Carl Edwards' lips have been locked tighter than Fort Knox amid a flurry of questions about his future, but the Roush-Fenway Racing chauffeur made quite a statement in winning Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway in California. It is Edward's first-ever road course win in NASCAR's premier division, the 23rd of his Sprint Cup career, and his second triumph of 2014. Added to his rain-aided win at Bristol in March, Edwards is now guaranteed to be a participant in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in what could - and according to the ever-churning rumor mill, will - be his final season with the only Sprint Cup organization he has known.
Jeff Gordon, the all-time leader in road course victories with nine - five of them at Sonoma - came within a foot of Edwards' bumper in the final tight hairpin before the checkered flag, but Edwards was able to pull away and leave Gordon with a runner-up finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was one of several drivers who charged through the field on fresh tires after a late caution flag, took third for his first-career top-10 at Sonoma. Polesitter Jamie McMurray ran second to Edwards late before fading to fourth, while Paul Menard - on the same strategy as Earnhardt - recorded his third top-five of the 2014 campaign with a fifth-place result.
Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Kevin Harvick, as he has been so many times during this season, was perhaps the driver to beat. That is exactly what he became, a beaten driver, after a slow pit stop dropped him in the running order and he then was swept up in Bowyer's spin - caused by a flat tire and aided by contact from McMurray - that destroyed the left front of Harvick's machine. The best he could do from there was a tortured 20th after leading 23 circuits.
Outside polesitter A.J. Allmendinger was very strong early in the going as well and looked like he might very well contend for his first Sprint Cup win, but he tangled with Earnhardt and Brian Vickers late in the going and wound up a disappointing 37th after leading a race high 35 laps.
For the second time in three weeks, a pit road speeding penalty felled Tony Stewart, as he was busted for being too fast entering the pit lane during the same pit sequence that set up Earnhardt and Menard's charges through the field. Stewart was fifth before pitting and was the first driver among those who stopped off pit road, but he was relegated to 31st on the restart. He only recovered to 19th, following up his 13th-place result after a similar situation at Pocono two weeks ago.
Gordon's near-miss brought an end to Hendrick Motorsports' five-race winning streak, though their day was nothing to sneeze at with all four of the organization's Chevrolets finishing in the top-seven. Gordon maintains his edge in the Sprint Cup point standings by 20 over Johnson. Earnhardt is five further points back in third. Matt Kenseth, who was scored 42nd after being knocked out of the race in a violent accident in the esses following contact with Earnhardt (who took responsibility for the crash), sits fourth in the standings. Brad Keselowski spun early after contact from Kyle Busch and finished 22nd, but he remains fifth in the points rundown.
Edwards, who is sixth overall in points scored, joins Johnson with three wins and Earnhardt, Harvick, and Joey Logano (who finished 16th) with two victories as drivers who are guaranteed to make the Chase this season. Whether or not he is indeed leaving the Roush camp to join Joe Gibbs Racing as the rumors strongly suggest, he will have another shot at claiming the Sprint Cup title he just missed out on in 2008 and 2011.