Carl Edwards' No. 99 crew didn't win Thursday's Sprint Pit Crew Challenge -- they waited until it really counted.
Flawless work during mandatory four-tire pit stops before the final 10-lap shootout in Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway got Edwards off pit road first, ahead of Kyle Busch. That proved decisive in Edwards' first All-Star win as he became the eighth different winner of the event in the past eight years.
About the only thing that went wrong was Edwards' slide through the frontstretch grass after taking the checkered flag. Edwards hit the infield sod and destroyed the front end of his No. 99 Ford. Edwards thought he hit a drain, but track officials said there was nothing but grass there.
"I had no idea that drain was there," Edwards said, after executing his customary celebratory backflip to perfection. "I guess NASCAR's mad, because they think we're hiding something with that car."
Asked what was responsible for the victory, Edwards was definitive in his analysis.
"The key to winning this race are the guys behind me," Edwards said, gesturing toward his crew. "[Crew chief] Bob Osborne and my guys -- especially the guys on pit road -- they could have dropped the ball. That's all the pressure in the world on those guys.
"They performed a flawless pit stop, and we got out in front of Kyle. He is a bear on those restarts, and if we had started behind him, I think it would have been really tough. It's unbelievable. I feel so bad about tearing up the car, but Bob says he has a faster one for next week [for the Coca-Cola 600], so I'm pretty excited. ...
"It still hasn't sunk in yet. This is the All-Star Race, and we just won it -- it's crazy."
Busch, who had fallen out of four of five previous All-Star Races, was happy to finish and conceded that he was beaten by a faster car.
"A few more laps and maybe I would have got him, but all we had was 10 [in the final segment]," Busch said. "He was just so good through the corner. Once he got his car turned, he didn't even have to finish turning his car. It would kind of turn, and he would hammer the throttle, and it would just continue to turn and just drive up off the corner. ...
"Tonight we just flat got beat."
Biffle passed Busch on Lap 4 and held the top spot throughout the remainder of the first 50-lap segment. All cars were required to make green-flag pit stops for four tires after completing Lap 25, but that didn't affect the running order.
Biffle was first off pit road, followed by Edwards and Busch, and that's the way they ran when NASCAR threw the halftime caution after Lap 50. After a two-tire call, Edwards was first off pit road and led the field to the green flag to start the second segment, a 20-lap run.
Edwards had pulled away from the action behind him when Kasey Kahne's collision with the Turn 1 wall brought out the second caution. Eight cars from 11th on back, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Harvick, came to the pits under caution, setting up divergent strategies as the race progressed.
Jimmie Johnson took the lead after the restart on Lap 63, but Edwards regained the top position with a pass of Johnson on Lap 69 and held the point when NASCAR threw the scheduled caution after Lap 70 to end the second segment.
Again strategies diverged, as Edwards, Busch, Jeff Gordon, Biffle, Stewart and Hamlin remained on the track while Johnson led a larger group of cars to the pits under the yellow.
Edwards restarted in the lead on Lap 71, only to see Busch and Gordon surge past him on the restart. Johnson fell back after a two-tire stop and returned to the pits on Lap 76, after Regan Smith's spin off Turn 2 caused the fourth caution.
Busch pulled away after a restart on Lap 79, but Edwards gradually tracked him down, clearing Busch for the lead in Turn 3 on Lap 86. Edwards held the top spot, with Busch, Biffle, Stewart and Hamlin behind him when NASCAR called the scheduled caution after 90 laps, signaling a 10-minute break before the final 10-lap dash.