FORT WORTH, Texas —As his interim crew chief headed toward inspection, Carl Edwards offered to lend him cash to bribe NASCAR’s officials.
Of course, Edwards was joking. But in making light of the severe penalties his team drew when its race-winning car failed inspection last month, Edwards showed his Roush Fenway Racing team has solidly bounced back from the Las Vegas disaster.
Edwards raced to his series-best third win of the season Sunday, holding off Jimmie Johnson on a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
It backed Edwards’ declaration four weeks ago that his team would survive the 100- point deduction and six-race suspension to crew chief Bob Osborne that stemmed from a missing lid on the oil tank after the Vegas victory.
“It doesn’t matter if we get penalized. We might get a 100-point penalty for something today,” Edwards said. “It’s not going to change what I do. I’m just going to do the best I can and our cars are really good. It does feel good to look in there and see the oil tank cover on the car, that’s good.
“But this is what we do. We got out and try to win. The other stuff doesn’t matter.”
That was evident as Edwards dominated Sunday, leading a race-high 123 laps while continuing to be the driver to beat at NASCAR’s intermediate tracks. He won at California and Vegas, and might have won in Atlanta if his motor didn’t fail while he was leading.
“He probably could have led however many laps there were today,” third-place finisher Kyle Busch said. “He just didn’t show his full hand. We knew he was pretty good.”
Edwards didn’t dispute it, either. He nearly won the pole, settling for second when Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s late attempt nudged him to the second starting position, then paced both of Saturday’s final practice sessions to cement himself as the driver to beat.
Then he toyed with the competition, building a lead of more than seven-seconds before a pair of late cautions gave Johnson and Busch two final chances to catch him. They never came close, as Edwards pulled away on the restarts and never looked back.
“That’s the truth,” he said of Busch’s assertion. “I could go a lot faster today if I wanted to.”
It wasn’t necessary as the No. 99 team won for the first time since the Las Vegas scandal that stripped Edwards of valuable points—the 100-point deduction knocked him out of the points lead, and NASCAR also seized the 10 bonus points he earned for the victory. In addition to his suspension, Osborne was fined $100,000.
As Edwards crossed the finish line Sunday, he dedicated the victory to Osborne, who was watching on TV back in North Carolina.
“This is for Bob Osborne sitting at home,” Edwards radioed his crew. “Good job guys.”
From Victory Lane, he defended his Vegas win and once again insisted the oil tank infraction played no part in his performance that day.
“The reason we won at Vegas is because of all the hard work that the guys at the shop and the engine department, it’s not because of that oil tank lid,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. We’re driving. It’s fun. It’s fun when you get out of the car and your hands hurt from gripping the steering wheel. That’s good.”
Johnson was second as Hendrick Motorsports remained winless through the first seven races of the season.
“I didn’t have anything at the end for Carl,” Johnson said.
Busch, winner of the Nationwide Series race Saturday, was strong early but had nothing for Edwards in the end and faded to third. Ryan Newman was fourth, but his car failed post-race inspection because the right rear of his Dodge was too high.
Denny Hamlin overcame last-lap contact with Clint Bowyer to finish fifth. Bowyer faded to 10th when the contact sent him into the wall. Jeff Burton retained his hold atop the points standings by finishing sixth and was followed by Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Bowyer as only 10 cars finished on the lead lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoped to mark the 10th anniversary of his first NASCAR win with a return to Victory Lane, but the pole-sitter never challenged and finished 12th, a lap down. He scored his first victory here in 1998 in what was then called the Busch Series, and he scored his first Cup victory here in 2000.
But NASCAR’s most popular driver is still trying to end a 69-race winless streak. His last victory was at Richmond in May 2006.
Michael McDowell, the rookie involved in a spectacular crash during Friday’s qualifying session, had an uneventful race running at the back of the field. He finished 33rd, seven laps down, in his second career start.
The race made it clear that Edwards is the driver to beat at intermediate tracks, but Johnson said the Hendrick cars are closing the gap. After struggling through four of the first five races, the two-time defending champion has consecutive top-five finishes and Sunday matched his finish from California.
“He’s certainly the guy to beat on these mile-and-a-halfs. He spent a lot of time developing the Car of Tomorrow for Roush, that seat time is valuable,” Johnson said. “Just in general, his car was a little more efficient through the corner than mine, but we’ve closed it up a lot. Another couple of weeks, we’ll really be a factor on these mile-and-a-halfs.”
Teammate Jeff Gordon may not be so convinced after a brutally long day in which his car struggled early, fell a lap down and later brushed the wall. He finished last in the 43-car field for just the second time in his career.
“I cant remember the last time we struggled this bad,” Gordon said. “I wish I had an answer for you. I just lost control of the car. We’ve been way off and we’ve got to find it because we can’t go through the whole year like this.”