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Edwards takes control late for Bristol win, clinches spot in Chase

8/26/2007 - NASCAR

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- When Carl Edwards was paying his bills as
a substitute teacher, hoping and praying he'd someday make it into
NASCAR, he pictured himself racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

So after scoring his first career victory Saturday night at the
Bristol bull ring, Edwards felt like he was living a dream.

"It's such a huge win because it's Bristol. It's a short track.
It's really tough. It's 500 laps. It's grueling," he said. "This
is what I always thought of as a Nextel Cup race. This is what it's
about.

"A Saturday night at a really tough track that's historic. I
guess to me, if you win at a track like this, it feels really good
as a driver."

This one certainly did for Edwards, who clinched a spot in the
Chase for the championship while picking up another 10 bonus points
to use in his pursuit of the Nextel Cup title.

Edwards passed Kasey Kahne for the lead with 166 laps to go and
wasn't challenged the rest of the way as he drove to his second
victory of the season. He beat Kahne to the line by 1.405 seconds,
then did his trademark backflip on the finish line to celebrate.

"This is the biggest win of my career," said Edwards, who has
six career victories. "It means the world to win this race."

The top 12 drivers in the standings will run for the Nextel Cup
title, and Edwards clinched his spot with the win.

"We're back," declared Edwards, who made the Chase and
finished third in the standings in 2005 but failed to make the
field last season.

The Chase field will be seeded based on the bonus points earned
through "regular season" victories. Edwards now has 20 points,
which would tie him with Kurt Busch for third place when the Chase
for the championship begins Sept. 16 in New Hampshire.

Only Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (four wins each) and Tony Stewart (three) have more.

Clint Bowyer finished third to move closer to his first berth in
the Chase.

"I am not going to count on that quite yet, not 'til it's
over," Bowyer said.

Stewart was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth. Busch,
Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle rounded out
the top 10.

The race to make the Chase didn't change, as Kurt Busch is still
holding down the 12th and final position with two races to go.

"We're running more consistent, and that's what it takes if you
want to be a championship contender," said Busch, who won
Tuesday's rain-postponed race in Michigan. "But for us, we still
have to get into the Chase.

"We're not locked in, so we're not losing focus with two more
races."

Earnhardt, despite a strong run, gained only five points and is
158 points back.

"I want to win. If I can't make the Chase, I want to win a
race," Earnhardt said. "When we don't make [the Chase] everybody
makes a big deal over it -- they talk about it prerace and talk
about it postrace. It's a bummer when you see that and watch that.
You're just trying to let it go under the radar when you can't get
it done."

Newman is 14th in the standings, but hasn't given up making the
Chase just yet.

"We still have a shot at it," he said. "Mathematically, we
still have a chance. We're just trying to give it our best shot,
each and every lap. That's good enough in my eyes -- whether it's
good enough to make the top 12, we'll see."

Kahne started from the pole and was looking for his second win
in as many nights -- he won Friday night's Busch Series event -- and
it looked early as if he'd get it as he led 305 of the 500 laps.

But after losing his battle for the lead with Edwards, he never
challenged again. Regardless, the runner-up finish was outstanding
for Kahne, who is winless this season and stuck in a horrendous
slump.

"To go into a season and think you are going to run well, and
then you don't ... this feels good," he said. "We haven't had a
top-five since last year."

It was the first Nextel Cup race on Bristol's repaved race
track, and the new concrete had contributed to thrilling races for the
Truck Series and Busch Series events. Everyone
expected the same results for the Cup event, but it was slow in
developing as the race began with 126 uneventful parade laps.

Then Johnny Sauter spun into the wall to bring out the first
caution, and Kahne had to use a spectacular move to avoid plowing
into him as he passed by the accident scene.

Racing soon resumed until Denny Hamlin's motor exploded in a
puff of white smoke to bring out the second caution. Hamlin, a
threat to win here in March, thought he could have contended had
his engine not failed. Regardless, he was confident of his
championship hopes.

"It was a rocketship all day," he said. "The other 11 Chase
guys are going to have to deal with us when it's all said and
done."

The racing finally heated up from there, as a frustrated Johnson nudged the lapped car of Aric Almirola as he tried to pass.
It sent Almirola into A.J. Allmendinger and brought out the third
caution of the race.

A sense of urgency seemed to soon take over, as drivers turned
it up a notch and began racing side-by-side for position. It set up
a fabulous chase between Edwards, Earnhardt and Kahne with 166 laps
to go, as the three jockeyed for the lead.

They went inside and out in a three-wide battle for the lead
that was hampered by Michael Waltrip's lapped car. Edwards finally
prevailed, taking Earnhardt with him as they sliced past Kahne.

Edwards then pulled far away and wasn't challenged over five
restarts in the final 125 laps.

"Those restarts took about 10 years off my life," Edwards
joked. "Winning here at Bristol is everybody's dream. This is the
night race at Bristol, 500 laps, and we won it.

"I am living a dream. I think every short-track racer out there
dreams about this."