Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Throwback Thursday Theater – Edwards’ Breakout Atlanta Weekend

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

Entering the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season, Carl Edwards was not yet a household name, but after a weekend for the ages at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was well on his way to becoming one.

The Missouri native burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2003, winning three races in the No. 99 truck for Roush Racing and backing it up the following season with another three wins to bring home top-10 points finishes in his first two full-time seasons in NASCAR. When Jeff Burton announced he was leaving the No. 99 Nextel Cup team midway through the 2004 season, Edwards was tapped to be his replacement for the remainder of that season and he would be back behind the wheel full-time for the team in 2005.

Finishing five of his first 13 Cup starts in the top-10, Edwards was primed to make some noise during his 2005 rookie season.

In the first three races of 2005, Edwards scored a top-five in the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway, book-ended with a 12th place result in the Daytona 500 and a 14th place result at Las Vegas, so the team had high hopes heading into Atlanta, where Edwards had scored his career best finish of third the previous season.

Along with the Cup Series race, Edwards would also be entered in the NASCAR Busch Series event as he was running full-time schedules in both of the top-tier series.

Edwards got the weekend in Atlanta off to a stellar start, scoring the pole for the Busch Series race and claiming a top-five starting spot for the Cup Series event the next day.

When the Busch Series’ Aaron’s 312 race got underway, Edwards was the car to beat early on, leading the first 29 laps before giving way to Shane Hmiel and Jimmie Johnson, who was making a rare appearance in the Busch Series. Johnson looked to be headed toward the win after leading 90 laps, but a late crash with 21 laps to go would set up a 15 lap dash to the finish by the time the crash was cleaned up.

Restarting the race back in the pack, Edwards wasted no time in marching through the field and with 12 laps to go, made a daring four-wide pass off of Turn 2 to pull even with race leader Kasey Kahne and eventually reclaim the lead when they reached the start/finish line.

Over the course of the final 11 laps, Edwards would pull away from the field, beating Tony Stewart by 1.192 seconds for the win, where he would execute his signature backflip for the first time in the Busch Series with a perfect landing on Atlanta’s frontstretch.

“This is unbelievable. I’ve got to thank a lot of people. This is the biggest win of my career, first Busch win. Thanks Charter, first of all, Roush Racing, Jack Roush, Brad Parrott, my whole crew, everybody that’s back home watching, all the guys that have helped me, and National Guard. Man, this is awesome. To win from the pole and to come out here and race with guys like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, they are unbelievable. So this is the biggest win of my career,” said Edwards.

After his win on Saturday, Edwards and his No. 99 team were even more amped up for the Cup Series event on Sunday as they would look to duplicate the accomplishment from the day before in the Golden Corral 500.

However, he would have to contend with Johnson for the second day in a row, as well as his Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle, as both drivers would lead laps into the triple digits on that Sunday afternoon, with Johnson leading 156 laps to Biffle’s 151 laps up front.

As Johnson circulated the 1.5 mile track in the lead with the laps winding down, Edwards was running second and began searching for a faster line around the quad-oval and found one by running the higher line while Johnson was running the middle of the track and the lower line.

Lap after lap, Edwards closed the gap on Johnson and by the time they took the white flag, Edwards had his Ford right behind Johnson’s Chevrolet. As the two powered down the backstretch, Edwards made his move going high in Turn 3 when Johnson went low, pulling even with him off of Turn 4 and the drag race was on.

Once the two were side-by-side, Edwards used the momentum from the high line to power his way past Johnson, beating him to the finish line by a nose to score his first career Cup Series win. The finish between the two was reminiscent of the classic photo finishes at Atlanta in 2000 and 2001.

Just as he had done the day before, Edwards pulled off another backflip in front of the packed grandstands, being swarmed by his crew upon landing.

“Alright, I’ve got a couple of people to thank. First of all, Scott’s, thank you, it’s the first day of spring, Office Depot, AAA, World Financial Group, Charter,” said Edwards. “I’ve got a lot of people that helped me, thank you to all of you folks back home.”

“Jimmie Johnson is an amazing competitor and I’ve never driven that hard in my life. Though I was following him and I thought ‘man, we might finish second, but even if we do, that’s the hardest I’ve ever driven in my life’ and I was pretty proud of that. We’re just on a mission and we’re here to win races and I can’t believe we won two this weekend. Thank you to everyone for giving me the opportunities. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

From that point on, a star was born as Edwards would go on to win 27 more Cup Series and 37 more Xfinity Series wins, as well as the 2007 Xfinity Series title in the 12 years to follow before stepping away from the cockpit at the end of the 2016 season.

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David Morgan is the NASCAR Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.