‘Eternal optimist’ Edwards searching for better at Martinsville

Carl Edwards is the Sprint Cup Series points leader after five races.

Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The first five weeks of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season have by all accounts been a major home run for Carl Edwards.

He’s won a race.

He’s the points leader.

He’s already all but assured a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And his four top-10 finishes are tied with Jeff Gordon for most in that category among all drivers.

So what’s not to love? Perhaps only the fact that Martinsville Speedway, site of Sunday’s STP 500, is one of Edwards’ worst tracks.

In 19 starts at the paperclip-shaped oval in southern Virginia, Edwards has finished in the top 10 only five times, and only one of those (third in fall 2008) was a top five. While Edwards’ average finish here is a respectable 15.8, the Roush Fenway Racing driver made no bones on Friday about the struggles of both he and the whole RFR organization at the flat .526-mile track.

Illuminating those struggles was last fall’s breakthrough runner-up performance by first-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth, who was rarely a factor at Martinsville during his 13 years with Roush Fenway.

"Seeing what Matt Kenseth was able to do, that makes me think there’s hope for me, but this place is so tough," Edwards said. "I’ve seen guys run in cars that were fast, I’ve seen guys practice other guys’ cars and still have trouble, so it appears it’s a combination. I feel like you have to have the car perfect and then there is some timing. Bobby Hamilton spent some time with me here one time and he talked to me a lot about the way he drove around and the rhythm that he had. I’ve had a couple flashes where we’ve run really well, but it’s been maybe one time I’ve had the car where I felt like I was making progress and got this thing figured."

Edwards’ last top-10 finish at Martinsville came in the October 2011 race, meaning he’s gone four races here without a top 10.

"I just have to figure out, A, what I want in the car, B, how to get it and, C, I’ve got to be able to drive it that way through the whole race," the driver of the No. 99 Ford said. "Once we get it put together, it’ll be good, but it’s not an Atlanta or Bristol or place where I go to and I understand the way the track works and everything. I’m still missing something."

While Edwards has found the going rough at Martinsville, he’s sat back in admiration at the consistent frontrunning ways of Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who, along with Denny Hamlin, have dominated Martinsville for the better part of the past decade.

"I see some things that I’ve been working on, but those guys are very good here," Edwards said of the Hendrick duo. "I’ve talked to Jimmie a little bit about it and he just says, ‘You’€™ll figure it out.’ He’s really nice about it and then changes the subject. Those guys are very spectacular here. They’ve very good. I know my first few years I would get out of the car and go down and stand and watch Jeff Gordon. The way he drives around here is just so smooth and precise. They’re able to do things that I’m not able to do, so I’ve just got to keep working on it."

Despite his dearth of Martinsville success, Edwards can’t help but feel pretty upbeat about Sunday, given his strong start to the season.

"I’m kind of the eternal optimist when it comes to Martinsville, but it doesn’t seem to work out," he said. "But I feel like we have an opportunity to try some things because of our position in the points, already having a win. Jimmy (Fennig, crew chief) and the guys over there are making bigger adjustments than we normally make. If we get to practice tomorrow, if the weather holds off, the reason I’m optimistic is because we can try all those things, and I feel like we may find something. If we were a little more nervous, we would be more reluctant to take those big swings at it. 

"We’re not worried about wasting time. We’re not worried about making mistakes. We’re just gonna go out and be extremely aggressive. That’s a fun way to be able to come to a race at Martinsville."