- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Carl Edwards went to Victory Lane on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, but not for the reason he wanted to or needed to be there.
He went to congratulate Jimmie Johnson and his crew for their dominating victory that put them on the cusp of capturing a third straight championship.
It wasn't a conciliatory congratulation, though.
Edwards still holds onto the slim hope that he can make up the 141-point differential in next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. As he repeatedly said following his fourth-place finish, "It's possible, not probable."
"Hey, he hasn't passed tech yet," Edwards said with a laugh, referring to postrace inspection. "The eternal optimist in me."
More like chasing fool's gold.
Johnson needs to finish 36th or better at Homestead to become the first driver in 30 years to win three consecutive titles. He's finished outside the top 10 only once in nine Chase races: a 15th at Texas. He's finished worse than 33rd only once all season.
So possible, but highly unlikely.
"If he would have some real terrible luck at Homestead, we'd still have a chance," Edwards said.
Well, there is the threat of a hurricane next week, so Johnson's hauler could be washed away before it arrives at the track. Or Johnson could come down with some rare ailment that would keep him from competing.
Or he could fall off the top of another golf cart and break a bone as he did following his first championship two years ago.
None is likely to happen. If Edwards didn't know that before Sunday, he does now.
"They did their jobs," he said. "We did the best we could. It's just too big of a spread right now."
Edwards is the only driver with a mathematical shot at catching Johnson. Greg Biffle, who started the day 143 back, left 203 out after finishing 11th. Jeff Burton fell to 269 back with a ninth-place finish.
The most a driver can make up if Johnson starts the race is 161 points.
"We did the best we could," Edwards said. "Jimmie, they're just 'on' right now."
Edwards had been on for two straight weeks, winning at Atlanta and Texas to trim the lead to 106 points. He never was a threat Sunday. He started 15th and got only to fourth late thanks to a great late pit stop that moved him up three spots. He failed to lead a lap and pick up five bonus points after leading 310 the past two weeks.
"I was just hoping Jimmie had forgotten how to shift gears or something," said Edwards, realizing his only hope of making up points at the end was if Johnson made a mistake and gave up the lead to second-place Kurt Busch or third-place Jamie McMurray.
Johnson didn't forget anything. If anything, he demonstrated why he is where he is and why Edwards is where he is with three flawless restarts over the final 23 laps.
We're going to go to Homestead with everything we've got and go there and be aggressive and try to win the race.
-- Carl Edwards
"We thought we had most of the group covered, but we just got beat by something special," Busch said.
Edwards has had a special season as well. He has one more win than Johnson with eight. Were it not for a wreck at Talladega and an electrical problem at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, people might be talking about his team like they do the No. 48.
"The real positive thing, no matter what happens, is this year we've been fast at Bristol and Martinsville and the road courses," Edwards said. "I feel we can win at almost any track. The good thing going forward is we've got a lot of good things to look forward to for next season."
But can he have a much better season than this?
"Yeah," he said, pointing toward Johnson's team in Victory Lane. "Those guys are having it."
Edwards had hoped to be celebrating where Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus stood, not wishing them well.
But again, he didn't concede the title.
"Hell no," Edwards said. "We can't think that. We've got to do the best we can. ... We're going to go to Homestead with everything we've got and go there and be aggressive and try to win the race.
"Congratulations to Jimmie and those guys. They're making this real tough."
Possible, but not probable.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
14dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information