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NASCAR | Sprint Cup Auto Club 500

Sunnier days approach

FONTANA, Calif. — For Carl Edwards, it's a signal. At least one NASCAR Sprint Cup team is ready to take on Hendrick Motorsports.

Edwards won the rain-delayed Auto Club 500 on Monday, finishing ahead of Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. In a race that resumed with the 88th of 250 laps, Edwards assumed the lead for good with 13 laps left.

"I hope it's an indication we've caught up with them," Edwards said after his eighth series victory. "They still were second and third, and they were the guys to beat today. I hope this is a sign we're up to their standards, to their level."

Johnson led the final restart with 26 laps left, but Edwards surged from third. He then showed fine form on his victory backflip after capturing a race that ended under caution when Dale Jarrett spun on the final lap.

Edwards had it all but wrapped up anyway, driving his Roush Fenway No.  99 Ford to a lead of more than four seconds over Johnson. It was his first victory at Fontana but his seventh top-10 finish in eight starts at Auto Club Speedway, formerly known as California Speedway.

Gordon, who dominated Sunday's rain-interrupted racing, was third. He was followed by Kyle Busch and Roush's Matt Kenseth, who won the two previous February races at this track. Another Roush driver, Greg Biffle, won this event in 2005.

A year ago, Johnson and Gordon ended 1-2 in the season points. Johnson won his second straight Cup title, and the team rolled up 18 victories in 36 races. The Hendrick contingent won nine of the 16 races in which NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow was raced.

The new car is being used for the entire Sprint Cup schedule in 2008 and its debut on Auto Club Speedway's 2-mile oval was a triumph for Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing.

"I know that last year I would not have traded my car in for one of theirs at any of the CoT races towards the end of the year," Edwards said. "I thought we had the best car. Everyone knows, all the drivers know for sure, it's what you're sitting in a lot of the times that makes a tiny little difference, and I'm proud to be driving this car."

Team co-owner Jack Roush dragged his feet testing the bigger, boxier car a year ago. But Roush said that changed in May.

"We went to Bristol (for the first CoT race), and we were 2,000 miles behind what they did in testing on nonsanctioned NASCAR tracks," Roush said. "That was my fault."

Edwards went into the final round of pit stops Monday under caution on Lap  221 while leading. He came out behind Johnson, Gordon and Roush Fenway teammate Jamie McMurray.

He quickly passed McMurray after the green flag and set out after the leaders, passing Gordon for second on Lap  233 and moving alongside Johnson's No.  48 Chevrolet on Lap  236. They stayed side by side for almost two laps before Edwards nosed ahead and began to pull away.

"Jimmie is always fun to race with," Edwards said. "He's a true racer."

Gordon's engine blew seconds before the last of 12 caution flags in the race froze the field.

Johnson said the new car performed well.

"Maybe another practice session would have helped," Johnson said, referring to all the track time lost to rain Friday and Saturday. "I think it would have helped the whole field."

About 25,000 fans, far short of the capacity of about 120,000, were on hand as the sun peeked out from high clouds and temperatures were in the high 60s. Most of Sunday was spent waiting for the rain to stop. NASCAR and track officials finally gave up after 11 p.m. and postponed the conclusion.

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Sunnier days approach 02/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 8:56am]

    

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