Carl Edwards got the win in Saturday's Hefty Odor Block 200 Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway - and championship leader Clint Bowyer got the save.
Second in the standings, Edwards trimmed Bowyer's lead from 91 points to 56, on a day that could have been much worse for the driver of the #2 Chevrolet.
Denny Hamlin, who came to the pits for new tyres before a green-white-chequered-flag restart that took the event one lap past its scheduled distance of 200 laps, charged from fifth to second in the final two laps. Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Bowyer, Kyle Busch and rookie Landon Cassill.
Quick work in the pits under caution got Edwards out ahead of Harvick for a restart on lap 130, and the defending series champion held the top spot the rest of the way. Harvick surrendered the second position to Hamlin and his fresh tyres in turn three of the final lap.
The series moves to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale next Saturday.
"We couldn't be going to a better racetrack," Edwards said. "I like the fact that you can run at the bottom or the top. I'm sure (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) will bring the best car we have. I just hope its fast enough."
Bowyer appeared headed for disaster on lap 79, when the field was bunched coming to the line for a restart after the sixth caution of the race.
"I thought we were done," Bowyer said. "We got all bottled up there. The #88 (Brad Keselowski) ran into me, and I drove through the #6 (David Ragan)."
The impact damaged the nose of Bowyer's Chevy, and after a series of pit stops to tape the front end, Bowyer fell to the back of the pack. After another quick caution on lap 85, Bowyer restarted 24th and spent the rest of the race working his way forward.
"It was a roller coaster, for sure," he said. "But I'm really proud of our guys. They didn't give up. I thought our championship run was done right there. The car was really tight after that, and we had to pull all the tape off. But it was a good run for us -- really proud."
Even though he knew Bowyer's car was damaged, Edwards wasn't about to relax. He had watched the Craftsman Truck Series race on Friday night, in which title contenders Ron Hornaday Jr. and Johnny Benson both suffered a litany of problems.
"I thought, sure enough, as soon as I start relaxing and counting points, something would happen to us," he said. "They did a good job of recovering. Anytime you can have any damage and fight back and finish fourth, that's a good outcome."
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News