Edwards closes in on Busch with win at Michigan
BROOKLYN, Mich. – Carl Edwards looked in his mirrors and saw the guy he had to beat.
With two laps remaining and one final restart coming up in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, Kyle Busch — the only driver that Edwards trails in the points — was right on his rear bumper.
Edwards said he thought about the race last month at Chicagoland Speedway when Busch passed two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson after a late-race restart for one of his season-high eight victories.
“I just didn’t want to have to go through the pain, so I just did everything I could to have the best restart I could, and it worked out great,” Edward said after racing away to his fifth win of the season.
And Edwards hopes that’s just a preview of what’s coming up in the Chase for the championship.
“We’re winning races,” Edwards said. “We’re gearing up for the Chase. I’m feeling stronger than ever. We’re here to win championships. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
With just three races remaining until the start of the 10-race Chase, Edwards closed the gap on series leader Busch with his second victory in the last three races. Edwards also completed a rare weekend sweep on the 2-mile Michigan oval, adding the win in the 3M Performance 400 to a victory Saturday in the Nationwide Series event.
While the 23-year-old Busch has had a great season, winning eight times and building a big lead in the regular-season points, Edwards, who turned 29 on Friday, has kept the youngster in sight.
When the 12-man Chase begins next month at New Hampshire, all of the eligible drivers will be seeded, with 10 bonus points added to their base total of 5,000 for each victory. Edwards lost one 10-point bonus because of a penalty early in the season, but would still be just 40 points behind Busch if the Chase began next week.
“The greatest part is we didn’t give up more bonus points to Kyle,” Edwards said. “He’s just so strong. Every time I win and he finishes second that’s really a 20-point spread for us. That’s what we have to keep doing, is to try and win the next three events and go into this Chase on even ground.”
Busch knows he has a battle on his hands.
“Carl’s right there,” he said. “He has been all year. Yeah, it’s a 20-point swing. We’ve got to live with it. Hopefully, we can make it up someplace else.”
Busch was just ahead of Edwards when they pitted under caution on lap 180 of the 200-lap event, but Edwards won the race out of the pits.
David Ragan and June Michigan winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. had stayed on track and were running 1-2, but Edwards easily passed them on the restart on lap 183 to retake the lead, then held off Busch on two more restarts, including the final one with just four miles remaining.
The victory gave Roush Fenway Racing co-owner Jack Roush his 19th overall victory and 11th Cup win — tying the Wood Brothers for the record — at the Michigan track, just down the road from his headquarters in Livonia, Mich.
Edwards became only the second driver to win both races on the same weekend at Michigan. Former Roush driver Mark Martin did it in 1993.
“The key was my crew today,” Edwards said. “My guys did an unbelievable job getting me off pit road.”
Edwards was pulling away at the end, building a lead of nearly 1.5 seconds before Denny Hamlin’s blown engine brought out the seventh and final caution flag of the day on lap 195. That moved Busch right up to the rear bumper of Edwards’ Ford as the green flag waved for the final time for the start of lap 199, but it wasn’t close as Edwards pulled out to a 15 car-length victory.
“(This was) very important,” said Bob Osborne, Edwards’ crew chief. “What we’re doing here is a little bit of practicing for the Chase and trying to get those 10 points to catch that 18 car. … Carl Edwards did a great job. The pit crew did a great job.”
“It just came down to when he beat us off of pit road,” Busch said. “That was it for us. We just didn’t quite have the car capable enough of being able to beat those guys. We were good on that one run, that one set of tires. But that was pretty much what we had.”
Roush Fenway took four of the top five spots with Ragan holding on to finish third, followed by teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, who bounced off the wall passing Martin, now driving a Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., on the last lap.
Earnhardt Jr., who appeared to have one of the strongest cars in the early going, bounced off the wall in heavy traffic moments after being passed by Edwards on the late restart. He pitted and wound up finishing 23rd.
Earnhardt held onto fourth place in the standings, but several other drivers took a big hit in the race for the Chase. Kasey Kahne, who finished 40th with an engine failure, fell to 11th and Hamlin, who wound up 39th, dropped to 12th, the final spot in the Chase, just 26 points ahead of both Clint Bowyer and Ragan, tied for 13th.
Two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion, also had a tough day.
The two were involved in a three-wide bumping incident with two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. Johnson had to pit immediately with a cut tire, lost a lap and wound up 17th after spinning through the grass on the final lap. The damage to Gordon’s car from the bump showed up a few laps later when he cut a tire and hit the wall, sending him to the garage for repairs. He finished 42nd.
Johnson remained third in the standings, but Gordon fell from sixth to ninth, 82 points in front of Bowyer and Ragan.