Once a bridesmaid, always a bridesmaid, right?
Well, maybe not, but Carl Edwards sure has to be tired of coming up short of the championship every year. Whether it's coming within a whisker's position of the title or being far from contention, "Cousin Carl" has to be wondering when his time will come.
Answer: perhaps this year!
Yes, it's such an original answer and perhaps it comes across as a snarky response to a great racer who'll be entering their ninth full season (10th overall) of NASCAR Sprint Cup action. Then again, for every hiccup that Edwards has experienced in his Cup career, there's a pair of strong seasons that follow. Witness:
After placing 12th in 2006, the pride of Columbia, MO nailed a ninth and runner-up effort in the following two seasons before a middling 11th place finish in 2009. During that period, he tallied 12 victories, which is crucial considering it was the transition from the sleek fourth generation cars to the Car of Tomorrow.
Following a winless '09 season, Edwards returned to prominence with a fourth place effort in 2010 and nearly won it all the next year, losing the title by virtue of a tiebreaker, surpassed by Tony Stewart's five wins compared to the Roush-Fenway racer's single win in '11.
Last year was an exercise in patience and perhaps the worst year experienced by Edwards and his No. 99 team, struggling to find speed and handling on the track about every weekend. Though it happened early on, the dagger to their championship hopes (and confidence) happened at the spring Richmond race, in which Edwards was penalized for apparently jumping the restart. Call it robbery or a demoralizing defeat, it seemed like that race absolutely stalled any hopes of a championship run in 2012.
Long-time crew chief Bob Osborne pulled out, citing health reasons, and Chad Norris, the organizations Nationwide headwrench for their No. 60 team, entered the picture to fill some rather big shoes. Their performances didn't improve much following the change, with any Chase hopes extinguished and a driver who was about as flustered as anyone else, even someone from London, ON, Canada.
Taking note of the No. 99's struggles and being proactive with the new car and increased competition in the series, Edwards will be paired up new crew chief Jimmy Fennig. No stranger to success, Fennig previously served in that same capacity with Derrike Cope, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Kenny Wallace, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth.
Both drivers hail from the Midwest and both have tasted championships from different series, with Fennig hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy in 2004 with Kurt Busch while Edwards dominated in 2007 en route to a Nationwide Series title. Despite those successes, make no mistake - both men are vying for the ultimate prize in 2013.
Expect Edwards and the No. 99 Fastenal/Aflac Ford Fusion team to truly rebound this year, with wins to be expected on the intermediates and short tracks as well as playing spoiler on the restrictor plate tracks. Their weakness may be their pit crew as well as motor reliability issues, which might be addressed or crop up at a rather unfortunate time.
There's only one way for Edwards to go this year. If the law of inertia applies for things that go up wind up falling down, well, there should be the law of NASCAR: what goes down must go up.