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Who’ll Stop The Reign? Edwards Is Top Candidate

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 16 2010

Carl Edwards led the field and won the race at Miami-Homestead in November. Can he carry that momentum into 2011? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

While covering NASCAR for more than three decades it has become apparent to me that the differences between being a contender and an also-ran are often very small.

Each season, some drivers and teams that came up short the previous year arrive at Daytona with high hopes and a sense that the momentum they may have built heading into the winter break is going to vault them into contention in the new season.

Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team are a prime example of that type of thinking.

A year ago, after a decent if unspectacular regular season, Hamlin came out of the finale in Homestead as the hottest driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and the odds-on favorite to finally end Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented run of titles.

And Hamlin did live up to his billing for most of the year, challenging for the championship right down to the final race before running second to the indefatigable Johnson.

This winter, it’s Carl Edwards who came out of Homestead with the momentum and expectations of a big season in the coming year.

But it’s not the first go-round for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

In 2008, Edwards won a season-high nine races. More to the point, he won three of the last

Carl Edwards is an early candidate to end Jimmie Johnson's reign in 2011. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

four and finished second, 69 points behind champion Johnson.

Expectations were sky-high for 2009, but something went awry. Edwards went winless and finished 11th in the standings.

This year, Edwards and the whole Roush team struggled throughout the season before finally winning some races in the late going.

Edwards finished strongest of the four Roush drivers, winning the last two Sprint Cup races of the season – his only wins of 2010.

A lot of the late-season success can be attributed to the emergence of the new FR9 engine,  the first purpose-built NASCAR racing engine to ever come out of Ford Motor Company.

Add the new power plant to the momentum from the wins at Phoenix and Homestead and Edwards is quickly regaining confidence.

“I feel a lot better right now going into 2011 than I did going into 2009, and that’s because I feel we have a lot of momentum and things are getting better,’’ Edwards noted.  “We have a new engine that we are working on that just keeps getting better.’’

Referring to the final two races of the season, he said, “That is the best performance down a straightaway than I have had in a long time.’’

That’s very good news for a driver and team that suffered through a 70-race winless string before taking the checkered flag at Phoenix.

“A 70-race winless streak is very difficult,’’ Edwards explained. “Jack owns the team and he goes to bed and wakes up every morning, I’m sure, thinking how can we make this better. I got to bed and wake up every morning thinking how can I be better, and (crew chief) Bob (Osborne) does the same thing.’’

Now they have a short offseason to find a way to get off to a strong start and try to find a way to knock Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports team off the top rung, something that hasn’t happened in half a decade.

Roush, who has won Cup championships with Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch, knows what it’s going to take.

“You have to make fewer mistakes than they do and be better at spending your money,’’ Roush said.  “There’s enough money to do what you need to do here, but the main thing is spending money on the things that you have got enough time to effect a good result and a good solution to the problems and challenges you’ve got.  That’s what we have to do.’’

If they do, Edwards could truly get another shot at denying Johnson a sixth straight championship.

But it’s sometimes very hard to turn expectations into reality. Just ask Hamlin.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 16 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Carl and Matt are the 2 top choices….but I think the Biff is SOOO HUNGRY……he will be extremely fun to watch this year.
    The big RINGER is just how good the FR9 really is…..
    More bottom end and top end than Chevy
    WAY ….better gas milage than Toyota…
    Will run cooler summer races and more tape spring/fall races…
    At least FORD finally dropped the flat head
    for the OHV Y Block….
    Well it seemed like it took that long anyhow….