Last year at this time, Carl Edwards was sitting in 13th place in points and the lone highlight (or lowlight, depending on one’s point of view) was Carl crossing swords with Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, sending him into the fence and at Bristol, he finished 6th. Fast forward to a year later, and Carl has a runner-up finish at Daytona to his credit, along with a win at Las Vegas. He also had a car capable of winning at Phoenix but after contact with Kyle Busch, his victory chances were sent up in smoke in the turn 3 wall.
Although Tony Stewart is leading the points, the talk of the circuit is Edwards. He closed last year with back-to-back wins at Phoenix and Homestead and has started the season running strong out of the gate. Most of all, although the season is still young, Carl has shown that he just may be able to have a championship-caliber season. This, combined with Jimmie Johnson’s early struggles out of the gate, leave hope springing eternal for Carl Edwards fans. Just a scant three races into the season, Edwards has already improved his results from last year at Daytona, going from 9th to 2nd and at Las Vegas, going from 12th last year to winning the race.
What does one truly attribute the turn-around of Carl Edwards in 2011 to? Does one give Carl all the credit? Does one give crew chief Bob Osborne his due? Is it the FR9 engines? Or is it Jack Roush coming through with a more hands-on role in the day-to-day operations? Truthfully, it’s a little bit of everything. There is no denying the rapport that Edwards has with Bob Osborne and the fact that Osborne is a very smart crew chief who is not afraid to gamble. Carl also deserves much of the credit, but one also has to pinpoint the rise of the FR9 engine as a very vital role in the success of the team. But another key component in Edwards’ resurgence has been Jack Roush’s complete and total commitment to getting his team back to the championship level they once were at.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference in Edwards this season compared to last is the undeniable fact that he appears to have his confidence back. Back in 2008, Edwards won a jaw-dropping nine races but still had to settle for second in points behind Jimmie Johnson. Much of the last two years, Edwards was mired in relative obscurity and, at times, appeared to have lost his confidence. But through a lot of hard work and persistence, Edwards has regained that lost swagger of his and early indications of this season are pointing toward another big year for Edwards, perhaps even a championship-caliber operation. If anyone at this early stage seems to be firing on all eight cylinders, it has to be Carl Edwards and his team.
But all of Edwards’ early-season bravado will not matter in the long run if his team stumbles in the Chase. Case in point, Denny Hamlin had a strong season last year, but wilted like a desert flower when the pressure became much too great. Edwards and his crew must avoid these same pratfalls down the stretch or they, too, will be tagged with the label of a “choke-artist”. Edwards has been close before, but with this new points system as a bit of a crap-shoot, it at least somewhat levels the playing field. Plus Edwards surely has to be aware that the law of averages will surely catch-up to Johnson at some point in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps those laws may already be in effect for Johnson.
At Bristol today, the question of pressing importance on everybody’s mind has to be can Carl keep his momentum rolling at Bristol or will his impressive roll as of late level off? Bristol has, in the past, been equal parts great and miserable for Edwards. He’s won twice at Bristol, but he’s also failed to finish on a few occasions. Carl has no reason to give fans any belief that he might struggle at Bristol, but at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile”, anything and everything can happen. So tune in today to see if Edwards can keep Lady Luck on his side or if his luck will run out.