Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch both looked as though they were heading for dismal outings this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, a venue at which they've both won races in the past.
This time however Carl Edwards was struggling for pace from the get-go, soon dropping off the lead lap and by far the worst of the eight remaining Chase contenders, even scuffing the wall in the early laps which left him with slight damage to the right hand side of the car.
Edwards had fallen to a race-low position of 30th before things finally started to turn around. Edwards was handed the free pass back onto the lead lap under the eighth caution of the race that came on lap 300. That only left him 34 laps left of the scheduled race distance, but a flurry of five further cautions played to his advantage together with consistent changes to his car from veteran crew chief Jimmy Fenning to keep pace with an ever-changing track as darkness fell at the 1.5-mile intermediate circuit.
"We got super luck there at the end and my guys never quit," acknowledged Edwards. "I am so proud of my guys. [They] didn't quit and I know they won't quit and we are going to go next week and go for this thing."
The comeback run put him into the top ten by the time the race finished, and ninth place goes a long way to repairing the damage done to his Chase campaign by a poor outing last weekend at Martinsville which had left him in something of a no mans land. Although he remains in sixth place after Texas the points have tightened up considerably, and he's just one point adrift of Jeff Gordon who currently holds the final Chase transfer spot that would get him into the four-man winner-take-all battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship title at Homestead-Miami on November 16 with one race remaining to decide matters.
"I have no idea where we are at in points but we certainly finished better than we should have tonight," said Edwards. "It was a great night when for awhile it didn't look like it was going to be. We get to move on to Phoenix now and we will know what we have to do there. We will take it!"
Another driver who was struggling early in the proceedings was JGR's Kyle Busch, who had already won both the Nationwide and Truck Series races but didn't seem to have anything like as good a car under him for the Cup race. Handling problems on the #18 meant that Busch was put a lap down by race leader Jimmie Johnson shortly before the second round of green flag pit stops on lap 135.
There seemed little promise of any recovery for Busch, who also hit the wall on two separate occasions during the afternoon. However, Busch was able to fight his way back onto the lead lap with less than 50 scheduled laps remaining, and then he was able to use the stop-start nature of the closing stages including the two green-white-chequered overtime finishes to end up in a frankly startling fourth place at the line.
"We were a bag of everything today. Man we were so bad. I don't know what happened to us from yesterday," he admitted. "Our run to the front tonight there at the end was very impressive.
"We fought all day long. The guys prepared this thing. They've gotten plenty of practice in this Chase. They did a good job. They got me a good car there at the end in order to battle back and come back for a fourth," he added. "I appreciate all the effort - all my guys. They did a good job. It's good to continue to fight like that and bring home a top-five."
Busch is no longer in Chase contention, after an early accident at Talladega two weeks ago left him short of the points he needed to transfer to the Eliminator 8 Round. The driver admitted that the failure had been and continued to be a painful experience.
"Nothing softens the disappointment," Busch told reporters in Texas. "It's disheartening, it's heartbreaking ... You pour every single season into the Chase, and to get eliminated the way we did is very unfortunate. There's no other way to put it, quite frankly.
Busch had been playing safe and minding his own business at Talladega, but still ended up getting taken out by somebody else's accident none the less. "Being back where I was, kind of minding my own business and trying to be away from all that, I was the only Chase guy [who] crashed," Busch recalled.
"That seems to be my every single year, so mark it down as Talladega or Martinsville or Kansas where I tend to get crashed in the Chase and knock ourselves out," he added. "I guess until they get rid of those racetracks in the final 10, I'm doomed."
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