By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
These days, anytime Carl Edwards wins a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, everyone knows that his legendary backflip victory celebration off of the door of his car is imminent. But how did Edwards’ victory backflip begin?
In this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater”, we’ll take a step back in time to the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series at Kentucky in 2003 for the running of the Built Ford Tough 225, which saw Edwards win his first NASCAR race and perform his first backflip celebration on the national stage.
Coming off of his win at Kansas the week before, Jon Wood qualified his Ford on the pole at Kentucky, with Bobby Hamilton starting alongside. Wood’s Roush Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, who had finished as a runner-up to Wood at Kansas, qualified fifth, but had to start at the rear of the field due to a pre-race engine change.
Early in the going, the lead belonged to Hamilton and Jason Leffler, who combined to lead the first 29 laps of the race. Four other drivers cycled through the lead over the next 13 laps before Brendan Gaughan took over at lap 43. Gaughan, who was in his second full-time season in the Truck Series in 2003, had two wins on the season already by the time they rolled into Kentucky and looked to be the truck to beat when he took over the lead at the midpoint of the race.
While Gaughan led 66 of the next 67 laps, he had a new contender filling up his rearview mirror. That driver was none other than Edwards, who had driven his No. 99 truck from the back of the pack at the start of the race to be fighting for the lead with 75 laps to go. Edwards continued to run right in Gaughan’s tire tracks as the laps wound down and it looked like it would be a battle between the two drivers all the way to the finish, but racing can be cruel at times and Gaughan’s luck was about to run out.
As Gaughan and Edwards headed into Turn 3 with 40 laps to go, the engine on Gaughan’s Dodge let go, with smoke billowing from the tailpipes, putting an end to Gaughan’s race. With Gaughan’s misfortune, Edwards inherited the lead and was in prime position to score his first win in a national NASCAR series.
Edwards remained steadfast in the lead, even through two additional restarts at lap 121 and 135 for single truck cautions. When the race went back green for the final time on lap 138, it was all Edwards as he pulled away from Ted Musgrave and Dennis Setzer to lead the final 40 laps and crossed the finish line with a 3.568 second margin of victory for his first career win.
Instead of the victory burnout that is common for must drivers these days, Edwards pulled his truck right up next to the infield grass, climbed out onto the bed of the truck and did his first celebratory backflip on the national stage, a tradition that has lasted to this day anytime that Edwards wins a race.
“This is the greatest feeling in the whole world,” Edwards said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m an average guy with above average friends and family, that’s the bottom line. My crew believes in me, I screwed up at Dover and Daytona both and they believe in me. I’m telling you, I’m not a religious man, but the good Lord has blessed every one of us here and that’s it. I’m just lucky.”