Carl Edwards has said from the start of the 2012 NASCAR season that the dramatic way last season ended, losing out to Tony Stewart on the final lap of the final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, would not negatively affect his drive in 2012. In fact, he said, if anything, it gave him more motivation than ever to go racing and close the deal this time around.
Although he finished second in the Sprint Cup Championship, Edwards has not won a race for over a year, a string that currently has extended to 50 starts after his 20th-place finish Saturday in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. He has eight top-10 finishes in 17 starts this season in the Sprint Cup Series, but the Columbia, Mo., native has not cracked the top 10 in his last six races.
It's been one thing after another all season for the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford, and there seemingly is enough blame, mixed with what has seemed like a ton of bad breaks, to go around to everybody on the race crew of the 99 car. The latest debacle came on an apparent miscommunication between Edwards and his crew chief with a little less than a quarter of the race to go on Saturday night that resulted in the 99 car staying out on the track instead of pitting for fuel around lap 208 or 209 of the 267-lap race, like a number of other drivers did under caution, including eventual winner Brad Keselowski.
Edwards' team was betting on a caution that never came in the final 59 laps and did not want to give up track position. Edwards was running in the top five at that point in the race.
Edwards' luck once again ran dry, as did his fuel tank, with just over four laps to go, forcing him to head to pit lane for a splash of petro in order to finish the race, which he did, but in 20th position. He was in third place when his fuel light starting blinking. So another disappointing finish in what Edwards and the Roush-Fenway team thought, in the late going, might be the breakthrough race everyone on the 99 team was hoping for.
"I am definitely frustrated with the way it played out," Edwards said to reporters after the race at Kentucky. "We had a pretty good car at the end. Bob (Osborne) called me onto pit road. He knew we should have pitted that last time, but I was already so far around that (commitment) cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road.
"So we were put in a box," he said. We hoped there would be a caution, but there wasn't."
Immediately after climbing out of his No. 99 UPS Ford after the race, Edwards headed straight for Osborne to engage in conversation. "The problem was, I called him down pit road too late and he missed pit road," Osborne said afterward. "At that point, we looked at our options and decided to take our chance on a caution...It just didn't go our way. We didn't get the job done."
And that's the way it's been going all season for Edwards and the No. 99 team. The native Missourian has sat 11th in the points standings for several weeks, and until he breaks into the win column again, 11th won't be good enough for Edwards to make the Chase for the Cup field and compete for the Sprint Cup championship over the final 10 races of the season.
The Chase field consists of the top 10 in points after 26 races, plus two wild card positions that are awarded to the drivers with the most wins that fall between 11th and 20th in the standings. There are four drivers, all with one Cup victory each this year, who fall into that latter category heading into round No. 17 this weekend at Daytona.
"It is time for us to get it in gear," Edwards said. "I am real frustrated, Bob is real frustrated and I know we can do this."We ran as well as any Ford out there (on Saturday). At the end, I think with some fuel we would have had a chance to win it."
Edwards, who tries hard to look for the positive takeaways in everything he does, offered this perspective: "A bad day at the race track is still better than a good day with a real job, but we need to get this in gear. We need to go," he said.
The runner-up in the 2011 Sprint Cup championship has 1o races left this season to make thing right, as he says. Otherwise, he is going to be destined to cheer on his two Roush-Fenway teammates, Kenseth and Biffle, currently first and fourth in the points standings, respectively, when it comes time for the Chase.
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