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Edwards Says 2016 Gives Him Best Shot At A Championship

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2016
Carl Edwards has finished second in points twice in Sprint Cup cars. He would like to finish one spot better this year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

Carl Edwards has finished second in points twice in Sprint Cup cars. He would like to finish one spot better this year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

It’s a pretty safe bet that Carl Edwards has deep admiration for retired NASCAR driver Mark Martin. Most in the sport do. But it’s an even safer bet that Edwards does not want to inherit Martin’s honorary title of Sprint Cup’s King of the Runners-up. Most don’t.

sprint-logo-08A championship in this autumn’s Chase playoffs – which begin this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway – could relieve Edwards of that “honor” once and for all and the driver from Columbia, Mo. said he feels great about his chances of doing so.

“I’m excited about this year just because I feel like it is pretty much the best chance I’ve ever had at winning a championship,” Edwards said Thursday.

Edwards has come close to winning Cup championships a couple of times before. Really, really close. Like in 2008 when he found himself tied in points with Jimmie Johnson after the final race of the year but lost the title on a tie-breaker. Like in 2011 when he finished second to Tony Stewart – again on a tie-breaker.

On those occasions, Edwards was driving Fords for Roush Fenway Racing during years in which cars equipped with Hendrick Motorsports engines were clearly superior to the those of the other teams and marques.

But this year, Edwards is driving Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing and those cars have been just as clearly superior in 2016; JGR cars (including those of JGR affiliate Furniture Row Racing) have won half of the first 26 races of the season.

“It’s great to be a part of the Toyota team, to be driving a JGR Toyota Camry,” Edwards said. “But yeah, the downside to that is you’ve got to beat those guys. I know how good they are. But I really feel like the entire field, I feel like it’s going to be one of the toughest Chase’s. I just feel like everyone has just stepped up their game. There’s a lot of fast teams.”

Edwards owns “only” two victories in 2016. But he also owns 13 other top-10 finishes and about the only times he has not been a contender for wins is when he DNF’d as a result of crashes or car problems.

That is, Edwards has been fast, fast this year.

He credits both his cars but also his teammates – defending champion Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and former champion Matt Kenseth.

It’s a group that just clicks, he said.

“We’ve done a good job of really helping one another the most we can helping each other to get faster and then racing each other very hard,” Edwards said. “Even after some of the tougher races that we’ve had this year against one another it’s been pretty lighthearted and pretty fun, so if we can continue that all the way to Homestead that’s going to be good. But, I imagine Homestead when you’ve got the championship on the line it’s every man for himself. But, I don’t know. This team has just amazed me, it’s shocked me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we can keep all of that going all the way through the final lap.

“We have a very, very great team dynamic going and that is we work as hard as we can to help each other and then we race each other as hard as we can on the race track and afterwards we just start all over again the next week. It’s been really good. My teammates, I believe, are some of the best drivers ever to drive these car and they motivate me and they push me and yeah, we race each other hard.”

Edwards says he also has a good thing going with proven-winner crew chief Dave Rogers.

“I’d rather go to battle with no one else,” Edwards said. “He’s really cool. I feel like Dave’s going to be a real asset to me. He’s battled for numerous XFINITY championships, he’s been through these Chase’s, he’s done it with a number of drivers.”

So, the cars are there, the team is there, the teammates are there and the crew chief is there: Is this the year where he buries the “oh so close” frustrations?

“I feel like this is as good of an opportunity as I’ve ever had to be a champion and I want to take advantage of that and I’m excited to get going,” Edwards said. “I feel like our cars are great, our chemistry is really good. Not just within our 19 team, but our whole JGR camp should be good.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 16 2016
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