RICHMOND — The closing event of NASCAR’s regular season produced a riveting finish among a cluster of drivers vying for one of the last five berths in the Chase for the Cup, with Carl Edwards emerging from the pack after the final restart and beating Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman to the checkered flag Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Edwards won for the second time and was able to make his trip knowing regardless of the outcome he would be part of NASCAR’s playoffs. Fifth in Sprint Cup points entering the Federated Auto Parts 400, Edwards was one of seven drivers securely into the Chase for the Cup.
Busch wasn’t afforded that luxury pre-race, but his finish landed him in the 10th and final slot for the Chase for the Cup. Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also qualified for the postseason by virtue of elbowing into the top 10, and Martin Truex Jr. claimed the second wild-card berth.
“That’s my pit crew that won this race for us,” said Edwards, a first-time winner in Richmond. “Just an awesome job by them.”
Left out of the Chase were the likes of Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Newman, who was in position near the end of the race to qualify only to have the last caution contribute to his undoing.
Newman had passed Edwards for first with 10 laps to go until the yellow flag waved when Clint Bowyer spun out. The majority of the field then went into pit road, and Newman dropped to fifth following the restart.
“We did everything we needed up until the last caution,” Newman said. “I’m not sure exactly what unfolded there. We still had the opportunity to win it on pit road, and we didn’t.”
In the early stages, Gordon made good use of his pole position, moving several car lengths in front of his closest pursuers. Among that group were Keselowski, Bowyer and Kurt Busch, who started the race on the outside of Row 1, but none posed a serious threat until after Lap 40.
That’s when Keselowski began gaining ground on Gordon, whittling car lengths with each ensuing turn. Soon Gordon had an eyeful of Keselowski in his rear view mirror, and the first of multiple lead changes over the next 20-plus laps unfolded as the drivers rounded Turn 3 of Lap 50.
Keselowski wasn’t the front-runner for long as Busch began pressing the issue in his No. 78 Chevrolet. The newest member of the Stewart-Haas Racing stable made his move on Lap 66, leading a cavalcade of drivers passing Keselowski and leaving the reigning Sprint Cup champion temporarily in fifth.
But after the first series of pit stops, Keselowski roared back into the front a quarter through the race. Again Busch began making up ground, and before long, he overtook Keselowski during Lap 106 to lead a charge of a first five that also included Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and younger brother Kyle Busch.
Kenseth and McMurray were the only other leaders before the first yellow caution flag came out in Lap 137 because of debris in Turn 3. The caution lasted five laps, and coming out of the restart, Keselowski wasted little time re-establishing his lead position, taking advantage of Kurt Busch’s balky pit stop during the caution that wound up costing him five spots.
By the race’s mid-point, Keselowski was a second and a half ahead of Kurt Busch but had separated to more than six seconds over McMurray and just under eight seconds ahead of Bowyer. Gordon, meantime, frantically tried to make up ground, but his No. 24 Chevrolet wasn’t cooperating.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate,” Gordon said. “We haven’t had the kind of year that this team is capable of.”