Halloween A Treat For Edwards

HAMPTON, Ga. - Carl Edwards and the No. 99 World Financial Group team put together their strongest race weekend to date at Atlanta Motor Speedway this haunted holiday. Edwards kicked off the weekend by qualifying fourth then topped it off with a third place finish in Sunday's race, topping both his best qualifying and race efforts to date. Additionally, Edwards added to his milestones by leading his first career Nextel Cup lap, overall an awesome weekend for the rookie and his veteran team.

Edwards was one of the first cars out to qualify in Friday night's session. Edwards laid down a lap time of 29.028 seconds but was unsure how it would hold up with more than 50 cars still to qualify. In the end, Edwards time was good enough for the fourth place starting position while Ryan Newman once again went on to take the pole clocking in at 28.939 seconds.

Under sunny skies Newman brought the 43-car field off turn four for the start of Sunday's 325 lap race. Cars scrambled for position going two and three wide, everyone looking for the opportunity to get ahead. Edwards settled into sixth by lap 10 but it wasn't long before he began a charge to the front. One by one Edwards picked off the competition moving to fourth by lap 30, third by lap 35 and second by lap 36. Edwards radioed that the car was running well and then on lap 50 assumed the lead, leading his first career Nextel Cup lap. The first of six cautions flew on lap 52 and the No. 99 team prepared for round one of pit stops. On lap 54 Edwards came in for service returning to the track in second, behind the No. 12 for the re-start on lap 61.

On lap 64 the No. 12 experienced problems that brought him back to the pits once again, handing the lead over to Edwards. Edwards continued to lead until lap 75 when teammate Mark Martin passed him taking over the lead and going on to dominate the remainder of the race. Edwards continued to run in the top-five for the next 60 plus laps then on lap 137 the No. 18 car of Bobby Labonte spun right in front of the World Financial Group Ford. Edwards avoided disaster and went on to pit for the third time on lap 139 under caution. In just 13.44 seconds the No. 99 team changed four tires and re-fueled. Edwards returned to the track in second for the re-start on lap 142 and once again the race was on.

Mark Martin went on a tirade in the No. 6 Ford pulling further and further away from the rest of the field while the No. 8, No. 9, No. 48, No. 31 and No. 99 battled for the next five positions. At the half way point Edwards was still reporting that the chassis was good and crew chief Bob Osborne continued to call for minimal changes during pit stops. The field continued on a long green flag run that resulted in more and more cars going one lap down. By lap 263 Martin had a quarter lap lead on second place Kasey Kahne while only 12 cars remained on the lead lap.

Edwards continued to tour the world's fastest track in fifth gaining ground on the fourth place car of Joe Nemechek. On lap 286 the fourth caution flew when the No. 1 broke a motor leaving fluid on the track. The lead-lap cars rolled down pit road for service on lap 287 and the No. 99 team was no exception. This time the World Financial Group team serviced the No. 99 Ford in 13.54 seconds returning Edwards to the track in fifth for the drop of the green flag.

The leaders jockeyed for position on the re-start including Edwards who moved into third. After a quick fifth caution the field re-started once again and Edwards again began his play for the win. Edwards was racing the No. 8 for position when the No. 8 moved up the track in front of Edwards. The No. 99 Ford of Edwards barely tapped the rear bumper of the No. 8 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. but it was enough to send Earnhardt Jr. careening into the inside wall bringing out the final caution of the day. The leaders all pitted for fresh tires and returned to the track for a 10 lap show down. Martin made his charge from sixth while Edwards made his charge from fifth. After 325 laps of head-to-head racing, the No. 48 car snuck past the No. 6 taking his third win in a row. Never falling below sixth place all day, Edwards went on to finish third, his highest Cup finish to date.

"First, I want to say congratulations to the whole Hendrick organization and Jimmie Johnson," said Edwards. "I was really glad to see him win that race. Second, I've got to thank World Financial Group for being on board. We're racing for our careers trying to get a sponsor for next year and this is a good run for us. Third, I feel terrible for the No. 8 car. He crowded me up there and we bumped and that ended his day. He's a great guy and I hate that, but we had a good run. I was happy."

When asked about his chance to win Edwards stated, "I thought there for just a minute that we had the car to beat, but Jimmie was just so fast and Mark, that guy is unbelievable. I'm really happy with the way the day ended up. I couldn't pick two better guys to finish behind."

With regards to the incident with the No. 8 car of Earnhardt Jr., Edwards had this to say, "Yeah, that was really frustrating." Edwards continued, "We were just racing for every inch there and he was on the inside of me and he kept coming up. I thought, 'He's not gonna come all the way up here,' and then by the time he got there I was lifting off the gas and we crossed - I don't know where he hit me, but it was only an overlap of about an inch. I probably could have given a little more and he probably could have given a little more. Gosh, the guy raced so hard all day and he's such a great driver. It's terrible that that happened and I feel terrible for him."

The No. 99 team returns to action next week in the desert of Arizona. Edwards will race both the No. 99 Superchips F-150 and the No. 99 Ford at Phoenix International Raceway.

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