HAMPTON, Ga. Carl Edwards climbed out of his car, balanced himself on the window ledge, gave a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure all was clear, then launched into the air backward.
Get used to the acrobatics.
NASCAR has a new star.
Edwards pulled off a daring move on Jimmie Johnson coming off the final turn, narrowly won a side-by-side sprint to the finish line Sunday, then celebrated his first Nextel Cup victory with a backflip in front of the main grandstand at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
''I almost didn't make it,'' said Edwards, who had to put down his hands to brace his landing. ''I was a little tired from all the excitement.''
While he may have cost himself some style points, Edwards earned the respect of car owner Jack Roush by out-dueling one of NASCAR's top drivers on a back tire that was nearly shredded.
''He's got 2 inches of rubber missing,'' Roush said. ''He's got no tire left at all. He did it strictly on guts and determination. I couldn't be more proud of Carl.''
Johnson, trying to win for the second week in a row, grabbed the lead from Edwards with 25 laps to go and appeared to be strong enough to take it all the way to the finish of the Golden Corral 500.
But, on the final lap, Edwards got a great run coming out of turn two and pulled up on Johnson's back bumper. Johnson went high coming through turns three and four, trying to block his challenger, but Edwards went even higher.
The 25-year-old Missouri driver hardly resembled someone in his first full year on the circuit, hugging the wall and actually tapping Johnson's car as they roared through the trioval.
Johnson's car bobbled slightly just a few feet from the finish, and Edwards slipped by on the outside to win by a minuscule 0.028 seconds about half a car length.
Greg Biffle held on for third, followed by Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne.
Series points leader Kurt Busch was involved in a big wreck, but he had only minor damage. The defending Nextel Cup champion managed to climb back into contention, getting as high as second before a shredded tire ruined his day. He wound up 32nd and surrendered the top spot in the standings back to Johnson.
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