Carl Edwards went from the Chase cellar to the Championship Round with Sunday’s win in the AAA Texas 500.
After an accident at Martinsville Speedway left the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team with a 39-point deficit entering the weekend, Edwards led the final 36 laps at Texas Motor Speedway for his third — and most important victory of the 2016 season.
“This is what we had to do,” Edwards said. “Dave (crew chief Rogers) and the crew got me off of pit road first, that’s what won it for us.
“We have a shot at the championship going to Homestead. That’s all we wanted and I can’t go to Homestead. It’s going to be a blast.”
Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five finishers.
Following a six-hour delay, the AAATexas 500 started under yellow and green flags with the surface still damp. NASCAR polled the competitors and ascertained track conditions were conducive to racing and lifted the yellow 10 minutes later on Lap 6.
Logano jumped out to the lead and held the point for the first 25 laps until he pitted on the competition caution on Lap 31. He regained the lead on Lap 32 and remained there until his green flag pit stop on Lap 75. Logano cycled out to the front on Lap 79. Nine circuits later, the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford had lapped half the field.
Brian Scott spun off of Turn 4 to ignite the third caution on Lap 108 — barely missing Kyle Busch as he came off of the wall. The race returned to green on Lap 116, but one lap later NASCAR called the fourth caution for a piece of carbon fiber on the race track. Nine cars used the opportunity to pit again including Jimmie Johnson — the only Chaser — and Paul Menard, who pitted outside of his pit box and was penalized one lap. The mistake proved costly for Menard who was mired in traffic and spun off of Turn 4 after a left rear went flat 22 laps later.
Although Logano led three times for a total of 178 laps in the first 188 circuits, Truex and Edwards' decision to pit on Lap 187 — one lap ahead of the No. 22 Ford -- was the game changer. The strategy cost Logano the lead and inevitably the win. When he came in for service, pit road was considerably more congested. Logano lost valuable time in the process.
Truex took over the point and took off in clean air with Edwards in tow. David Ragan chopped Austin Dillon in Turn 3 to trigger the sixth caution on Lap 256. Although Truex had led 66 laps, Edwards pit crew executed the money stop on Lap 257 which enabled the No. 19 Toyota to take the lead.
The race was barely up to speed when Kevin Harvick plowed into the back of Dillon on Lap 262. Dillon bounced off the wall and several cars — including Casey Mears were collected in the incident.
Once again, Edwards was the first car off of pit road. He took the lead when the race went green on Lap 270 and held the point until rain returned to the track just before 10p.m.
NASCAR called the race after 293 laps and declared Edwards the winner. Edwards, 37, who won his fourth race at Texas and his 28th career victory overall, was grateful to see the rain.
“We were in a bad spot if we went green again,” Edwards said. “I think we could have held (Logano) off. He was really good on the bottom but my car was going away. I ran pretty hard at the start, but man, that was fun.
“Martin did a great job. If we hadn’t beaten him off of pit road, obviously, we wouldn’t have gotten this. It was really fun chasing him down before this. But this is huge. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. This team has worked really hard all year and it’s really cool. All we wanted was a shot and now we’re going to Homestead.
Harvick finished sixth followed by Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.
Two positions remain in the final four with Edwards and Johnson securing berths with wins.
The only Chaser to finish off of the lead lap was Kurt Busch, who was lapped by Truex on Lap 243 while the No. 41 was running 17th. Although he regained the lap as the lucky dog during the seventh caution on Lap 264, NASCAR penalized the team for multiple trips to pit road. He finished 20th and dropped to eighth (4,040) in the standings.
Johnson maintained the points lead (4,074) but shares a three-way tie with Logano and Kyle Busch. Kenseth trails the threesome by one point, Hamlin by two points and Harvick is 18 points behind the leaders.
|3||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||293||2.624||66|