AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Carl Edwards improved his bid to win a championship this season, rolling to a dominating win Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway to stay in mathematical contention for the Nationwide Series title.
Edwards, the defending series champion, led a race-high 78 laps and withstood a final challenge from Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin on a late restart to win his sixth race of the season. The victory chipped into Clint Bowyer's lead -- Bowyer started the race up 91 points, but was in an early accident and finished fourth.
Bowyer now goes to next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 56-point lead over Edwards.
"If we run like we've been running ... we can close 56 points without Clint having trouble," Edwards said.
But Bowyer can win the championship next week if he finishes eighth or better, regardless of what Edwards does.
"Man, I can't handle this stuff anymore," Bowyer said. "We're still in it. We dodged a bullet, though. If you have a day like that and come back and finish fourth, that's what wins championships," Bowyer said. "You have to be able to bounce back. I thought we were done."
Edwards refused to start thinking he had an advantage after Bowyer was stacked up on the sixth restart of the race. He immediately thought back to Friday night's Truck Series race, when championship challenger Ron Hornaday wrecked on the first lap but still managed to close his deficit when points leader Johnny Benson later wrecked.
But Edwards has been on a tear in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. He hasn't finished lower than fifth since California in August, a span of eight races. And he's rolling in the Cup Series, too, winning the last two races to chop away at Jimmie Johnson's lead.
"We're just performing well," Edwards said. "It's a great feeling to go to the race track and know you can win. That's one thing I thought about a lot with respect to the season -- I feel like we're going to be really tough for years to come.
"This success lately, when I'm not wrecked or having parts that fail, that makes me really excited for next year and the year after."
Still, Bowyer seemed undaunted by the challenge.
"If someone would have come to me at the beginning of the year and said 'You'll have a 56-point lead,' I'd have been pumped," Bowyer said. "If we go out there and do exactly what we did today, then we'll be the champions."
Hamlin finished second and Harvick was third.
Bowyer, who dropped all the way back to 30th after his accident, rallied to finish fourth.
"If you have a day like that and come back and finish fourth, that's what wins championships," Bowyer said. "You have to be able to bounce back. I thought we were done."