INDIANAPOLIS -- Facing a mounting challenge to make the Chase and working with a new crew chief, Carl Edwards sought to rally his team moments before Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
"Our first race of our comeback,'' he told them on the radio.
That comeback barely lasted a quarter of the race. Electrical issues dropped Edwards off the pace and jeopardized his chances of contending for a title he nearly won last year.
For all that Indianapolis' historic speedway bestows on those who conquer it, Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano discovered on Sunday that the track can be just as cruel. Misfortune struck in minor and major ways, taking from each drive one more precious chance to make the Chase. Six races remain until the 12-man title field is set and the odds are growing longer for this trio.
Gordon likely needs two wins to qualify. Edwards needs at least one. Logano, who has a victory, needs another or at least some better finishes.
Edwards could be in danger of becoming the third driver to finish second in the points one year and fail to make the Chase the next. He's winless in his last 53 races and he's led 207 laps this season with 206 of them coming in April at Richmond -- possibly the site of his best bet to win the September 8 finale before the Chase begins or steal a victory via fuel mileage or strategy. He didn't have a chance on Sunday after his engine lost power and he fell two laps behind as his crew made repairs. He finished 29th, four laps behind winner Jimmie Johnson.
Edwards knows that he needs to win to make the Chase now that he's 61 points out of 10th place, the final guaranteed spot. "We have to take chances,'' he said. "We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins...I don't think there is much of a chance we are going to march back up there in the points."
Gordon faces that same tall order. He must win once to have a shot at making the Chase, twice to likely get in it. Again he had a fast car on Sunday. Again, he was unable to win. Such has been his season. His fifth-place finish did nothing to soothe him.
"I'm pretty disappointed really,'' Gordon said on pit road. "It's always nice to finish in the top five, but at this point in the season, the way our season has gone with so many missed opportunities that we've had, I feel like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity. We needed track position there at the end and we didn't get it when it counted most and it cost us."
Pit road and restarts doomed Gordon. He often was on the outside and the track's narrow groove makes the inside line preferred on restarts. A slow pit stop late also didn't help Gordon, who ran in the top five much of the day and at times seemed to be one of the drivers who might be able to challenge Johnson, but he never got close enough to do so.
"The one thing about this pit road is that if you get a little bit behind, once you get up here, you're way behind because they pull out in front of you and the next one pulls out in front of you and that's what happened,'' Gordon said. "We lost more than we should have but that wasn't so bad. The worst thing was when you start on the outside lane; my car would just not go on that outside lane. And then they got all jumbled up and we lost even more spots. And then we had another caution on the outside lane again, so it just wasn't our day."
That's what makes winning so difficult. Even when a driver has a capable car, circumstances can work against him. Gordon can't afford any more of those races, but his former crew chief, Steve Letarte, has faith that Gordon can make the Chase.
"There's probably not a more talented a guy as I've ever seen behind the race car,'' Letarte said. "He's the streakiest driver I've ever seen. I can't tell you how many back-to-back wins he's had in his career. Until he's mathematically out, I wouldn't count him out. He's the kind of guy who can win two or three in a row easy. I think when they breakthrough, they're going to breakthrough in a big way.''
They need to hurry. So does Logano. whose chances took a hit, literally, when he was involved in an accident and finished 33rd. He slid when racing side-by-side with Trevor Bayne, bounced off Bobby Labonte's car and into the path of Matt Kenseth. It's the third time in his last six races that Logano has finished outside the top 20. He is now 44 points behind teammate Kyle Busch, who holds the second and final wildcard spot (Kasey Kahne. who has two wins, holds the first.) Logano and Busch each have a victory, with Logano's coming in June at Pocono where the series heads this coming weekend.
"Anytime you go back to a race track, you always think you're going to be better at it,'' Logano said.
If he is, he could make amends for Indianapolis while making it more difficult for Edwards, Gordon and others to achieve their Chase hopes.