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Edwards triumphs at Richmond as the Chase field is set

Carl Edwards won the Richmond Sprint Cup night race on Saturday, with Kurt Busch close behind in second place to claim a famous 2013 Chase spot for Furniture Row Racing.
Tensions were high at the start of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday evening. For many of those lining up under the floodlights this was the all important, do-or-die moment of the entire season as it came down to a matter of making the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

No one felt this more than the polesitter, four-time champion Jeff Gordon. He'd made the Chase last year in a last-gasp push that saw him pip Kyle Busch to a play-off spot by just three points in last year's Richmond outing, and he needed the same sort of resolve and good fortune here again this year if he was to make it through in 2013.

It started off well enough for Gordon, who led the first 49 laps of the 400 lap race before being passed by current Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who knew that a Chase berth was an outside bet for him but determined to do all that he could to try and secure one anyway, and that meant nothing less than a race win at Richmond. Keselowski was passed for the lead by Kurt Busch on lap 66, but the first round of pit stops saw Keselowski restored to the front on lap 97.

Matt Kenseth had a brief turn at the top before Kurt Busch was back in charge, and the #78 led to the first caution of the night which was for debris in turn 1 on lap 137 which saw all the leaders take the opportunity to come into the pits, once again to the benefit of Keselowski who picked up the race lead at the restart and this time sustained it for 67 laps until the next caution on lap 208 triggered by a spin by David Stremme.

Kurt Busch won the race off pit lane but Keselowski was still back at the front. Meanwhile, a slew of problems hit the Hendrick Motorsport contenders, with Jeff Gordon having dropped back after his opening run at the front and now reporting a loose right-front wheel at the same time as his team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fretting about overheating. The most serious setback was for Jimmie Johnson, who had started from the back of the grid after missing Friday qualifying following the birth of his second daughter the previous night and who was now stuck on pit lane with battery problems.

A new debris caution on the backstretch on lap 268 provided some much-needed relief for the struggling Gordon who received the lucky dog free pass, as Clint Bowyer beat Keselowski and Busch off pit road to lead at the green flag. Bowyer might already be locked into the Chase, but with no wins so far this season the Michael Waltrip Racing #15 dearly wanted a victory tonight to ut towards his post-cut off points score going into the title fight rather than be at a disadvantage from the get-go.

Bowyer led until lap 342 when he came in as part of a scheduled green flag pit stop; but that cycle was interrupted by a caution for Jimmie Johnson blowing a tyre, ensuring the fourth consecutive poor result for the man who had once led the championship standings so imperiously it seemed that he'd be able to take a week off and still go into the Chase with the points lead. Not any more: that honour now seemed certain to fall to Bowyer.

Gordon was once again the lucky dog recipient as the race went green again, far from having given up his dream of making the Chase. After falling way down the running order earlier on, he was now back on the lead lap and rapidly advancing positions, soon moving into the top ten on lap 365 and seemingly on rails after his earlier handling issues.

But at the restart on lap 348 it was Carl Edwards who led for the first time of the night and quickly pulled a second clear of Kurt Busch with Ryan Newman up into third place as he flew the colours of Stewart-Haas Racing on behalf of the sidelines team owner and co-driver Tony Stewart, who was at Richmond watching on. There was little chance of the #39 finishing in the top ten, but thanks to his victory at the Brickyard he was still in with a chance of one of the two wild card spots. Once was guaranteed to go to Hendrick's Kasey Kahne (with two wins under his belt at Bristol and Pocono this year) leaving Newman slogging it out with MWR's Martin Truex Jr. for the other with one win apiece. All Newman had to do was finish ahead of Truex in the points; unfortunately Truex was also running in the top ten, and that was too close for Newman, who put his foot down and moved into the lead on lap 391 with just ten laps remaining to the chequered flag; if he couldn't beat Truex on points then he'd darn well try doing it by adding an extra win instead.




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Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg`s / Cheez-It Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg`s / Cheez-It Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, talks to team owner Tony Stewart after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Kellogg`s / Cheez-It Ford, races to the chequered flag to win during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 56th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 7, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 30, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Smokey Mountain/Curb Records Toyota, leads Ryan Blaney, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 30, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS celebrates his 4th victory of the season with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, and his girlfriend, Amy Reimann, after winning Sunday, October 26, 2014 the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This is the 10th anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash which killed 10 in Martinsville. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to a second place finish and Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Both Gordon and Newman are in the The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season with his crew Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, races to his 4th win of the season with Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishing second Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. Gordon now leads the standings in the Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase which continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 4th win of the season Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. This was also Earnhardt, Jr.`s first career win at Martinsville. The Eliminator 8 phase of the Chase, which Earnhardt, Jr. is not a contender, continues next week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, applies the winners decal in Victory Lane after his victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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