Edwards gamble pays big dividends in points race
Posted: Monday, November 3, 2008 6:01 pm
By: By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — No reason for Jimmie Johnson to panic. Not yet anyway.
As frustrating as Johnson’s race was at Texas, struggling to a 15th-place finish while Carl Edwards gambled on fuel and won by a wide margin, Johnson maintained a somewhat comfortable 106-point lead in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup chase with two races left.
Still, Johnson knows that his third consecutive championship isn’t quite wrapped up.
“Man, there’s been a race the whole time. You just never know what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “Now that comfort margin’s even closed up more. So it’s still a race.”
Edwards won for the second consecutive week, squeezing a victory out of his last tank of fuel Sunday in the Dickies 500, slashing 77 points off his second-place deficit behind Johnson.
Johnson goes next week to Phoenix, where he’s won the last two Cup races and finished seventh or better the last six, looking to stretch his margin before the season finale. If Johnson finishes seventh or better in both races, there’s no way he can lose the title.
“If I get stuffed in the fence the first run, I finish 43rd, they’re right there,” Johnson said. “My goal is to outrun those guys. My goal’s to win the race, try to lead the most laps, gain points on those guys so that we go to Homestead with as many points as we can.”
At the 1 1/2-mile high-banked Texas track, no one was going to outrun Carl Edwards, even as he had to slow down late to conserve fuel while going the final 69 laps — 103 1/2 miles — without a stop.
Edwards finished 8.31 seconds ahead of polesitter Jeff Gordon for the largest margin of victory at Texas — nearly 3 seconds more than the previous record. Jamie McMurray was third and Johnson finished a lap down, never able to get back on the lead lap after falling back early.
It completed a Texas two-step for Edwards, who also won in April and became the first three-time Cup winner at the track. He is the first to sweep both races in the same year.
Although Edwards dominated most of the race, leading 199 of the first 264 laps, it was the daring no-stop call by crew chief Bob Osborne that got Edwards back to Victory Lane after several front-runners used two-tire strategies to get ahead of his No. 99 Ford near the finish.
Osborne had to keep telling Edwards, who had more than a 12-second lead at one point, to quit going so fast.
“I was just so nervous that we were missing something. I thought there’s no way we can go this slow, save this much fuel and still be leading the race,” Edwards said. “I needed someone to write it on a card and stick it in front of me … It is kind of difficult at the end of a race like that especially.”
Edwards dropped to seventh place when Osborne chose to put on four tires on lap 265. But when the cars ahead of him later began pitting for two tires and fuel, Osborne told Edwards to stay on the track.
Despite some nerve-racking moments over the closing stretch, Edwards still had enough fuel after doing his trademark backflip to tear up some infield grass with some celebratory doughnuts.
While Edwards isn’t conceding the championship, like some others have, the Roush Fenway driver still needs a lot to happen to keep Johnson from joining Cale Yarborough (1976-78) as the only Cup drivers to win three straight Cup championships.
At Texas, Johnson took too long to find the right setup. The No. 48 Chevrolet was “really loose” the first three runs and then it went the other way after making adjustments.
“Once that happened, I was a sitting duck,” Johnson said. “We just got way behind.”
Edwards put him a lap down on lap 96 and Johnson slipped all the way to 33rd after a pit stop on lap 113. At that point, with Edwards leading, Johnson was only 64 points ahead. But his team kept making adjustments and Johnson was able to regain some of his lost ground, although he never got back on the lead lap.
With record-lows of five cautions for 26 laps at Texas, there weren’t enough chances for Johnson to get a lucky break.
“There were so many green flag runs that I knew we were in trouble,” Johnson said.
Greg Biffle, who finished fifth, also kept his hopes alive in the Chase, remaining third as he came from 185 points behind Johnson to 143 back.
Fourth-place Jeff Burton, who began the day 218 points behind, finished 13th and gained only six points, virtually eliminating him from contention.
Edwards gave owner Jack Roush his seventh victory in 16 Cup races at Texas. All five of his drivers finished in the top 11 this time, including McMurray, Biffle, Matt Kenseth (ninth) and David Ragan (11th).
McMurray led late before having to pit.
“I thought Jamie was going to win the race with 20 laps to go, and Carl was going to benefit in gaining some points,” Roush said. “I didn’t think we’d be sitting here with Carl.”
Sitting on the podium with Edwards after the victory, Roush still couldn’t explain how it happened.
“I had seen the data, I knew that the 99 car, the Ford Fusion, was getting better fuel mileage than the other cars we had,” Roush said. “I didn’t understand why and I still don’t understand why.”
With a new cowboy hat for his winning collection, it really didn’t matter.