After sweeping at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2005, Carl Edwards returned to victory lane after winning the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Sunday, holding off a surging Jimmie Johnson who climbed from 11th to second in the final eight laps.
Embroiled in a difficult points battle with Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Johnson, Edwards now sits 183 points behind Johnson in the Chase standings. Edwards entered the Pep Boys Auto 500 fourth in the standings and trailed by 198 points.
"It just worked out great and I can't thank my guys enough. I can't believe how great this weekend was," said Edwards post race, alluding to Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series win Memphis in addition to winning the Pep Boys Auto 500.
After a week of questioning what it would take to catch Jimmie Johnson in points, it appeared the Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors would get a break when the leader dropped a lap back - falling down to the 30th position - after being penalized for entering pit lane too fast on lap 89. However, the back-to-back defending Chase winner would jump back on the lead lap after Kasey Kahne spun to bring out a caution on lap 132.
Johnson, after returning to the lead lap, continued to fight for position. Johnson, who has won three times at Atlanta, climbed to second place after taking four tires following a caution on lap 314, gaining 10 positions in the races waning moments.
"Having the new tires was a great call and it shows that Chad Knaus is trying to earn [the points]," said Johnson about his crew chief. "We just fought, fought, fought to get back."
Even in celebration, Edwards was impressed by Johnson's late push.
"Jimmie's an awesome competitor," Edwards exclaimed. "Chad [Knaus] and all those guys came down to congratulate me. Jimmie's magic; we've got to go win those next three [races] and hope for the best."
History says Edwards will have a chance to continue winning and close the gap on Johnson next week. In each of the last three years, the winner of the fall Atlanta race has gone on to win at Texas Motor Speedway, one of Atlanta's SMI sister tracks, just as Edwards did in 2005. The act was repeated by Tony Stewart in 2006 and Johnson in 2007.
With the conclusion of the 2008 Pep Boys Auto 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway will turn its attention to the 2009 schedule, which includes March's Kobalt Tools 500 and the track's first NASCAR night race, to be held on Labor Day weekend. For more information about both events, please contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at 877-9-AMS-TIX or 770-946-4211, or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com .