Johnson holds off Edwards, takes points lead

Published 10:53 pm Sunday, September 28, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Well, it worked in the video game.

Carl Edwards did everything he could Sunday, including purposely bouncing off the concrete wall at Kansas Speedway, but it wasn’t quite enough to beat two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

“Where’d he come from?” Johnson asked after Edwards shot underneath him in the third turn of the final lap before banging hard off the wall, giving Johnson just enough room to drive back to the front and hold on for a win that vaulted him into the series points lead.

Edwards, who lost the lead to Johnson 47 laps from the end on the final pit stops by the leaders, said he knew what he was doing when he made his desperation move on the final trip around the 1.5-mile oval.

“I planned on hitting the wall, but I didn’t plan on the wall slowing me down that much,” Edwards said. “In video games, you can just run into the wall and run it wide open. That’s what I did, but it didn’t quite work out the same as the video game.”

Johnson appeared to have the race well in hand after regaining the lead on lap 220 of the 267-lap event, consistently running 10 to 15 car-lengths ahead of Edwards until the last two laps when the runner-up closed in enough to make a run at him.

Edwards got the gap down to a few feet heading into the third turn on lap 266, but Johnson pulled away again as they reached the finish line.

“To be honest, I was cruising down the backstretch (on the last lap), had a decent lead and I knew he would go to the bottom,” Johnson said. “My concern was just making sure I was at his quarterpanel coming off of turn two. So I was thinking through what I needed to do and, next thing you know, that car goes flying by.

“I knew inside there was no damn way he was making the turn and just stayed on the brake and tried to get it redirected and turned down. Then I was so in awe of how far he drove it in, I watched him pound the wall and get back in the gas and thought, ‘Man, he’s serious about this win. I’d better get back in the gas myself.’ ”

Johnson, who said he saw plenty of so-called slide jobs when he was running off road and dirt track races early in his career, noted Edwards still caught him off guard on this one after the leader became a little too cautious in the final laps.

“At that time, I think Carl probably recognized what I was trying to do and took it in way beyond any sense of normal thinking and was committed to it,” Johnson said. “I still can’t explain to you how surprised I was and shocked. Still, it was pretty damn cool to see him bouncing around like that and skipping off the wall.”

Edwards, who went from a 10-point lead over Johnson to a 10-point deficit with seven races left in the Chase for the championship, said, “I just really, really wanted to win this race. … But Jimmie’s a smart racer. I’ve done that to guys, too. When they slide jump you, you just lift, go right back by them and watch them. I didn’t know what was going to happen and just had to give it a try.”

Greg Biffle, who came into the third race of Chase with two straight victories, followed the leaders across the finish line to stay within 35 points of the lead.

“When we got here, we weren’t very good,” Biffle said. “We were 36th right off the truck. So we had big-time improving to do and we did that. We worked really hard and got our car good.”

It was a very long race for Edwards, who started 34th in the 43-car field after a poor qualifying effort on Friday.

On his first pit stop, Brian Vickers veered into his pit as Edwards was coming out of his and the two made contact. On Edward’s next pit stop, he got out cleanly but was hit in the side by Dave Blaney, who had ricocheted off Jeff Burton.

That second collision forced Edwards to make another stop to have sheet metal pulled away from the tire.

“Seemed like we were running into a lot of people and getting run into,” Edwards said. “I don’t know what was going on.”

Missourian Edwards, who considers this his home track, was relentless as he drove through the field and took his first lead of the day on lap 176 of 267 and wound up leading 31 laps.

But Johnson, who started from the pole, led a race-high 124 laps as he turned in his fifth straight top-five finish, including three of his five season wins.

“Winning the race is a huge boost in confidence for the team and myself,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to get any points on anybody in the Chase. Five or 10 here and there is nothing.”

Chad Knaus, his crew chief, said being in the points lead this early isn’t very meaningful this early in the Chase.

“Doesn’t mean anything right now,” he said. “All we have to do is win races and finish in the top five, and the rest of it will take care of itself.”

Jeff Gordon, battling an unspecified illness since Friday, finished fourth, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, who got his ninth straight top-10, and Burton, all among the 12-man Chase field.

Burton remained fourth, 121 points behind Johnson, followed by Harvick, 136 behind, and four-time champion Gordon, who moved up from eighth and is 143 back.

The postseason nightmare continued for regular season points leader Kyle Busch, who had an early engine problem and struggled to a 28th-place finish. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, had an even worse day, finishing 40th after colliding with Brian Vickers and damaging his front splitter as he drove through the infield grass.

Heading into next week’s race at Talladega, Gibbs teammates Denny Hamlin, who finished 11th Sunday, Stewart and Busch are 10th, 11th and 12th in the points and all but eliminated from title contention.