In the first two races of this weekend’s triple header at Texas Motor Speedway, the driver that had won the previous series event at TMS this year won again. In the inaugural three years of the Dickies 500, the driver that had won the previous week at Atlanta went on to win the Texas race. Carl Edwards won the April TMS race and last week at Atlanta. He won again Sunday night.
Destiny? Maybe. Coincidence? Probably. Nevertheless, Edwards and his No. 99 team dominated the race, leading 212 of 334 laps. But victory didn’t come until the team ended up on the right end of a gutsy call to gamble on fuel strategy in the last run of the race. In doing so, Edwards closed his 183-point deficit behind a struggling Jimmie Johnson to 106 points.
The last caution of the night came out on lap 264 after David Gilliland wrecked Juan Pablo Montoya on the backstretch. Many drivers took two tires to get in front of Edwards, who took four. Restarting from seventh, Edwards was slow to make his way back up through the field. But in the waning laps, as virtually every other driver had to make a late-race green flag pit stop for gas, Edwards built a 12-second lead over eventual second place finisher Jeff Gordon, which allowed him to slow down and save enough fuel to win the race.
“I never had [crew chief Bob Osborne] yell at me for going too fast, but he did tonight,” Edwards said. “I thought there was no way we could go this slow, save this much fuel, and still be leading this race.”
Photo courtesy NASCAR
Carl Edwards celebrates winning Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The win was Edwards eighth for the 2008 season.
Johnson, who started the race seventh, got behind early in the race, and spent most of the race trying to get back on the lead lap. But as Edwards continued to dominate and lap more and more drivers, Johnson and his No. 48 team couldn’t catch up.
It was a rare slip for the driver, who prior to tonight, hadn’t finished worse than ninth in the first eight races of the Chase, and whose team usually excels at races that start in the day and end at night, like Sunday’s event did.
“The first three runs of the race today, we weren’t competitive,” Johnson said. “We messed up. We just didn’t have it. That got us behind and we could never recover.”
All weekend, the talk has been that Johnson is the runaway winner of this year’s championship. After tonight’s race, there’s no doubt that the No. 99 team is still in this Chase, and will make a legitimate challenge to Johnson’s run at a rare three consecutive championships.
The ball is still in Johnson’s court, however. He only needs to finish seventh or better in the next two races to clinch the championship. If he leaves Phoenix with a 162-point lead, he would only have to start the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway to win. If he finishes Phoenix with a 196-point lead he will clinch the title before the last race.
Johnson said tonight’s race doesn’t change anything, he’s always felt the title has been up for grabs.
“Even at 183 points over Carl, I wasn’t comfortable,” Johnson said. “If I stuffed it in the fence the first run, I finish 43rd, they’re right there.”