Michigan International Speedway has been very good to Carl Edwards in the past. He had won two Sprint Cup races there in 16 career starts coming into Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race, and in his 17th Cup race at the track many of the drivers call the fastest in NASCAR, Edwards and his Roush-Fenway race team needed a win, and in the worst way.
Edwards, who makes his permanent home in Columbia, Mo., qualified second for Sunday's Sprint Cup event at Michigan's two-mile, D-shaped race venue, which placed him in the front row alongside pole-sitter Mark Martin of Michael Waltrip Racing and in a good spot to make lemonade out of what has been a lemon of a season so far for the Missouri native.
Team owner Jack Roush did come up with the victory at Michigan, his first in the seven previous races at that facility, but it wasn't Edwards and the No. 99 Ford. Instead it was teammate Greg Biffle, the new points leader in the drivers' standings who celebrated in Victory Lane, capturing his second win of the 2012 season. The Roush-Fenway team had not won at Michigan since Edwards took home the trophy with a winning effort in 2008.
Edwards, who actually led one lap in the race (lap169) before pitting for right-side tires at lap 170, felt good about his chances when the No. 99 car came out third in the green-white-checkered restart on lap 200 to end the race. The adrenalin rush ended quickly, however, as Edwards got stuck in traffic in the middle of the track and was shoved back to a sixth-place finish.
"We had a lot of fortune there to get the opportunity on the last restart to make it happen," Edwards said. But it was not to happen, which has been Edwards' misfortune practically all season. If it wasn't going to be us, he said, I'm at least glad than another one of our Fords (Biffle) made it to Victory Lane.
"We were as fast or faster than Greg (Biffle) was the whole second half of the race, Edwards said. "It is just a matter of getting it done now."
It may have been a long time between victories for Roush at Michigan International Speedway, but with 12 overall victories there, Jack Roush now has more wins at Michigan than any other NASCAR team owner.
The irony of this season is, two Roush-Fenway drivers, Biffle and Matt Kenseth, are sitting one-two in the standings and with their automatic spots in the Chase for the Cup season-ending championship firmly secured, but it was 2011 Chase runner-up Edwards who was thought before the season started to have the best chance of all of the Roush Ford drivers of making the Chase again this year.
It is looking more and more, though, with just three regular-season races remaining, that the No. 99 Ford will be among the 12 Chase qualifiers when the green flag waves at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16 for the for the opening Chase race in the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship.
For Edwards, it all comes down to a three-race season. The 32-year-old veteran Roush-Fenway driver must win at least two of the three remaining Cup races - at Bristol this week, at Atlanta (where he has three career wins) or at Richmond on the final weekend of the regular season - or miss the Chase for the first time in six years.
Trailing 10th-place Denny Hamlin by 38 points, and with only three races left before the this season's Chase for the Cup field is finalized, it appears that Edwards' only hope of making the championship field is to earn one of the two wild-card qualifying spots. The trouble with that is, six other drivers who rank in the second ten in points have one win already, and 11th-place Kasey Kahne has won twice.
Edwards has yet to win a Sprint Cup race in 2012, although he does have 11 top-10 finishes. His last Cup victory was over a year ago, in March, at Las Vegas. He did win the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen a week ago in his first start of the season in NASCAR's second-tier racing series.
Time is truly running out this season for Edwards and the No. 99 Ford. As the time-worn cliché goes: It's now or never.
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