After enduring a 2012 season in which everything that could go wrong for Carl Edwards and his No. 99 Fastenal/Aflac Ford Fusion team, this year has been all about a renaissance for both driver and his Roush-Fenway Racing crew. With two wins, a Chase berth, nine top-fives, 15 top-10's, it's been a grand time in 2013 - except for their result in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway just two weeks ago, placing 35th position result with wheel hub issues.
Siting 11th in points and 60 markers behind first place Matt Kenseth, it's time to write off "Concrete Carl" from the championship, right?
Well, maybe not. If one saw Edwards' expression at Martinsville Speedway during testing this past week, you couldn't tell that he's a man who's conceded his title hopes. Rather, he's viewing things in a positive light, looking at his hefty deficit from the lead as one where he just needs to gain 10 points per race on Kenseth and his No. 20 Dollar General/Husky Tools Toyota team.
Consider that and a few "wild card" races at Martinsville, Talladega, and Phoenix, anything is possible for any of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup racers and teams, especially for Edwards and crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Heading into Charlotte Motor Speedway for their annual fall night date race, the Bank of America 500, Edwards realizes that this 1.5-mile Concord, NC track has been one that's streaky, at best, for his No. 99 team.
"Charlotte has been hot or cold for us," Edwards said. "We hoped to build on our top five at Kansas and again more points at Charlotte. We need great runs to stay in the hunt for the championship. It’s fast and will require great strategy. Jimmy and my crew have been amazing, so I’ll lean on them.”
The Columbia, MO native certainly has a strong supporting cast, with a crew chief who hoisted the Cup trophy in 2004 with former driver and teammate Kurt Busch, a fast pit crew that's amongst the best in this competitive series of auto racing, and vast resources at his Roush-Fenway Racing shop.
Fighting an uphill battle against the faster Chevrolet teams of Hendrick Motorsports and Childress Racing as well as the Toyota trio from Joe Gibbs Racing, it's no secret that RFR's Ford duo of Edwards and Greg Biffle have done a lot with their middling Ford Racing efforts.
This group may not win all their uphill battles in 2013, given how competitive and close the racing is with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. While the margin between the 15th-30th place teams aren't too far apart, constantly battling the top 14, much less top-10 drivers and teams in this circuit is quite the accomplishment in itself. One race doesn't win any team a championship, but it could very well write off those hopes - only if a team and driver are deterred from their ultimate goals and dreams.
Don't quite bury Edwards and the No. 99 team's hope six feet under and dismiss them as strictly just looking for a spot at the banquet in Las Vegas, NV. Consider their finishes in the Chase of 11th at Chicagoland, ninth at Loudon, and a fifth at Kansas (minus their 35th at Dover) and they're right up there amongst the best of the Chase thus far.
Instead, view this No. 99 team as a huge threat to win races and with a lucky opportunity or two in the next few races, much like the New York Stock Exchange, fans, press, and of course, Edwards' peers on the track may be seeing a lot that white and blue Ford towards the front of the field, battling for a title as quickly as they are currently in purgatory.
For now, they may be locked out of heaven, but it won't be too long until they're a factor in this championship battle. To be back in it, they must perform and finish strongly in these next few weeks and it all starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Game, set, and match, Carl Edwards - let's go racing.