THE CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP FIELD IS SET
Carl Edwards won at Richmond, streaking away after a restart with three laps left and beating Kurt Busch to the finish line by .668 seconds (photo courtesy: Jonathan Ferrey, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Carl Edwards drove to Gatorade Victory Lane after winning at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night. It was the second win this season for Edwards (Phoenix).
"Really, tonight was about three points," said Edwards. "That's what this is about. It was three points for our Chase. I know first hand, we all know up here, what a point in the Chase is worth. We came here with the mission to get those three points."
The race set the field for the 2013 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup. Edwards is joined by Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch; as well as Wild Card drivers Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
Two drivers who were in contention to make the Chase throughout the race - Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman - are left on the outside looking in. Gordon missed the Chase by one point.
For Edwards the win, plus the bonus points for Chase seeding will be the fifth seed when the Chase begins Sept. 15 at Chicago.
Reigning champion Brad Keselowski failed to make the Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup championship Saturday night when an ill-timed caution ruined his race. The same thing happened to Newman, who used a pass on eventual winner Edwards with 10 laps to go to take the lead for what should have been enough to get in the Chase.
Newman and Truex were locked in a race for the second of two wild cards in the 12-driver Chase field, and the race win would have given it to Newman. Only he lost the lead on pit road, wound up finishing third, and Truex grabbed the final spot in the Chase.
Truex, who broke his right wrist two weeks ago in a crash at Bristol and has been racing with a cast.
"I raced my (butt) off all night long. That's all I can do. I tell my crew chief what my car is doing, what I need to go faster. That was enough to worry about. I don't have to worry about any other people out on the racetrack,” Truex said.
The winner wasn't immune from controversy, with many believing Edwards jumped the final restart to get past Paul Menard. But Edwards said Menard spun his tires, and if he waited for Menard to get moving, both drivers would have been run over by the field behind them.
Kahne claimed the first wild-card berth, and Joey Logano, Keselowski's teammate at Penske Racing, qualified for the Chase for the first time in his career, by rounding out the top 10 in points. Logano edged four-time NASCAR champion Gordon for the final spot in the field.
2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch finished second to make Furniture Row Racing the first single-car organization to make the Chase.
Busch had been plagued by a slow pit crew all year and it bit him on the first caution of the race when he led the field down pit road as the leader. But the Furniture Row crew was almost a second slower than all the other contenders, and Busch lost five spots, restarting in sixth.
The pit crew rebounded as the night went on and Busch, fired two years ago from Penske Racing, was celebrating his return to elite company.
"Well, how about them apples? Unbelievable," Busch said. "The way this team has grown, what we've been able to accomplish, it's an amazing feeling. We achieved something very special tonight."
Keselowski, who led a race-high 142 laps, at one point seemed to have the race in control even though a victory wasn't necessarily going to be enough to get him into the Chase. He had just pitted under green when Johnson hit the wall to bring out a caution that pinned Keselowski deep in the field, and he never recovered.
He finished 17th, and at 16th in points and winless on the season, he won't be eligible to race for the Sprint Cup title.
"I don't really have any emotions right now. We weren't good enough to make it and we didn't. That is the reality," he said. "We have work to do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn't have enough results to get where we needed to be."
Performance also hurt Newman, who was critical of his Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew. Newman isn't being brought back to SHR next season, and the team was too slow on pit road for the final stop and that cost him both the win and his spot in the Chase.
"We should have been able to come on pit road first and come off first," he said. "If we're a championship contending team, we need a championship contending pit crew, and we didn't have that tonight."
And that final caution ruined Gordon's Chase chances, too. Eighth before the yellow flag and ahead of Logano in the standings, Gordon wound up on the outside looking in even though he still finished eighth.
"We were getting it done until that caution came out," Gordon said. "We still could have made it in. That restart just didn't got the way that we needed it to."
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Chicago on Sunday, September 15 (1:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN, MRNSirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 28 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.