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Sunday, October 26, 2008
Updated: November 3, 11:20 AM ET
Give Edwards a mulligan, and he has a chance to catch red-hot Johnson

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AP Photo/Glenn Smith

The 48 crew services Jimmie Johnson's Chevrolet as Carl Edwards pulls out of his pit stall Sunday.

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jack Roush doesn't play golf, but he suggests at least one part of the game would improve NASCAR's championship Chase.

Mulligans.

"If we had an opportunity, every team had an opportunity, to throw out one race and be able to just count nine of the 10, that means you could have a mulligan and you could be able to come back from it," he said after Carl Edwards won Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Indeed, if Edwards could throw out his 33rd-place finish at Lowe's Motor Speedway that was the result of an electrical problem, his odds of derailing Jimmie Johnson's march toward three straight titles would be better.

He would go from 183 points behind Johnson to 104 with three races remaining.

But that's not quite fair to Johnson. He would have to throw out a ninth-place finish at Talladega that netted him 143 points. Edwards would lose only 64 for his hiccup at LMS.

And what Roush needs to understand is mulligans are used only by amateurs who like to have a parachute in case of a bad shot. The pros don't get second chances. If Tiger Woods hits his drive into the woods, he plays it from there.

That he's able to make great escape shots is why he's the best in the game. That Johnson was able to escape being a lap down in 30th on Sunday and finish second is why he's the best in NASCAR.

So is this really a good idea?

"It depends," said Edwards, adding that he could have the big lead next season. "It would be good right now for sure. Maybe throw out two. That would be great."

Throw out two and Johnson's lead would shrink to 25. He'd have to throw out a 160-point day for his sixth at LMS. Edwards would toss the 81 he got for 29th at Talladega.

Yes, that would make the Chase more exciting. To believe Roush and Edwards, it could make the racing overall more exciting. Roush recalled the days in other series he ran before NASCAR where they allowed you to throw out one or two races.

"What that really meant was that until you'd used up your mulligan, you raced as hard as you could go every lap," he said. "If you didn't have a mulligan, then you have to be somewhat more cautious. It's more exciting if you're able to go as hard as you can until you realize that it will really hurt you."

Edwards agreed.

"You can take bigger risks if you haven't used your mulligan," he said. "I know for us it was really fun about four to go before the Chase started. We knew we were in. I just drove as hard as I could. We tried a bunch of stuff. It made it a lot of fun."

Crew chief Bob Osborne chimed in.

"I don't see why not," he said of having mulligans. "I don't think NASCAR wants to see their championship won by this many points, for sure. I don't want to see it won by this many points.

"I don't think anybody wants to see it won by this many points. If they come up with a format that can adjust and make the Chase even that much more competitive, that would be wonderful."

No, it would be a shame.

And the argument that a mulligan will encourage drivers to be more aggressive and take more chances doesn't wash if you've paid attention to Johnson the past few weeks.

He was passing lapped cars three-wide on Sunday at Martinsville trying to stretch his lead. He pitted for four tires that dropped him to 11th before the final restart with eight laps to go, and ran past everybody but Edwards to finish second.

He blew past Denny Hamlin for that final spot on the final lap even though Hamlin was almost sideways and could have taken them both out.

"We're going for wins, man," said Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief. "Wins and top-5s. That's what we get paid to do. If we do all that, the championships will come."

That's the way it should be. Professionals such as Johnson and Edwards shouldn't need a mulligan any more than professional golfers.

But you can't blame Roush for trying, although it's doubtful he would have suggested this if the situation were reversed.

"For teams like ours that have the success we've had, we want to go back and think about 2008, think about our championship run, what it meant," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid it will come down to thinking about the broken engine parts, the ignition and the other frustrations we've had."

-- David Newton

Nationwide Series: Edwards reels in Bowyer with Memphis win

While not exactly a full-fledged points race just yet, Carl Edwards at least picked up Clint Bowyer's scent Saturday at Memphis Motorsports Park. Whether Edwards can further eat into a 116-point deficit and make things truly exciting remains to be seen.

But with three races left in the Nationwide Series season, there's at least a chance the owners' title isn't the only one yet to be truly settled. That's a title that means a great deal to those involved, even if it doesn't excite most fans.

