Timing. Carl Edwards' victory Sunday in the Texas AAA 500 was based on timing. His slot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup finals is assured.
Edwards led 36 laps. The last 36 laps. Timing. He took the lead on pit road because his crew was at its best when the race was on the line. His last two restarts, with both the rest of field and pop-up showers in pursuit, were faultless.
He took advantage of his best chance to go to Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20 with a shot at the championship that has narrowly eluded him three times. Yes. Timing.
Most everything went wrong at Texas Motor Speedway. Rain forced a race scheduled to be run on a Sunday afternoon to drag into a rainy night. It ended prematurely, 41 laps shy of the intended distance. What went right, while turning left, was Edwards.
In Victory Lane, to NBC Sports, Edwards said: "I actually enjoyed it. The pressure was really mounting, and obviously, this is what we had to do. Dave (Rogers, his crew chief) and the guys got me off pit road first. That's what won it for us."
If fortune smiled on Edwards in Texas, it was a quick turnaround. Misfortune at Martinsville—sounds like a movie title, doesn't it?—landed him in eighth place on October 30. He finished last among the Chase eligible, as he headed in Fort Worth. Race winners advance. The only way Edwards could realistically make the finals was to win.
"We dug ourselves a hole a little bit at Martinsville," Rogers said. "When I walked up to Carl, he said, 'No problem. We're going to go win Texas.'"
The feat wasn't quite so simple, but the simplicity of the goal was.
|Carl Edwards in Chase Races|
|Races||Wins||Top-5||Top-10||Laps Led||Avg. Finish|
At 37 years of age, Edwards has won 28 Cup races. He has 38 Xfinity and six Camping World Truck wins. He also captured a Sprint All-Star Race (2011), not to mention a healthy number of checkered flags from the dirt tracks of his native Missouri. He has never won a Chase but come close three times: third in 2005 (Greg Biffle was second by a tie-breaker), second in 2008 and second (by tiebreaker to champion Tony Stewart) in 2011.
The last was as agonizingly close as a Chase—even one in the format that has succeeded it—can be. Now there's a bracket and four rounds. Then, there was just the 10-race slog, the one in which Edwards was the more consistent. But Stewart, who never won during the 26-race regular season, won five times during the 10-race Chase. They both had 2,403 points.
Edwards knows well the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. He said: "One of the first things my dad told me about racing was, 'There's a thousand ways to lose a race. None of those thousand things can happen. You have to have everything go well.'"
While others feel the pressure he relieved Sunday, Edwards can relax next week at Phoenix. But he won't.
"You don't know me very well," Edwards said in answer to that question. "Man, I will not be relaxed. This is the part that I love. I mean, next week, we want to go win that race. Really, starting right now. in Victory Lane, Dave (Rogers) was actually trying to shut me up. I started talking about Homestead already."
Meanwhile, the desperation rises at the final gateway to the Chase finals. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Edwards have their boarding passes in hand.
As of now—even though "now" is largely irrelevant—Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are in position to make the final. But Matt Kenseth is only one point out, and Denny Hamlin is two down. A position is worth one point.
The bad news, for Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, is that they have to win at Phoenix. The good news, for Harvick, is that he has won five of the past six races—and six of the past eight—at the Desert Mile west of the city.
Harvick left Fort Worth with a new peril, however. He caused a wreck that sidelined Austin Dillon. Dillon and crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe did not take the misfortune particularly well. Talk of retribution lingered in the rain-heavy Texas air.
Via radio, Labbe reportedly said: "Write down that number. We are going to Phoenix and he (Harvick) is going to need a win and we don't."
Informed of Labbe's remarks, Harvick said to NBC Sports: "Slugger says a lot of things that he shouldn't. All in all, there was no intent there and I like racing with Austin (Dillon), and I like everything they do and there was no reason to. ... We were on a restart there, and he slid up, and he got loose and I hit the back of him."
Don't you love those pro-wrestling hijinks, kids?
Johnson, the most successful NASCAR driver of his generation, is in. Edwards, overdue for his own championship, is in. In both instances, there is justice.
If justice governs this final four, then Kyle Busch, the reigning champion, and Logano, whom Kenseth literally shoved literally out of contention a year ago at Martinsville, will make it.
Justice is intangible. Justice is complicated. This Chase format puts little emphasis on justice. Excitement is the goal, and excitement shall there be.
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All quotes are taken from NASCAR media, team and manufacturer sources unless otherwise noted.