LONG POND, Pa. Carl Edwards won Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway, gambling with a pit strategy that he thought would cost him the victory.
Edwards pitted from the lead just before a rain shower that caused a 41-minute red flag and had the driver arguing with crew chief Bob Osborne over the decision. But the plan worked perfectly as the race wound up going to completion. Edwards stretched his last tank of fuel to earn his fourth victory of the season.
"I was really nervous that we made the wrong call there," Edwards said after doing his traditional victory backflip off his car. "Bob's the smartest guy in the world. We were really arguing. We made light of it, but we thought we made the wrong call."
The race started in sunshine, and it appeared Mark Martin, who took the lead from pole-winner Jimmie Johnson at the start and took control would be the driver to beat all day. But Martin had problems on two pit stops that put him back into the pack and then dark clouds began moving in, changing some strategies.
Rain began falling on lap 127 of the 200-lap event and, moments later, Edwards and several other leaders ducked onto pit road. Nineteen other drivers, led by June Pocono winner Kasey Kahne and Martin, who led a race-high 55 laps, stayed out to gain track position, waiting to see if the rain might end the race prematurely.
But, despite more threatening clouds and a few raindrops later in the event, the racing continued and Edwards found himself back on top for good when Martin, the last of the drivers on the alternate strategy, had to finally pit on lap 187.
Then Edwards, who made his final stop at the end of lap 166, just had to worry if he had enough gas to get to the end.
Edwards inherited a 5.6-second lead and built it to more than 7 seconds as Osborne kept telling his driver on the radio to take it easy and save fuel. He did ease up over the last few laps and made it easily, beating Tony Stewart by almost 4 seconds half the front straightaway on the 2.5-mile trioval.
Stewart and third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson, coming off a victory last week in Indianapolis, were both on the same strategy as Edwards. Johnson was one of several drivers who coasted across the finish line, out of gas.
Kevin Harvick, who crashed with Joe Nemechek on the first lap, came back to finish fourth, just ahead of David Ragan.
Kahne wound up seventh and Martin eighth.
The victory vaulted Edwards from fifth to third in the season standings, trailing only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, who also leads with seven victories. Busch made a gas stop on lap 199 and fell from fourth to 36th, the last driver on the lead lap. But he still owns a 176-point lead over Earnhardt, who finished 12th.
With only five races remaining until the start of the Chase for the championship, Harvick jumped from 13th to 11th, switching places with former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, who finished 11th Sunday. The top 12 drivers are eligible for the 10-race Chase.