Final Turn: NASCAR's Carl Edwards Still Struggling, Clint Bowyer Finishing Strong

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 11: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 11, 2012 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Time is running out on Carl Edwards' chances of making the NASCAR Chase for the Cup field for a sixth straight year, but Clint Bowyer is very close to securing one of the automatic qualifying berths.

Carl Edwards finally managed to break through into the win column Saturday, but it wasn't where it counted the most.

Edwards took the lead from Brad Keselowski, a driver with whom he has had some heated banging-and-bumping battles in recent years, with just nine laps to go in the Nationwide Series Zippo 200 at the historic Watkins Glen, N.Y., road course and held on for his first NASCAR win at any level since October of last year, when he won the last of his eight Nationwide victories last year. Unfortunately, in the Sprint Cup race at the same racetrack on Sunday, where Edwards desperately needs a win, and probably two, to make it into the season-ending Chase for the Cup, the Columbia, Mo. native finished 14th, well out of victory lane.

The driver of the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford Fusion now has just four remaining races to make up a lot of lost ground if he wants to avoid being on the outside looking in and miss the 12-driver field that will compete over 10 races, beginning Sept. 16 in Chicago, for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

The Nationwide win was Edwards' first ever at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen layout and the first for Roush-Fenway. It was his 38th win driving in the Nationwide Series and the 20th different racetrack where Edwards has won a NASCAR race. It was Edwards' first Nationwide ride this season. He won the Nationwide championship in 2007.

Despite his 14th-place finish on Sunday, Edwards did not change position in the points standings. He remains in the 12th spot in the standings, which would ordinarily secure him a spot in the Chase as one of two wild-card entries. But because the No. 99 car has no wins so far this season, the only realistic chance the Missouri native has of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field is to win at least one, and probably two, of the next four races.

Edwards' has been winless in Sprint Cup competition since March of 2012 at Las Vegas. With 19 top-10 finishes a season ago, however, he came within a few seconds on the final lap in the final race of the year last November of winning the 2011 Sprint Cup crown after leading in points for most of the season. What a difference a year makes, huh?

While much of the media attention has been on Edwards' disappointing 2012 season, little has been made of another local driver, Clint Bowyer, from across the state line in Emporia, Kan., who has been fairly consistent in his first season driving the No. 15, 5-Hour Energy Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip's race team. Bowyer came in fourth at Watkins Glen on Sunday, giving him five top-five finishes on the season, and 12 times he has finished in the top 10. Edwards has two and 10 in the same number of Sprint Cup races (22) this year.

Bowyer is currently in seventh place in the standings among the top 10 automatic qualifiers for the Chase, but owns a fairly tenuous 26-point lead over 10th-place Denny Hamlin. Nevertheless, the way Bowyer has been driving in recent weeks, and with one win already under his belt this season (at Sonoma, the other road course on the Cup circuit), his chances of making the Chase field seem reasonably secure.

"I've just got to stay solid," Bowyer said in a post-race interview with NASCAR Wire Service Sunday after his fourth-place finish in the Finger Lakes 350 at Watkins Glen. "Those single-digit finishes are going to be plenty good enough. You just can't have the catastrophic day."

Five of Bowyer's 12 top-ten finishes have come in the last 10 races and two in the previous four. At Michigan Speedway, site of next weekend's Sprint Cup Pure Michigan 400, Bowyer finished seventh earlier this season. In the four regular-season races (Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond) that remain in 2012, Bowyer has no fewer than four top-10s in each in a half-dozen starts. The only one of the four at which the Kansas-native has posted a NASCAR win (he has six in Sprint Cup in his career) is Richmond.

Edwards' record at the four tracks that will host the next four races is better than Bowyer's, but Edwards needs wins, not just top-ten finishes, if he is going to have something to race for over the final 10 weeks of the season. Edwards owns three wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway and two each at Michigan and Bristol in his eight years driving in the Sprint Cup Series, but has never won at Richmond.

Follow NASCAR and news about Kansas City-area drivers Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer all season long at SB Nation Kansas City.

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