You would have thought by the look and smile on Carl Edwards' face that he had won Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. "I feel like I won," Edwards told the ESPN trackside reporter at the conclusion of the race. Five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was the actual race winner, but Edwards' fifth-place finish was the result of such a gutsy, never-say-never performance that the feeling at the end was about as good as it gets short of winning.
The Columbia, Mo., NASCAR driver, who could almost call the Kansas City racetrack home, started out the day (second from the pole) much as he finished it (fifth), but it wasn't anything like that for most of the race. Edwards spent most of the afternoon languishing around 20th in the 43-car field.
Edwards' No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford didn't even hardly make it to Turn One before he sensed it was going to be a long day. "That's the worst the car has felt in a long time," Edwards said. "I thought maybe it would be better the next lap, but it wasn't, so by the second lap I realized we were in trouble."
Edwards said he suspected that the prerace front-suspension setup was the primary cause of the difficulty he was experiencing early in the race. "We made some adjustments (Saturday night) that did not go the way we thought," Edwards' crew chief Bob Osborne said. "It really showed at the start of the race. This crew put their heads down and did all of the adjustments I asked them to do, in a timely fashion, and Carl got up on the wheel and made things happen that I think most people can't
"There were a couple of adjustments we made that really helped the car. We would've liked to have done those adjustments more," he said, "but we didn't have enough caution pit stops to be able to do that type of adjustment." There were six caution flags for the entire race, and only two of those occurred in the first 200 of the 272 total laps.
Given what they had to deal with, Osborne said he would have been happy with a 15th-place finish.
"We were very fortunate with the late-race caution and being able to have a shot to run up there through the traffic," Edwards said. "We've messed up enough in the past that I'm proud of our ability to keep plugging along. Maybe it's a test to see if anyone melts down."
It was the second consecutive race that Edwards and his No. 99 team have had to come back from big problems to continue to stay in the race for the Sprint Cup championship. Last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Edwards received a penalty for speeding while exiting pit road, which sent him as far back in the field as 26th. Before the penalty, which occurred on lap 246, he had led 116 of the first 195 laps. Edwards fought back through the field to finish third at Dover.
Unlike Edwards, the race winner, Johnson, started back in 19th position on the grid and quickly moved to the front, taking the lead for the first time on lap 24. Johnson led 197 laps and was closing in on the win when his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon blew an engine with just two laps to go in the regularly scheduled 267-lap race. Johnson ended up out-dashing Kasey Kahne to the checkered flag in a green-white-checkered finish that went five laps longer that the regulation race total.
Brad Keselowski was third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Edwards. For Edwards, it was his 15th top-five finish in 30 races this season. He has 21 top-ten finishes. The other Kansas City-area driver in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas, Clint Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., came in seventh at his home track. This was Bowyer's last race at Kansas Speedway driving for Richard Childress Racing. Last week he announced that he will drive the No. 15 Toyota next season for Michael Waltrip Racing. He had been with Richard Childress since 2004.
It was Johnson's second Sprint Cup victory at Kansas Speedway. His previous win, in 2008, contributed to his third of five consecutive Cup championships. He now has 55 career wins and 20 victories in 74 Chase for the Cup events, the most of any NASCAR driver.
Johnson is the only driver to have won a Chase race in all eight years that the season-ending playoff format has been held. It has been a while between race victories for Johnson. He last won at Talledega, the site in two weeks of the sixth of the ten Chase races this season, in April of last year, a draught of 21 races. That is the longest time he has gone between race wins in his ten-year Sprint Cup career.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship reaches the halfway point next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, with race No, 5 in the 10-race series that is NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Edwards is the leader in the standings after the first four races, a point ahead of Kevin Harvick, who finished sixth at Kansas. Johnson is seven points back of the leader, and Keselowsk is 11 points behind in fourth place.