot car race. You’re out there and you just can’t slip up and I do believe part of that is the race track and another part of that is the race track is green. Either way, it is different out there, but I’m proud of my guys and their efforts and overall pleased with the day.”
After nervously waiting for two hours for NASCAR to call the race, Reutimann won the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 for his first victory at NASCAR's top level. Pole-sitter Ryan Newman finished second and Robby Gordon was third as the top-three finishers all stayed on the track for position during the last pit stops.
Edwards finished fourth, followed by Brian Vickers. Kyle Busch led a race-high 173 laps and finished sixth after losing the lead on the final round of pit stops.
The fourth-place finish for Edwards and his Aflac team moved them up to 11th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, 291 points behind the leader, Jeff Gordon.
Edwards and the No. 99 Aflac team take to the Monster Mile, Dover International Speedway next Sunday, May 31 for the Autism Speaks 400. FOX television and MRN radio affiliates will broadcast the race live beginning at 2:00 p.m. (EST).