|SOURCE: Chris O'Meara, AP|
Eleven years ago, Edwards was already one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. He slid behind the wheel of Roush Racing’s #99 Ford after an unexpected mid-season driver change in 2004. When sponsorship issues plagued the #99 that year, Jeff Burton left following the August race at Watkins Glen to drive for Richard Childress Racing. The next round at Michigan, where the #99 was already scheduled to carry logos for the Green Lantern as part of a DC Comics promotion, Roush tabbed Edwards to drive. At the time, Edwards was driving for Roush’s Truck Series team. He sat 4th in points that weekend with five wins, including the 2004 opener at Daytona. Edwards proved a quick study in the Cup car, finishing 10th in the Green Lantern car. It was the first of five Top Tens he’d score in the final 13 rounds of the season.
2005 was Edwards’ breakout year. Running double-duty between Cup and Busch for Roush Racing, Edwards claimed his first victory in each series during the March weekend at Atlanta. Both times, he did his signature backflip off the driver’s window of his car. He’d have plenty of practice. That year, he won a combined nine races in 70 starts, won six poles, and even contended for the NEXTEL Cup at Homestead, ultimately tying teammate Greg Biffle for 2nd in the standings, 35 points behind Tony Stewart. The performance fixed the #99 team’s sponsorship issues: for 2006, Office Depot would back him the entire year, running the red-and-black scheme on Ford’s new Fusion model.
Edwards’ SpeedWeeks 2006 began with frustration. During his first start in the Budweiser Shootout (now The Clash at Daytona), Edwards drew a controversial penalty. Midway through the race, he swerved beneath the yellow line off Turn 4 to avoid colliding with a slowing car. NASCAR determined that Edwards violated the “yellow line rule” by improving his position, drawing a black flag. Following another penalty late in the race, Edwards was left 16th in the 21-car field, the final car to finish under power. He rebounded in Thursday’s qualifiers, finishing just under two-tenths of a second behind winner Elliott Sadler in Gatorade Duel 150 #1. The run put Edwards 5th on the grid for his second Daytona 500 start. Jeff Burton, still with Childress, would roll out from the pole.
58 drivers arrived in Florida to try and make the 43-car field. When all was said and done, the final starting spot fell to series veteran Terry Labonte. Labonte locked himself in as a past champion, thus giving a new team its first-ever start. Football legends Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach co-founded Hall of Fame Racing, securing sponsorship from DLP HDTV for its blue #96 Chevrolets. Once Labonte got Hall of Fame into the Top 35 in Owner Points, Tony Raines would drive the car for the rest of the season, less the road courses.
Joining Labonte at the back of the field were Joe Nemechek, Sterling Marlin, and Terry’s brother Bobby Labonte. Labonte and Nemechek changed engines while Marlin caved-in the nose of his #14 Waste Management Chevrolet during his 150-mile qualifier. When an exploded tire on Chad Chaffin’s #92 Chevrolet left debris in the tri-oval, the field slowed to avoid it, and Marlin rear-ended Dale Jarrett. Chaffin was one of the 15 drivers to miss the field while Marlin ended up the only driver sent to a backup car.
Under skies so overcast that NBC couldn’t use a number of their cameras during the race, Kevin Harvick made an unscheduled stop during the pace laps to remove a cellophane bag that clung to his roof camera. After the start was waved off for Harvick, the field took the green and had just barely completed a lap when Jeff Green suddenly slowed in the #66 Best Buy Chevrolet. The left-rear tire had come apart, leaving the carcass on the grassy apron of Turn 3, and the unscheduled stop didn’t draw a caution. Unable to get up to speed in time Green was lapped on Lap 3, keeping him in 43rd.
The first caution of the afternoon came on Lap 18 when then-rookie Martin Truex, Jr. scraped the outside wall in Turn 2 with his #1 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Chevrolet. Green, the only driver one lap down, earned the Lucky Dog, and he joined Dale Jarrett and Kirk Shelmerdine, both penalized for pit road infractions to the tail end of the line. Truex lost a lap from his incident, and was classified last on NBC’s leaderboard on Lap 25. On Lap 34, Jeremy Mayfield came to pit road. Mayfield pinballed his #19 UAW / Dodge Dealers Dodge between Greg Biffle, Mike Wallace, and the Turn 2 wall, causing him to suddenly slow on the backstretch. Mayfield managed to barely stay on the lead lap, but the left-front fender rub remained, forcing three more green-flag stops. Now five laps down, the #19 took last from Truex.
The second caution, caused by Jeff Gordon crossing the nose of Tony Stewart off Turn 2, bumping both cars into the wall, gave 42nd-place Truex his lap back, leaving last-place Mayfield the only car off the lead lap. The ensuing green-flag run saw the ceiling lower even further, a fog and mist covering the track. Then on Lap 80, within moments of green-flag pit stops, trouble broke out in Turn 3, ending the LASTCAR battle.
Jeff Green, back on the lead lap after his first-lap tire trouble, lost control entering Turn 3. The car slid through the grass, then back up the race track, directly in the path of J.J. Yeley’s #18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, Joe Nemechek’s #01 U.S. Army Chevrolet, and Kyle Petty’s #45 Wells Fargo Dodge. Petty, who started a strong 12th after a good finish in his qualifier, cut low after impact. Stuck with nowhere to go on the apron was Carl Edwards. Edwards struck Petty in the driver’s door, ramping up the left side of the #45. The impact ripped open the left-rear of the #45, including the left-rear tire, and destroyed the right-front of Edwards’ Ford.
While Petty appeared to receive the most damage, only Edwards was done for the day after the wreck. Green remained 42nd, but completed 156 laps, one fewer than Yeley’s damaged #18. Petty managed to run 173 laps, improving to 39th by the finish. Between them in the Bottom Five was Hermie Sadler. Sadler, who locked-in Mike Anderson’s #00 Aaron’s Ford on speed, lost the engine in the final 50 laps. Sadler would make six more starts for Anderson in 2006, finishing last three times. Aaron’s joined Michael Waltrip Racing’s Cup team two years later.
As it turned out, this was Edwards’ only last-place finish in 445 Cup points races. He did, however, finish last in both the 2010 and 2012 All-Star Race at Charlotte, joining Greg Sacks, Kyle Petty, and Rusty Wallace as the only drivers to finish last in that event more than once. He also trailed two XFINITY Series races, both while driving the #60 Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing: the O’Reilly 300 at Texas on April 8, 2006, where his engine let go after 75 laps, and the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington on May 9, 2008, where he won the pole, but wrecked on Lap 4. He never finished last in 60 Truck Series starts.
*This marked the 15th and most recent last-place finish for the #99 in a Cup Series points race.
*This was the first last-place finish for the #99 since March 12, 2000, when Jeff Burton’s Exide Ford crashed after 68 laps of the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta, the same race where Dale Earnhardt edged Bobby Labonte in a photo finish.
*The #99 hadn’t finished last in a Cup points race at Daytona since July 4, 1987, when Brad Teague’s Slender You Figure Salons Chevrolet crashed after 5 laps of the Pepsi Firecracker 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #99-Carl Edwards / 78 laps / crash
42) #66-Jeff Green / 156 laps / running
41) #18-J.J. Yeley / 157 laps / running
40) #00-Hermie Sadler / 169 laps / engine
39) #45-Kyle Petty / 173 laps / running