Carl Edwards capitalised on a pitstop error from Tony Stewart‘s team to win the Kobalt Tools 400, the third race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday evening. Stewart clearly had the fastest car, leading 169 laps of the race but leaving the pits dragging an air gun behind him was to be his undoing as he was given a stop and go penalty and ordered to the tail end of the field.

Just under forty laps after his penalty Stewart pitted under a caution caused by Jeff Gordon having a cut tyre and hitting the wall. Stewart opted to take just two tyres, the quicker stop helping him leapfrog the field into first place. Erstwhile leader Edwards had taken four tyres and the extra time for his stop made all the difference. For the next thirty-two laps Stewart again was the class of the field but with no more caution periods the drivers were obliged to make stops under green for fuel and tyres. Stewart knew he couldn’t run the left tyres for a further full session so had to take all four this time. Unfortunately for him the other teams had seen how well he had been able to run for a whole stint on just new rights and so Edwards took the two tyres and with it the lead.

For the final twenty-five laps Stewart fought his way forward spending a long time fighting with Juan Pablo Montoya for second place before passing beneath the Colombian. Stewart tried to close down Edwards but could never get close enough and was left to settle for second and rue that poor pitstop.

“It kills me to throw a race away like that, especially at a place we haven’t won at yet,” Stewart said. “This was a big deal [Sunday], and when you lead that many laps and have a car that’s that fast and you lose it … I’m sure [Monday] when the emotion dies down we’ll look back and say it was a great weekend. But, man, it does not sit good right now.”

"It kills me to throw a race away like that," Tony Stewart led the most laps, but came home second

Carl Edwards, meanwhile, was thrilled to make up for his misfortune at last week’s Phoenix race when he was taken out by an errant Kyle Busch.

“This means a lot, coming off Phoenix,” said Edwards, who led the final 23 laps. “After last weekend, I had no clue — I just didn’t know how things were going to go from there. You don’t get a good race car like that very often, but I had another  [Sunday].”

After just three races of a thirty-six race series it is way too early to start looking for patterns or indications of how the season might evolve but one thing is undeniable. In the last five Sprint Cup Series races, which includes the final two of last year, Edwards has had three wins, one close second in the Daytona 500 behind that young pup, Trevor Bayne, and one non-finish when taken out in what Edwards was absolutely convinced was a race winning car at Phoenix. His Roush Fenway Racing Ford is fast and consistently so and his team are making the right calls. If they can keep the consistency Edwards has to have his best chance ever of challenging for the title this year. 

This win puts Edwards fourth in the points table, just seven points behind both Stewart and Kurt Busch, with Stewart shown as leader by virtue of his higher placed best finish.

Stewart’s teammate in the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Ryan Newman finished a strong fifth behind Marcos Ambrose whose fourth place made him the highest climber in the points table, moving up ten places. Newman’s solid finishes with two top five places has helped him climb to fifth in the table, one place behind Montoya. Jeff Gordon’s late race trip into the wall was costly for him – the biggest loser in the points table, he dropped fourteen places down to nineteenth.

Points leader going into the race, Kyle Busch plummeted to fourteenth place and a full twenty-seven points off the lead after a potentially good race turned sour for him. Having run in the top ten for the first quarter of the race on lap 72 Busch reported to his crew that the car was “really, really good” and started to run a comfortable second behind Stewart. On lap 96 a tyre blew and the no. 18 Toyota was into the wall. Back on track after some quick repairs Busch was in the process of slowly working his way through the field, knowing there was plenty of time left, when the engine let go in a fiery fashion after just a handful of laps and his race was run.

The Sprint Cup Series boys now have a break and race next at the tight half-mile oval at Bristol.