Edwards, crew chief Osborne argue their way to Pocono victory

LONG POND, Pa. -- Some 4½ hours into the longest 500-mile race of the season, Carl Edwards had a very important question for his crew chief Bob Osborne:

"This is the last lap, right?"

Yes it was, thankfully for Edwards and the No. 99 Ford team. No further arguments were necessary between driver and crew chief.

They both knew the car was seconds away from running out of gas in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, but the tank had just enough fumes to give Edwards his fourth victory of the season.

Good thing for Edwards and Bob Osborne. Otherwise, they might have needed a no-rules cage match on pay-per-view.

Edwards and Osborne got in each other's face during a rain delay earlier in the day. When it started to rain with 73 laps to go, they debated about coming to pit road under caution.

Pitting meant giving up track position to pit, dropping Edwards from first to 22nd. Then a red flag came, causing Edwards and Osborne to second-guess each other on the pit box after Edwards got out of the car.

"We blamed one another," Edwards said. "He thought [pitting] was my idea and I thought it was his. I could see he was really mad and I thought he was going to punch me in the neck, so I had to walk away. Bob is one of the smartest guys in the world, but he was looking kind of angry."

Osborne said a heated discussion isn't unusual for the two in pressure moments.

"Carl and I argue on a regular basis," Osborne said. "We walk away, then calmer heads prevail and [we] come back together. We may get mad again, but in the end we come to terms about what we want to do and how to do it."

How they came to terms on Sunday's decision wasn't completely clear. Team owner Jack Roush said Osborne made the decision to pit when it rained, calling Osborne, "the captain of the ship."

A democracy isn't usually how things work in Sprint Cup. It's not often that the driver gets the final say in a critical decision during the race.

"Carl had a premonition that this thing would not get rained out," Osborne said. "I'm glad he did because I thought we were done for. But that's what makes this a great team. Everybody has an opinion."

Edwards and Osborne weren't lone wolves on this one. Other teams running up front also elected to pit, believing the rain shower wouldn't end the race early.

Tony Stewart, who finished second, and Jimmie Johnson, who was third, both said they didn't have any team disagreements about pitting before the red flag waved.

"We felt the race would finish under green," Johnson said. "There were a few little rain cells out there, but we didn't think it would end the day and we stuck to our plan. But we had a couple of nervous moments."

The radar screen showed that a rain storm had split in two, both parts veering around the track without crossing over the 2.5-mile triangle. It played into the hands of the leaders who pitted before the rain delay.

But not by much. Johnson's gas tank was bone dry when he headed down the frontstretch for the final time, coasting across the finish line.

Points leader Kyle Busch wasn't so fortunate. He was running fourth, but ran out of fuel with three laps to go and had to pit. The team couldn't get the car restarted as he rolled down pit road after the stop. He finished 36th.

Jack Roush

Carl may slap me, and he can if he wants to, but he wasn't ready to win a championship until this year. Now I think he can go head to head with Jimmie or Tony or anybody else out there. He can close the deal.

-- Jack Roush

Busch still has a commanding points lead and a series-best seven victories, but he must feel footsteps now from Edwards and Johnson.

Johnson won last week at Indy. Edwards' victory Sunday was his first since Texas in April, but he was second at Indy and Daytona, two of the previous three events.

Roush said Edwards is a serious title contender, but he didn't see Edwards that way in the past, even when Edwards tied for second in the 2005 standings.

"Carl may slap me, and he can if he wants to, but he wasn't ready to win a championship until this year," Roush said. "Now I think he can go head to head with Jimmie or Tony or anybody else out there. He can close the deal."

Edwards isn't so sure he was ready three years ago.

"I don't agree 100 percent, but I get Jack's point," Edwards said. "I had some other issues. But I'll say this: I feel I'm better as a racecar driver than I've ever been. I feel like I've learned a lot. And I do understand things better."

Apparently so, even if it takes a little disagreement with his crew chief to reach that understanding.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.