Carl Edwards ensured he will have an opportunity to win the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship with a victory on Sunday at a rain-shortened AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The race was delayed because of the weather and ultimately called after 293 of 334 laps. According to Joe Menzer of Fox Sports, Edwards entered Victory Lane more than nine hours after the race was supposed to start.
His reward for the perseverance is one of the four spots in the winner-take-all Sprint Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The AAA Texas 500 was the second of three races in the Round of 8, and a victory at any of the three means automatic advancement into the next round.
Edwards was ready to move his name even further, as NASCAR captured:
Not so fast, #CarlEdwards! #TheChase https://t.co/rGpYs2d2it2016-11-7 04:30:33
Edwards joins Jimmie Johnson in the field of four. Johnson won the first race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway.
It initially looked as if it would be Joey Logano and not Edwards who earned the victory on Sunday. Logano led 178 laps but lost his lead to Martin Truex Jr. Edwards then seized control of the race thanks to an impressive pit stop on Lap 255 that lasted a mere 11.8 seconds, per Brant James of USA Today.
He did the rest from there and clinched the victory and advanced in the grid, per NASCAR:
☝️ race. ✌️ spots. #TheChase https://t.co/P6XY7V4UEF2016-11-7 05:23:49
Here is a look at the top finishers as well as the updated Sprint Cup standings and remaining schedule after Sunday's race, per NASCAR.com:
|AAA Texas 500 Results—Top 10 Finishers|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||66|
|NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings|
|2016 Remaining Schedule|
|Round of 8|
|Nov. 13||Can-Am 500||Phoenix International Raceway||2:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 20||Ford Ecoboost 400||Homestead-Miami Speedway||2:30 p.m.|
Edwards entered Sunday with plenty of pressure after he finished a disappointing 36th at Martinsville Speedway because of a blown tire crash. He essentially had to win at Texas Motor Speedway or in the next race in Phoenix to get through to the next round.
"I actually enjoyed it," he said, per Menzer. "The pressure was really mounting, and obviously this is what we needed to do."
There was no pressure on Johnson, and he cruised to a solid 11th place with no real need to push things after his previous victory. He is a six-time Sprint Cup champion and one of the all-time greats. His presence looms over the entire field at almost every race, especially this time of year, and he talked about his mindset moving forward.
"I've been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, but now I can't," Johnson said, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today. "We're locked in. I’m just honored to be in this position. It's crazy that we have a shot at seven now. … We're going to enjoy this and savor this and try to get our ducks in a row for Homestead."
Johnson and Edwards are in the clear, but there will be plenty of pressure on the other six drivers vying for those final two spots as attention turns toward Phoenix International Raceway for the Can-Am 500. A win will guarantee a spot, and plenty of contenders are bunched in the standings.
Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch finished in third, fourth and fifth place at Martinsville, while Logano was second on Sunday. That puts them all essentially neck-and-neck with two of the four spots at Homestead-Miami Speedway still up for grabs. Busch and Logano have 4,074 points, while Kenseth has 4,073 and Hamlin has 4,072.
Steve Letarte of NBC commented on the battle:
Steve Letarte @SteveLetarte
Did y'all see those points. WOW @PhoenixRaceway is going to be crazy.2016-11-7 04:35:23
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won last year in Phoenix, and Kevin Harvick ended up in second. Logano, Busch and Johnson also finished in the top five, so they should all have confidence moving forward to the next track.
Johnson has nothing to worry about, but the others will look to build on that recent experience and come through in the clutch.
That is exactly what Edwards did on Sunday, and he will have a relatively pressure-free race in Phoenix as a result.