Carl Edwards won the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday and finished as the Sprint Cup Series regular-season points leader as NASCAR heads into its 10-race Chase, starting Sept. 15 at Chicagoland.
Edwards' victory was almost a footnote as the 400-lap race settled the final five spots in the 12-driver Chase.
Two of those Chase berths were settled with no mystery, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle solidified comparatively safe positions among the top 10 automatic qualifiers. Kasey Kahne was one of the seven drivers who qualified before the race in Richmond, along with Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Kahne's 14th-place finish Saturday solidified his wild-card spot.
That left two places in the top 10 up for grabs and Kurt Busch, who finished second — with Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard rounding out the top five at Richmond — earned one of them. Busch, who drives for Furniture Row, became the first driver to make the Chase from a single-car team.
“The way this team has grown, what we've been able to accomplish, it's an amazing feeling,” Kurt Busch said. “We achieved something very special tonight.”
The 10th and final automatic berth, between Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon, went down to the finish. Logano, who finished 22nd, beat Gordon by one point, 751-750. Gordon was running sixth and in position to get the 10th Chase berth when Bowyer spun to bring out the fifth and final caution flag on Lap 393.
But Logano gained several positions by remaining on the track during the caution, while Gordon pitted for tires and ultimately lost two positions. The result was that Logano moved back into 10th in the standings.
“The last restart just didn't go the way we needed,” Gordon said. “I'm just bummed for this team.”
Said Logano: “Thank God for the last caution, I guess, because I think we were out [of the Chase] before that.”
The driver who benefited the most by Bowyer's spin was his teammate, Martin Truex, and the one to suffer the most was Newman.
Newman was leading the race and seemingly on his way to a victory that would put him in the Chase when Bowyer spun. But Newman came out of the pits fifth for the final restart with three laps to go, and finished third. Truex finished seventh.
That left them tied at 741 points for a final wild-card berth. Truex got the berth because he has more top-five finishes this season.
“Winning would've changed everything and that last caution definitely hurt us, but we got killed on pit road, no doubt about it,” Newman said.
Said Truex: “Good Lord was on our side tonight. My guys did a good job and now we can go back and regroup and start back from zero.”
The field was reseeded for the Chase based on victories, and Kenseth, who has five, will be seeded first when the green flag drops at Chicagoland.
He'll be followed in seeding order by Johnson, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Edwards, Logano, Biffle, Bowyer, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Kahne and Truex.