Heading Into 2011: Chasing The Probable Top 12 in Sprint Cup Racing (Pt. 8 of 12)
Call it a return to relevance, a comeback, or a matter of fact that Carl Edwards hasn't forgotten how to drive a stock car; simply put, the man proved to his critics that he could still win given the right circumstances on race day.
While the first half of his season was somewhat middling with seven top-10's through 18 races, the tide turned for the 30-year-old Columbia, MO native in a tremendous way.
Consider this: in the final 18 events of the 2010 season, Edwards and the No. 99 Aflac/Kellogg's Ford team placed outside of the top-10 only six times (an 11th at Loudon, 12th at Bristol and Charlotte, 17th at Talladega, 19th at Texas, and 34th at Auto Club).
His numbers were staggering, as he collected seven top-fives and 12 top-10 results. More importantly, those strong finishes included a pair of victories, which were his first wins since the stellar 2008 season which saw nine wins and a runner-up finish in the points race.
Edwards and his band of brothers, led by crew chief Bob Osbourne, proved that consistency and strong finishes can often propel a team to the top of the heap.
When figuring "Cousin Carl's" statistics from 2009, which saw only seven top-fives and 14 top-10's, it was understandable that, while perceived as a solid driver, Edwards wasn't going to be a factor for the title this past season.
For a while, it appeared to look that way, especially during a five-race stretch from Charlotte to New Hampshire, which saw the No. 99 Ford finish 12th or worse.
Hardly looking like title contenders, the Roush-Fenway Racing effort clung on to 12th place heading into the Coke Zero 400 weekend at Daytona, mirroring their campaign of a year ago rather than a team that would climb back into contention for wins and a chance at the Cup title.
Like a bandit in the night, Edwards and his Ford comrades pickpocketed their way through the "elites" much like Robin Hood, or in this case, the dominant Chevrolet and Toyota units of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing respectively.
Per Pete Pistone's season in review article on CBSSports.com, Edwards was taken aback at how things turned around for his team.
"(If) you would've told me 10 races into the season this is how we're gonna wrap this thing up, I wouldn't have believed you. This is beyond the comeback I expected.
This is a very good finish to the season."
And what a finish it was.
Certainly, the team's ability to sort out the RF-9 engine, Ford Racing's first upgrade to its motors since 2004, had to help in establishing its strong second-half performances.
How significant of a turnaround was it for the No. 99 group? Well, they would finish every race from Talladega in April to Homestead-Miami in November, an event they captured.
In terms of performance, their only hiccup toward the final portions of 2010 was a broken rotor in the distributor, which relegated them to a 37th-place finish.
Prior to his pair of wins at Phoenix and Homestead, Edwards made the headlines - for all the wrong reasons.
Angered about early race contact with Brad Keselowski during the March 7th running of the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the normally mild mannered driver decided to pull off a little Cole Trickle on the Penske racer.
After his team repaired their battered Scotts Ford, Edwards chased down and proceeded to give Keselowski a retaliatory hit along the front stretch, or a stock car "warning shot."
Unintentionally, that contact caused "BK" to lose control of his Dodge Charger, sending it briefly up in the air towards the catchfence before the No. 12 car crashed into the outside retaining wall upside down, flipping upright as a mangled metal of mess.
Although the sport proclaimed it as a year for "Boys, have at it," NASCAR officials felt that Edwards' payback shot was beyond their tolerance limits.
As a result, he was parked for the remainder of the race and on probation for three races, somewhat of a slap in the wrist rather than the face.
The two would tangle again at a Nationwide race at Gateway International Raceway, with Edwards cashing in and Keselwoski on the short end of the stick once again.
NASCAR had enough of the two playing demolition derby, placing both drivers under probation until December 31.
When all is said and done with 2010, there's probably 99 reasons to believe that Edwards will be even stronger this coming season. While these 99 reasons won't be listed down, some of the factors to consider with the seventh-year Cup racer are the following:
- Confidence: he's got a ton of it again, not only with himself, but with his team, equipment, and most of all, with his crew chief.
- Inspiration: after what happened to car owner Jack Roush this past summer, you have to believe that the entire RFR organization, which includes Edwards, will give it their best to bring another title home for the Ford colors.
- Motors: once a liability, the RF-9 motor is a tremendous asset for the Ford teams, especially for the Show-me State native.
- Pit crew: it's often emphasized that a good pit crew gains spots in pit road, but a great pit crew often aids their driver to wins.
Like most of the top-12, harnessing his aggression will be one thing that Edwards will have to work on for 2011.
Simply put, he must channel that anger into motivation as he displayed during the final stretch of the season - or he might just divert to the Dark Side (kidding!).
Additionally, getting top-five finishes will be paramount.
Sure, basking in numerous top-10 results are what 90 percent of the teams want in the Cup circuit, but top-fives are what separate title contenders from Chase pretenders.
Moving "Ford," if you will, it just might be Edwards' biggest season yet...pending that a certain Hendrick driver, a Richard Childress talent, and a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing lead footers fall a step or two behind.