After a three-month layoff, most NASCAR drivers at this time of year are itching to get back in the race, and as American stock car racing's top racing series prepares to lift the curtain on a brand new season, you can count Carl Edwards among the most anxious.
After finishing second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last season for the second time in his outstanding NASCAR career, Edwards has had auto-racing's offseason to ponder what he might have done differently in the season finale to ward off a not-to-be-denied Tony Stewart and take home the 2011 Sprint Cup crown for himself.
The Columbia, Mo., native certainly could have, and perhaps should have, done that, but that's not Edwards' style or the way he approaches his racing craft.
"It (losing the 2011 Sprint Cup championship to Stewart) bothered me after the race for a few minutes, but that's not how I try to do things," Edwards said during Speedweeks interviews this week at Daytona International Speedway as the countdown begins toward next weekend's Daytona 500, NASCAR's equivalent of the NFL's Super Bowl. "I go out and do the best I can, but I'm a realist. There's reality in the world, and the reality is that we finished second. That's just it."
Edwards, who signed a multi-year contract extension that will keep him with Roush-Fenway Racing for the immediate future, said he could accept being the runner-up last season, even though he led the drivers' and Chase standings for most of it, but what he had a hard time dealing with in the offseason is waiting for the 2012 season to start.
"I had trouble with just sitting around - no racing, no racing - trying to get up in the morning and find constructive things to do, Edwards said. "I am ready to go race. I cannot wait to get in that race car."
Stewart, owner-driver of Stewart-Haas Racing, had not won a race all season before the Chase for the Cup began last September but qualified for the 10-race shootout on the basis of points accumulated in the 26 race events during the regular season. In the Chase, however, Stewart came on like a bat out of you know where, winning five of the ten races, including the final one at Homestead-Miami, which tied him in points with Edwards, who followed Stewart's No. 14 car across the finish line. Stewart's five race wins for the season gave him the tiebreaker and the 2011 championship.
Under any other circumstances (Stewart's five race victories in the Chase, after going winless the rest of the season, was unprecedented), Edwards would have been the clear Cup champion in 2011. While Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet was burning up the track during the Chase for the Cup, Edwards was doing about as good as you can do without winning. Over the final three races, the No, 99 Roush-Fenway Ford finished second each time. It's just that Stewart won two of the final three races (Texas and Homestead) and finished third in the other (Phoenix).
"At the end of the (Homestead) race, I don't know how far Tony and I were ahead of the rest of the field, but it felt like both of us were on a mission. We raised each other's games," Edwards said.
The wait for Edwards to get back to racing is almost over. He'll be in the field for NASCAR's unofficial start to the season, the Budweiser Shootout, being held this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
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