Updated: October 17, 2011, 2:52 PM ET

Limiting the damage is half the battle

Newton By David Newton
ESPN.com
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Carl EdwardsTodd Warshaw/Getty ImagesCarl Edwards kept scrapping on Sunday and got a top-5 finish to show for it.

The usually stoic Bob Osborne began singing "Tomorrow" to Carl Edwards over his driver's in-car radio three weeks ago. You know, "The sun will come out tomorrow … "

Yes, the song from the musical "Annie" was abnormal.

The crew chief could have -- should have -- sung it again on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

Thanks to an amazing fifth-place finish after running 20th and a lap down much of the day, Edwards and the No. 99 team remain in the points lead and have a tomorrow.

Kevin Harvick also has a tomorrow after turning what he called a "terrible" day into a sixth-place finish that left him only a point out of the lead.

But for a few other drivers, tomorrow means next year.

Yep, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s bid at the title is basically over. His 14th-place finish left him 43 points -- an entire race -- out of the lead.

Jeff Gordon's bid to win a championship under the Chase format also is over. A late blown engine left him with a 34th-place finish and 47 points back.

Gordon and Earnhardt join Ryan Newman (54 points back) and Denny Hamlin (79 points back) singing the wait-'til-next-year blues.

"I just want to win a race," Earnhardt told reporters only a few days after declaring that he still had a chance to win the title. "It's a goal of mine right now to just go out there and win. Man, if we could do that, that would really, no matter what happened in the Chase, we'd be real happy with our season."

In other words, he knows his Chase is over even if his season isn't.

"We've made some gains," Earnhardt said in what sounded like a concession speech. "I think we've learned as a team that we need to be better, and we need to work hard on the offseason to try to present a better account of ourselves next season."

Gordon didn't have to say anything. You could see the disappointment on his face as it became apparent that the hardware for a fifth championship wasn't going into his trophy case.

If Edwards or Harvick wins the title, he can look back and say Sunday was key. They pulled a Jimmie Johnson, turning a bad day into what Edwards said felt like a win.

"I feel grateful," Edwards said after watching Johnson win to move within four points of the lead. "That was very, very bad at the beginning of that race. I cannot thank my guys enough for sticking with it and working hard all day. I cannot believe we finished fifth. It feels like a win.

"That is the most we have done with a car that wasn't capable of winning ever."

That's how you win titles. Johnson will tell you that.

Sometimes survival is as big as a win, and so far, eight drivers have survived enough to be within 20 points of the lead.

But sometimes survival doesn't feel as good as it did for Edwards and Harvick. Take Tony Stewart. He was running as high as second late but finished 15th in part because a four-tire strategy failed and in part because he accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brakes and slid through his pit stall on his last stop.

The mistakes dropped him four spots to seventh in the standings, 19 points out.

He still has a tomorrow, but it's not as bright as it was yesterday.

When you're in the Chase, the key is making sure there is a tomorrow. Sometimes it takes luck, as Edwards and Harvick got with a few late cautions and good pit calls.

"You know, we've messed up some races and some points races in the past, and I believe we've learned from that," said Edwards, who was as far back as 25th less than 100 laps in after starting on the outside pole. "So it's kind of a little test when you go through something like this to see if somebody melts down or if you can kind of keep going through it."

Escaping Kansas with a solid finish was especially key for Edwards because he's heading for a Charlotte track where he has been average, outside of his win in the May All-Star Race.

In his past five CMS starts, Edwards' average finish is 24.0. In the past three October races at the 1.5-mile track, his average is 28.0.

Harvick, despite winning the May race at CMS, has an average finish of 19.1 at the track.

Johnson, the driver whom both are trying to keep from winning a sixth straight title, has six wins and an average finish of 10.8 at Charlotte.

"That place has been a little difficult for us," Edwards said. "We have been very hit-and-miss there."

But because of Sunday's amazing finish, Edwards has a little playing room in case he misses again.

He has a tomorrow.

Others, like Earnhardt and Gordon, do not.

Terry Blount column | Racing Live! rewind | Recap | Results

Nationwide Series: Keselowski rolls; Stenhouse hangs on

There's a feud brewing in the series with a Joe Gibbs Racing driver involved, and it's not Kyle Busch.

Brian Scott vowed revenge on Aric Almirola after Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway if the JR Motorsports driver doesn't stop racing him like a "jack you-know-what."

Scott, who was spun out by Almirola last month at Richmond, was furious after Almirola "tried to pass us on pit road and tried to block us getting in the pits." The two got into a shouting match after the race.

"I'm just sick of it, and I'm not going to put up with it anymore," Scott told reporters. "He's cost me a car, and he continues to race like that, so I went and told him, and I just told him how I felt. I told him that I owed him one, and I told him if he's going to continue to race like that, I'm probably going to slip up and wreck him."

Then it got ugly, with Almirola poking at Scott's father for helping fund his son's ride at JGR.

"He races way over his head," Almirola said. "He's very fortunate his dad has a lot of money and spends a lot of money on his racing, and that's a big factor in what he's [got] going on."

Neither driver is in championship contention. Almirola is fourth, 80 points out. Scott is ninth, 226 back.

The title will come down to leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler, separated by 20 points heading into Friday's race at CMS. Sadler should have an advantage on the track based on his Cup experience, but Stenhouse won the pole and finished fourth in the May Nationwide race at CMS.

My advice to both: Stay far away from Scott and Almirola.

Recap | Results

Camping World Truck Series: Ready for Las Vegas

After an off weekend, the series resumes on Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Austin Dillon has a three-point lead over James Buescher with Johnny Sauter 19 back.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.

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