Pedley: Did Perfect Storm Cost Edwards His Shot?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
There is zero doubt that the level of competition in the Sprint Cup Series is at an all-time high. So high that each and every week, there are 20 or more cars and drivers on the track which are capable of winning races. So high that no teams or drivers are assured playoff berths.
And so high that teams and drivers who find themselves with solid opportunities to win a Cup championship had better cash in because those opportunities may never come along again.
You know that Carl Edwards knows that today. You know that everybody on his team knows that today. And you know that coming up one point short in efforts to win this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship has put and uh-oh gulp in the throats of all who work for, and root for, the Roush Fenway Racing No. 99 team.
Edwards had one of those special seasons in 2011. The kind that are absolutely necessary to get even the slightest sniff of a Sprint Cup championship.
His team was solid from top to bottom: Crew chief Bob Osborne made few if any big mistakes; the guys in the Roush Fenway Racing shop put great cars together; the Roush-Yates engine guys put big power in those cars; and the pit crew did its job.
Edwards only won one race, but he finished in the top five in over half (19 of 36) the races and in the top 10 26 times. He led laps in 25 races. He had zero DNFs.
In a time in which consistency is still rewarded more than victories, Edwards was The Man. The closest contenders in top-fives were Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson (who each had 14). In top-10s, it was Johnson, who had 21.
Edwards took full advantage of the system and had the series lead for 21 weeks.
Last week, Edwards started the season-ending Ford 400 in first place. He had a three-point lead over Tony Stewart. which, in the scoring system which was introduced for 2011, that is enough of a lead to have made Edwards a solid favorite.
It took perfect triangulation for Stewart to deprive Edwards of the championship. Stewart won the race and Edwards was second. When the points and bonus points were added up, the two were tied at the top.
But Stewart was handed the big, gaudy check and the bigger, gaudier trophy because he had the tie-breaker in his corner – he won more races (five) during the season.
And Edwards, for the second time in his career, finished, as Ricky Bobby would say, as first loser. I remember talking to Edwards in the hours after he came up one place short to Johnson in 2008. He was cool with it. Disappointed, of course, but cool.
He had finished top three just three years before (second, actually but that time he lost the tie-breaker for runner-up status to teammate Greg Biffle) and Edwards’ look and tone both said: Next time.
Next time was last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And again, at the end of the day, there was Edwards, a driver of enormous driving talent, talking to reporters about coming up second.
This time, the body language told a little bit different story. Though gracious and outwardly positive, Edwards looked a bit more agonized to me. He looked more exasperated. Probably because of the nature of this year’s Chase – in which it took five victories in 10 races and a weather-aided victory by Stewart at Homestead – and possibly because of overall circumstances.
At 32, Edwards is not the young upstart any more. Yes, he is still well within the peak-years portion of his career, he has a new contract with a top team and this year could give him momentum heading into next year.
But, time and circumstances may no longer be on his side.
The Sprint Cup Series is not going to be any less competitive next year. If anything, it could be more competitive when you think about some of the changes in the works.
Not just Edwards, but all drivers, have to feel that if they get into position to win a championship during this, the era of in which NASCAR has gone way out of its way to make for an even playing field, that legit chances of winning Cup had better be cashed in.
And Carl Edwards, he had a beauty of a chance in 2011. Perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments