By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
It has been a dominant season for Toyota Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing in particular. But after the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, one of the team’s four drivers — Carl Edwards — finds himself in an uphill battle if he wants to advance to the Sprint Cup Series championship race in Homestead four weeks from now.
Edwards started the day from the seventh position, but his day got off to a rocky start as he was busted for speeding on pit road during his first pit stop of the day.
As a result of the penalty, Edwards restarted the race from the 38th position. However, Edwards wouldn’t relent despite the adversity as he would work his way back up the running order all day long.
By lap 57, Edwards had worked back inside the top-20. His No. 19 Toyota Camry had obvious speed, but Martinsville is not one of the easier tracks to pull off passes.
178 dizzying laps later, Edwards had clawed his way back to the top-10 and it looked like Edwards had flipped the script on what looked to be a horrible day in the early going. But just as Edwards Nation began to breathe easier, misfortune struck again.
On lap 357, Edwards suffered a cut right front tire which sent him careening into the outside retaining wall. Edwards’ race car suffered severe damage, and the driver would have to head to the garage for extensive repairs. Tire manufacturer Goodyear concluded that the tire failure was not contributed by anything within Edwards or his team’s power.
“Goodyear was kind enough and I have a lot of respect for them – they came down here and looked at the tire and said it was a belt failure so that’s really big of them to say, ‘Hey, there’s nothing you could have done about it.’ We had a really good race going and sometimes that’s just what happens in racing. I just feel bad for Sport Clips, I think we had a top-three car,” Edwards explained.
Edwards would return to the track just over 20 laps later, but would end the day with a disappointing 36th-place finish.
The bad day, turned good day, which spiraled out of control in the closing stages puts Edwards in a precarious point position.
Chase Grid Round of 8 Standings (After 1 of 3 races)
- Jimmie Johnson (1 win)
2. Denny Hamlin +6 points
3. Matt Kenseth +6 points
4. Kyle Busch +4 points
—- Chase Cutoff —–
5. Joey Logano -4 points
6. Kevin Harvick -16 points
7. Kurt Busch -18 points
8. Carl Edwards -32 points
Now that they’re at the bottom of the heap, and with a huge point disadvantage to the rest of the seven Chasers, the No. 19 team will more than likely have to win one of the next two events in order to make it into the championship battle at Homestead. Edwards explained that his gut says his team will be advancing to the next round of the Chase.
“Yeah, we plan on running this round – Talladega was no fun for us. We want to try to win each one of these races this round and really that’s probably the best performance we’ve had at Martinsville for a long time,” Edwards said. “Things like that happen in racing though and we have a heck of a crew. These guys are true warriors, we’re just going to go out and battle for every spot. I have a feeling we’ll be alright.”
Luckily for Edwards, the two races remaining in the round of 8 are tracks that he excels at.
Texas is up next, and Edwards has a total of three wins at that 1.5-mile speedway. After Texas is Phoenix, where Edwards has won twice as well. Edwards also finished second in a photo-finish at Phoenix earlier this season.
He’s not out of the Chase yet, but after an awful day in Martinsville, things have gotten much more complicated for Edwards’ championship hopes.