Edwards could make it an interesting Chase after all

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just when it looked like Jimmie Johnson was going to run away with this year's "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship, here comes Carl Edwards with a late-season surge.

Edwards took a huge gamble in his quest for the title Sunday, when he drove the final 69 laps without pitting for fuel to win the Dickies 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. He also trimmed 77 points off of Johnson's lead after Johnson finished 15th, marking the first time the two-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion has finished outside the top-10 in this year's Chase.

Johnson came to Texas with a 183-point advantage over Edwards, and was in a position to possibly clinch his record-tying third-consecutive Cup championship in next weekend's race at Phoenix. But Edwards has now livened up the Chase as the title will now likely be decided in the season-finale at Homestead. That development comes as a sigh of relief for NASCAR officials, as well as officials at the South Florida track.

"I feel good about it, and I feel satisfied that we did take a chunk out of that lead," Edwards said. "I do feel like what happened (at Texas), I didn't expect to be able to close that many points on Jimmie without him having some sort of catastrophic problem."

Carl Edwards led 212 of 334 laps at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Edwards dominated Texas, leading 212 of 334 laps, but handed the lead over to teammate Jamie McMurray in the late stages after he took four new tires while McMurray grabbed only two new ones during a round of pit stops. McMurray and Greg Biffle stopped for fuel to make the distance, but Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne elected to go the distance without pitting and grabbed the lead with 14 laps to go. The gamble paid off as Edwards scored his eighth Sprint Cup victory of the season, tying him with Kyle Busch for most wins so far this year.

Johnson, meanwhile, struggled with an ill-handling car in the early-going and fell one lap behind Edwards in 29th place by Lap 95. He was never able to get back on the lead lap.

"It's like getting kicked in the (groin) over and over," Johnson said. "That sucked. After that we got the car better, and I ran in the top four, top six throughout the rest of the race, but just never had a chance to get a lap back."

Edwards also won last week at Atlanta, but gained very little ground on Johnson in points as Johnson staged a remarkable comeback with the help of his crew chief Chad Knaus.

Johnson was penalized for speeding on pit road and fell one lap down in 30th, but a bold call by Knaus to pit late in the race helped Johnson cap off his turnaround. After taking four new tires, Johnson charged from 11th to second in the final eight laps.

Unfortunately, Johnson and Knaus could not pull off the same magic at Texas.

"I'm more frustrated in the fact we didn't do the job we needed to today than the fact that I lost points," Johnson said. "If I lose five, 10 or 20 points at a time to those guys because they win and I finish fourth or fifth, I can handle that. But to go out there and not perform, get caught a lap down, stuck a lap down all day, that's the part I'm frustrated with."

Unless Johnson experiences more problems and Edwards continues to narrow the gap, Johnson remains in the driver's seat to win the championship as he holds a 106-point lead over Edwards with just two races to go.

But Edwards has said as long as he's within 130 points going to Homestead, he's there to win a championship.

With two straight victories behind his belt, Edwards has a lot of momentum going to Phoenix, and has a fighting chance to fulfill his mission heading to Homestead.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.
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