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Bowles-Eye View: Carl Edwards & Co. Driving with Nothing to Lose

Sometimes, in love and in life, you have to take a gamble. But not everyone chooses to do so at the right time. Just like a craps table in Vegas, people will walk away before they’ve taken the chance they need to really get somewhere. Or, maybe they’ll roll one too many times, and hundreds of dollars in winnings will get wiped out with a simple throw.

But for those who play it just right, a gamble can be a wonderful thing.

For all intents and purposes, Carl Edwards took his 2008 Sprint Cup championship, threw it on the table, grabbed the dice and rolled Sunday night. That’s not to say Edwards’s trip to victory lane came based on blind faith alone; far from it. Instead, after watching a sure win evaporate into a top-five finish at best, he and crew chief Bob Osborne worked together on balancing a calculated risk. With their championship rival en route to a 15th-place finish, there was an opportunity to do some serious damage; however, anything short of a win and the No. 99 team knew they would have failed to rattle a team going for their third straight title.

But that didn’t make it any less difficult. The clock ticking and the laps winding down, running out of gas would have sent Edwards to a 15th-place finish – effectively erasing any hope left of running down championship leader Jimmie Johnson before the end of the season.

“First Bob said, ‘We’re two-tenths of a lap short, so conserve.’ Then he came back and said, ‘No, we’re four laps short, just go real hard and we’ll pit,’” Edwards said concerning the angst over the late-race decision. “Then he came back again and said, ‘We’ll conserve.’ So, just by all that I kind of knew that he wasn’t too sure about it, but I’m really glad it worked out.”

To say it worked out was an understatement of the year. Going nearly 114 miles on a tank of gas – 15-20 miles more than the average contender – Edwards and Company were able to make the impossible possible, turning a championship coronation into a semi-competition just when everyone had begun to look away.

“I never had Bob yell at me for going too fast,” Edwards joked. “But he did tonight. I was just so nervous that we were missing something. I thought there was no way we could go this slow, save this much fuel, and still be leading this race, so they did a really great job. Of all the ways you can win a race, fuel mileage isn’t the most exciting one, but we had, I believe, a dominant car all day. The car was very fast. We got behind on that last pit stop and it was still very cool to win the thing.”

That stop – in which Edwards took four tires only to watch several contenders take two – saw his lead evaporate as Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and others got the benefit of clean air. Stuck in traffic for the first time all night, the leader of a race-high 212 laps was stuck in no man’s land, watching the leaders pull away and his sizable dent in Johnson’s lead cut in half. But for this team, a small dent wasn’t as good enough as a giant chunk.

That led to the impressive all-out fuel conservation, which to the casual observer was a gutsy move – although crew chief Bob Osborne would beg to differ.

“The decision was not blind,” he insisted. “We had a lot of data to back the decision, so it’s not like a whim that the decision was made, so don’t read too much into it. There was a lot of data put into it and a lot of conversation and a lot of analysis to make that decision, but at the end of the day, had it not worked out for us, I’ve made poor decisions in the past and I bet I’ll make poor decisions in the future. I’ll live with them and learn from them and move on.”

At the very least, that’s the attitude this team needs as they pursue the heaviest of favorites. Underdogs don’t get the gold without stretching their neck out, and throughout the Chase, this team has at the very least shown itself capable of giving it 110% in all circumstances. Whether it was Edwards’s daring last-lap pass at Kansas, the overaggressive move-turned-wreck at Talladega or the fuel gamble here, he’s bringing the type of attitude to the table that’s kept him in the running despite two poor finishes.

“I think the way our relationship is – mine and Jack’s and mine and Bob’s and all of our crew guys, especially at this point in the season – we’re all in this together,” Edwards explained. “If I do something and make a mistake that costs us something like at Talladega, my guys don’t get down on me. Having guys like Jack and Bob and guys around that I know are harder on themselves than I could ever be, that’s very cool, so I wouldn’t be mad at Bob if we would have run out of fuel. I know he wants to win just as bad or more badly than I do.”

“Really, it’s just fun at this point,” he added, playing the role of double spoiler after chopping off more points from Bowyer’s lead in the Nationwide Series the day before. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We can just go out and be aggressive and take chances and I can race as hard as I want and it’s cool. Yesterday, we picked up a few points on Clint and today we picked up a lot of points on Jimmie, so it’s neat. It’s fun.”

Certainly, Edwards winning the title in either series continues to be a longshot at best. 106 behind Johnson with two races left in the Cup Series, a seventh or better for the No. 48 wins the trophy no matter what these Comeback Kids are able to do. But at the very least, the team has given themselves a chance where none previously existed. By believing they could win and taking a calculated gamble, they put the faith of their calculations to the ultimate test.

“I would if I really cared what everybody else thought,” he said of his vindication over the Chase staying alive. “I feel good about it. I feel satisfied that we did take a chunk out of that lead, and Jack and I talked about it and I think it average out to where if we won them all and he finished ninth these last three races, we could beat him.”

For this Sunday, at least, the challenger came out on top.

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