Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards

2011 Ride: No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2011 Primary Sponsors: AFLAC, Subway, Scotts, Kellogg’s, Cheez-It
2011 Owners: Jack Roush, John Henry
2011 Crew Chief: Bob Osborne
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 19 top fives, 26 top 10s, no DNFs, second in points

High Point: Obviously, the high point of Edwards’s season was that win at Las Vegas. But the entire season went very well for the No. 99 team and its driver as they amassed top-10 finishes nearly every week. Edwards had a phenomenal Chase as well, despite no victories – he posted a worst finish of 11th in those 10 races.

Low Points: I imagine those last 33 laps at Homestead had to be a nightmare for Edwards. Running in second, he could see the only car he had to pass to win a championship. Unfortunately, like Tantalus he could see those apples – except they were just out of his grasp when he reached for them. Edwards would reel in Stewart a few laps, and then Tony Stewart would start easing further away even as the laps slowly clicked down.

During those agonizing 20 minutes, Edwards had to be thinking, “What if I’d started my run to the front just a few laps earlier at Talladega?” He left some points on the table in Alabama playing it safe and that came back to bite him in a very big way.

Summary: The No. 99 team started the season with a strategy more conservative than Jesse Helms. Who could blame them. For five frustrating years, they’d watched Jimmie Johnson use that same strategy to claim five straight titles. Johnson and Knaus knew that in the first 26 races, it only mattered to run well enough to ensure you were in the top 12 after the Richmond fall event. Only in the Chase, were you supposed to light the afterburners – or so it worked for the No. 48.

So, for those 26 races in 2011, Edwards ran more like Johnson than Johnson did this year. A lap led, top another top-10 finish … ka-ching! As noted above, Edwards averaged a fifth-place finish in the Chase but they must not have had a decal on his rearview mirror to warn Edwards that No. 14 car might be closer than it appeared.

Forced to step up his game as his points lead eroded away, Edwards showed what he and the No. 99 team were capable of with second-place finishes in the final three races. One more point was all it would have taken. One lousy point. Most guys would have had to be talked down off a ledge after Homestead, but Edwards conducted himself with notable grace and honor.

It rather worries me, though, he’d decided he was going to be “NASCAR’s Best Loser.” To be the best at anything, you need to constantly practice. I guess when you start to accept losing, it becomes routine.

Off-Track News: Edwards signed a new contract with RFR that will keep him in the No. 99 car through at least 2014. (Rumors had been rampant for a while Edwards was heading to Joe Gibbs Racing as a replacement for Joey Logano in the Home Depot Toyota. Ford apparently shoveled a ton of cash into the deal to keep that from happening.) Edwards donated a bundle of that cash to Joplin, Mo. in his home state, the town that was devastated by a tornado this summer.

2012 Outlook: There’s a theory that when a driver finishes second in the points, he runs lousy the next year (see: Denny Hamlin). My guess is that given Edwards’s upbeat outlook on life, he won’t meltdown and the No. 99 team will run well again next year. Who knows that will happen next year. Will Johnson and the No. 48 team revert to form? Will the Toyota teams be able to cry, whine or buy their way into a new engine package? Will Kyle Busch finally grow up and run to his full potential? (Strike that question – ridiculous notion.)

But however 2012 plays out, I figure Edwards and the No. 99 team will once again have a dog in the fight. (What’s that old saying, “Don’t bring a duck to a dogfight?”)

2007 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2008 Grade: A+
2009 Grade: C-
2010 Grade: A-
2011 Grade: A

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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