With his Chase hopes fading with each passing race, it was a gamble Carl Edwards felt he had to make: Overruling his crew chief to try and stretch his fuel to the end during Saturday night's Bristol race.
It was the NASCAR equivalent of a Hail Mary.
"Right or wrong – right now it's wrong – I said ‘Heck with it, I'm staying out and hoping for cautions,'" Edwards said. "I'm not looking at points, I feel like our best chance is to get that win."
When the caution waved for Casey Mears' stalled car with 85 laps to go, Edwards' crew chief Chad Norris called his driver to pit road to top off the fuel tank. This would have ensured that the No. 99 Ford would have been able to make it to the finish without concern.
But Edwards, sensing an opportunity to roll the dice and jump into the lead, overruled Norris. If the gamble worked out, Edwards would have had a chance to win his first race of the year – a victory which would allow him to move into position to claim the second wild card spot.
"...We stopped with about 180 laps to go and our mission was to stop with about 160," Edwards said. "So, when we stopped at 180, we were in a box. We didn't plan on coming back in, but we needed a lot of caution laps (to make it to the end). And I knew when Chad said, ‘Hey, come in and we're going to put fuel in it only' that he realized that we were short.
"I just said ‘F-it, I'm staying out, we're in the lead.'"
But it wasn't to be for Edwards. Instead, he was a sitting duck as Denny Hamlin on fresh tires worked him over and eventually took the lead. From there, it only got worse for Edwards; with older tires, he was no match for those who had stopped for fresh rubber.
Then, with just a few laps remaining, Edwards' failure to heed his crew chief's advice blew up in his face as his fuel tank ran dry.
Gone was a potential victory and a finish in the top 15. In its place, Edwards limped to pit road and finished the night in 22nd place.
"If we get caution after caution – short runs – I think we could have held those guys off at the end," Edwards said. "There are no tires on the car and we ran out of fuel. We needed the stars to align a lot better than it did. We had a shot at it and if things would have fallen a little differently, I think we could have held some of those guys off on short runs."
The problem is, Edwards may have been within range of making the top 10 on points if he had pitted for fuel. With Tony Stewart's struggles, Edwards is now 34 points behind 10th – but he could have been perhaps 20 points out if things had gone differently.
Still, Edwards was resolute afterward that he and his team are good enough to get into the Chase. And last year's championship runner-up was unwavering that if the 99 team is to qualify; they will do so on merit and nothing else.
"... If we make it, I want it to be because we deserve it because we're fast out there and we're winning races," Edwards said. "And if we don't make it, I want to be able to say we gave it everything we got. I do not want to look back at these races and say, ‘Man, you didn't try very hard and you gave up the potential to win Bristol.'
"We're going to lay it on the line and go for it."
And Edwards was very clear how he plans to approach the next two races which will make or break his season.
"We'll go to Atlanta, we'll go to Richmond, those are two good racetracks," Edwards said. "I'm going to drive like an animal and do all I can and hopefully I can get a win."
– Motorsports Editor Jeff Gluck contributed to this story