Carl Edwards won the rain-shortened, rain-delayed AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, going to Victory Lane more than nine hours after the originally scheduled start.
It was well worth the wait for Edwards, who entered the night in a 32-point hole in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs that meant he almost certainly had to win either Sunday or the following week at Phoenix to keep his 2016 championship hopes alive.
"I actually enjoyed it," Edwards said of the long day. "The pressure was really mounting, and obviously this is what we needed to do."
Joey Logano dominated much of the race that was delayed by nearly six hours at the start because of rain and subsequent track-drying efforts. The rain then stayed away until it returned again on Lap 289 of the event that was scheduled for 500 miles and 334 circuits around the 1.5-mile track.
Logano led 178 of the first 189 laps, but lost the lead to Martin Truex Jr. after a series of green-flag pit stops.
When all the cars had cycled through their stops, Logano was in third behind not only Truex but also Edwards.
Shortly thereafter, reports of more rain possibly being in the area began circulating amongst the teams, putting the pressure on Edwards to catch Truex before the weather hit.
But after Edwards chased Truex for 23 laps – and the weather stayed away – both came to pit road for more service on Lap 224, with the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Edwards narrowly avoiding running into the back of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of Truex as they both attempted to execute the move.
Truex’s team pulled off a flawless 11.9-second stop – and his car also seemed to take off following the stop, quickly pulling away from Edwards.
But after the sixth caution of the night came out on Lap 254, it was Edwards’ team that pulled off the better pit stop – 11.8 seconds to 12.5 for Truex’s team – allowing Edwards to beat Truex off pit road. Edwards said that was what ultimately won him the race, heaping credit on crew chief Dave Rogers and the rest of his JGR team.
"Dave and the guys got me off pit road first. That’s what won it for us," Edwards said. "Our pit crew has worked really hard this year, so I can’t thank them enough."
Edwards chose the outside line on the subsequent restart and this time, he was the one who pulled away from Truex.
Just a few laps later, however, Kevin Harvick tapped the back of Austin Dillon’s car, sending the pole sitter into the outside wall and bringing out another caution as Casey Mears and Brian Scott also wrecked behind them.
Dillon was not pleased, and made reference to a comment Harvick made years ago when Harvick called Dillon, who drives the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet for his grandfather, Richard Childress, “a punk-ass” kid and suggested Dillon and his younger brother, Ty, were given certain advantages because of who they are.
“He didn’t check (up). He had the opportunity to,” Dillon said. “He didn’t like it, I guess, that the silver-spooned kid was outrunning him tonight.”
So Edwards almost immediately faced yet another tense restart. He was up to the task again and again surged to the front.
This time, the rain finally returned, bringing out the caution with 45 to go. After running three laps of caution under what became an increasing downpour, NASCAR finally brought the cars to pit road and called the race shortly thereafter.
So now Edwards has punched his ticket to the Championship 4 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He joins last week’s race winner at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson, in the group of four drivers who will compete for the 2016 Sprint Cup championship in the winner-take-all season finale at Homestead.
It was another night of heartbreak at Texas for Truex, who led a race-high 141 laps in the spring race at the track but faded to sixth by the finish. He ended up third Sunday night behind Edwards and Logano, with Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.
Edwards had won at TMS three times previously, but not since sweeping both races there in 2008.