Carl Edwards had no idea why all that smoke was pouring from the back of his race car. He just knew it had nothing to do with the lid on his oil tank.
That was right where it’s supposed to be.
At the end of a difficult week, Edwards made a strong bid for his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup victory Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was out front when something broke in the transmission with 51 laps to go, clearing the way for Kyle Busch to win the Kobalt Tools 500.
Even though Busch led more than half the race, the winner deferred to Edwards as having the best car on the track. Without the mechanical failure, he likely would have been in Victory Lane for the third week in a row.
“Whatever he’s got, it’s scaring us,” Busch said. “Whether it’s the car or the way he’s driving, we’ve go to figure it out.”
There was plenty of speculation that Roush Fenway Racing used shady methods to win the last two races after the No. 99 car failed inspection at Las Vegas a week ago. The lid on the oil tank was missing, which may have given the car an aerodynamic advantage.
Team owner Jack Roush insisted there was nothing intentional about the violation, but NASCAR docked the team 100 points and suspended crew chief Bob Osborne for six weeks.
Even with a replacement crew chief, Edwards was out front again until his engine failed. He was one of only two cars not running at the end, leaving him next-to-last in the 43-car field.
“I don’t what happened, but I know the oil tank lid was on,” Edwards said. “I just appreciate the fans for sticking with us this week. It’s been a long week with a lot of stuff said, but I think we showed them here today, other than something coming apart in the engine. I believe we had the car that was the class of the field.”
Robbie Reiser, longtime crew chief for Matt Kenseth and now the general manager of Roush Fenway Racing, took over the lead role in the pits with Osborne back home in North Carolina.
The new pairing went smoothly, except for some problems keeping the names straight.
“Robbie was all right, except he keeps calling me Matt,” Edwards quipped. “I called him Bob and he said he didn’t like that, so he quit. But they did a great job. We’ve got a lot of depth in the organization, and I think it showed today by being able to go out there and run up front.”
Despite his two wins, Edwards has got some work to do in the points race. He picked up only 42 points in Atlanta and is 17th in the standings, 232 behind the early leader Busch.
“I’m not worried a bit about the points,” Edwards insisted. “We’re going out there to haul (butt) every week and let the points take care of themselves.”