Created on Monday, 17 March 2014 Written by JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — If two rain delays totaling more than five hours wasn't enough, the water-logged race at Bristol Motor Speedway had a battery fly out of a car and spread a toilet paper-looking substance all over the track.
And that wasn't even the strangest occurrence Sunday.
Moments before Carl Edwards closed in on what should have been the white flag lap, the caution lights were accidentally turned on from the flag stand. As NASCAR tried to figure out what was going on, the sky opened up and prevented the race from resuming.
Edwards was awarded the win under caution — a victory he was headed to before the mishap — and celebrated his third career win at Bristol with his trademark backflip on the slick concrete.
"Oh, man, I thought, 'This is stupid. I shouldn't do this ... It's awfully glossy. It might be slick,'" he said. "I didn't want to stick it perfectly and have my feet go that way and break my arm on the concrete. That would have been terrible. I was actually really nervous about that."
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said a person in the flag stand leaned on the manual override switch and that turned on the caution lights. Six seconds after the lights were turned on, the flag man waved the yellow flag.
Pemberton said that the flag man can wave the caution flag without a call from series officials in the tower if they see a proper reason.
"We were scanning cars and spotters, and there's some of us in the tower that only heard it after the teams were talking about it because we were looking at other things around the racetrack," Pemberton said.
Said Edwards: "No harm, no foul, let's act like it just didn't happen."
The victory makes Edwards the fourth winner in four races this season and, under NASCAR's new rules, is supposed to get him into the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"Just to have a win this early, man, it is a huge relief," he said.
Five other things from water-logged Bristol:
BUMP-AND-RUN: With Chase berths conceivably on the line with a win, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was salivating at a shot at teammate Edwards when the final caution came out at Bristol. But he knew if the race went green again, his only chance would be the old Bristol bump-and-run, which hasn't been used in years. It's a risky move to do to a teammate, but owner Jack Roush said he expected nothing less from Stenhouse. "When it comes time to really charge for the checkered flag, there are no team orders, there are no rules," Roush said. "I expect them to race one another as they expect to be raced, not only with one another, but with everybody in the garage. I expect Ricky is as fierce a competitor as there is out there, and if his car has the speed in it and he can get to the car in front of him, particularly the short track, you'd bump-and-run and take the prize if you could. I'd be disappointed if he didn't have that in his mind."
AWESOME ARIC: Aric Almirola finished a career-best third — and Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose was fifth as four Ford drivers placed in the top-five — but Ambrose felt he could have gotten more. He restarted second behind Carl Edwards with 70 laps to go and had one solid chance to take the lead. If he'd gotten past Edwards, he just might have grabbed his first career victory. "These races are so hard to win, and it was a great day for us," he said. "I'm not disappointed at all with third, but when you see it and you can taste it and it's that close, you wonder what could have went different."
SMOKE RISES: Tony Stewart salvaged what looked like it was going to be an awful weekend with a season-best fourth-place finish. It came after he qualified 37th, needed two Saturday practice sessions with crew chief Chad Johnston to make significant improvements to the car and needed the entire race to work his way into the top-10. "It's a step in the right direction for sure. This is a big one. If you come out of this place with a top-five you've had a good day," he said.
DISSAPOINTED WITH THE FINISH: Kyle Larson flirted with the lead and was in position to race for the win until the race-changing caution with 77 laps remaining. He went to pit road third, took four tires and restarted ninth. So even though he finished a career-best 10th, the rookie wasn't thrilled. "It's crazy to think it's kind of a disappointing finish for the way we ran for most of the race, but all in all it was a good race," Larson said.
DALE'S BAD DAY: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s strong start to the season finally came to an end at Bristol, where he finished 24th after opening with a win and two second-places. Although his Chevrolet wasn't great all weekend, his trouble Sunday was compounded by two left-front tire issues. Once he was out of contention, he was basically just making laps for the bulk of the race. It cost Earnhardt the points lead, which went to Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt now trails Keselowski by 10 points.