Carl Edwards may not believe in momentum, but he's certainly riding it now. After scoring back-to-back wins at Atlanta and Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards has now closed the gap to Chase leader Jimmie Johnson to 106 points, keeping his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title hopes alive with only two races remaining.
One week ago, the Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver maintained a positive outlook with his 183-point deficit to Johnson. But after a wild race, which saw Edwards gamble on fuel and win, and Johnson struggle and finish 15th, the title is indeed still very well alive for the Columbia, Missouri native.
"I didn't expect to be able to close that many points on Jimmie without him having some sort of catastrophic problem," Edwards said. "I think that's a good shot in the arm for all of our guys, all the guys that have been working so hard at the shop and here at the racetrack, that we can go out and perform well enough to win this thing."
Johnson struggled to get the most out of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Sunday, going a lap down early on and running outside the top-20. But in typical fashion, Johnson rebounded late in the race, but still lost 77 points to winner Edwards. Johnson's 15th place finish was his first outside the top-10 in the Chase for Cup.
Despite the disappointing finish at Texas, Johnson still has the possibility of clinching the championship this Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, although a much more difficult task compared to the position he was in a few weeks ago.
"With the points lead that we had, there was a level of comfort there that I didn't have to outrun the 16 or the 99 or the 31 to be the champion," Johnson said. "It was just about making sure we did our jobs to be competitive. That is the pressure I've put on myself and this race team's put on itself."
Johnson needs to leave Phoenix with a 196-point lead to officially seal his third consecutive championship. If he holds a 162-point advantage over second place, Johnson will only have to start the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch the title. A seventh place finish or better in the remaining two races would also do.
Mathematically, third place runner Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton, who is 212 points back in fourth, both have a shot at the title as well, although long shots at best. It's almost certainly now down to Johnson and Edwards, but a lot of racing still remains.
"There's been a race the whole time, you just never know what's going to happen," Johnson said. "There's still 400 miles at Homestead and 300 at Phoenix. A lot can happen. Even at 183 points over Carl, I wasn't comfortable. If I stuffed it in the fence the first run, I finish 43rd, they're right there. [Then it will be] a race of 20 or 30 points at that point.
"Now that comfort margin's even closed up more. We got to go to Phoenix. My goal is to outrun those guys. My goal's to win the race, try to lead the most laps, gain points on those guys so that we go to Homestead with as many points as we can. That's truthfully the goal."