Jimmie Johnson and family kissing the bricks, continuing the tradition, though his daughter, Evie, seems a bit surprised
By Mike Mulhern
This legendary track means many things to different people....but for Carl Edwards, and possibly Jeff Gordon too, and others, today it's likely the graveyard for championship dreams.
Edwards and Gordon, with only six races till the Richmond playoff cut, each almost certainly has to win two of these next six Sprint Cup events to make the playoffs.
Gordon had a shot yesterday, until bad track position, couple with teammate Jimmie Johnson's devastating domination, took him out of it.
Edwards started from the front row but never had a chance, after an uncertain engine problems put him laps down in the opening moments of the three-hour race.
Gordon finished fifth; Edwards a dismal 29th.
"They haven't told me anything yet....but we think it is some issue with the ECU," Edwards said, referring to the new-this-season electronic fuel injection system.
"We changed that, along with the spark plugs, and the engine started running better.
"Our strategy now: I don't think we are points racing anymore. We are officially racing only for wins.
"We had a very fast car. Greg (Biffle, his teammate) finished third, and I felt ours was as good as his."
Championship dreams gone? Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
However team morale may be key from this point on: "We are going to talk to the guys. Chad (Norris, his new crew chief) and I want to make sure they know that we do not quit. We keep going. We don't give up.
"We'll put our best effort out there, and if it is meant to be, it will be."
However Edwards, though he and this team had the best average finishing record over the full season last year, hasn't really been on the mark this season.
Making something happen now, well, it's panic time, and rivals will see what these guys can do under the gun.
"We have to take chances," Edwards 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.
"I wouldn't bet against us."
Decisive (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
But as decisive as Jimmie Johnson performed here Sunday in blitzing the field to win the 400, it may be hard to see anyone wrestling momentum away.
Edwards: "I try to keep things in perspective. We are just racing cars, and it isn't life or death.
"If there is a win there, or a good run, we will get it... but we can't beat ourselves."
It's unclear if the Jack Roush men have lost their edge to Hendrick men, but there is that sense.
Matt Kenseth, finishing 35th after getting caught up in an incident with Joey Logano, had a top-10 car but not much more. And when he was stuck back in the pack for a while, "some guys were driving pretty crazy."
Kenseth said Trevor Bayne and Ragan Smith, in that pack, "were mad at each other and running into each other. And then Joey was trying to pass Trevor and just lost control of his car."
But that wasn't the only bit of frustration Kenseth had to deal with: "I got hung out on the restart. I was trying to get through there, and Tony Stewart wiped the whole side off my car in the straightaway for no reason, and that kind of made me mad. I was in front of Marcos Ambrose and saw he had a run, so I went down to block, and he went across the grass and shot me up out of the groove there.
"It is crazy there at the end. You could see the wreck happening, and I was just hoping I wasn't going to be in it."
Not sure what Ron Howard might have thought of Sunday's Brickyard 400... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Gordon tried to see the bright side of things, but he conceded "I don't think we could have passed Jimmie. Those guys were definitely the class of the field, and had the track position."
And then a late pit stop was just too slow. What happened?
"I have no idea. I have to review it," Gordon said. "This pit road, if you get a little bit behind, you're way behind, because they pull out in front of you and the next one pulls out in front of you...
"We lost more than we should have. But the worst thing was when you start on the outside lane -- my car would just not go on that outside lane.
"It just wasn't our day."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., as the sport's new tour leader, has been something of a surprise this season.
"I'm proud of that because it says a lot about our body of work -- all season long we've been working hard and finishing well," Earnhardt said.
"That is symbolic of how well we've done. I'm proud of that.
"We need to win more races. If we want to win the championship, we have to.
"I imagine we can win a couple races in chase. I don't know if finishing fourth or fifth (weekly) is going to do it."
Stewart didn't qualifying well and had to fight to get anywhere close to contention. And he was driving angry at times, and he let rivals know it.
"There are guys who just forget about what we are supposed to be doing here," Stewart said. "They are more worried about blocking the guys behind them than trying to pass the guys in front of them.
"You just race them how they race."
And the new NASCAR Sprint Cup tour points leader is....Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)