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NASCAR At Atlanta: Historic Weekend In 2005 Launched Carl Edwards To Superstardom

By March 2005, Carl Edwards was already well on his way to being a NASCAR star.

He had already driven Jack Roush's No. 99 Ford F-150 in the NASCAR Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series to six victories the prior two seasons, including a thrilling spin-and-win at Daytona in February 2004. When longtime Roush driver Jeff Burton announced he was leaving the NEXTEL (now Sprint) Cup team following the Watkins Glen race in August of 2004, it came as little surprise that the affable Missourian would be replacing him in the No. 99 Taurus.

In his debut at Michigan, Edwards placed a solid 10th. He would add four more top-10s over the final 12 races of the season, including a third at Atlanta for his first-ever top-five finish.

For the 2005 campaign, Edwards was tabbed to race both the No. 99 Cup car and the No. 60 Ford in what was then the NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series full-time, with 71 total races on his plate. Through the opening weeks of the season, he'd enjoyed a solid run in the Cup car, with a fifth at Fontana headlining a 12th at Daytona and 14th in Las Vegas. On the Busch side, his results had been much better: through the first four races, his worst finish was 10th, with three finishes of seventh or better including a third in Mexico City. He should have won at Las Vegas a week before Atlanta, leading 125 laps from the pole, but a late spin derailed those hopes.

Edwards claimed a second-straight Busch pole at Atlanta, with a pole speed of just over 191 MPH putting him atop the grid for the Aaron's 312. He led the opening 29 laps before giving way to Shane Hmiel, then led six more laps near the mid-point of the race. As the event neared it's conclusion, however, it seemed the dominant Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson (90 laps led) would be the car heading to victory lane.

A hard crash by David Green - triggered when he was bumped into a spin by Matt Kenseth - set up a restart with 15 laps to go. With 12 circuits remaining, Edwards made a four-wide pass exiting the second corner to snare the lead. From there, he held off Tony Stewart to pick up the first win of his Busch Series career. Fans who hadn't had the opportunity to see Edwards' Craftsman Truck Series triumphs - all events in that series were carried by Speed, which was not yet widely available - were thrilled by his celebratory backflip off the door of his blue and yellow Taurus.

The next day, Edwards started from the fourth position in the Golden Corral 500, tying his best qualifying effort which he'd set at AMS the previous October. As with the Saturday race, Johnson again had a dominant horse, leading 156 laps. Edwards'teammate Greg Biffle, meanwhile, led 151. With six laps to go, it looked to be Johnson's race to lose as he stretched the gap over the Roush Fords. Edwards, meanwhile, appeared to have used up his Goodyear tires trying to run down the No. 48 Chevy, and Biffle - having faded to third after dominating most of the race up to that point - actually challenged him for second briefly.

Gradually, Edwards began search around the track, looking for whatever lane his green and black Ford would be fastest in. Finding the high line to his liking, he began to ease away from Biffle, but more importantly, he began to snip away at Johnson's lead. He closed to within just a handful of car lengths as they flashed under the white flag to begin the final lap, then pulled right to Johnson's bumper as they raced off turn two onto the backstretch.

In turns three and four, with the crowd going nuts, Edwards pulled alongside Johnson, who tried to break his young adversary's momentum by running him as high on the track as possible. Not to be cowed, Edwards kept his foot in the gas, banging off Johnson's door as the two streaked to the line. By .028 seconds - about the length of the nose of a NASCAR stock car - it was Edwards, the youngster in just his 17th-career race, outdueling a 14-time race winner who'd won at Atlanta the previous October en route to his second-straight runner-up finish in the championship.

With the historic weekend that launched him into superstardom, Edwards became the first - and to date, only - driver to ever record his first Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series wins on the same weekend. He also became the first driver to sweep a weekend at Atlanta, a feat that has yet to be duplicated in the six years since.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.