FORT WORTH — Carl Edwards arrived at Texas Motor Speedway likely needing a victory to advance to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale with a chance to win the championship.
Edwards and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team made a couple of slick moves on pit road to take the lead of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, then reaped the rewards when rain ended a race that started nearly six hours late because of weather. Edwards’ victory gives him an automatic berth in the four-driver championship field in two weeks at Homestead.
“[Crew chief Dave Rogers] and the guys, they got me off pit road first. That’s what won it for us,” Edwards said. “We got a shot at the championship. We’re going to Homestead. This is going to be great.”
Joey Logano finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
“We were catching him,” said Logano, who led 178 laps. “I was in the car saying it was barely raining. Might have been a little biased to say it was barely raining. I am sure most of the field said it was pouring.”
Edwards and Truex pitted one lap sooner than dominant leader Logano just past the scheduled halfway point of the race, and getting out first on fresh, fast tires allowed them to pass Logano, with Truex running first and Edwards second.
Edwards then passed Truex for the lead with a quick pit stop during a caution that came out when polesitter Austin Dillon spun.
A later caution came out when Dillon crashed after getting bumped by Harvick, and Edwards and Truex were among five drivers who chose to not pit. Edwards kept the lead on the restart, and Logano moved from fourth to second.
On Lap 285, Edwards led Logano by 1.5 seconds. Five laps later, the rain returned at 10:03 p.m. The cars were led onto pit road, the drivers climbed out and the race was declared over at 10:13 p.m.
With the pavement and the side of his Toyota wet from the rain, Edwards decided to skip his signature victory celebration.
“I think I’m going to keep the backflip for Homestead,” Edwards said. “It’s probably the safe thing to do.”
Fort Worth hosts the second race in the three-event third round of the playoff, and only Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway remains before Homestead.
Winning a race guarantees a Chase driver a spot in the next round, with the remaining berths determined by points. Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville to advance to Homestead, Edwards has joined him and six drivers are competing for the two remaining spots.
Logano entered the race four points out of the top-four position needed to advance. He now is tied with Kyle Busch for the two berths in the finale.
Kenseth is one point out, Denny Hamlin is two points out, Harvick 18 points out and Kurt Busch 34 points out.
Hamlin finished ninth and Kurt Busch was 20th, one lap down. Kurt Busch was put back on the lead lap at one point, but he lost the lap once again when his crew was penalized for fueling the car when it was not allowed.
Edwards’ third win of the season is the 28th of his career. He is No. 2 in TMS history with four Cup victories. Johnson has six Fort Worth wins but saw a four-year winning streak in the AAA Texas 500 snapped with Sunday’s 11th-place finish.
The race lasted 293 laps out of 334 scheduled on the 1 1/2-mile track.
Three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart finished 31st in his final race in Denton County, five laps off the pace.
With rain approaching from the west, the scheduled start of the race was moved up about 10 minutes to 1:04 p.m. As a pair of F-4 Phantoms performed a flyover during the national anthem, the rain started falling at the track at about 12:50 p.m.
The shower was not particularly long or heavy, but the weathered asphalt at TMS again proved difficult to dry.
Drivers were called to their cars at about 6 p.m. and made several laps behind the pace car as the track drying process was completed. The race started at 6:55 p.m., and the first six laps were run under the caution flag.
With the delay, TMS went 3-for-3 when it comes to experiencing weather delays in its marquee events in 2016. The Duck Commander 500 in April was delayed nearly two hours because of a wet track and finished after midnight. The Firestone 600K Indy car race in June was postponed one day because of rain, then suspended for 11 weeks when showers returned to north Fort Worth.
Actor Chuck Norris was on hand to introduce the Chase drivers to the crowd. He also spoke to the media about Kickstart Kids while wearing a shirt that is sold to raise money for the character-building program, which he started and is now in 56 Texas schools. “I would not wear a T-shirt with my face on it if I wasn’t doing it for a good cause,” Norris said.
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.