This wasn’t just a win for Carl Edwards. This was a statement.

With merely a few laps remaining in the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Edwards’ rear view mirror was filled with the images of the winners of the last 6 Sprint Cup championships: Jimmie Johnson & Brad Keselowski.

Edwards’ seemed to be pulling away from the duo until a late race caution brought on a green-white-checkered finish. The news didn’t sit well with the crew chief of the #99 Ford, Jimmy Fennig, who wasn’t even sure they could make it the scheduled distance on fuel, much less overtime.

But, on that restart, Edwards got a push from Keselowski and rode off into the desert sunset, clinching his first win in 70 races.

Even in the post race victory celebration, Edwards seemed rusty. On the way to pulling off his trademark backflip, he slipped a couple of times on his way out of the driver seat.

Is Carl Edwards back? I’m not sold yet. I am impressed by the determination of Edwards, who seemed to be put in a worst-case scenario during the final restart, and still managed to hold off the two biggest title contenders here in the early goings of the Sprint Cup season.

Here’s a breakdown of what we learned this week at Phoenix:

1. Jimmie Johnson is not playing around. The #48 car looked strong throughout Sunday’s race, and was in position to win during the green-white-checkered finish. If it wasn’t for Carl Edwards jumping the restart (allegedly in JJ’s eyes) the Lowe’s team might have found themselves in victory lane again.

2. Brad Keselowski is also not playing around. The blue deuce was also in position to win on that late restart, and his bumper might have been the cause of Carl Edwards quick trigger to the green flag. A strong run at Daytona (with a damaged car, mind you) and another solid run at Phoenix means the Penske switch to Ford doesn’t seem to be hurting the team one bit. Also, during Denny Hamlin’s last lap dive through the backstretch tri-oval, the usually aggressive Keselowski gave the #11 & #48 cars room to race. That shows me he’s thinking big picture.

3. Danica had a tire blow. Seriously, do you want me to rip her for that? She didn’t just decide to make a right turn, the tire exploded. Not her fault. However, she was running in the back before the tire blew, and THAT raises eyebrows…

4. Carl Edwards isn’t back…but he’s not playing around either. This has got to feel good for Carl. But, let’s not forget, this is the second time this has happened. Edwards broke another 70 race winless streak at Phoenix back in 2010 (freaky, I know). He’s just really good at Phoenix. Let’s see what that Roush-Fenway team has in store at a mile and a half racetrack like Las Vegas before we backflip to conclusions.

Tommy Joe Martins is a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver & a weekly racer at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.  A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he’s been a sports columnist for The Daily Mississippian, a radio host & a life-long NASCAR fan.

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