- Ed Hinton, NASCAR
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RICHMOND, Va. -- Carl Edwards won the race and the fleeting final regular-season points lead Saturday night. And even though standings will reset for the Chase, with Matt Kenseth as top seed, Edwards was pumped enough to say flatly in Victory Lane that "We're going to win the championship."
But the highest drama, as always at Richmond in the regular-season Cup finale, unfolded at the very bottom of the Chase field. Martin Truex Jr. snatched the 12th and last berth in a tiebreaker with Ryan Newman -- this after Truex teammate Clint Bowyer spun with seven laps left, while Newman was leading.
That very likely cost Newman the race, and clearly cost him a Chase berth. He came out of the pits fifth under the final caution, and struggled even to finish third.
"I'm not sure what happened with the 15 [Bowyer] on that caution," Newman said. "Obviously we were in a position to take that second wild card with [what might have been] two wins.
"Nevertheless, I still feel like we lost it on pit road," Newman said. "We did everything we needed to, with the exception of the pit stop."
But Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was right behind Bowyer when he spun, said the incident was highly suspicious.
Truex finished seventh, but got the final wild card over Newman because both drivers finished the regular season with one win, and Truex finished with more second-place finishes to break the tie.
Kurt Busch, who ran strong all race and was Edwards' last challenger, finished second and made the Chase on points, finishing ninth in the regular season standings.
Bowyer resisted any implication he might have spun to help his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Truex, make the Chase by denying Newman a win. And Bowyer partly blamed Earnhardt, who made the Chase with a 13th-place finish Saturday night, for the spin.
"Something was going wrong," Bowyer said of his car. "We went from a car capable of winning the race back to 13th and were going straight backwards. The 88 [Earnhardt] got up underneath me ... I got spun out."
Earnhardt had a whole different story.
"He just spun right out," Earnhardt said. "That's the craziest thing I ever saw. He just came right around."
Earnhardt maintained that just before the spin, "he was hemming around on the brakes and jerking the car around, and then the thing just spun out ... I was right there; I almost ran into it, so I'm glad we were able to get out of there without any trouble."
Said Truex, "I didn't even know it happened until after the race."
Still, Newman blamed his pit crew more, saying, "We got killed on pit road, there's no doubt about that. Carl and those guys beat us on four tires. ... We needed a championship-contending pit crew, and we didn't have one tonight."
Logano at times struggled more than Gordon, and finished 22nd in the race, so edging the veteran for a berth "feels really good after having such a rough night," Logano said. "Man, the car was just struggling all night ... but thank God for that last caution, I guess, because I think we were out of it before that."
Going into Saturday night, Logano had risen in the standings with three straight top-5 finishes, including a win at Michigan and a second place at Atlanta last week.
"All our finishes leading up to this race were really, really good," Logano said. "I feel like we were the hottest team in NASCAR coming into this race."
Jimmie Johnson, who didn't practice or qualify his car, and didn't arrive at the track until Saturday afternoon due to the birth of his second daughter Friday morning, had a horrible race, finishing 40th after a variety of troubles, to lose the final regular-season points lead to Edwards.
"It was definitely a bad run tonight," Johnson said. After a fourth straight finish of 28th or worse, "I'm not pleased with where we're at, but I'm still very confident and feel that going into the Chase it's a clean sheet of paper for everybody, and we're going to be where we need to.
"People can speculate and wonder all week long," Johnson said of the growing skepticism about whether his team can recover for a sixth championship, "but I really look forward to getting to Chicago [venue for next Sunday's Chase opener] and showing people what this team has in it."
Despite the rocky finish to his regular season, Johnson is tied for the second seed with Kyle Busch. They have four wins each, to Kenseth's five.
Edwards hadn't won since March, but will be seeded fifth.
"The last three weeks we've led a bunch of laps and had fast race cars, and we're having fun," Edwards said. "We're going to win the championship. I mean, that's our mission. That seemed like a crazy idea about a month and a half ago ..."
But that's the Richmond finale for you. It turns a lot of crazy thoughts into realities.