Jeff Gordon did not make the field after a final dash for tires during the caution brought out by Clint Bowyer.
Richmond, Va. – In a dramatic finish to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, Carl Edwards raced to victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday evening at the Richmond International Raceway before a near-capacity crowd.
Edwards drove the colorful Frosted Flakes Ford and earned his 21st career Sprint Cup victory and his first at Richmond.
Until the 345th lap, Edwards didn’t seem to be a factor in the race but moments before a caution flag came out¸ eight front-runners pitted but Edwards and others did not do so. They did come in during the slowdown period and Edwards took over the lead on the 348th lap, leading 46 of the final 53 laps.
Said Edwards after completing his well-executed back flip, “That’s my pit crew that won this race for us. It was just an awesome job by them. It was up at the beginning (of season) with Jimmy (Fennig) and our new team, and then we struggled for a little while, but the last three weeks have been great. We’ve led a bunch of laps and have had fast race cars and we’re having fun. Thanks to Jack Roush. We got Greg Biffle in the Chase, and we got Ford to victory lane. This is really cool. I’m sure I haven’t won a race here in the Cup car, so it’s a big night for us.”
Regarding his outlook for the Chase, Edwards exuded confidence, “We’re gonna win the championship. That’s our mission. That seemed like a crazy idea about a month-and-a-half ago, but Jimmy and these guys have buckled down. Everybody back at the shop, all the guys building these race cars, all of our Ford teammates – Brad, Joey and all the Penske guys – everybody has rallied together. I can’t say enough about Robbie Reiser, Bob Osborne, Chip Bolin, all the guys at the shop. We’ve got two guys in the Chase, and this championship would mean the world to me. The next 10 weeks, we’re gonna be on them hard. They’re gonna know we’re here.”
Said crew chief Fennig, “It was big to get the win tonight because that momentum going into the Chase means a lot to everybody. Hopefully, we can turn everything around. A win here is very special.”
Added co-owner Jack Roush, “The last couple of races, the pit stops on the No. 99 team have been spectacular. There’s more to racing than just making horsepower or making a good reliable car that won’t have it brakes fall off. You’ve got to have the athletic performance aspect of it as well.”
Second place went to Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row/Beautyrest Chevrolet.
Said the controversial driver, “When the race started, I knew I had my work cut out for us. If Gordon as going to win, we had to finish second. As the race progressed, I didn’t see the No. 24 (Gordon) as often, so I was able to relax a bit. But still, the nerves, feelings and emotions were all there, and I had to make sure I hit my marks and not slip any tires, trying to protect the car and stay out of trouble. It feels unbelievable to make the Chase, and it is an amazing feeling. We achieved something very special tonight. I am very proud to have driven the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy into the Chase this year.”
He led 73 laps.
Ryan Newman checked in third in the Quicken Loans Chevrolet but watched as a likely win disappeared in the late going.
Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard were fourth and fifth place finishers.
The second-five in the finishing order were Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
For the all-important Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, the field has been set with 12 drivers contending for the coveted crown.
Going into the race, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kenseth were locked into the Chase field with Kasey Kahne having nailed down one of the two Wild Card slots.
When the dust settled at the end of 400 laps, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch solidified positions in the Chase, finishing in the top-10 in points, and Truex joined Kahne in the Wild Card category.
Missing the Chase field was former champions Gordon and Keselowski along with Newman. With six to go, Newman had the lead and was close to locking himself into the Chase field, only to have Bowyer spin on the front-stretch. As a result, the front-runners pitted for tires and Newman came out fifth and was only able to gain two spots, losing out on a tie-breaker with Truex for the final Chase spot.
Asked whether the Bowyer spin was intentional to allow teammate Truex to gain a more favorable finish Newman didn’t want to be drawn into the discussion. Bowyer also refused to be drawn in.
Keselowski had an outside shot at making the Chase, and he gave it his all, leading 142 laps, only to finish 17th.
The reseeded Chase point standings has Kenseth in front with 2,015 points ahead of Johnson (2,012), Kyle Busch (2,012), Harvick (2,006), Edwards (2,006), Logano (2,003), Biffle (2,003), and Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Kahne and Truex, all with 2,000 points.
Johnson had a miserable night after starting last due to missing qualifications because of the birth of his second daughter early Friday morning. He was never in contention and during the race, he was assessed with a pit-road speeding penalty, had to replace a battery and struck a wall after a tire cut-down. He ended up 40th, completing 372 laps. .
Teammate Gordon was frustrated over missing the Chase for the second time. “We haven’t had the kind of year that this team is capable of, and that’s where our focus is going to be for the next 10 races, just to now that we put in every bit of effort we possibly could. Our race wasn’t a pretty one, but we were getting it done until that caution came out, and then the restart didn’t go the way we needed it to, so that’s unfortunate. I’m just bummed for this team.”
The 10-race Chase kicks off at the Chicagoland Speedway next weekend.