Give Edwards a trophy for class & grace
Carl Edwards gave everything he had on Sunday night, but it just wasn’t enough to win the race or his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Edwards led the most laps in his Ford 400 (119), but he couldn’t catch Tony Stewart over the final 37 circuits at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While the drivers tied in season-ending points (2,403), Stewart’s five wins — all of which came in the last 10 races — topped Edwards' sole victory at Las Vegas to decide the tiebreaker.
“They beat us fair and square,'' said Edwards, who finished second in the race and in the championship.
“That was all I had at the end. My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps, and Tony still managed, him and (crew chief) Darian (Grubb), to do a good job with their strategy.
“That’s all I got at the end. That’s as hard as I can drive.”
After Edwards crossed the start-finish line, he encouraged his crew over the radio to “keep (their) heads up.”
He reminded his crew chief, Bob Osborne, “You’re the best on pit road."
He thanked his over-the-wall squad for its service and, most important, Edwards vowed to “go home and work and beat them next year.”
Osborne echoed his driver’s sentiments, saying “Everybody, you did a great job this year, I’m really, really proud of you.”
Before Edwards came to the media center, he personally thanked Osborne and his crew. He reassured his chief that he believed in him and “will be behind him and his decisions 100 percent.”
“As tough as this is for me, it’s tougher for those guys,” Edwards said. “The guys that prepare these cars and determine which things we’re gonna work on through the year and what strategies we’re gonna use. They make some very, very big decisions that they can't turn around and change in a heartbeat.
“As a race-car driver, I can make quick decisions out there and I can fix things and make things happen. They make some very, very thought-out decisions, and I’m sure their disappointment is as great or greater than mine.”
But Edwards could not “fix” the advantage Stewart had once the latter's No. 14 took the lead on Lap 232. The closest Edwards came to Stewart’s bumper was 0.933-seconds. Great wasn’t good enough to beat Stewart in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Before Edwards’ postrace interview, he stopped by the No. 14 car to congratulate the three-time champ.
“You couldn’t ask for a better guy,” Stewart said of Edwards while describing the exchange. “And he goes, ‘I hope a year from now, we are in the same battle again just like this. ...’
“Everyone respects Carl for the person that he is, and you know, there’s been a lot of things that have happened that make you go, is there sincerity involved in what he says? But there’s no cameras there when he said that. He just came and talked to me driver to driver. That means a lot. It shows who he is as a person … And he’ll win a championship. He’ll be up here in our position again.”
Edwards shook his head and said, “Damn” under his breath as he walked in the interview room. After seeing third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr. sitting on the stage, Edwards graciously sat on the sidelines and allowed that question-and-answer session to finish, not wanting to overshadow his fellow competitor’s moment.
But as Edwards sat and waited, watching Stewart and the No. 14 crew celebrating the championship on the video screen, the wheels already were turning.
Edwards may have seemed distant, but certainly he was dissecting every lap of the race — and thinking about how to come back better next year.
“Whether we won tonight or we lost, tomorrow is the start of the next season,” Edwards said. “I was prepared before this race began to do exactly what I am going to go do, and that is to be even better next year and apply what I have learned here. We knew we could come into this thing, and we knew that of all the circumstances that could happen this one was the least probable. For us to finish like that, tied, fighting for the win, that is the least probable outcome.
“I was prepared for anything,'' he added.
"I knew that this was a possibility, and I was prepared for this. I told myself and my family that the one thing I am going to do is walk back to that motor home, win, lose or draw, and be a good example for my kids and work hard and go be better next season. We talked about it before the race. Even if we won this thing, you get halfway through next season and struggle and it is quickly forgotten.
“As painful as this is right now, I know we are fortunate to go to Daytona and start all over again and go race.”
When Edwards looks back on 2011, he’ll appreciate his role as a participant in the only NASCAR championship decided by a tiebreaker since the sport’s inception in 1949. His 4.9 average finish in the final 10 races is the best effort in any Chase. And his performance at Homestead — earning the pole, leading the most laps and waging an epic battle with Stewart — could not have been scripted any better.
“I think it’s just amazing,” Edwards said. “I’m sure there will be people who will say this is fake, that this was set up, because it’s just so unbelievable. It’s like a movie.”
But for Edwards, the happy ending will have to wait for another time.