For Edwards, the win was a long time coming. He has raced quite well here in the recent past, with third-place finishes in 2011 and 2013. Even that sort of result must have seemed out of reach for Edwards when he was getting the hang of road courses in his early days with Roush Racing.

"My road racing progression, it's been a pretty long climb from when Jack (Roush) let Boris (Said) come to Virginia International Raceway (with) the two-seater, and basically we ran off in the dirt a bunch all day, and Boris taught me all of the basics of road racing," Edwards said. "To be able to come here and to be able to win this race 10 years later is really special."

It wouldn't have happened without a trace of stubbornness. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig planned a two-stop pit strategy for Edwards, and resolved to stick to it. Frequently at this track, success is determined by tire wear, and to a lesser extent fuel strategy. Sunday, it was all about timing for Edwards.

Fennig scheduled the first pit stop for lap 32, and it worked against Edwards when a caution flag came out on lap 31 after London Cassill blew his engine on the front straightaway and leaked fluid on the track. A bunch of cars pitted, and Edwards came around to get in line toward the back. To make matters worse, his pit crew had the slowest exchange of the group, at 20 seconds.

But circumstances were kinder to Edwards' No. 99 car on his second pit stop. The plan called for Edwards to pit on lap 71, but Fennig changed his mind at the last minute and brought in his driver on lap 70. It looked like a stroke of genius when debris in Turn 10 forced a caution on lap 71 and Edwards, with fresh tires and a full tank, was able to remain on the track and line up fourth for the ensuing restart. He never lost ground after that.

Not that it was stress-free. Gordon has won five times on the track down the road from his hometown, Vallejo, and had finished second here two of the past three years. It became a matter of whose tires would hold up better, and whether Gordon could close the gap enough to make a real run at Edwards.

"I knew Carl could get the job done," Fennig said. "I just hoped the car would stay underneath him long enough to hold off Jeff, and I knew Jeff had to use his car up to get to us."

Afterward, Gordon acknowledged several mistakes that hurt his chances down the stretch. The one he rued most came with five or six laps to go when he overdrove his car into Turn 4 and came out too wide, allowing Edwards to build his advantage just a bit.

Gordon made a last-ditch effort to wrest the lead in the final lap, closing the gap from perhaps four car lengths to about half a length in hairpin Turn 11, the final twist on the course.

"I was just trying to get him to overdrive the corner and get up off the bottom," Gordon said. "There's such an advantage to hook around those tires that had he missed it, which he did about two laps before that, I thought that I might be able to make it interesting. But no. He did lock up going in there, but he made the corner and that was it."

If Gordon had gotten himself into better position before that, he said, he might have aggressively bumped Edwards to get by him. As it was, it would have been a desperate and dangerous maneuver.

Both drivers had reason to leave California happy. Edwards got his win, and Gordon padded his Sprint Cup lead to 20 points over teammate Jimmie Johnson. And truth be told, the third-place finisher might have been happiest of all.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won at a lot of tracks, and is having an excellent season, but Sonoma has long been his Waterloo. Earnhardt had never done better than 11th place here, and seven times he has finished 23rd or worse. Saturday he ran a clean race and landed third.

"Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us," said Earnhardt, Gordon's teammate at Hendrick. "We came in here and knew we had a good car throughout practice, and I've been in the top 10 in a lot of these races with two or three laps to go, but we've never been able to finish."

This time Earnhardt finished.

Pole sitter Jamie McMurray was fourth, Paul Menard fifth and Kasey Kahne — yet another Hendrick driver — was sixth. Matt Kenseth wasn't so lucky. Earnhardt hopped over a curb and spun him into the wall on Turn 7, ending Kenseth's day on lap 75.

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.</i>