With only three races remaining before the cutoff to the Chase, Carl Edwards took a gamble Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. The thing about gambling is you never know the outcome in advance. Edwards led 45 laps late in the race and tried to finish the race without pitting, but in the end came up shy on fuel and finished 22nd.
Edwards had his work cut out for him at Bristol starting 27th after qualifying was rained out and the field was set based on first practice speeds. With patience, a good Fastenal Ford and smart pit strategy he worked his way up to 10th by lap 130. Crew chief Chad Norris made good calls in the pits going back and forth between two and four-tire stops to gain or maintain track position all night.
Edwards made his final pit stop on lap 324 for two tires and fuel. With many cautions in the last quarter of the race the Blue Team tried to stretch its fuel mileage. He was up to fourth with 110 laps to go and when a caution came on lap 415 Norris called Edwards to the pits for fuel only, but Edwards opted to stay out and take the lead.
When the race resumed on lap 420 Edwards jumped ahead of the field and led for 40 laps until Denny Hamlin challenged him for the lead with 39 laps to go. Edwards did all he could to hold off Hamlin but as his older tires began to fade he started to slip back in the field. He had dropped to sixth with 20 laps to go and continued to slide back. With just four laps remaining Edwards’ fuel gage showed it was time to pit. He came to pit road under green for a splash of fuel which resulted in a 22nd-place finish, four laps down.
Hamlin won the race followed by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose. Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10.
“It’s all you can do is gamble like that,” Edwards said. “If we would have pitted when we should have pitted we were going to run 10th or 15th anyway. We were just going to get fuel and the tires were done at the end and that’s all we had. I made the decision to stay out, which in hindsight that was the wrong decision because we probably would have finished better than we are right now, but I wanted a chance to win the race. If we would have had one more caution, or a couple cautions and short runs, we were up there in a position to win this thing. You don’t get those opportunities very often, so I had to take it. The car was okay and I was really encouraged at Chad’s strategy. He did a really good job and I’m ready for Atlanta. I’m excited about Atlanta, so we’ll go there and go for another one.”
Edwards and the No. 99 remain 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, 34 points behind 10th place.