Carl Edwards secured a waterlogged victory Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, taking control late in a rain-shortened AAA Texas 500 to clinch a shot at his first Sprint Cup Series title in the NASCAR season finale.
Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota permanently took the lead in the 258th of 293 laps, a figure shortened from the original 334-lap distance by an evening rain shower. He benefited from an ultra-fast final pit stop and led 36 laps in his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season, the 28th of his career and his fourth on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track.
Edwards’ victory locked up an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs’ Championship 4 finale Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jimmie Johnson—the Martinsville winner last weekend—is the only other driver among the eight remaining Chase hopefuls who has clinched a title shot.
It’s Edwards’ first appearance among the final four title-eligible drivers under the current Chase format, which is in its third year. Edwards is a two-time Homestead winner and has two runner-up finishes in the season-long standings, most recently losing the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker in 2011.
“This is huge. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Edwards said. “This is cool. This team has really worked hard all year and man, it’s just really cool. That’s all we said we needed was a shot and now we’re going to go to Homestead and we’re going to do what we have to do. This was a great test. We came here and knew what we had to do, we performed the way we needed to and I really believe we can do that at Homestead.”
In a twist of fate, Edwards missed out on a title bid in the Homestead-Miami finale last year in a weather-abbreviated penultimate race of the season.
“This rain was a lot more welcome than that rain,” Edwards said with a smile, “but that’s how this sport goes.”
The remaining two championship slots will be filled in next Sunday’s Round of 8 race—the Can-Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Phoenix International Raceway.
Early dominator Joey Logano wound up second in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Martin Truex, Jr, rookie Chase Elliott and defending series champ Kyle Busch completed the top five.
The event started nearly six hours late because of rain showers that began at the conclusion of the national anthem. That delay pushed the eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs from a daytime start (2 p.m. ET) to a nighttime event.
Logano had the strongest car early, leading 178 of the first 188 laps in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. He remained in contention the rest of the day and leaves Texas as the top points-earner behind Johnson.
“I mean, when you’re that close to winning and you lead the most laps, second stings,” Logano said after his fourth runner-up finish of the season. “That’s our goal every week, is to win. Anything short of that is a failure. I feel like we were so close to that today.”
Kyle Busch rallied from mid-race adversity to salvage a top-five finish. He lost ground during a lengthy pit stop during the fifth caution as his crew repaired front-end damage on the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. The team patched an area just under the front bumper after Busch hit a loose brake duct on the backstretch.
Austin Dillon, who won the Coors Light Pole Award in Friday’s qualifying, led the opening five laps as the race began under green-yellow conditions to accelerate track-drying efforts. He recovered from a Lap 255 spin that caused the race’s sixth caution period, but crashed seven laps later after Turn 4 contact with Kevin Harvick sent him to the garage and an eventual 37th-place finish.
Sunday night’s race left a jumbled Chase picture. Logano is third in the Chase standings, but by the slimmest of margins. He’s even with Kyle Busch on points but currently holds the tiebreaker on the basis of the runner-up finish at Texas. And Matt Kenseth and ninth-place finisher Denny Hamlin are a dangerous one and two points behind Logano, respectively.
Harvick likely needs a victory next Sunday at Phoenix to advance to the Championship 4 for the third straight year. The 2014 champion, who fought a tight handling condition for most of the race, holds a series-record eight wins at the Arizona oval, a number that includes five of the last six races.
Harvick trails Logano and Kyle Busch by 18 points entering the final race of the Chase’s Round of 8.
Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch likewise is in a near must-win position. Busch finished 20th on Sunday and enters the Phoenix race eighth in the Chase standings, 34 points behind his brother.