But this time, he had to feel quite helpless too.
Hedlesky stood high above Richmond's lighted three-quarter mile track as Edwards motored along pit road, watching his chances at a win literally drive away into the Virginia night. As Edwards served the pass-through penalty – punishment that required a trip through pit road at the crawl of the pit-road speed limit – Tony Stewart and the other race leaders stayed on full power, lapping Edwards in the process.
After leading for a dominating 206 laps, Edwards could only scramble in the race's closing laps to a 10th-place finish. Afterward, he fumed delicately and met with NASCAR to discuss why he was penalized. NASCAR's reasoning didn't leave him satisfied, and it shouldn't have.
Simply, NASCAR had ample opportunity to solve an issue that was caused by multiple issues of miscommunication without having to completely change the race's complexion with a knee-jerk call.
Edwards was penalized for two things when Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400-lapper went green again on Lap 319. First, NASCAR says, Edwards beat then-leader Tony Stewart to the green flag. They weren't making up physical facts there, as Edwards smoked Smoke to the green after Stewart spun his tires. But, NASCAR says, Edwards also violated the rule of jumping the restart by hitting the gas before the restart box. At each race, NASCAR mandates the race leader transitions back to race pace within two sets of lines marked on the wall and track. If they fail to do so by the second line, the restart is fair game for the driver alongside.
Edwards was plausibly guilty of the second violation, too, though without on-board telemetry it's impossible to know if he and Stewart gassed it up at the same time before Stewart's tires broke traction. The result, undoubtedly, was a broken restart that saw Edwards jump to a big lead while the lapped cars of Joey Logano and David Ragan also beat Stewart to the start/finish line.
It was only Edwards, however, that was penalized for passing the leader and jumping the restart.
Listening to Edwards' vehement denial of wrongdoing both during the race and after, however, should make clear that NASCAR jumped on the case of the No. 99 too quickly and without a mind to review.
The root of this entire issue was the timing of the caution flag at Lap 311. It fell amid green-flag pit stops, trapping lead lap cars who had already pitted a lap behind the leader – Edwards – who subsequently pitted during the caution. Such instances happen regularly in a NASCAR season, and it can be a mess to sort out. However, NASCAR got that part right Saturday night by placing Tony Stewart as the leader with Edwards second as they prepared to restart.
The problems began, however, when NASCAR's unofficial timing and scoring system kept showing Edwards as the leader. This happened as the field took the signal for one lap until green and Edwards passed the start/finish line a few feet ahead of Stewart while both worked to warm their tires before the green flag. Hedlesky, Edwards' spotter, apparently noticed that his driver was being shown on the track's scoring tower as the leader with less than a half lap until green. Hedlesky also reported that a NASCAR official had given him the signal that the No. 99 was the leader, and relayed the message to Edwards.
Edwards, suddenly feeling at a disadvantage in the track's top groove, got aggressive. He was determined to hold the lead from the strong Stewart despite Stewart – in Edwards' mind with the wrongful advantage – taking off from the low groove. And so Edwards hit the gas a little earlier than normal while Stewart had his tire spinning issues.
Less than a lap later, the black flag was waving for Edwards, and crew chief Bob Osborne was irate. He demanded explanations from pit road NASCAR officials and hoped officials in the scoring tower would review the tape. Osbourne and Edwards, after all, had been saved by a review of a similar penalty just months prior.
Last October, with NASCAR's closest championship fight in history winding down, Edwards had changed position just before a restart after Hedlesky was told the No. 99 was too far back. Edwards made a risky three-wide move as the field took the green that violated the two rules mentioned above and one other that prohibits drivers from moving up after Turn 3 while coming to a restart. NASCAR displayed the black flag two laps later for Edwards, demanding he serve a the pass-through penalty.
"NASCAR was telling him for me to pass the No. 31, so Jason was yelling at me, 'You've got to pass the 31,' so I drove around the outside of [Jeff] Burton right as the green was coming out," Edwards said in October.
But after Osbourne disputed the call, NASCAR looked to the tape and saw the Edwards was rightfully trying to get in position after being instructed to do so. They rescinded the penalty.
Why couldn't NASCAR have made the same move Saturday night? It's plainly obvious that miscommunication and NASCAR's own timing and scoring system – no matter the reason – were at fault for Edwards' actions. He was responding as any driver would to unplanned adversity in the best way he knew.
At the very least, NASCAR should have tossed the caution flag back out immediately and given Edwards a warning for his action. It's a step many racing series take in restart situations. It also would have clarified who the actual leader (Stewart) was while keeping a major player deservedly in the race.
Did Edwards break the rules on the restart? Sure. But NASCAR has shown in the past a willingness to change penalties or even offer warnings when competitors break rules due to scoring or other errors. They should have used that same restraint Saturday night with Edwards. Otherwise, why just penalize him?
Joey Logano and David Ragan, after all, broke the same rules.
HOT: For the first time since October 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five top-10s in a row. He really wasn't a threat to win Saturday night, but his solid driving put him second to Kyle Busch.
I hope the Alabama National Guard is ready if Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins at Talladega this weekend.
NOT: Jeff Burton scraped the wall to bring out the aforementioned caution, and it led another downtrodden night for the No. 31 team. On that same note, Joey Logano finished 24th. It's not crazy to think that those two teams may be a part of the first dominoes falling in NASCAR's silly season.
NEUTRAL: A lot has been written about how few incidents the Sprint Cup Series has had since the end-of-race crashfest at Martinsville. It's deservedly something interesting for pundits to ponder, but I can't imagine the trend will continue. Saturday night's race at Richmond was pretty good, even without torn fenders and spilled radiator fluid. Pretty good, that is, unless you tuned in to see the crashes and fights that NASCAR's TV partners and tracks trip over themselves to sell.
HOT: Kasey Kahne's fifth-place run was his third consecutive top-10, while teammate Jimmie Johnson finished right behind Kahne to mark his eighth straight 12th-or-better finish. Hendrick Motorsports isn't dominating right now, but I'd bet some other groups are taking notice at how they're moving up.
NEUTRAL: Tony Stewart had no problem downing his crew's efforts during the final pit stop Saturday night after there was a hang-up on the right-front tire change. He has the right to do that, of course, but do you think his crew was wondering why he kept spinning his tires on restarts? Pot meet kettle, Mr. Smoke.
HOT: Give a call to the much-derided Steve Wallace for his 11th-place run in Friday night's Nationwide Series race. His father's team shut down before the season, and Steve put together a car with owner Johnny Davis for the one-off (for now) effort. Always a nose for trouble, Wallace played it cool in Friday's race and put together a nice finish. Also of Nationwide note: Ryan Blaney's 7th-place run in his first ever series start.
NEUTRAL: Greg Biffle had his first middling run Saturday night, finishing a season-low 18th. Keep an eye on the Sprint Cup points leader over the next few races, as Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte could all present a stiff test with challenges each of their own for Biffle.
HOT: Undoubtedly, it was a fun weekend for Kyle Busch with his win in the Sprint Cup Series. But his win as an owner (and with brother Kurt Busch driving, no less) in Friday's Nationwide race may have been the best. Together, the Busch brothers serve a bit in the villain role of NASCAR's second series and having them competitive makes that series more fun to watch.
NOT: I'm not sure if the debris for the race's final caution was a piece of metal or a water bottle. Regardless, making an effort to prove the debris (and perhaps playing the officials channel audio over the TV broadcast to show how NASCAR discovered the debris and checked for danger) would go a long way in quieting the black helicopter types.
On to what will surely be a wild Talladega weekend.
Geoffrey Miller is a racing writer who hates the aero push. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffreyMiller.