- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
- 0 Shares
To hear Carl Edwards, you'd think not one but two suddenly serious Chase contenders emerged Sunday night.
Tony Stewart dominated and won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, "but we're back; we're doing it," Edwards told ESPN reporters after leading 32 laps and finishing second.
Neither is new to the hunt for the Sprint Cup, but both drivers had been winless this season going into Atlanta, and neither had looked like much of a championship contender.
Stewart righted his Stewart-Haas Racing team convincingly. And if not for him, Edwards might well have his first win since the season finale of 2008.
"I know we don't look like we did in 2008," Edwards said. "But we're better prepared to go racing for the championship than we've ever been."
That's an enormous statement, considering that in '08 he entered the Chase with six wins and went on to win three of the last four playoff races and battle Jimmie Johnson to the wire for the title.
"Tonight I felt like we had a car as good or better than we have had all season," Edwards said. "Really for maybe a season and a half."
Whence the resurgence?
"I can't say what turned it around," Edwards said, leaving it unclear whether he couldn't say for lack of tech knowledge or wouldn't say because of secrecy at Roush Fenway Racing. The Roush team's comeback began on Aug. 1 when his teammate Greg Biffle won at Pocono. "Bob [Osborne, Edwards' crew chief] and the guys have just been working hard. That's what it's about."
Biffle, who got caught up in a wreck Sunday night and finished 36th, is one of only two drivers in the top 12 in points who aren't locked into the Chase. Biffle is 11th in the standings, and Clint Bowyer, who finished seventh, is 12th.
But neither has huge cause for concern going into Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond. Thirteenth-place Ryan Newman is 117 points behind Bowyer and 161 behind Biffle.
Stewart missed out on his usual midsummer hot streak this year. Might he just be running late and hitting stride at just the right time?
"I don't know if we have peaked yet," he said. "I think we've got room to be better."
"The momentum is a big thing for us," said Stewart's crew chief, Darian Grubb. "We learned a lot of things in the last few months that have given Tony a lot more comfort on the racetrack and keep speed in it as well.
"The more we keep doing that, the more lessons we learn, the more we can apply it, and going into the Chase it makes us feel that much better."
As for Johnson's shot at winning a fifth straight championship this year, his third-place run Sunday night was something of a mixed message.
Johnson's team wasn't as discombobulated as it had seemed in recent weeks, but still, Stewart and Edwards just flat-out beat him on a 1.5-mile track. Intermediate-sized tracks account for five of the 10 Chase races.
But Johnson felt better after an intermediate-track race than he has lately.
"I think we have had some problems on the mile-and-a-half, two-mile tracks," he said. "Tonight with the setup we brought and the way we worked on things, it seemed we could adjust the car and improve throughout the night and be there at the end of the race."
But directly ahead of Johnson at the end were two veteran faces suddenly turned fresh for the Chase.
Nationwide Series: McMurray gives "Pops" Eury emotional win
There are big, big wins, and there are big little wins. Jamie McMurray's big, big ones this season are well-chronicled, the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400.
The big little one, a gift to JR Motorsports patriarch Tony Eury Sr., "Pops," was McMurray's breaking of this year's winless streak for the No. 88 Nationwide car.
McMurray shot from fourth to first on the final restart with 23 laps to go, held off Kyle Busch the rest of the way and left crew chief Eury teary-eyed after the checkered flag.
But McMurray knew he'd been given a rocket by the team.
"We unloaded and had pretty much the fastest car off the truck," McMurray told reporters at the track. "The Chevrolet was loose at first, but Pops did a good job adjusting the car …
"At the end, it just had tons of speed, and certainly getting out front on that last restart was critical."
"We got in front in that clean air and set sails," said Eury, who had felt all season that his cars were still competitive. But the engines were down on horsepower.
"Gotta thank Hendrick engines," Eury said of JR's supplier and close-partner team. "We've been beating on them pretty hard, and they gave us a new package tonight.
"And they won the race."
Eury's voice cracked with emotional relief when he said, "We knew we still had good cars; we knew we could run up front. And they pulled the string tonight. So thanks to Hendrick engines."
Busch and McMurray restarted side by side, third and fourth, behind a front row of the sitting-duck cars of Brad Keselowski and Josh Wise, who'd stayed out on old tires during the last caution.
On the restart, Keselowski took off in the outside lane, and McMurray followed him, while Wise held up Busch on the inside, effectively denying Busch what could have been a series-record 11th win this season.
McMurray broke away, and although Busch quickly moved into second place, his car never sniffed enough clean air to make a serious run at McMurray.
Busch's team "gave me a good enough car to try to win," he said, "but I came up short."
Camping World Truck Series: Bodine keeping runaway interesting
Todd Bodine isn't points racing. He is running away with a championship the crowd-pleasing way -- all-out, gambling, saying what he thinks in Victory Lane, sparking controversy.
He even coined a new way to rip Kyle Busch after denying him a fifth straight win across NASCAR's top three series on Friday.
Bodine actually thanked Busch for "driving dirty" and forcing Bodine into what amounted to a spin-to-win situation.
After seriously gambling on fuel -- not exactly standard procedure for a points leader -- at Kentucky Speedway, Bodine got his fourth win of the season and the largest points lead in the history of the Trucks series, 261 over Aric Almirola.
Then came the most interesting Victory Lane ceremony of the year, when Bodine called out Busch over a midrace restart when they were racing side by side and didn't touch, but Bodine spun, apparently because of side-drafting effects.
"The first person I've got to thank is Kyle Busch, for driving dirty, sucking me down and getting me spun out, to give us the gas," Bodine told Speed TV reporters in Victory Lane. "That's why we won the race."
Busch, hearing the remarks on TV, marched to Victory Lane in street clothes and confronted Bodine, and they went nose to nose without microphones present.
A little translation might be in order.
Bodine, after keeping his spinning Toyota off the wall but losing a sheet-metal panel in the back bed, pitted for repairs but didn't lose a lap. Ten laps later, with 58 laps to go, he pitted again to top off his fuel cell, and decided to stay out the rest of the way.
Busch pitted for gas with 24 laps to go, fell back to eighth and banked on the trucks in front of him either pitting or running out of fuel.
Bodine took the lead with 12 to go from rookie Austin Dillon, who knew he couldn't make it on fuel and pitted.
Not until Saturday at Atlanta, preparing for the weekend's Cup and Nationwide races, did Busch reply publicly.
"You can't spin a guy out by not touching him," Busch told reporters at Atlanta. "That's what happened to Bodine. I was three lanes up the track. He chased it all the way up to me, I felt like. You watch the replay, I'm in the third lane. … I was trying to give him room …"
Give Bodine this: He is keeping a points runaway interesting.
Racing Resources Says …
Sprint Cup Series
Tony Stewart won the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
• 38th series victory in 417th start
• 38 wins ranks 18th all time
• Last win came at Kansas in October 2009, 31 races ago
• Won in all 12 seasons he has competed in the Cup series
• Third win at Atlanta in his 24th start
• 11th different driver to win in 2010
• The last owner/driver to win at Atlanta was Richard Petty in 1977
• Led eight times for 176 laps including the final 25
• Led the most laps for 52nd time in his career, winning 26 of them
• Climbed from sixth to fourth in points
• Clinched a spot in the Chase
• 14th top-10 finish at Atlanta
• 14th top-10 finish in 25 races in 2010
• Sixth series win
• Second win in 2010 (first: Ryan Newman at Phoenix)
• First win at Atlanta
• 13th win in 2010
• 36th win at Atlanta
• Top 10: six Chevrolets, one Ford, two Toyotas and one Dodge
• Carl Edwards had his second second-place finish of 2010, and it has been 61 races since his last win.
• Jimmie Johnson (third) had his first top-5 finish since his win at New Hampshire eight races ago. It was his second top-10 in that span
• Jeff Burton (fourth) had his fifth top-5 this season but first since Daytona in July.
• Kyle Busch (fifth) had only his second top-5 finish in the past 11 races (win at Bristol). Recovered from speeding penalty on Lap 49.
