Getting off pit road first under caution on lap 238 made all the difference in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500, the way both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards saw it.
Edwards was first out of the pits and went on to win the race. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet was second off pit road and faded to fifth at the finish.
When David Gilliland blew a tire and hit the wall on lap 236 — the sixth blown right-front tire of the race — Earnhardt led the field to pit road for tires and fuel two laps later. He and Edwards rolled down pit road side by side, but Earnhardt had to check up to avoid hitting the Ford of Casey Mears, which was blocking his progress.
"Well, I hate to be frustrated at Phoenix, but I think we are," Earnhardt said. "We had a real good car. We feel like we could have finished better than fifth, maybe won the race. Just didn't get the breaks on pit road. We kind of got boxed in. ...
"I think we could have beat him off pit road, but somebody (Mears) was pulling in their stall in front of us, and I just had to lift and give the spot to the No. 99 (Edwards). That was the race, in my opinion, and we almost had it won right there."
Edwards had a similar view of the situation.
"First of all, I think we came onto pit road fourth, something like that," Edwards said. "We came out first. I was in front of Dale. He must have had the timing lines figured out really well because I was at the max speed I could go, and he shot up there, and I thought, 'Man, I can't go any faster; I'm going to get a penalty.'
"Then Casey was up there, and I thought, I'm not exactly sure how this is going to work out, and then he turned left and Dale could have run me up into the wall and spun Casey out. I could tell he thought about it. I mean, I think he did because there was that little pause, and I thought, he's going to do it.
"And then he stood on the brakes and kept from tearing all the cars up. That had to be very difficult for him, because I think we all knew right then that was the...that could be the race."
Edwards sped away at the restart on lap 243 and never looked back, leading the final 78 laps.