Carl Edwards Vaults to Sprint Cup Championship Contention
Just when it appeared that Carl Edwards’ hope of making the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Chase of 4 was slipping away, a sub 11-second pit stop from his No. 19 crew made all the difference in Sunday’s big victory in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The start of the AAA of Texas 500 was rain delayed for five and a half hours, and the end was shortened when NASCAR officials called it a night on lap 293 of the scheduled 334 laps for additional showers, with Edwards benefiting the most due to being on the point.
He was in last place in the Round of 8 points going into Texas after cutting a tire last weekend in Martinsville, and goes from last to the catbird seat, joining Jimmie Johnson as one of the two drivers automatically advancing to the to the Championship Chase of 4 in two weeks. Edwards lost the championship in 2011 to Tony Stewart.
“I enjoyed it,” said Edwards of his third win this season, the fourth win at the 1.5-mile track and the 28th win in his career. “The pressure was really mounting, and obviously, this is what we had to do. (Crew chief) Dave (Rogers) and the guys — they got me off pit road first, and that’s what won it for us.
“We’ve got a shot at the championship. That’s all we wanted this year, and I can’t wait to go to Homestead. It’s going to be a blast.”
Runner up Joey Logano passed Martin Truex, Jr. on lap 263, and that move and one extra point is the only reason Logano is still in the Chase. Going into Phoenix, he’s third in the points, only one point to the good.
“We had a good AAA Fusion that was capable of winning today,” said Logano, who led for 178 circuits. “We just lost our track position on a green-flag cycle and got our balance off a little bit. We got it fixed and got it going and had a good restart at the end to get back to second, but it seemed like we needed maybe five or 10 more laps to try to catch the 19 there.”
Truex finished third, followed by Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
Kyle Busch is also up by one point in fourth with the same number of points in the Chase, rebounding to fifth at the finish after punching a hole in the front nose of his Toyota from a broken brake caliber earlier in the race.
Kevin Harvick, in seventh, trails Logano and Kyle Busch by 18 points entering the final race of the Chase’s Round of 8. The good news for him is that when his title chances are on the line, he normally comes through. At Phoenix, he has eight victories, a number that includes five of the last six races at the mile oval. His Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch, who has to win in Arizona, is currently eighth, 34 points in arrears with a 20th place finish on Sunday.
That leaves the remaining two: Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota’s Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin in fifth and sixth-place, down by one and two points, respectively, with one race to go in Phoenix. JGR has three cars still in the hunt, but only two can possibly make it to the title bout.
The unofficial NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase standings are as follows: 1. Jimmie Johnson (1 Win); 2. Carl Edwards (1 Win); 3. Joey Logano (+1); 4. Kyle Busch (+1); 5. Matt Kenseth (-1); 6. Denny Hamlin (-2); 7. Kevin Harvick (-18); 8. Kurt Busch (-34).
The last race of three in the Round of 8 concludes next weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway for the Can-Am 500K on Sunday, Nov. 13, airing on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Larson Wins O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Texas Shootout
Although Kyle Larson had to fend off Brad Keselowski to win the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge on Saturday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, all eyes were on the NASCAR Xfinity foursome Chase of 8 contestants. So far, both races in the Xfinity Chase have been won by two Sprint Cup drivers, with Kyle Busch winning in Kansas and Larson winning today, sending the elite eight in the championship hunt to Phoenix with not one of the four having a clear path to the title.
In an event that saw Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Daniel Suarez (+17) and Erik Jones (+7) open up some breathing room in the Chase; with respective fourth and fifth-place finishes, they took over the Chase lead by one point over Sadler and 17 clear of fifth-place Justin Allgaier(-1). With a cut to the top four drivers looming next Saturday at Phoenix, Jones gained two positions to third place, seven points ahead of Allgaier.
