After taking the lead from Ryan Newman on the final pit stop of the race, Carl Edwards went on to claim his second victory of the season in tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
But with Edwards already in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the bigger drama unfolded behind him as drivers jockeyed for every position they could get in the final laps as they desperately tried to move into the post-season.
Newman needed to win tonight to clinch a Wild Card spot, and with ten laps to go, he roared past Edwards on the outside to take the lead.
But a spin involving Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go brought out the yellow, and when the leaders went to pit road for service before the final shootout to the checkered flag, Newman fell from first to fifth.
On the restart with three laps left, Edwards and Kurt Busch were able to move past Paul Menard for first and second, with Edwards then able to pull away for the win. Newman was able to get up to third, but with his Wild Card rival, Martin Truex Jr., finishing seventh, the two drivers ended up tied in points – and Truex earned the tiebreaker for the final Wild Card that was up for grabs.
With both his night and title hopes ruined, Newman went on a tear.
“We got killed on pit road – there’s no doubt about that,” he said to ESPN. “Carl and those guys beat us with four tires. The guys that took two were just doing some strategy, but we should’ve been able to come on pit road first and come off pit road first.
“If we’re a championship-contending team, we need a championship-contending pit crew and we didn’t have that tonight.”
Meanwhile, Truex couldn’t believe that he was able to hold off Jeff Gordon in the final laps to maintain his grip on the Wild Card spot.
“My tires were shot, it wouldn’t turn, I couldn’t touch the gas,” a shocked Truex said. “It felt like I had oil on my tires…I don’t know how I kept him behind me. I just tried to run where he was running, try not to make mistakes. Somebody was riding with me tonight.”
Newman’s loss also enabled Joey Logano to hang on to the 10th and final automatic bid in the Chase; had Newman won, he would’ve grabbed the Wild Card and knocked Logano out of the post-season altogether.
Logano had a poor night at Richmond, finishing 22nd and one lap down. But he was able to best Jeff Gordon by one point for that 10th position in the standings.
Also clinching Top-10 bids were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle. For Busch, his Chase berth for himself and Furniture Row Racing marks the first time that a single-car operation has made NASCAR’s post-season.
“To make the Chase with these guys is an unbelievable feeling,” an emotional Busch said. “It’s been an 18-month work in progress. I’ve been through a lot and learned a lot, and I feel like I’m better ready for the Chase and life in general.”
More to come from a very big night in Virginia…