It’s time for Missouri native Carl Edwards to take his state motto to heart: "Show me."
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With ultracompetitive equipment, a solid race team and a new contract, Edwards should be in prime position to battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Edwards has qualified for six of the seven Chase for the Sprint Cup fields that he has been eligible for. But in order to secure his first championship, Edwards first will have to win.
After a trying negotiation period, team co-owner Jack Roush signed the 32-year-old driver to an extension last month while Edwards was still leading the Sprint Cup points standings. In the weeks that followed, Edwards fell to fourth in points after a 12th-place run at Watkins Glen International and a 36th-place finish at Michigan International Speedway, where electrical issues plagued the No. 99 Ford.
Then the rally began. Edwards posted a ninth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, a fifth at Atlanta Motor Speedway and a second Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. Edwards led 113 laps Saturday, the second-most he has led this season, behind Dover International Speedway (117) in May. Although Edwards gave a valiant effort, once again he found himself in the runner-up role, not Victory Lane.
Despite losing to Kevin Harvick at Richmond, Edwards said after the race that once he got “over the frustration of not winning” the race he would be “really excited about how fast” his team is right now and how they were able to turn their performance around. That bodes well for other short, flat tracks in the Chase.
“That is the best we have run on a short track in years,” Edwards said. “That was huge. That was a tough race not to win. I feel like we had the car to beat and if we had another lap or two, we would have been all over Harvick there. It was a fun race. I had a good time, and I am ready to go get this Chase on.”
Still, Edwards will have to find a way to convert those top-five finishes into wins. Edwards has 12 top fives this season but only one win, which came at Las Vegas.
Four times this season, Edwards has finished second — twice in two of NASCAR’s most prestigious events, the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500. With a lone win, when the points were reset with bonuses for wins this season, Edwards fell to fifth, behind Kyle Busch (four wins), Harvick (four wins), Jeff Gordon (three wins) and his own Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (two wins).
Certainly, the momentum from running at a track such as Richmond, where Edwards had only two top-five finishes before Saturday, will bode well for the No. 99 team entering the Chase.
“When you are running really well, everything is easy,” Edwards said. “When you are struggling, you get nervous about when you will get back on track. I feel like after (Saturday’s) run, the way we ran, that is a shot in the arm for me. I feel like we can run with the guys that are running, like Brad (Keselowski) has been running the last few weeks. I feel like we are back up there.
“I know it is one race, but I think everyone will agree that Richmond tests a lot of parts of your team. You have to have a real good car. We made one strategy mistake, but we are a team and we are in this together. If that is the worst mistake we make in the Chase, then we will be OK.”
Although Edwards starts the playoffs nine points behind Busch and Harvick, an intermediate track such as Chicagoland Speedway plays right into his hands to start the Chase. Ten of Edwards’ 19 career Cup victories have been scored on 1.5-mile tracks. And with half of the Chase races set at these style tracks, where Roush teams have excelled in the past, Edwards should have a leg up on the competition.
“There couldn’t be a better track to go to for the first race of the Chase than Chicago,” Edwards said. “Since it’s a day race this time, hopefully, it will be hot and slick. It will be a lot of fun and a tough race. It will be a lot like Atlanta was since it’s got some age to it.
“We’ve run really well on the 1.5-mile tracks, so we should be really good.”
If the title does comes down to the wire, as Edwards predicts, it would be difficult to bet against him. Edwards has won two of the past three races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of the Sprint Cup season finale, and has an average finish of 5.7 at that track.
If he can stay in the hunt and boost his win tally over the next 10 races, Carl Edwards’ name could be engraved on the Sprint Cup come November.