Carl Edwards won the 2013 Federated Auto Parts 400 in a crazy finish that concluded the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
With many drivers on the bubble vying for position and fighting for their chances of making the Chase, stakes were high, and the competition mirrored that. In all, there were 17 lead changes on the night; nine different drivers held the lead.
Jeff Gordon entered Saturday's race in pole position and 11th in the Sprint Cup standings, needing a good result to make the Chase. But he couldn't keep the momentum from his first 50 laps as a loose wheel derailed his hot start, and couldn't claw his way into the Chase by the night's end.
In the final few laps, a handful of players saw their seasons on the line—Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Gordon and Brad Keselowski to name a few—and the final few spots were changing by the lap.
After trailing him for more than a dozen laps, Newman finally overtook Edwards' lead with 10 laps left on a brilliant move toward the outside, but a wreck toward the back with eight laps left shifted the leaders yet again. Newman slipped out of the lead with a slow pit crew and finished in third, but that wasn't enough to get him into the Chase.
Meanwhile, Edwards' crew got him out running and allowed him to hold on to the lead for good in the final eight laps.
The biggest storyline of the night surrounded Brad Keselowski and his desperate attempt to win and clinch a spot in the Chase to defend his 2012 championship.
Keselowski started in third and led more laps—142—than any other driver, but he was unsuccessful in staying alive to defend his title. With 56 laps to go, a faulty tire from Jimmy Johnson's car forced a caution right as many of the leaders went in for pit stops—Bowyer was leading at the time and Keselowski was just a few spots back in fifth.
A few laps later, Keselowski had slipped back to 15th place and couldn't make up that deficit to get the win he needed.
That's certainly not all of the news and implications from Saturday's wild race. Let's take a look at the results and more analysis from the regular-season finale.
|7||Martin Truex Jr.|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|13||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|16||Juan Pablo Montoya|
Standings courtesy of NASCAR.com
Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings—Final
Here's a look at the drivers who made the Chase.
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||750|
|T2||Martin Truex Jr.||704|
Standings courtesy of NASCAR.com
Keselowski's failure to make the Chase obviously means we'll have a new champion this year, but he certainly put himself in position to make the improbable comeback on Saturday.
Leading 142 laps doesn't happen by accident, but the defending champion simply couldn't get out of pit row easily enough to stay within contention for the final few dozen laps.
Who will win the Chase?
One of the more fortunate drivers on the night was Logano. He finished 22nd on the night, but made the Chase despite coming in on the bubble and having his name fall above and below the cut repeatedly all race.
The toughest pill to swallow belongs to Newman.
The 35-year-old needed a win late to avoid missing the Chase for the second straight year, and fate seemed to be on his side when he overtook Edwards with 10 laps to go. But an untimely wreck behind him ended up putting his hopes in the hands of a pit crew that let him down.
Gordon also won't be sleeping easy after being "in" with just a few laps left. He clawed back, coming back from 25th to put himself in position to make the cut. But he was just beaten out in the end, finishing eighth.
Johnson, the points leader, was hardly noticeable in the race as he finished 28 laps back and in 40th place. But with his sizable lead entering the race, that was hardly a surprise.
As for the hottest driver at the moment, you can't argue with the guy in the winner's circle. Edwards had the best pit crew on the night as shown by his late victory, and took the breaks when they came.
With so many storylines developing over the final regular-season race, the best is yet to come as the next 10 weeks will decide the 2013 Sprint Cup champion.