JR Motorsports pilots Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier are second (+16) and fifth (-1) in the standings, with Blake Koch (+1) in fourth, one point to the good. Roush/Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed (-5) needs some help, and a win would solve all of Darrell Wallace, Jr. (-20) and Brendan Gaughan’s (-23) problems of making their way into the Championship 4 at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
But the rest of race came down to the jostling of the field on the lap 170 green flag, enabling Larson to get a push from sixth-place finisher Sadler on the decisive restart and keep Keselowski behind him for the final 30 laps.
“I love seeing Elliott Sadler behind me on the restarts,” said Larson, who won for the first time at Texas, the second time this season and the fifth time in his Xfinity career. “He’s really good at taking off and pushing. He helped me win Pocono earlier this year, and he helped me win this one.
“I was just really tight on the short runs in traffic there, but once I got to clean air, I was like, ‘Oh, man, I’m loose,’ and I got nervous and got to the top just in time to get rolling. I actually got loose over the bumps and hit the wall in (Turn) 1. But I had a big enough gap when I hit the wall that he wasn’t able to get to me.”
The top five finishers were Larson, Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and then Jones and Suarez, hovering near the top.
“It was one of the first good points days we’ve had in this Chase,” Jones said. “It was a good, solid day — what we needed to do. We want to go, obviously, and try to win these races, but we just didn’t have the car to do it today.”
The final race of the NASCAR Xfinity Chase of 8 comes to Phoenix International Raceway for the running of the Ticket Galaxy 200 on Saturday, Nov. 12, airing on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET
Red-Hot Johnny Sauter Sizzles in Texas
NASCAR Truck veteran Johnny Sauter won the Striping Technology 350K on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway after passing Matt Crafton with two laps to go, taking his second straight NASCAR Camping World Truck series win and 13th of his career in the heart of the Round of 6 Chase for the Championship.
Playing tough and laying in wait, Sauter waited for his time to strike, and with 25 laps to go, he responded on his radio to his crew saying, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty”, letting his GMS Chevrolet team know that it was a matter of when rather than if he would make his move to the lead.
Crafton, using pit strategy, got the preferred track position on the last restart and until he glanced off the turn 2 wall he looked like a sure winner, eventually leaving the door open for Sauter to deny him his Chase victory. This leaves Crafton on the cutline, one point to the good.
“This is amazing,” said Sauter, who started 16th in his No. 21 Chevrolet and won for the third time this season, the third time at Texas (having swept the 2012 races). “Matt was content to keep running the bottom, and I made a couple of runs on that restart (on Lap 130 of 147, after the third and final caution).”
Sauter’s GMS Racing’s pit crew was lightning fast, putting him up front when the laps counted the most.
“They got me great track position on the pit stop, and I just kept bottoming the splitter out on the short run, and I could just not fire off. Matt just kept running the bottom, and I was like, ‘I’m going to the top.’ And I was pretty successful on the top down in (Turns) 3 and 4 all night long—just big momentum.”
After Sauter and Crafton, the duo of Brad Keselowski teammates of Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick finished third and fourth, respectively, with Daniel Suarez rounding out the top five.
Now with the completion of the second of three Chase Round of 6 events completed, there are only six points separating four drivers for three positions, with only one race remaining in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series with Phoenix up next to establish the final four.
Those four drivers after Sauter in the points – William Bryon, Christopher Bell, Crafton and Timothy Peters – could be covered with a blanket. Ben Kennedy is the sixth driver still in Chase contention.
Byron finished the race in sixth with Bell in 11th. Timothy Peters ran to a 14th place finish after suffering from a pit road speeding penalty and Kennedy had a misfire in his engine, giving him a 13th place effort.
Here are the NASCAR Camping World Truck series unofficial points after Texas: 1. Johnny Sauter (2 Wins); 2. William Byron +5; 3. Christopher Bell +4; 4. Matt Crafton +1; 5. Timothy Peters -1; 6. Ben Kennedy -13.
Now the final race of the Chase of 6 arrives at the Phoenix International Raceway next weekend for the running of the Lucas Oil 150 to determine the Championship 4 for the Truck crown in Miami on Friday night, Nov. 11.