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Even with failed inspection, Edwards gives Roush Fenway COT program boost

9/24/2007 - NASCAR

DOVER, Del. -- Roush Fenway Racing clearly wasn't ready to compete with the Car of Tomorrow when the organization arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway for the inaugural event five weeks into the 2007 season.

Three races into the COT campaign, nothing had changed.

Pat Tryson, then the crew chief for Greg Biffle, and team owner Jack Roush were at such odds over the lack of testing for the COT that Tryson was fired. It got so bad that all five Roush drivers finally went to general manager Max Jones and said, "We've got do something."

"It was pretty painful," Carl Edwards recalled after winning Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Dover International Speedway. "When we went to Richmond the first time, I thought we were out to lunch."

Roush listened.

He instituted a full testing program, helping his organization close the gap with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, teams that dominated the first five COT events.

Sunday showed the fruit of his labor, with an asterisk attached.

Edwards will keep the win even though his car failed postrace inspection for being more than a half-inch low, the tolerance NASCAR allows on height. He likely will be fined a minimum of 25 driver's points and $25,000, the standard this season for such a violation.

That means instead of climbing to third place within three points of leader Jeff Gordon, he will be in sixth place, 28 back.

The look of disappointment on his face was evident as he talked with NASCAR officials about the infraction that will be looked into further when the car is evaluated again at the R&D center in Concord, N.C.

But overall, it was a successful day for Roush.

Biffle finished second, and Jamie McMurray was eighth. Matt Kenseth led a race-high 183 laps and was leading with 38 laps remaining when he lost a cylinder that a few laps later cost him an engine.

"It was really clear I had been asleep at the switch," Roush said.

The sleeping giant might have awoken.

Unfortunately for Roush, it didn't come soon enough. Only two of his five cars -- Edwards and Kenseth -- are in the Chase.

But Roush doesn't fully blame himself. He noted, as he has so often before, that NASCAR's intention with the tire lease program was to limit the number of tests so every team would progress at the same rate.

"Have everybody learn about the Car of Tomorrow together," he said. "The reality of it was NASCAR didn't manage to close the barn door and didn't limit teams from testing."

Teams such as HMS, JGR and Richard Childress Racing stockpiled tires acquired from other manufacturers and tested, tested and then tested some more.

"They went outside the box," Roush said. "They had useful data that we didn't."

Right now, this Chase is turning into what everyone predicted. The depth is such you're going to have to win races. … But to have the top seven guys within 30-something points, that's insane.

Carl Edwards

Edwards, for example, didn't finish better than 11th in the first four Chase races. He recalled being passed by Denny Hamlin so fast at Richmond that it appeared they were on different planets.

"We went to Bristol and Richmond and Phoenix and we were out to lunch," Roush said.

Now they're at or near the head of the table, hoping to be served a championship.

"I'm thinking as I watched this race unfold what my impression of the Car of Tomorrow was and what my apprehension was earlier this year," Roush said. "We got behind in testing. That was my fault.

"We started off with the Car of Tomorrow being a great weakness and the Car of Today we thought would ride us through. My biggest concern now is the Cars of Today. We maybe haven't given them as much attention as we might have during the year. That might give us problems."

Most of the problems Sunday came from the drivers and teams that dominated early COT races.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson, who has a series-high six wins, fell two laps down early with a blown tire, then was collected in a 12-car pileup late in the 400-lap event that left him 14th.

He slipped from a tie with Gordon for the lead to fourth place, four points back.

Gordon, who was third in the first three COT events, finished 11th. Tony Stewart, who led as many laps as anybody early in the COT schedule, was ninth.

Both would have finished much further back were it not for the late crash that eliminated many drivers ahead of them.

Stewart's teammate Hamlin led 61 laps early and had a dominant car before running over Kyle Petty. He finished 38th and fell to 12th in the standings.

Stewart became frustrated early, getting into a bumper-car match with Paul Menard on pit road.

The Roush cars were strong all day. Edwards took the lead for good under caution with 37 laps to go when Kenseth developed engine problems.

"If we can just hang among those top two or three cars, you won't believe how good we'll look when we leave, buddy," said Edwards' crew chief, Bob Osborne.

Edwards had to wait out two race stoppages over the final 25 laps to win for the third time this season. His biggest decision during the second red-flag situation came when he opted not to pit for tires with 14 laps remaining.

"They've still got to pass us, Bob," Edwards radioed to Osborne. "I'm staying out; that's what I'm going to do."

It was the right decision. His car was so strong that nobody was going to pass him unless he had problems of his own.

Now he has to be considered a serious threat to win the title, having finished 12th or better in six of the past seven races. He would have been 7-for-7 had he not blown an engine at Richmond.

He knows what it takes to win the Chase after finishing tied for second, 35 behind Stewart, in 2005.

"Right now, this Chase is turning into what everyone predicted," Edwards said. "The depth is such you're going to have to win races. … But to have the top seven guys within 30-something points, that's insane."

Three months ago, it was insane to think a Roush car would win a COT race.

"The Car of Tomorrow for us is certainly coming to age," Roush said. "I look forward to those other races at Phoenix, [Talladega] and Martinsville.

"There's going to be a lot of twists and turns in what remains, [but] today we're going to celebrate."

With an asterisk.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.