Edwards' dominating victory in the Kroger On Track For The Cure 250, coupled with Bowyer's uncharacteristic 16th-place finish, allowed Edwards to shave 80 points off Bowyer's lead. With races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead left, what was looking like a mountain now resembles more of a molehill.

And for that, Edwards was quick to thank both Bobby East and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. East practiced and qualified the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford while Edwards practiced his Sprint Cup car at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Blickensderfer made the call that eventually left Edwards as just one of a handful of cars on pit road after a caution trapped many of his potential challengers at least one lap down.

"Drew's call early on to pit -- and then we stayed out and got that lucky caution for us -- was a genius call," Edwards said after his fifth win of the year. "It put us in a position to really put everybody a lap down or two laps down as it was. That was awesome. I don't know if it was that much fun for the fans, but it sure was great for me to realize that we only had to race five or six people for the rest of the day."

Blickensderfer said luck certainly played a role in how things turned out, but that he's learned a lot about being a crew chief from coworkers like Robbie Reiser and Jimmy Fennig.

"The thing that I learned … is you weigh the pluses and minuses. You err to the plus side as much as possible," Blickensderfer said. "There wasn't any negative for us at all. … I knew people, based on last year, were worried about track position and they didn't want to come.

"[So] if we had 30- or 40-lap fresher tires and just happened to go long [without a caution], which it did, we would be in a much better position situation than they were. To have it go out that good, there was obviously luck involved in that. Just weighing the pluses and minuses, there were more pluses than there were negatives to that."

The biggest plus for Edwards was that David Reutimann and Kenny Wallace were the only other veteran drivers on the lead lap. The three others who finished all 253 laps were Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Chase Miller.

In the end, it came down to whether Edwards could hold off Reutimann on a green-white-checkered finish. He did so, as Reutimann resisted the temptation to move Edwards out of the way.

"I just can't believe that last restart. Reutimann was all over me, and all he had to do was bump me out of the way and that would have been a lot different race," Edwards said. "If I ever wear another guy's T-shirt, it will be a David Reutimann T-shirt. That was amazing how clean he raced me at the end."

It didn't take long for Reutimann to second-guess himself.

"You are sitting back there and you're thinking, 'Well, if Carl was in this situation what would he do to me?' I know what he would've done, you know," Reutimann said of the driver who moved Bowyer to win earlier this year. "I got all of the respect in the world for Carl Edwards. I think he's a great guy and a phenomenal driver, but when it comes down to it he's a competitor just like we all are, and he would definitely move you out of the way.

"It's just not my deal. Maybe someday it will pay off. Today it hurt me. It absolutely hurt me. I had two opportunities to do it and I can't tell you why I didn't do it. That's not the way my father taught me to drive. That's not the way he raced. That's not the way my family raced and that's not the way I do it, but it cost me a win today, so I don't feel too good about that."

Bowyer didn't only take a hit in the drivers' standings; his No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team now trails Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 team by 39 points after Logano's fifth-place finish.

-- Mark Ashenfelter

Craftsman Truck Series: Newman steals Hornaday's thunder -- and maybe more

Ron Hornaday Jr. didn't begrudge one-day teammate Ryan Newman for passing him with eight laps to go and again on the final lap to win the Craftsman Truck Series E-Z-Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But check back in three weeks.

The Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 2 Chevrolet finally enjoyed the success it never found under the recently fired Jack Sprague, with first-time Truck Series starter Newman winning his first NASCAR start in a Chevrolet. (He'll drive Chevys full-time next year with Stewart-Haas Racing in Sprint Cup.) Yet in doing so ahead of Hornaday's No. 33, the dominant truck nearly all day in leading 110 of 130 laps, Newman took 10 points from the defending series champion.

It could matter. Bill Davis Racing's Johnny Benson leads Hornaday by 31 points -- Benson finished seventh to Hornaday's second, allowing Hornaday to chop 34 points off a 65-point lead at the start of the race -- but this season has seen smaller margins.

Thirteen races into the season, Benson led Hornaday by five points (Matt Crafton was one point behind Benson, though he has since dropped out of contention) and after 19 races Benson led Hornaday by one.

