Victory moves Edwards to third - for now

Posted: September 24, 2007

DOVER, Del. - Carl Edwards was due at Dover.

After finishing third and second in the last two NASCAR Nextel Cup races at Dover International Speedway, Edwards won yesterday's Dodge Dealers 400.

The victory, by 0.671 of a second over Greg Biffle, elevated Edwards to third in the Chase for the Championship.

His rise up the standings might be in jeopardy, however. In a post-race inspection, NASCAR sleuths found that the right rear of his red No. 99 Ford was too low. A NASCAR spokesman said potential penalties will be determined this week. A loss of points and a fine are possibilities.

That could be significant because after two Chase races, the points race is tighter than a sealed top on a salsa jar.

Edwards trails leader Jeff Gordon by just three points. Tony Stewart, second in the Chase, is only two points behind Gordon, who finished 11th yesterday. Stewart placed ninth.

Jimmie Johnson, the co-Chase leader with Gordon after the first playoff race, is a mere four points off the pace. Johnson finished 14th yesterday.

During the race, Edwards led the second-most laps (95). He paced 74 of the last 80 laps, including the last 38.

In collecting his third victory of the season and first in seven starts at Dover, Edwards dueled Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth late in the race. Then, Edwards' closest pursuer was former teammate Mark Martin.

Kenseth, who led the most laps (192), was running fifth on a restart with 18 laps to go when the engine on his No. 17 Ford expired. Biffle, a non-Chaser, slipped past Martin with two laps to go.

"This Chase is turning into what people predicted," Edwards said after performing his trademark backflip at the start/finish line. "The depth is such that you're going to have to win races. We're two races in and to have the top seven guys within 30-something points [actually 46] is insane."

Before an estimated crowd of 125,000, about 15,000 short of a sellout, this was The Race That Wouldn't End. There were six caution periods, including two red-flag conditions, in the last 44 laps. A 10-car wreck with 13 laps remaining, caused when Kurt Busch's Dodge slammed into the wall exiting Turn 2, brought out the second red flag that stopped the cars on the track.

Only six cars finished on the lead lap, which is not good from a competitive standpoint. Bob Osborne, Edwards' crew chief, said the reason is, the Chasers have separated themselves from the pack.

"In the first race [at Dover in June], there were only 13 cars on the lead lap," said Osborne, a Penn State graduate. "Right now, there's a lot of disparity in the performance from one car to the next. There are a handful of cars that are really quick."

While Edwards was delighted with his victory, NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow did not receive favorable reviews from other drivers.

"I need to hold back what I really want to say," Gordon said. "I just don't see how we're going to get it done under the current conditions of this car, to put on the kind of races we need to put on.

"If a guy hits it, all he's got to do is maintain track position. The [No.] 99 was in a whole other league. My car wouldn't do anything I wanted it to do."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who motored to a third-place finish, said, "We need better front ends. The cars don't have any downforce on the front. Your car won't stay consistent all day.

"There's a lot of things [drivers] do like about the car, and there's a lot of things we do not like. The car's real tight or really loose. There's no middle ground."

Yesterday, Edwards was on the high ground, or more precisely, the speedway's concrete. The NASCAR justice department will decide if he holds third in the Chase. *

Send email to fleiscb@phillynews.com.

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