Carl Edwards booked his place in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup after the second lengthy rain-delayed race of the year.
Having waited for more than five hours during rainy periods, Edwards put in a strong late-race charge, holding off the somewhat surprising duo of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Aric Almirola to take his #99 Ford to Victory Lane.
Tony Stewart, Marcos Ambrose, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.
Edwards took the lead with 40 laps to go, beating Stenhouse off the final restart, leaving the 2013 Rookie of the Year to battle with Almirola to the flag. Edwards was comfortably ahead when the caution lights came on with three laps to go, seemingly for no reason. However, during the caution, the rain returned and NASCAR officials decided to call it a day.
“I did not want to see that caution,” Edwards said. “Concern was not a strong enough word. So, I’m glad the rain came. I think there were some higher powers at work there. I can’t believe we turned this around. We were terrible on Saturday. Jimmy told me our crew worked until 3 a.m. on simulation stuff. We’d been struggling lately, so for us to come out here and run so well with the number of Fords out of our shop, that was big. Now we’re in the Chase and we’re going to go out and win this championship.”
There was yet more bad luck for Stewart-Haas driver Kevin Harvick, who once again saw a potential top-five finish go up in flames, this time literally. Running fourth with 50 laps left on the ticker, Harvick was forced off the track when his engine blew, sending him up into the wall and collecting Brad Keselowski in the process. As Harvick brought the car down the pits, flames engulfed the front end of the car, resulting in a speedy exit from the cockpit of the #4 machine.
Eslewhere, Kyle Busch was unable to continue his impressive Bristol form when tyre issues caused him to spin out and drop him down the field, and Matt Kenseth saw his chances of a strong result go out the window when his car was rammed from behind under caution by Timmy Hill.
It was later revealed by NASCAR that the final caution was caused by a flagman leaning against a manual override switch in the flagstand, inadvertently turning on the lights and bringing the field under a yellow flag situation.
“It appears that in the flagstand, one of the flag people had leaned on the switch that is the manual override for the caution lights, and so that happened,” said NASCAR vice president for competition and racing development, Robin Pemberton. “At that time when the flagstand realized that the caution lights were illuminated, the flag man threw the flag, and then after that happened we froze the field from the tower. We tried to turn them off, and we realized that the override switch was on and they were hung on caution. It was a stupid error.”
The response from NASCAR was well received by drivers, particularly from race winner, Edwards.
“For Robin and NASCAR to come up here and explain exactly what happened immediately after the race and just put it out there that, hey, it was a mistake and it was inadvertent, I think that says a lot about the state of the leadership of our sport.”