Saying every point counts and that the championship will come down to Homestead-Miami Speedway doesn't sound like a cliché in this series, not with the way Benson and Hornaday have battled. The lead could have changed hands again Saturday as Benson's Toyota struggled most of the day and, with 40 laps to go, was on the verge of being lapped by Hornaday. Yet a debris caution came out (Hornaday said after the race he was still looking for the debris), Benson stayed on the lead lap and the No. 23 team rallied for a seventh-place finish that kept it atop the standings with three races to go.

Benson won last week at Martinsville, Va., and he or Hornaday had won nine of 13 races coming into Atlanta. Instead it was another win for a Cup invader, and this time not Kyle Busch.

Newman's triumph was a special achievement, as he became the third man to win in his first Truck start since the inaugural race in 1995 (joining Robert Pressley in 2002 and Kasey Kahne in '04) and the 19th to win in all three of NASCAR's top series.

It was a great day for a team that longed for a win from its second truck. Whether it proves fatal to a possible first-ever repeat title for its flagship truck is a question that may have to wait until next month and the season finale.

-- John Schwarb

Standings

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Carl Edwards wins at Atlanta but may have lost any hope of winning the championship, as Jimmie Johnson fights back from a lap down to finish second.
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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won the Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He posted his 14th career victory in his 154th career race. It was his seventh victory in 2008, second only to Kyle Busch, who has eight wins.

  • Edwards posted his third career weekend sweep. He also won the Nationwide race at Memphis on Saturday. His other two sweeps came at Atlanta in 2005 and Michigan in '08.

  • Edwards has scored three victories (Las Vegas, Texas, second Atlanta) and five top-10 finishes in the eight races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2008. He posted his third win in nine races at Atlanta and his seventh top-10 finish in nine races there. Edwards won the race from the fourth-place starting position.

  • Edwards posted his fourth win in 47 Chase races. It was his 12th career victory in 102 superspeedway races. He led six times for 98 laps, including the final 16.

  • Roush Fenway Racing posted its sixth Atlanta victory. Its most recent Atlanta victories came in 2005 when Edwards swept both races. It marked Roush Fenway's 13th Chase victory since '04, second only to Hendrick Motorsports, which has scored 18 wins in the 47 Chase races.

  • Points leader Jimmie Johnson (second) has scored top-10 finishes in the past nine races, extending a streak that began at California in August. Johnson has led in 27 of the 33 races this season, more than any other driver. He led 28 laps Sunday. Johnson has led 738 laps in the seven Chase races. Matt Kenseth is second in laps led at 327 laps.

  • Jeff Gordon (ninth) has gone 38 races without a victory, his longest streak between victories.

  • Denny Hamlin (third) scored his first top-5 finish in seven races at Atlanta.

  • Kevin Harvick (13th) has been running at the finish in the past 77 races, the longest current streak by any driver.

  • Clint Bowyer (20th) ended a nine-race streak of top-15 finishes that began at the second Bristol race.

  • This was the ninth win for Ford in 2008. Chevrolet and Toyota each have 10 and Dodge has four. The top 10 consisted of five Fords, two Chevrolets, two Toyotas and one Dodge.

  • Michael Waltrip, who made his 1,000th NASCAR start, finished 37th after suffering radio problems, tire issues and a bout with the wall on Lap 168 and an accident on Lap 209.

  • The top five finishers were Chase drivers. Seven of the top 10 were Chasers.

  • Greg Biffle won the first two Chase races, Tony Stewart won at Talladega, Jeff Burton won at Lowe's, Jimmie Johnson won at Kansas and Martinsville and Carl Edwards won at Atlanta.

  • Six of the 12 Chase drivers each earned lap-leader bonus points at Atlanta by leading at least one lap: Johnson, Edwards, Kenseth, Biffle, Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin.

  • Eight of the 12 Chase drivers changed positions after Atlanta.

  • Johnson now leads second-place Edwards by 183 points, the biggest lead ever in the Chase (since 2004) with three races remaining.

  • The biggest points deficit overcome with three races remaining occurred in 1990 when Dale Earnhardt was 49 points behind Mark Martin and won that season by 26.

