|Carl Edwards celebrates in
Atlanta's Victory Lane. |
Carl Edwards completed a sweep of the NASCAR Nextel Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and made up some ground in the Chase for the
Edwards, who barely held off veteran Jimmie Johnson for his first Cup victory on the Georgia track in March, had a dominating car through the second half of the 325-lap Bass
Pro Shops 500.
Edwards, in his first full season in NASCAR's top stock car series, lost a lead of more than 6 seconds when the last of
nine caution flags waved for debris on lap 283. But he was able to regain control and pulled away to earn his third victory
of the season, beating four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 2.713-seconds, half the front straightaway on the 1.5-mile oval.
Tony Stewart, the hottest driver in the series since June, finished ninth and increased his lead atop the standings from 15 points to
43 points over Johnson, who finished 16th -- the last driver on the lead lap.
Edwards, who led eight times for 115 laps, including the final 36, led four other Chase contenders in finishing ahead of
Stewart, tightening the overall points battle with three races remaining.
"If we do this for three more weeks, we'll be all right," said Edwards, who did his patented backflip off the window ledge
of his No. 99 Ford after the race. "Man, I can't thank my guys enough. The car was just awesome."
The 26-year-old Edwards, who is not eligible for rookie of the year because he ran 13 races at the end of the 2004 season,
also won in June at Pocono and has refused to buckle under the pressure of the Chase.
"I'm having so much fun, it's hard to explain it," Edwards said with a grin. "They just keep giving me great cars with
Edwards' Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third, fifth and seventh. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who dominated the early part of the race and led a race-high 142 laps, was fourth; Jamie McMurray sixth, and Jeff Burton eighth. Earnhardt, McMurray and Burton all failed to qualify for the Chase.
Ryan Newman, who began the day third in the points, finished a lap down in 23rd and lost considerable ground.
Heading to Texas for next Sunday's race, Stewart and Johnson still have a cushion over the rest of the Chase field. Biffle
is 75 points behind Stewart in third, with Edwards and Newman tied for fourth 107 points back, Martin 143 behind and Kenseth
"We did what we had to do today," Stewart said. "We didn't have the best call, but we ran pretty well and we gained some
points. Now, we just have to keep it going for three more races.
|Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated
much of the race, leading 142 laps. |
Stewart was asked if three more races like Sunday's would give him his second Cup title.
"I'd like to just win the next three races and know for sure I'd won the championship that way," he said. "One race could
take us to fifth in the points, so it's too early to get excited."
Despite moving up one spot in the standings and gaining eight points on Stewart, Biffle wasn't very happy.
"We were terrible all day," he said. "We just never got hold of the racetrack. I really don't know why, but I'm scratching
Meanwhile, three other contenders in the 10-man, 10-race Chase saw their hopes of a title virtually end. Reigning Cup champion
Kurt Busch, the fifth Roush driver, crashed after cutting a tire and wound up 36th; Rusty Wallace got caught up in a three-car crash early in the race and finished 37th, and Jeremy Mayfield had a mechanical problem that relegated him to 38th. That left all of them a daunting 257 or more points behind Stewart.