Edwards sails to Atlanta victory, second in Chase

Edwards sails to Atlanta victory, second in Chase

Carl Edwards did everything he could to close the gap on championship points leader Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately, he didn't gain much ground. Edwards led 98 laps and claimed the checkered flag in the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor...

Carl Edwards did everything he could to close the gap on championship points leader Jimmie Johnson. Unfortunately, he didn't gain much ground.

Edwards led 98 laps and claimed the checkered flag in the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway but made up little ground on Johnson, who capped a sensational comeback for a second-place finish.

Carl Edwards leads the field.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

Edwards led 81 laps early in the race and then spent most of the rest of the race running among the front few cars. Edwards nudged leader Denny Hamlin and went by him on the outside on the restart with 16 laps to go and held off the field for his seventh win of the season.

"It just worked out great," said Edwards, who collected his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win here in 2005 and won the Nationwide Series race in Memphis yesterday. "It was an awesome weekend for us."

After a pair of disappointing finishes at Talladega and Charlotte, Edwards now has two straight top-three finishes and moved ahead of Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle to second in the championship standings. He trails Johnson by 183 points with three races left in the season.

"Jimmie is an awesome competitor," Edwards said. "Chad (Knaus) and Rick (Hendrick) came down to congratulate me. He does a great job. We've got three more good tracks for us. Jimmie is magic. We've got to go win those three races and hope for the best."

Johnson inherited the pole and all of the Chasers started at the front of the field when qualifying was canceled due to bad weather on Friday. Johnson paced 28 of the first 45 laps but then dropped back with a poor handling car and then was caught speeding on pit road during a green flag stop and lost a lap to the leaders while serving his penalty. He dropped as far back as 30th but got the free pass and back on the lead lap when the field came under caution on lap 131.

Johnson stayed on the lead laps and was the only driver among the leaders to come in for fresh tires under the final caution. He rocketed from 11th to second in the closing laps.

Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

"Having new tires versus the other guys was a great call," Johnson said. "It was a risky call and it just shows that (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) is out there racing, not just riding around. He called me in for tires and told me to put my cape on and off we went. I'm very happy that we got a second place today. We just fought, fought, fought to get back. It's almost like a win today. I'm leaving here very happy."

Hamlin was enjoying his best run in the Chase. He was in the top five for most of the second half of the race and took second from Kyle Busch just before the caution came out with 72 laps to go and then took the lead from Matt Kenseth when his group turned in the fastest stop on pit road. He dropped to third in the closing laps.

"We had a race winning car there but our car didn't like those cautions," a visibly disappointed Hamlin said. "We had the field licked and then had a debris caution that changed the whole complexion of the race. We tried to do the best we could. My team gave me the best car I've ever had here."

Kenseth took the lead for the first time on laps 89 and paced the field for most of the next 100 laps. Kurt Busch took the lead from Kenseth when his crew pulled off the fastest stop under caution on lap 209 but Kenseth charged back and took the lead back 10 laps later. Kenseth, who was looking for his first win of the season, held on for a fourth place finish.

Kyle Busch also had a solid day at Atlanta. He didn't lead any laps but stayed among the top-10 throughout the day and came on late for a fifth place finish.

Chasers Jeff Gordon (ninth) and Biffle (10th) also finished in the top ten.

Jeff Burton struggled throughout the day and was caught up in a late wreck that was touched off when he made contact with the slowing car of Dave Blaney with 23 laps to go in the race. Burton dropped one spot in the standings to fourth.

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Series NASCAR-CUP