  • Johnson is the only driver to score top-10 finishes in the first seven races of the Chase. He also is the only Chase driver to lead in all seven Chase races.

Nationwide Series

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won the Kroger on Track for The Cure 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park. He posted his 18th career victory in his 138th start. It was his fifth victory of the season, tied for second most this season with Tony Stewart behind Kyle Busch with nine.

  • Edwards posted his first Nationwide Series victory at Memphis in his forth start there. He became the ninth different Memphis race winner in 10 races.

  • Edwards led one time for 185 laps, the most of all drivers. He led more laps Saturday than he had in any of his 137 previous races. Edwards became the ninth driver to lead more than 100 laps in 10 races at Memphis.

  • Points leader Clint Bowyer finished 16th, three laps down.

  • Edwards gained 80 points on Bowyer -- he trails the leader now by 116 points.

  • Edwards won after starting the race from the rear of the field after Bobby East qualified his car in time trials.

  • Ford posted its seventh win of the season and second at Memphis.

  • Roush Fenway Racing posted its sixth win on the season and first at Memphis.

  • David Reutimann, who finished second, posted his eighth top-5 finish of 2008. Like Edwards, Reutimann started the race at the rear of the field due to a driver change.

  • Kenny Wallace, who finished third, posted his first top-5 finish since he finished third at Pike's Peak in July 2005.

  • Austin Dillon (fourth) posted his career-best finish in only his second start.

  • Joey Logano (fifth) posted his 11th top-10 finish in his 16th start.

  • Chase Miller (sixth) posted his career-best finish in his 18th start.

  • The race featured only six cars on the lead lap, the fewest this season. The previous fewest was eight at Nashville in March.

  • The race was slowed eight times for 39 laps one year after a race that saw 25 cautions for 117 laps.

  • Marc Davis finished 23rd in his Nationwide debut.

  • Jarit Johnson finished 32nd in his series debut.

  • Cale Gale, who finished 11th, was the best-finishing rookie of the year candidate.

  • The top 10 featured two Fords, two Toyotas, five Chevrolets and one Dodge.

Craftsman Truck Series

Ryan Newman

Newman

  • Ryan Newman won the E-Z Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was his first career Truck Series start. He joins Mike Skinner (Phoenix, 1995), Robert Pressley (Daytona, 2002) and Kasey Kahne (Darlington, 2004) who also won in their first Truck Series starts.

  • Ron Hornaday Jr. (second) led three times for 110 laps, the most of the day.

  • Newman led three times for 11 laps.

  • This was the third last-lap pass in 2008 (Mansfield and Talladega)

  • Points leader Johnny Benson (seventh) is now 31 points ahead of Hornaday with three races remaining. He had a 65-point lead coming into Atlanta, losing 34 points Sunday.

  • Newman won from the 10th-place starting position in a field that was set by owners' points.

  • Sixteen of the 22 Truck Series races in 2008 have been won from the top 10.

  • This is the 15th win for Kevin Harvick Inc., sixth of 2008. This is the second KHI 1-2 finish. Its other 1-2 finish came at Kansas with Hornaday first and Sprague second in April.

  • Chevrolet posted its eighth win in 2008. Toyota has 12 and Ford and Dodge have one victory each.

  • No. 7 T. J. Bell (ninth) scored his fifth straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that dates to New Hampshire in September.

  • No. 5 Mike Skinner (26th) ended a six-race streak of top-15 finishes that dated to Bristol in August.

  • Rookie of the Year contender No. 16 Brian Scott (10th) scored his sixth straight top-15 finish, extending a streak that began at Gateway in September.

  • On Lap 37, No. 88 Matt Crafton, who was running third, was forced to the garage with engine issues and dropped from third to fifth in the standings. Crafton was credited with a 29th-place finish and now trails points leader Benson by 297.

  • The race was slowed four times for 15 laps of caution.

  • The race featured seven lead changes among three drivers.

  • The top 10 consisted of six Toyotas, one Ford and three Chevrolets.

  • The highest-finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate was No. 22 Scott Speed, who took fifth.

-- Racing Resources