Carl Edwards did everything he could Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, going to the front and winning in the Ford 300. But Clint Bowyer was not to be denied, scoring a solid fifth-place finish to secure the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
Sunday, Edwards will again play the underdog in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-ending Ford 400. He enters the finale 141 points behind in a bid to prevent Jimmie Johnson from becoming the first driver in 30 years to win three consecutive Sprint Cup Series championships.
Edwards, driving the No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford on Saturday, took the lead from Kyle Busch on lap 167 and led the final 33 circuits to score his seventh victory of the season. But it wasn’t enough to claim his second-straight Nationwide Series title. Bowyer entered the race with a 56-point lead in the No. 2 BB&T Chevrolet, and fifth place was good enough to earn his first major championship by 21 points. It was the fourth-closest margin in series history.
While Edwards could not deny Bowyer’s bid for the title, he prevented Kyle Busch from setting a Nationwide Series single-season victory record. Busch, driving the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota, finished the year with 10 triumphs, tying Sam Ard’s 1983 performance as best in the 27-year history of the series.
The eighth caution waved on lap 191 for debris, setting up a three-lap sprint to the checkered flag. Edwards was not to be denied, holding off Busch by .392 seconds, but the caution also cost him a shot at the series title.
“My car was getting real tight, and I really didn’t want to see that last caution,” Bowyer said. “But in hindsight, it all worked out.”
Bowyer’s biggest threat at the finish was if the lead-lap contenders behind him pitted for tires and ganged up on him in the closing laps. However, most of the contenders behind him elected to stay out for track position.
Busch, who elected to pit under caution while leading late in Friday’s night’s Ford 200 Craftsman Truck Series finale won by Todd Bodine, faked a move to pit road following the last caution but stayed out.
“That was a great win, to hold off the No. 18 as strong as they are,” Edwards said. “That was a good race. Congratulations to Clint and those guys. That’s a class act. It’s still good to finish second in the championship, but Clint will be a good champion for Nationwide. If I’m going to get beat by somebody, a dirt track driver from Emporia, Kansas is the best guy to get beat by. There’s no shame in finishing second after giving a 100-percent effort.”
Brad Keselowski finished third in the No. 88 U.S. Navy Chevrolet, followed by Jason Keller in the No. 38 Great Clips/Comcast Toyota and Bowyer.
Bowyer won the 2002 Midwest Region championship in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, and finished second in 2005, his first full season in the Nationwide Series.
“Carl and I have raced a long time,” Bowyer said. “We’re both from the Midwest. He was last year’s champion, and it feels real good to beat him. We’ve been consistent all year long, and we did the things it takes to win championships. I would like to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity. Since Carl and I are both from the short tracks, it just goes to show you, the stepping stones NASCAR has put forth for us young drivers that come through the ranks can have a shot at it. We both raced in the regional championships. Kids at home should go for it.”
Earlier Saturday, Joey Logano won the pole with a lap of 31.962 seconds (168.951 mph). While he finished 10th, it was good enough to give Joe Gibbs Racing its first team title in the division, edging Bowyer’s Richard Childress Racing team by 12 points.
Bryan Clauson made a bid to capture Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, but went out with 42 laps remaining. That enabled Landon Cassill to claim the award despite sitting out the event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 5 National Guard Chevrolet, finishing eighth.
Edwards averaged 117.348 mph. The race featured 10 lead changes among eight drivers.
Ford Championship Weekend will conclude with the crowning of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in Sunday’s Ford 400. The green flag is set to wave at 3:45 p.m., with Jimmie Johnson looking to become the first NASCAR driver in 30 years to win three consecutive titles.