Flippin' Good Time: Carl Edwards Makes a Statement For Title Bid In 2011 With Dominant Weekend at Phoenix
Much like how Barney Stinson from CBS' How I Met Your Mother says, "It'll be legen - wait for it," one had to get the feeling that Carl Edwards' talents and determination was going to pay off big time in the form of a weekend sweep at Phoenix International Raceway.
It was nearly as impressive as Kyle Busch's trifecta at Bristol Motor Speedway last August, with only Edwards' no show in the Camping World Truck Series race somewhat downplaying his otherwise magnificent weekend in the "Valley of the Sun."
While anybody outside of the Aflac team had 99 problems, Roush-Fenway Racing was certain that Carl Edwards wasn't one of them. Here's why:
First, there was a pre-race qualifying practice session and Coors Light Pole Qualifying on Friday afternoon, where "Cousin Carl" piloted his No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion to the number one position.
Second, his car was the fastest in virtually all the warm-up rounds prior to Sunday's 500K event, making him one of the favorites on race day.
Next was Saturday's Nationwide Series' 200-lapper, which essentially became the "Carl Edwards" show.
Edwards drove Roush-Fenway Racing's No. 60 Copart Ford to a resounding victory, leading all but 47 laps. The 31-year-old Columbia, MO native served notice to his Sprint Cup competitors that he'd lead the Ford Racing banner on Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500K.
Surely enough, the familiar black and green Ford Fusion lurked at the front of the field all day, pacing the field for 93 circuits (second most to Denny Hamlin's 190) to take home the checkered flag, capturing his first victory in nearly two years.
"I have a lot of confidence and we all work really hard, so we expect to win," Edwards said following his win per AP Sports Writer John Marshall's article. "We’ve had a lot of success before and with that comes a little more expectation, not just outside, but within.
I’m very proud how this team came together this past two years since we last won.”
And what a past two years this team has endured since being labeled as preseason favorites last year.
After his nine-win season in 2008, most prognosticators felt that Edwards would dethrone Jimmie Johnson's efforts to capture a fourth straight title.
Instead of contending for race wins and titles, it was a weekly battle for respect and survival on the track.
Outpaced and outpowered by the likes of Chevrolet's Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing's Toyota efforts, sure, Ford Racing's Roush-Fenway Racing's talents may have captured the Daytona 500. However, in the end, it was Jimmie Johnson and the Bowtie Brigade celebrating yet another title in Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.
As a collective, Ford struggled for the past year and a half, especially with the growing pains of the RF-9 engine. While their new power plant succeeded in stronger performance, reliability was something of a struggle for the Blue Oval camp.
And then there was Edwards' injury last fall from a game of Frisbee with some of his friends. Left with a broken foot, it seemed like the No. 99 team lost its focus and its ways that led them to solid campaigns in 2005, as well as in '07 and '08.
Moving forward or "Ford" (no pun intended), it appears as if those issues, as well as the engine gremlins have disappeared. RFR's No. 99 team looks especially poised to mount a charge for a Sprint Cup championship in 2011, given their convincing performances leading up to last Sunday's race.
Ironically, a contributing factor to Edwards' win was fuel mileage, which was one of Roush-Fenway's sore sports in the past, notably during the Mark Martin era from 1988-'06.
Says Edwards, "There’s so much to be gained by winning a race and it’s such a gutsy call, you just have to sit and wait. Those are some long laps, those last few laps.”
Noticing that his fellow competitors were slowing to conserve fuel, the former Nationwide Series champ decided to ease off the gas in the final laps to ensure a trip to the winner's circle, which ultimately paid off.
From nearly forgotten to fourth place in the Cup points race, it might be time to cue the duck, especially in 2011.
Given how solid this team was last weekend at one of NASCAR's most challenging circuits on both man and machine, look for the Fusion teams to carry some momentum at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And if it's not of any surprise, it might be Carl Edwards and the Aflac duck cruising their way for a second trip to the South Florida racetrack's Victory Lane.