There must be something about crossing the Mississippi River that brings out the gambler in Carl Edwards and his #99 Roush Fenway Ford team.

In Sunday's Dickies 500 Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards accomplished the equivalent of drawing to an inside straight when he and crew chief Bob Osborne gambled on fuel mileage and won the race.

In the third Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway on Sept. 28, Edwards waited until the final lap to roll the dice. Running second and trailing Jimmie Johnson into the third turn, Edwards kept his foot in the gas and surged past Johnson with breathtaking speed.

Making sure he cleared Johnson's Chevrolet, Edwards slammed the wall between turns 3 and 4 - as he knew he would - while Johnson regained the top spot and won the race. Despite the contact with the wall, Edwards righted his Ford and finished second.

On Sunday, Edwards won the race by keeping his foot out of the gas, as the three cars ahead of him late in the event came to pit road for fuel.

"Kansas was way more fun," Edwards said after Sunday's race. "That was pretty neat. That was leaving your foot on the throttle, and this one was taking it off, but a win is a win. It's cool to be surrounded by guys who are this intelligent and this driven to win.

"To have Bob up there on the box and (team owner) Jack (Roush) and (engine tuner) Mike Messick and all these guys coming up with a plan to win, I mean, that's cool for that to be happening in real time, heat of the moment, making decisions like that. I feel like I've got a good group of guys. So, yeah, it's not as exciting maybe as other ways to win, but it's still neat. It's part of the sport. It's cool."

The win gave Edwards a pair of 7s - he trimmed 77 points from Johnson's lead in the championship standings - but it left Edwards 106 points behind the two-time defending Cup champion with two races left.

And the way Edwards won the race also left nagging questions in the minds of team-mates Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle, both of whom were ahead of Edwards before pitting for fuel in the final 15 laps. Biffle's crew chief, Greg Erwin, calculated his car was seven to eight laps short on fuel.

"It turned into a fuel-mileage race, and it's unfortunate," said Biffle, who refueled on lap 264 as did Edwards. "We had a pretty good car at the end and so did the 26 (McMurray), but fuel mileage won this thing, and that was kind of unusual. I can't quite figure out how my team-mate can go eight laps more than I can, either, so we'll just have to go back and do our homework and see what he's got that we don't have underneath the hood, I guess."

Roush was mystified, too.

"I had not been down with Bob and the guys as they calculated the fuel mileage the whole race, but I had seen the data and knew that the #99 Ford Fusion was getting better fuel mileage than the other cars we had," he said. "I didn't understand why, and I still don't understand why.

"I'll be anxious to do an analysis of the carburetor on the dynamometer when we get home, but that #99 car really stepped up and delivered better fuel mileage, whether it was something in Carl's (racing) line, (whether) he wasn't using the brakes as much as he did at Atlanta or not as much as the other guys did -- I'm not sure what accounted for it."

It's said that a driver can carry extra fuel in his right shoe - meaning he can conserve gas by feathering the throttle and slowing down. Even though that's what Edwards did over the closing laps, his fuel mileage bordered on the phenomenal.

Do the math. Edwards squeezed 70 laps at the 1.5-mile track (four of them under caution) from a 17.75-gallon fuel cell. That's an average of 5.915 miles per gallon. His team-mates weren't even close.

Maybe there's another miracle in Edwards' arsenal. His win at Texas at least allows the notion that Johnson's third straight title may not be a foregone conclusion.

After all, Edwards will cross the Mississippi once again this week, on the way to Phoenix.

Maybe there's another gamble - and a jackpot - waiting there.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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