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THE MOST prophetic man in NASCAR hopped over the pit wall at Dover (Del.) International Speedway late on Sunday afternoon. It had been a long, sheet-metal-shearing, standings-changing race, but now Jack Roush, the 65-year-old owner of Roush Fenway Racing, darted toward Victory Lane as he caught his second wind—which is just what his race team has done over the last month.
For the second time in the past five Cup races, Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards had taken the checkered flag. The victory, at least for the moment, propelled Edwards to third place in the Chase standings, behind Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, but Edwards's celebration was tempered when his car failed the postrace inspection after NASCAR officials discovered that his right rear fender was too low. The sanctioning body was expected to levy a minor penalty on Edwards after SI went to press but wasn't expected to strip him of the win.
Even with that blemish, the performance of the Roush Fenway Fords at Dover was downright dominating and augurs well for Edwards's title chances. He and teammates Greg Biffle (who finished second) and Matt Kenseth (who blew an engine late and came in 35th) combined to lead 292 of the 400 laps. Roush Fenway flexed so much muscle with its Car of Tomorrow, which will be used in three of the last eight races, that even Biffle, who's not prone to hyperbole, said afterward, "This was a statement."
It was. Though Hendrick Motor-sports and Joe Gibbs Racing together won six of the first 11 CoT events, Roush remained steadfast all season that his Fords would be in front when it mattered most. In April, at Talladega, Roush confidently predicted that his team would peak in September, and there he was in Victory Lane on Sunday. "It's coming together for us," he said with a wicked smile.
"We didn't test as much as the other teams early in the season, and we fell behind," he added. "But we've been testing and testing, and now we see the results. Now we need to close the deal and get a championship."
This is easier said than done. Only four of the Chase drivers finished in the top 10 in Sunday's crashfest, which made the standings after two races in the Chase tighter than they've ever been. Currently the top six drivers are within 18 points—a mere four positions on the track. Only two drivers appear to be out of the title hunt: Kurt Busch, who came in 29th after a crash, leaving him 151 points behind Gordon; and Denny Hamlin (box), who finished 38th and is 158 back.
Edwards, who lost the 2005 title to Stewart by a scant 35 points, knows just how critical it is to earn the 10-point bonus a driver receives for winning a race. With eight races to go, this is the under-lying theme of this year's Chase: Winning still isn't everything in NASCAR, but certainly it's never been so important.