Richmond, VA – Carl Edwards won Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 after a dramatic finish at Richmond International Raceway and the end to the regular season, as the 12-driver field for the Sprint Cup Series' championship Chase has been determined.
Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. are in the Chase. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, and Brad Keselowski, who won the title last year, did not qualify.
Keselowski led the most laps with 142, but a caution in the closing laps hurt his chances of winning the race and clinching a Chase spot for the third consecutive year. The Penske Racing driver finished 17th and concluded the regular season 16th in the standings, 31 points behind his teammate, Logano.
"That is just the way our cars have been this year," Keselowski said. "They haven't been good enough, and we haven't executed as well as we needed to. We have work to do. At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn't have enough results to get where we needed to be."
Clint Bowyer forced the fifth and final caution with eight laps to go when he spun around on the frontstretch. Bowyer, who had led 72 laps earlier in the race, was running right behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. when his incident occurred.
"I think we had something going wrong," Bowyer said. "I went from a car capable of winning the race but then went straight backwards. It was extremely tight. The 88 (Earnhardt Jr.) got up underneath of me. I had so much wheel that by the time I got to the gas he was underneath me. I spun out."
After the race had concluded, Bowyer dismissed any conspiracy theories that he intentionally spun out to help Truex, his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, get into the Chase.
"I don't look at that," Bowyer said. "He's in, and the other two (Gordon and Newman) are out. You know what I mean? I guess I've got one friend and two that hate me."
Edwards grabbed the lead during a round of pit stops under caution late in the race. But Newman chased down Edwards and took the top spot away from him two laps before Bowyer spun. A victory for Newman at Richmond would have secured him at least a wild card. He won at Indianapolis in July.
When the front runners pitted during the final caution, Paul Menard came out of the pits first, followed by Edwards, while Newman exited in fifth. Edwards pulled ahead of Menard following the restart and then held off Kurt Busch at the finish by 0.7 seconds for the win.
Newman ended up finishing third, but he lost out on the final wild card in a points tiebreaker with Truex, who placed eighth.
"Winning would have changed everything, and that last caution definitely hurt us," said Newman, who is in his last season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. "We got killed on pit road. There's no doubt about that. Carl and those guys beat us on four tires. The guys that took two were just doing some strategy, but we should have been able to come off of pit road first if we were a championship-contending team. We needed a championship-contending pit crew, and we didn't have that tonight."
Truex had one win this season as well (Sonoma), but scored more top-10 finishes than Truex to earn the wild card.
"I'm speechless; I don't even know what to say," an emotional Truex said after the race. "We were terrible tonight. I mean, just terrible, terrible on long runs, and we fought and we fought like we did last week (at Atlanta)."
Truex continued to drive with a cast on his right wrist. He fractured it during an accident two weeks ago at Bristol.
Logano's 22nd-place run barely earned him the last top-10 in points spot in the Chase. He topped Gordon by only one point to get into the playoffs for the first time.
"To get into the top-10 and get our three bonus points there, it was huge," said Logano, who is in his first year with Penske. "These last three, four weeks have been very stressful. Feels like a big weight has been lifted off your shoulders to get in this thing. Now we can reset our goals towards the championship. Got a good shot at it. Ready to have some fun now."
Gordon rebounded from a two-lap deficit early in the race to finish eighth. He had made the Chase in each of the previous seven seasons.
"It's unfortunate," Gordon said. "We haven't had the kind of year that this team is capable of, and that's where our focus is these next 10 races is just to know that we put in every bit of effort we possibly could. We fought through a lot of things. It wasn't pretty, but we were getting it done until that caution came out, and we still could have made it in."
Busch's second-place run moved him up two positions in the standings to eighth. This will be his seventh appearance in the playoffs. Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, became the first driver from a single-car team to qualify for the Chase. He is driving for Furniture Row Racing this season before he moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
"Well, how about them apples?" Busch said. "Unbelievable. The way this team has grown, what we've been able to accomplish, it's an amazing feeling. We achieved something very special tonight."
Edwards claimed his second victory of the season and the 21st of his Sprint Cup career. He won in March at Phoenix. Edwards ended the regular season atop the rankings, one point ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who finished 40th due to a handling issue throughout the race.
"The last three weeks have been spectacular," Edwards said. "Had an extremely fast race car at Bristol. Atlanta went well the first half of the race. To come here, have another week where we run up front, win the race, this is great."
After finishing 14th, Kasey Kahne made it into the Chase with a wild card due to his two wins this season. Kahne had clinched at least a wild card prior to Richmond. He was attempting to get in the playoffs with a top-10 spot and therefore use his victories for bonus points.
The 10-race Chase begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Matt Kenseth claimed the first seed after winning the most races this season with five. He finished sixth at Richmond.
"We've had really a terrific 26 weeks, led some laps, fortunate enough to win some races," Kenseth said. "Excited to be up on top. Looking forward to Chicago and kicking off."
The Chase seedings are: Kenseth (2015 points), Johnson (2012), Kyle Busch (2012), Kevin Harvick (2006), Edwards (2006), Logano (2003), Greg Biffle (2003), Bowyer (2000), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000), Kurt Busch (2000), Kahne (2000) and Truex (2000).
Johnson has now finished 28th or worse in the last four races. The five-time series champion had to start from the rear of the field since he missed Friday's qualifying. His wife, Chandra, gave birth to their second daughter early Friday morning at a Charlotte, N.C. hospital.
Just past the halfway point, Johnson experienced a tire problem and had to spend a short period of time behind the wall for repairs. He later cut a tire and made contact with the wall.
"Unfortunately tonight here at the track, things did not go well," Johnson said. "We would literally wear the right-front tire off the car as the night would go on. Start off kind of fast, run through the right-front tire, had some issues there."
Johnson had been the points leader since the first weekend in April when he won at Martinsville Speedway.