Carl Edwards probably thought he had finally caught the break he was looking for to enable him to get back in the win column after more than a year's absence when he qualified second for the Capital City 400 Sprint Cup race this past weekend at Richmond International Speedway.
The driver of the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford has six top-10 finishes in his nine Sprint Cup starts this season, but he's started in the top 10 only three times, including earning the pole position at the season-opening Daytona 500. It's been over a year since Edwards' last win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, at Las Vegas in March 2011.
One of the principal goals coming into this season for Edwards and his Roush race team was to do a better job in qualifying runs and better positioning in the starting lineup. The 32-year-old native Missourian (from Columbia, Mo.) couldn't have gotten off to a better start, leading the field to the starting line at Daytona, but the closest Edwards has been to the front row in qualifying before his second-place start at Richmond was an eighth-place starting position at Bristol in the fourth race of the season.
Since Daytona earlier this year, Edwards' average starting position has been17th and his average finish 13th, even with six top 10s and two top fives. Certainly not what Edwards and his crew chief Bob Osborne had in mind when they set their goals for the 2012 season.
Saturday night at Richmond truly looked for a long while that it could be Edwards' race to lose. Last year's runner-up in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship led a race-high 206 of the 400 laps, but it was what unfolded with 80 laps to go that snuffed out any hope the No. 99 car had of recording its first trip to Victory Lane in 42 consecutive races.
In case you missed it, Edwards was black-flagged by NASCAR officials for jumping the restart on lap 320. Edwards and his team don't deny that the 99 car jumped ahead of the race leader, Tony Stewart, when the race went green again after the fourth caution of the race, but it is what caused the race violation that had Edwards and others so hopping mad beside themselves.
Edwards said he was informed by one of his spotters that NASCAR officials had said Edwards car was the race leader, and the No. 99 car appeared at the top of the electronic leader board. "I thought, okay, NASCAR made a mistake, and they lined us up wrong for the restart," Edwards said after the race. I was at a disadvantage being on the outside, so I thought I was getting the best start I could get.
They said we were the leader, and I restarted the best I could given the disadvantages position I was in. It looked like Tony waited or spun his tires, so they black-flagged me," he said.
Edwards met with NASCAR officials afterward to discuss the incident, but came away saying he still didn't understand why he received the penalty.
According to NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, Edwards' car tripped the timing and scoring sensor when he crossed the start line ahead of Stewart on the lap 320 restart. "When Carl was scrubbing his tires (getting ready for the restart), he beat Stewart to the line, so that instantaneously puts him up top," Pemberton explained.
"We had to just agree to disagree, and that's the way it is," Edwards said.
The penalty sent Edwards back 13 spots to 15th place. He even fell a lap down before rallying his way through traffic to wind up 10th, courtesy of a free pass back to the lead lap for being the first car off the lead lap when the fifth caution flag came out on lap 386.
With a fourth of the 2012 Sprint Cup schedule now in the books, Edwards is still after that elusive first win of the season, which would equal his winning total a year ago. His best Sprint Cup season was 2009 when the No. 99 car, with Edwards behind the wheel, won nine times and finished second in the final points standings.
The next chance for Edwards to break his winless string will be on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in the Aaron's 499. In 15 previous race starts there, however, Edwards, who is ninth currently in the standings, has no wins and only one top-five finish. Talladega is one of two, 2.5-mile restrictor-plate tracks on the NASCAR circuit (Daytona is the other).
Someone who will be looking more forward to Talladega than Edwards, will be Kansas City's other hometown NASCAR favorite, Clint Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan. Bowyer, who pilots the No. 15 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing and sits 12th this season in points, has won twice at Talladega in 12 races there, along with four top-five finishes and six top 10s.
Bowyer is coming off a seventh place finish in Saturday's Capital City 400 at Richmond, his fourth top-10 of the year. This is his first season with a NASCAR team other than Richard Childress Racing.
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