Carl Edwards was in a hurry to get a wheel up on the competition in the 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
So much so, in fact, that he very well may have jumped the final restart of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Edwards was not penalized by NASCAR, even though it appeared he was guilty of a similar infraction that cost him a seemingly probable victory at the same track one year earlier.
NASCAR CCO Brett Jewkes provides an update on the situation:
The non-call by NASCAR on this occasion allowed Edwards' second victory of this season to stand, but more importantly, it sent a statement to the other 11 title challengers who are gearing up for the 10-race Chase.
It even allowed Edwards to finish the 26-race regular season as the de facto points leader, as he caught previous leader—and suddenly struggling—Jimmie Johnson by virtue of their Saturday nights at the opposite ends of the racing spectrum.
Johnson, the points leader virtually the entire season, seems very vulnerable indeed after his fourth consecutive poor finish, according to racing-reference.info.
The points will now be reset for the Chase, with each participant who finished inside the top 10 in points receiving three bonus points apiece for each race win registered over the first 26 events (plus two wild-card entries in Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne, who will not receive bonus points for their wins).
Coupled with his earlier win this season at Phoenix, Edwards enters as the No. 5 seed.
But even the No. 1 seed, Matt Kenseth, is well aware that Edwards is lurking not far behind—only nine points behind, to be exact.
"The next 10 weeks, we're going to be on (the rest of the Chase field) hard," Edwards told ABC television immediately after the race. "They're going to know we're here."
There is little doubt about that. Edwards' come-from-seemingly-nowhere win at Richmond reminded everyone that when Edwards' No. 99 Ford has speed, he can still strike a championship-contending pose behind the steering wheel.
This time, he knows exactly what he will have to do.
It was only two years ago that Edwards found himself locked in a Chase duel for the ages with Tony Stewart. He lost because Stewart won races in the Chase, and Edwards didn't.
Stewart won five of 10 Chase races that season, as a matter of fact. This was immediately following his insistence that he didn't even deserve to be included in NASCAR's postseason party. Stewart had even already decided to fire his crew chief, Darian Grubb, and replace him at season's end with Steve Addington.
Stewart's run that season offers a blueprint for what Edwards must do this season.
Stewart's fifth and final win of the Chase came in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, enabling him to finish in a virtual tie in the Chase point standings with Edwards.
Stewart won the title because he had five race wins on the season to only one by Edwards, giving him the edge in a tiebreaker.
That's the way it should be in the Chase. It should be about winning races.
Consistency in a season is all well and good, and vitally necessary to get to this point where teams either are in the Chase or out. Certainly a good bit of it is required once the Chase commences.
But to be the champion, you need to be able to get to Victory Lane when it counts the most.
Edwards did what he had to do to get there in the final regular-season race.
On a night that included more controversy surrounding the late-race spin of Clint Bowyer—who appeared to do so on purpose so that his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Truex Jr. would qualify for the Chase as a wild card—Edwards' apparent jumping of the final restart was soon forgotten.
His victory will not be.
It gives him and his team the confidence and momentum required to make a strong run in the Chase, and shows that this time, just maybe, they might be able to complete the job left unfinished in 2011.
"We're going to win the championship. That's our mission," Edwards told ABC afterward. "That seemed like a crazy idea about a month-and-a-half ago."
A month-and-a-half ago doesn't matter now. The rough patch Edwards and his team navigated through then, now seems as if it's only made them stronger and more dangerous as one of the hotter, more confident groups heading into the Chase.
Edwards thought all along he could win more races; now he knows he can. More importantly, he should know he'll have to again—and quickly—if he's going to win it all in the Chase.