Carl Edwards got to toast to his second victory of the 2014 NASCAR season on Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California.
The difficult road course saw the drivers cover a lengthy 110 laps, which takes a toll on the pit crews and thickens the plot in terms of racing strategies. NASCAR Stats noted the significance of Edwards' 23rd career Sprint Cup Series win:
But as far as the Chase for the Cup is concerned, hardly anything changed at the top of the standings.
Hendrick Motorsports may have had its string of five straight wins snapped, but it still has Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in prime position to win the stock car racing's ultimate championship. Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press alluded to the team's dominance:
Carl Edwards end HMS 5-race winning streak. But HMS drivers all land in top 7.— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) June 22, 2014
Here is a look at the updated standings following an excellent race at Sonoma, along with further analysis on some of NASCAR's biggest stars and a look at the Sprint Cup schedule.
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||555||-25||2|
Analyzing Top Save Mart Finishers
Taking the checkered flag Sunday had to feel good for Edwards. He didn't move up at all in the standings, but he did close the gap between the top contenders in fortifying his sixth-place slot.
Roush Fenway Racing has endured a lot of adversity recently, drawing sharp criticism from FoxSports.com's Jeff Hammond prior to the Save Mart 350:
Let's face it, they need something different and they need it now -- not next week, not next month and not for the Chase -- they need it now. They are being judged by their manufacturer. They are being judged by their sponsors, their peers and obviously the fans. So it's time to step back and take a broader and more open approach to this problem. It's the blind obvious, but something has to give because what they have now isn't working.
Edwards' win should silence a lot of the critics, and David Caraviello of NASCAR.com implied that alarmist reactions seem to be rather prominent:
After a week of lamenting how lost Roush Fenway seems to be ... Roush driver Carl Edwards wins at Sonoma. That's auto racing for you.— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) June 22, 2014
Next season, there is speculation that Edwards will be switching to Joe Gibbs Racing. Regardless of whether that transpires or not, he is proving his professionalism by blocking out the attention surrounding that saga and producing results behind the wheel.
As questions persist about what Edwards' future holds, the competitor in him should only be further fueled to perform better moving forward and climb up the standings.
Gordon hasn't won a title since 2001, yet he continues to put together strong finishes, adding a runner-up at Sonoma Raceway. Although he can't be too pleased with finishing second, the result continued astonishing consistency for Gordon at the track:
The No. 24 car may have been destined to finish out of first after qualifying in 15th place. Gordon may very well have had the best car on Sunday, which shows how tricky it can be to be successful in NASCAR.
The fact that Gordon has maintained greatness for so many years is all the more impressive in that context. There wasn't much time as it was to make a move on Edwards at Sonoma, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Jeff Gordon just passed Jamie McMurray for second place. He needs to make up 2.1 seconds to catch Carl Edwards with eight laps left.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 22, 2014
Drawing on previous runs helped Gordon dig out of an early hole and nearly steal the race and extend his lead in the points race. In terms of the big-picture perspective, Gordon should know to emphasize the positives and the overall prowess of his team.
A strong 2014 campaign continues for Junior, as he recorded a career-best finish at Sonoma. The seasoned driver seemed rather pleased with the outcome afterward:
Earnhardt appears to be in his element and enjoying racing as much as ever this year.
Winning the Daytona 500 will do that, but he isn't resting on his laurels by any means. That was evident in a maiden triumph at Pocono and steady performances, including Sunday's stellar run. Starting 17th wasn't going to be easy from the jump, yet Earnhardt overcame some disappointments at Sonoma in the past to drive well.
Who should be the favorite at the Quaker State 400?
The gap between Earnhardt and Johnson has shrunk ever so slightly, and if Johnson is off his game in the upcoming race, there's a shot for Earnhardt to vault into second behind Gordon. Based on how he's running, don't be surprised if Earnhardt gets it done.
Next week sees NASCAR's best take to Sparta, Kentucky, for the Quaker State 400, where the tight Sprint Cup Chase should heat up even more.
Wouldn't it be great if Edwards won a race that's seen two Joe Gibbs Racing team members ride to Victory Lane in the past three years? Even a high finish might allow him to leapfrog both Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in the standings. There's no question that momentum is on his side.
Then again, Gordon is as experienced as anyone and is in rare form. It will be extremely difficult to knock him off his perch at the top, as he holds a sizable advantage. Another Hendrick driver in Johnson is always a threat, though Earnhardt can't be counted out either.
|Saturday, June 28||7:30 p.m. ET||Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts||TNT|
|Saturday, July 5||7:30 p.m. ET||Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola||TNT|
|Sunday, July 13||1 p.m. ET||Camping World RV Sales 301||TNT|
|Sunday, July 27||1 p.m. ET||Crown Royal Presents You Hero's Name Here 400 at the Brickyard||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 3||1 p.m. ET||GoBowling.com 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 10||1 p.m. ET||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 17||1 p.m. ET||Pure Michigan 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, August 23||7:30 p.m. ET||Irwin Tools Night Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 31||7:30 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||ESPN|
|Saturday, September 6||7:30 p.m. ET||Federated Auto Parts 400||ABC|
|Sunday, September 14||2 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 21||2 p.m. ET||Sylvania 300||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 28||2 p.m. ET||AAA 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 5||2 p.m. ET||Hollywood Casino 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, October 11||7:30 p.m. ET||Bank of America 500||ABC|
|Sunday, October 19||2 p.m. ET||Geico 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 26||1:30 p.m. ET||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 2||3 p.m. ET||AAA Texas 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 9||3 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 16||3 p.m. ET||Ford EcoBoost 400||ESPN|