Comeback Carl: Edwards grabs win as the Chase for the Cup nears
BROOKLYN, MICH. -- It was Old West style showdown stuff -- Kyle "Rowdy" Busch vs. Carl "Mr. Clean" Edwards.
On the final restart, there were two laps for all the gold after 400 miles of lead-swapping between NASCAR's hard-charging gunslingers.
Edwards, in this one, gunned Busch down, blowing him away in a two-lap dash at the end. The No. 99 driver earned 10 more bonus points, cutting the gap between him and the No. 18 team to forty points heading into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
It was Edwards' fifth win of the year. And, once again, Jack Roush's stable of Fords proved to be too much for the competition at this two-mile speed palace beyond the suburbs of Detroit in what is known as Michigan's Irish Hills.
A caution to clean up the mess made by Denny Hamlin's engine explosion bunched the field one final time with less than eight laps remaining.
Edwards, who had traded the lead with Busch most of the afternoon, streaked away like a rocket when the green flag waved for the final time.
Busch was second and another Roush Ford, driven by youngster David Ragan, was third. Greg Biffle, another Roush driver, was fourth and another, Matt Kenseth, was fifth. Roush cars therefore finished first, third, fourth and fifth.
Trailing the Roush parade were veteran Mark Martin, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler and Jamie McMurray, in yet another Roush machine.
While it might have been a great day for Roush and Ford, it was a very disappointing day for some of the sport's stars trying to stay in the Top 12 in the point standings in the Race to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Hamlin, for example, had raced his way to a top 10 spot before his engine trouble relegated him to a 39th-place finish, falling three spots to 12th place in the standings. Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed to be a contender early, leading the race for 43 laps, before scraping the wall with less than 10 laps to go and dropping back to 23rd.
Jeff Gordon appeared to have a pretty good car before a side-by-side scrape with teammate Jimmie Johnson. He hit the wall a few laps later and finished 42nd, falling three spots in the standings to ninth place.
Finally, Johnson battled back into the top 20 after losing a lap and finished the race, colliding with Travis Kvapil coming out of turn four and spinning down across the infield grass. He managed to keep his Chevy aimed in the right direction and crossed the finish line in 17th spot.
Compared to other chase contenders finishing much worse than 17th, the two-time champ would have to say 17th wasn't too bad.
With an engine problem, Kasey Kahne finished 40th, dropping to 11th place in the point standings.
On the outside of the top 12, Clint Bowyer and David Ragan are tied 26 points outside of the Chase with three races to go before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series begins Sept. 14 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Johnson went to the front as soon as the green flag fell on the 43-car field. It was a clear, balmy Michigan day and a sizeable crowd of more than 100,000 gathered to watch the 3M Performance 400.
Considering the poor economic climate in what is known as Car Country, USA, NASCAR fans obviously found a way to get to the race and were certainly not disappointed. By lap 10, five-time NASCAR NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver Award winner Earnhardt had moved from his fourth starting spot past Johnson for the lead.
Kyle Busch, the hottest driver on the circuit this season, moved from 11th to seventh by lap 15 of the 200-lap race.
Popular Australian Marcos Ambrose brought out the first caution flag of the day on lap 18 when the engine in his Wood Brothers Ford erupted in smoke on the backstretch.
When the race restarted on lap 25, Johnson and Vickers were ahead of Earnhardt, but Busch had moved into fourth. It was Chevy, Toyota, Chevy and Toyota, but Earnhardt's No. 88 zoomed into the lead on lap 30, drawing a huge roar from the crowd. Busch had moved to second and Edwards had worked his way from 27th to third.
Vickers moved past Busch for second spot on the 42nd lap while Earnhardt motored on out front with a one-second lead. Vickers passed Earnhardt on the 48th lap but Earnhardt was told by crew chief Tony Eury Jr., to back off and get behind Vickers to see if he could dislodge a piece of paper from his Chevy's grill. The strategy worked (water temperature in the 88 dropped from 240 to 230) and Earnhardt settled into second awaiting the next pit stop. Edwards was third and Busch fourth, two seconds behind.
The field started making green-flag pit stops on lap 62. Earnhardt came in on lap 64. Vickers came in three laps later. Once all the leaders had pitted, Earnhardt was back in the lead with Edwards second and Vickers third. Biffle and Busch were right behind.
Edwards took the lead on lap 74. Earnhardt dropped to third a few laps later when Vickers zipped past. Earnhardt slid back to fourth a few laps later when Biffle passed him.
Dave Blaney brought out the second caution when Paul Menard was tapped in the rear by Ryan Newman off of turn two. Menard's car clipped Blaney and sent him into the retaining wall.
On the restart at lap 89, Edwards was in front, followed by Biffle, Vickers, Busch, Earnhardt and Kenseth. Defending champion Johnson had to make an unscheduled stop for a cut tire after bumping into teammate Gordon and then Tony Stewart when the trio made it three wide in the trioval after the restart. Johnson dropped all the way back to 34th. Gordon slammed the wall a few laps later and crashed into the third turn wall bringing out the third caution of the day. Gordon apparently suffered a cut tire in the scrape with Johnson.
On the restart shortly past the 100-lap halfway mark, Edwards led with Biffle and Busch in tow. Trailing them were Vickers, David Ragan, Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Earnhardt, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch.
[story and photo courtesy of NASCARmedia.com]
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