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Aumann: Edwards seeks title by hiding out at Talladega

October 24, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle were in no rush to get up to the front and that decision helped boost Edwards' points lead. (Autostock)

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Wiser since '08, he toys with the field en route to 11th place, padded points lead

You can complain about the tactics. But you can't argue with the results.

"I was prepared to lose the points lead, but I wasn't going to accept making a mistake and losing control of my car."

--CARL EDWARDS

While many of the other Chase contenders sliced and diced their way to the front -- only to get caught up in crashes not of their own making -- Carl Edwards did the hardest thing a racer can choose to do. He chose passive over aggressive at a place where running four-wide at 200 mph is an occupational hazard.

His No. 99 barely registered on the leaderboard and happened to show up on the television broadcast almost as an afterthought. He played "hide and go seek" with Talladega, and brought home a race car with barely a scratch on it.

And because of what others called "sitting in the back and riding," Edwards has a 14-point lead with four races remaining.

Where's Waldo? Sitting on top of the standings.

"I don't know that I've ever been excited about 11th place," Edwards said. "This race was one that is nerve-wracking for everyone. We came in here with a small points lead and we're leaving with a bigger one. That's a huge day for us."

When the day was over, Edwards was accused of perhaps the second worst thing in racing. The first? Driving with your head up your keister, which is what happened here three years ago when Edwards wound up wrecking teammate Greg Biffle in an ill-timed bump-drafting maneuver.

It's a memory that continues to haunt Edwards to this day -- and perhaps more than anything, shaped his race strategy this time around.

"I was ultimately frustrated with myself for taking myself out [in 2008]," Edwards said. "That was my first goal, not to take myself out. I was prepared to lose the points lead, but I wasn't going to accept making a mistake and losing control of my car."

And it was Biffle who laid back in the pack with Edwards for what seemed like an interminable period of time, waiting for the right moment for someone to yell, "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

"I cannot believe how much Greg helped us today," Edwards said. "I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day.

"The last lap, he was driving my car from back there. We got separated. He was screaming, 'Go, go, go!' Then somehow he found me again, pushed us back up through there a little bit."

Finishing 11th at Talladega isn't the kind of day that deserves a medal, a trophy or a parade. But for Edwards, it's another sign that he's no longer the guy who might have thrown away a championship with a dumb move three seasons ago.

"I feel like now we are a better team than we were in 2008," Edwards said. "I feel we're fast for reasons that are more fundamental reasons. We have better engines, our engineering is better, our cars are better. We don't just have a trick, a skewed rear end housing, a new car we figured out quick or something like that. I feel like we are competitive week in and week out.

"Even when we have a bad day, it always seems that one of our teammates runs really well and we have someone we can lean on. I still feel better about this year than 2008."

But Edwards isn't confident enough to believe dodging disaster at Talladega will guarantee the title. Far from it.

"We'd have to have a 100-point lead to take a breath," he said. "Anything can happen, especially since teammate Matt Kenseth -- who knows what it takes to win a championship -- is lurking.

"... We're doing well. It's fun. I'm a little nervous about Matt, honestly, 'cause I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn't make me breathe easier, competitive wise."

Some people might criticize Edwards for playing it safe. But in his mind, he played it smart. And he's never been happier to be heading to Martinsville in his life.

A laid-back attitude seems out of place in racing, but Carl Edwards proved Sunday that good things come to those who wait.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.