By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
For the first eight years of its existence, Texas Motor Speedway had just one race weekend a year, but starting in 2005, the track was granted a second date in the playoffs and the racing at the 1.5-mile track certainly didn’t disappoint the first time out.
Heading into the race, Tony Stewart led the points standings by 43 points over Jimmie Johnson, with Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman rounding out the top-five championship contenders.
Newman may have won the pole, but he had to start at the back of the pack in a backup car. As a result, it was the Roush-Fenway Racing cars that showed their hand early.
Matt Kenseth made the jump from third to take over the lead for the first 36 laps, followed by Biffle with a 12-lap stint out front, and Kenseth retaking the lead at lap 49 for another 99 laps at the front of the field.
Those first 147 laps also included two cautions, one of which was for debris and the other came because of Biffle spinning his No. 16 Ford on the frontstretch on lap 83. Biffle got loose off Turn 4 and looked to have the car saved a handful of times before losing control and going for a spin. Though he spun right in front of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Biffle was able to come away without making contact with any other cars or the wall.
Kenseth would lose the lead momentarily during a cycle of green flag pit stops between laps 148 and 150 before reassuming the lead at lap 151 for another 14 laps at the front. However, a new contender emerged in Casey Mears, who was able to power his No. 41 Dodge past Kenseth at lap 165 to lead for the first time. Mears would lead until the third caution flag of the day flew at lap 185 for debris.
Under the caution, another Roush-Fenway car took over the race lead, with that being Mark Martin in his No. 6 Ford. Martin would lead for 13 laps before his younger protégé Carl Edwards, the fourth Roush-Fenway car in the field, took over at lap 199. From that point on, Martin and Edwards would be the cars to beat for the win Texas.
Over the next 121 laps, Edwards would lead 80 of those laps, with Martin leading 16 laps and Stewart leading 14 laps. Those 121 laps also included two more cautions, one for Ryan Newman going for a spin on the frontstretch on lap 244 and Biffle running into more trouble with a spin in Turn 4 on lap 291.
As Edwards looked to have the win in hand with 15 laps to go, the final caution of the day came out for debris, bunching the field back up for one final shot at Edwards and the victory.
Under the caution, the leaders had a decision to make, pit for fresh tires or take the track position and hope the older tires could hold on.
Edwards made the decision to pit, along with Stewart and the majority of the leaders, but Martin, Kenseth, Mears and others stayed out on track. As a result, Martin took over the lead, while Edwards would restart the final stint of the race in sixth.
When the race went back green with 11 laps to go, Martin took off with the lead, but Edwards’ fresh tires gave him a much needed boost to work his way back through traffic. As the field crossed the finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards moved into second place and closed the gap on Martin.
Through Turns 1 and 2, Edwards moved up to the high line and was able to use the momentum to slingshot past Martin into the lead down the backstretch. From that point on, it was all Edwards as Martin was unable to run him back down and Edwards beat him to the finish by .584 seconds.
The win was the fourth of the season for Edwards and brought him right back into the championship hunt with two races remaining in the 2005 season.
Following Edwards and Martin to the finish was Kenseth, Mears, Jimmie Johnson, Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Earnhardt, Elliott Sadler, and Kurt Busch.
“I was a little worried,” said Bob Osborne, Edwards’ crew chief. “I knew Mark and Matt would be really strong there, but the Office Depot Ford with Carl Edwards driving it, that kid’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t want anybody else, ever.”
After executing his signature backflip on the frontstretch, Edwards made his way to victory lane to continue celebrating his win and giving kudos to his Roush-Fenway teammate on their late race battle.
“My hat’s off to Mark Martin, he almost won this race,” Edwards said. “It was only the tires that beat him. He had the best car. I was doing everything I could to stay in front of him, so their whole Viagra team did a great job. The tires were the deal. If we could get the tires and I didn’t hit the bumps wrong and shoot the car up the race track, I knew we could get him. The car was just so fast. These new Office Depot Fords are a rocket ship.
“We’re not changing a thing. We’re going out to win this championship and we’re going to do it by having fun. That way, if we lose it, we still had fun. So it’s a win-win situation. Just have to thank everybody. My dad and my brother back home, wish they were here. It’s just real emotional. It’s amazing to run around this track with the checkered flag in my hand. It’s just unreal.”