Carl Edwards beats Johnson in Atlanta
Carl Edwards desperately needed a victory to stay in the hunt in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Sunday, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he did just that, taking the checkered flag in the Pep Boys Auto 500 to keep his championship hopes alive, but made up no ground on series points leader Jimmie Johnson, who courageously fought back after being a lap down to finish second and extend his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Fresh off his victory in Saturday NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Memphis, Edwards powered past Denny Hamlin after Hamlin slipped on a restart with 16 laps to go and held the top spot through a final late caution flag to win his seventh race of the season and his fifth at Atlanta, where he scored his first Cup victory in 2005.
In Victory Lane, the first thing Edwards did was show off a beaded necklace giving to him a child at the Aflac Cancer Hospital named Dalton that he wore during the race.
“It’s his courage necklace,” said Edwards. “He said this would bring me luck.”
Luckily, he was in the perfect position when Hamlin spun his tires on a restart with 16 laps to go, giving Edwards the opportunity he needed.
“Denny spun his tires and went to the inside, I thought ‘Man, here’s my chance to go to the outside.’ I really didn’t think he was going to spin them a second time, I thought I was going to bump him and he was gonna keep on going and I figured I’d follow him for a while, but it just worked out great.”
Johnson passed Hamlin on the final lap to finish second. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Five cautions flags in the final 70 laps played a crucial role in the finish.
Hamlin, who lost in the spring race here after spinning his tires on a restart, continued to have trouble getting going as the field came to the green flag on the second-to-last restart.
With Edwards right on Hamlin’s bumper, Edwards bumped the leader as they crossed the start/finish line and went to the high side in turn one looking for the lead. By the time they came off turn two onto the backstretch, Edwards had pulled ahead by four car-lengths.
“We definitely had a car that could’ve won the race,” said Hamlin. “We just didn’t like this cautions, they killed us. We couldn’t get going on the restarts. Our car was a long-run car…we could not get going on the restarts. We got beat today.”
While the late cautions flags proved disastrous for Hamlin, they help saved Johnson from a disaster of his own making.
Coming into Sunday’s race with a 149-point advantage over Greg Biffle in the championship battle, Johnson and his team were determined not to slip up in their quest for a third-straight Sprint Cup title.
After starting at the head of the field for the third consecutive week due to rain, Johnson held command of the field for the first 20 laps before Edwards slipped by to take the lead.
After being penalized for speeding on pit road on lap 91, Johnson was given a pass-through penalty that put him a lap down.
Showing the poise that has made him a two-time champion, Johnson and his team patiently fought their way back, getting their lap back and running back in the top 10 with fifty laps to go.
In a gutsy move, Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus opted to take on four tires after the final caution flag with 11 to go.
Restarting 11th, Johnson screamed through the field in the final nine laps, barely sliding past Hamlin in the final turn to take the runner-up spot and turned what could have been a huge points deficit into a 35 point gain.
“That was a great call,” said Johnson of the final pit stop. “I mean, a risky call but it just shows how Chad’s (Knaus) out there racing – he’s not trying to ride around and just get points. He’s out there trying to earn them. He called me in for tires and told me to put my cape on and off we went. I’m very happy that we got second place today.”
With the victory, Edwards moves into second in the points standings, 183 points behind Johnson, but was shocked when he learned Johnson had rallied to finish second.
“Are you kidding me? That’s unbelievable,” said Edwards. “Man, Jimmie is magic. We’ve got three more good tracks for us, we’ve got to go win those next three and hope for the best.”
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