Carl Edwards wins Eldora charity race

Former dirt racer Carl Edwards beat other 22 NASCAR active drivers to win the third annual Nextel Prelude to the Dream exhibition race at the Eldora Speedway. Edwards edged Kyle Busch by 0.305 seconds at the finish line of the 30-lap charity race on Wednesday night, while current NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon was third.

"I was definitely amazed at Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon," local media quoted Edwards as saying. "It's unreal to see how talented these guys are on dirt." The race was organized by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who owns the track. Each entrant drove a 2,300-pounds Late Model dirt car delivering more than 800 horsepower, running three heat races, a consolation feature and the main event.

Edwards started second, and the Coumbia, Missouri, born driver wasted no time before overtaking pole sitter Ken Schrader for the lead on lap 2. Jeff Gordon briefly enjoyed clean air on lap 11, but Edwards promptly regained the top spot on the following lap, keeping it for himself all the way to the finish.

The half-mile high-banked clay oval located near the village of Rossburg, Ohio, was purchased in late 2004 by double NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart, who aims to host the International Race of Champions (IROC) there as soon as 2008. "Who knows how big this is going to get?" Stewart said.

In fact, the race had an IROC favour in gathering different drivers with different racing backgrounds. Such as 74-year-old dirt and NASCAR racing veteran Charles' Red' Farmer or drag racer Cruz Pedragon.

For open-wheel star Juan Pablo Montoya it was his maiden race on dirt. The Colombian damaged his car during a qualifying heat, having to start from the back. A fast learner, Montoya drove an uneventful race, climbing his way to 15th as the chequered flag dropped. Track owner Tony Stewart, who lined up third on the grid, was himself in contention for a good finish, until a pile-up with Bobby Labonte and Kasey Kahne on lap 17 ended his race.

This year's race featured both a live audience and pay-per-view coverage on HBO, with all proceeds from the coverage being donated to Victory Junction Gang Camp, in Randleman, Nort Carolina, a complex of educational and recreational facilities built for terminally ill children. The VJGC is run by NASCAR veteran Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie. To order the race, each viewer paid $24.95.

Although unlikely due to costs, many now speculate that Eldora event will lead to a dirt race in the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule in a not-so-distant future. Dirt ovals were very common in the early days of stock car racing in the USA, until NASCAR's long time sponsor Winston asked the governing body to dump them from its premium series (the then Grand National), more than three decades ago.
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