News & Media


Engine failure sends Edwards to worst finish

June 13, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- It wasn't how Carl Edwards had hoped to spend the latter stages of Sunday's Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway -- in the television booth instead of the race car, holding a microphone instead of a steering wheel, showing off the part that had ended his afternoon rather than a trophy in Victory Lane.

But that's how it unfolded for the points leader, whose advantage at the top of the NASCAR standings grew substantially narrower after an engine failure sent Edwards to his worst finish of the season. On a day that proved difficult on equipment for several teams, Edwards began reporting problems with his engine just 60 laps into the event, and soon afterward was in the Pocono garage area with the hood up on his No. 99 car.

"One of the valves got in an argument with something in the engine, and lost. ... It is just one of those things. Sometimes things break."

--CARL EDWARDS

What happened? "One of the valves got in an argument with something in the engine, and lost," Edwards said. "We broke one valve. We don't think it is from an over rev or anything, we just think it was a parts failure. This is a great car and a great engine. We were running really well, and I was babying the engine a little bit and not shifting too much. It is just one of those things. Sometimes things break."

They certainly did Sunday, when a number of teams experienced mechanical failures born of both Pocono's punishing nature -- 500 miles on a track with massive straightaways can test any part -- and a rule change allowing drivers a greater freedom to shift gears. In Edwards' case, the driver surmised the culprit was the former more than the latter.

"I was trying really hard to be easy on the engine and only shifting in [Turns] 1 and 2, and I was short-shifting into fourth. I didn't want to over rev it," Edwards said. "That is racing, I guess. What good is the point lead if you don't use it? We are using it today, and we are going to need every bit we can to get out of here with the lead today."

He did -- barely. Edwards came to Pocono with a healthy 40-point lead after placing seventh or better in all but three of his 13 previous starts this season. Sunday he wound up 37th, his worst result of the year, and first outside the top 20 since he finished 28th at Phoenix in the season's second event. In the process, he had his points lead trimmed to six over a certain five-time defending champion. Jimmie Johnson lost some track position on a late restart, but still rallied from a mediocre starting position to finish fourth Sunday.

"I thought I had a shot there on that last restart at the end, but kind of got stuck in the middle and lost a bunch of track position and had to recover from that," said Johnson, who gave Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon a late shove that helped the No. 24 win the race. "But it was a great day today. ... Our engine package held up today with the abuse we gave it. It was a great day."

Edwards' engine didn't make it, going out with no warning. It was a rare breakdown his Roush Fenway program took in stride. "It was a part failure," crew chief Bob Osborne said. "You'll have that sometimes in auto racing."

For Edwards, losing 34 points in a single afternoon doesn't hurt as much under the Chase system, which will reset the points among the top 10 drivers and two wild card entries after the regular-season finale Sept. 10. Barring an unthinkable collapse, Edwards will still very much be in the hunt for the championship when it begins the following week in Joliet, Ill. But Edwards has also been the most consistent driver so far this season, and the clear favorite to try to unseat Johnson, and his competitors will use any sign of weakness as motivation.

"When the points leader has problems, everybody's just champing at the bit, licking their lips, going, 'Wow, look at this, I'm right back in this,' " said race runner-up Kurt Busch, who finished one spot ahead of brother Kyle Busch and stands sixth in points. "When you're having good runs like we are, my little brother, just plugging away, that helps you feel more solid when you get to the month of August after you get through the Brickyard, making that summer run to the Chase. Right now, it's all about consistency. I'd like to break through and get a win just to help us feel more confident in our Chase position. When the points leader has trouble, everybody benefits from that."

Time will tell if that's the case. Sunday at Pocono, Edwards was far from panicked over an isolated engine failure, even cool enough to do an extended stint as impromptu guest analyst on TNT. He was already looking forward to next weekend's event at Michigan International Speedway, where Edwards has won twice and his Roush team is traditionally very strong.

"Our engines have been just flawless for awhile," he said. "Every once in a while you are going to have a failure, and we have been running well enough that hopefully we can absorb the failure. If this is the worst thing that happens all year, then that is fine. We will keep going. Michigan is going to be great."