• Kurt Busch (sixth) used pit strategy to score a top-10 finish; he was running 18th with 100 laps to go.
• Clint Bowyer (seventh) had his 13th top-10 this season.
• Ryan Newman (eighth) jumped two spots to 13th in points but 117 behind 12th-place Bowyer.
• Marcos Ambrose (10th) scored his fourth top-10 finish this season, second on an oval.
• Jamie McMurray (15th) lost 28 points to 12th, and is now 128 behind 12th place.
• Mark Martin (21st) lost 46 points to 12th and is now 147 behind.
• Points leader Kevin Harvick finished 33rd after having tire problems. Denny Hamlin led 74 laps before losing an engine and finished 43rd. He lost five points positions but still clinched a spot in the Chase.
Jamie McMurray won the Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
• This was his eighth series victory in 179th start. His last series win was at Darlington in 2004.
• His second win at Atlanta; his first career win came at Atlanta in 2002
• Third 1.5-mile win
• He was the 12th different race winner in 2010
• McMurray has won with six different teams (JR Motorsports)
• It was his eighth start in 2010, all with JR Motorsports. His previous best finish was third, three times.
• Led three times for 48 laps, including the final 23
• Ninth series win and first win of 2010
• First win at Atlanta
• Fourth different driver to win for JR Motorsports
• Kyle Busch finished second for the third time in seven starts at Atlanta. He has yet to win there in the series. He led 74 of the 195 laps, the most of all drivers; this is the first time in 2010 that he led the most laps and failed to win. (He's led the most laps in nine races.)
• Carl Edwards (finished third) posted his 14th top-5 finish of 2010.
• Kevin Harvick (fourth) has finished in the top-10 in all but two of his 20 series starts this season.
• Matt Kenseth (fifth) got his best finish of 2010 in his third start; he leads all drivers with eight top-5 finishes and nine top-10 finishes at Atlanta.
• Jason Leffler (seventh) finished in the top 10 for the ninth time in 2010; six of the nine were in the No. 10 car.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (10th) got his fourth top-10 finish of 2010, and he has finished in the top 15 in five of his last seven starts.
• Points leader Brad Keselowski finished 12th, only his fifth finish outside the top 10 in 2010.
• The No. 22 (Penske Racing) car lost 48 points to the No. 18 (Joe Gibbs Racing) car, which leads the owners points championship; the No. 18 car now has an 83-point lead over the No. 22.
Camping World Truck Series
Todd Bodine won The Built Ford Tough 225.
• 21st career Camping World Truck Series victory in his 158th start. 21 wins is fourth all-time
• Series leading 12th 1.5-mile win
• Fourth win of 2010, tying Kyle Busch for the most
• First win at Kentucky
• Has now won on six of the eight 1.5-mile tracks
• Started 14th
• Led twice for 18 laps, including the final 14
• His points lead is now 261, the largest point lead with seven races to go
• Todd Bodine spun while battling for the lead with Kyle Busch coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 81 but did not hit anything. After making two pit stops to repair part of the truck bed that flew off while spinning, he restarted 25th.
• Bodine pitted for the final time on Lap 92, which turned out to be the winning move.
• 22nd series victory
• Fourth win in 2010
• First win at Kentucky
• 11th win of 2010 (Chevy has won the other seven in 2010)
• Third win at Kentucky
• The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, five Chevrolets, and one Ford.
• Johnny Sauter (finished second) earned his ninth top-5 finish this season, remaining third in points.
• Aric Almirola (third) got his sixth straight top-10 finish, fourth in the top 5. He is second in points, 261 back.
• Jason White (fourth) tied his best finish of the season (Daytona).
• Ricky Carmichael (fifth) earned his third career top-5 finish and his second-best finish this season (fourth at Dover).
• Kyle Busch (seventh) started at the rear of the field after making adjustments to his truck.
• Ryan Sieg finished a career-best eighth.
• Matt Crafton (10th) has finished in the top 10 in the past nine races, the longest current streak.
• Will Kimmel finished 21st in his series debut.
-- Racing Resources
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.