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A Last Chance for NASCAR's playoff hopefuls, but for Ambrose there's even more on the line

A Last Chance for NASCAR's playoff hopefuls, but for Ambrose there's even more on the line

Watkins Glen victory for The King and the Aussie...but 2013 for both is still up in the air

   By Mike Mulhern

   It's the Last Chance 400 for Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Joey Logano.
   Those last two wild card spots in the championship playoffs are up for grabs in Saturday night's Richmond 400. And odds favor Kasey Kahne and either Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon making the cut, though the others still have a very outside shot.
    A title battle without Carl Edwards?
    Well, that's what it's looking like.
   Edwards, who had the best season of all drivers on the stock car tour in 2011, has been dogged by slow cars and bad luck this season. That blown engine at Atlanta was probably the coup de grace.
   Still, Edwards -- one of this sport's best pitchmen -- has a slim shot at recovering.  

For Ambrose there is much more on the line here, and in the next few weeks, than just the championship playoffs, because the situation at Richard Petty Motorsports is up in the air.
   Ambrose says he does not have a deal for 2013. "Yeah, it worries me a little bit.
    "I've got unfinished business here in NASCAR.  I want to be in NASCAR, and I'm working with RPM.  Hopefully we can be with them for a long time to come... but there is no guarantee. 
     "Obviously RPM has been through a lot this year, as they have the last few seasons. And I'm here to help them get to where they want to go. Hopefully it works out for me."
    Petty himself is apparently a minority owner in the two-car team, with business partners Doug Bergeron and Andy Murstein. And if Ford, as it looks like, cuts its sponsorship of the Petty team, then Bergeron and Murstein would probably have to come up with more investment money to keep the teams on track.
     "They're telling me they're good for two cars, so I believe them," Ambrose says.
    "They’d love me to drive... but it's just a matter of making it all work.  We're going to get serious here, and see how it all stacks up.  
     "We've all got good intentions to keep it all together..."
    Petty, Bergeron and Murstein have to figure out finances and Detroit backing "before they can lock in their drivers," Ambrose says. "I'm looking forward to having that discussion with them, and hopefully we can all agree to move forward very quickly.
   "I've come a long way as a driver.  I feel much more complete a driver than I did this time last year,
    "I want to be in NASCAR. I feel I'm right on the edge of breaking through to being a consistent front-runner, and I would love to give myself another shot."

   When the playoffs kick off next week in Chicago, NASCAR officials have thrown a wild card of their own into the game: with a rules change seen as an attempt to take away that handling advantage the Rick Hendrick teams have used so successfully since early May.
   Hendrick teams have been using a trick, but legal, rear-end device that makes the car turn better in the corners.
   Rivals asked NASCAR about the legality of the device, and NASCAR assured them it was okay. So rivals began working on their own versions, with varying degrees of success.
    Now NASCAR has decided to outlaw it.
    What that means for the 10 playoff races is uncertain.
    That's next week. This week Edwards and playoff hopefuls have a different agenda.
  "I've got to hope for Kyle and Jeff to have bad nights, and we've got to win the race," Edwards says.
    "But the only thing I can control is going out to win the race. So I'm going to try to win the race. 
    "There is so much that's going to happen out here that it's going to be hard to keep track of all the scenarios as the night progresses. 
    "If Tony Stewart (locked into the playoffs with three wins as a potential wild card, but also 10th in the standings, which could shake up the wild card plays) were to have a bad night, it changes a lot. 
    "If Jeff and Kyle have bad nights, it puts a lot more pressure on us.
    "I've seen a lot of crazy things happen in this sport. That's why I'm doing my best to not think about 'What if.'
    "I'm trying to just focus on what I can do to win this race."
   If Edwards does make the chase, then he should have a good shot at the title, since teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have had two of the strongest cars on the tour all season.
   However, Edwards concedes he hasn't been winning much lately.
   "If we don't win the race, we have no shot," Edwards says. 
   "I'm haven't won a race in 70 races (March 2011) or something like that, I don't know how long it's been. But I'm going to sit here and tell you I can win this race and it's going to happen.
    "With everything that's going to happen in this race, I think it truly could happen."

    The rear-end trick?
    Hendrick men insist it's no big deal, that it's something everyone has been doing, to some degree, even teams far back in the pack.
   "I was just talking with Phil Parsons, and he says they've been working in that area too," Jimmie Johnson says.
   "It's not really a rules change, just a clarification. It won't affect anything we're doing."
    Whether or not that's really the case isn't clear, and probably won't be until the Chicago 400 next weekend.
    "It's an advantage, but it's a legal advantage," Kyle Busch says. "Nothing illegal."

   The possibility of four-time champion Jeff Gordon missing the championship run is surprising. He's run strong most of the season, just with tons of bad luck.
     "It makes me feel real good that Jeff Gordon is in as bad a position as I'm in," Edwards says wryly.
    "A year ago we were cruising right now -- dominating the points...not a care in the world.
    "Fast-forward one year and it's a whole different story. 
     "I think the true tragedy for us would be to not make the chase and then have all of these things we've been working on come to fruition and go out and win six races and not even be in contention."

   Gordon last missed the playoffs back in 2005. Edwards, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle -- after taking the top-three spots in 2005 -- all failed to make the playoffs in  2006.
    "What's going to make this race crazy is if there's a caution like last week," Edwards says.
    "If the race gets strung out and it goes green, it will probably be a fairly calm race. 
     "But if we get a caution with five to go, or six to go, it's going to be insane.  There are going to be guys staying out on 100-lap tires and blocking....
      "It's going to be crazy.
      "It's a little different when you know your whole season is riding on a finish...
       "The craziness happens when a guy has a shot and he knows that's his only shot.  You saw Jeff Gordon last week: 'Man, I'm getting soft; I should have taken that chance.'
      "People will be taking the chance no matter how nice they are as people. It's your job.
     "Nobody is going to blame a guy for going for it, being a little aggressive."


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