News & Media

Edwards could be guy to end second-place curse

December 19, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Last driver to win the title after finishing second year before was Stewart in 2001

Karma could be on Cousin Carl's side.

It has been 10 years since the driver who finished second in a Sprint Cup season went on to claim the championship in the following season. Carl Edwards, who lost this year's championship in a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart, plans to buck the decade-long trend in 2012.

He said everyone in and around his No. 99 Ford team -- from the manufacturer itself to Roush Fenway Racing team owners John Henry and Jack Roush -- are already thinking about how they're going to get it done.

"Here's the deal: I've learned to think of this not only not in terms of each race or even each season. This is a career. This is a lifetime career path that I'm on, and I want to get better all the time."


"Everyone is pretty pumped up. [Attending the end-of-year banquet] was the last thing about 2011. Now it's all about 2012," Edwards said. "Ford's pumped. John Henry and the Fenway Group guys are pumped and ready to do some neat things with Ford on the marketing side. Jack's ready to go. He's thinking motor oil and gear ratios and rocker-arm ratios already. I mean, he's ready to rock."

If Edwards can take that next step in 2012, he will become the first driver since Stewart to accomplish it. Stewart finished second to Jeff Gordon in the Cup standings in 2001, and then came back to earn his first of what is now three titles in 2002.

That may be part of the karma that makes it appear Edwards has a strong shot, but more importantly, most of the remainder of it rests in his own head.

What might have been?

After technically tying Stewart for this year's championship, only to lose out on the tiebreaker [Stewart posted five race wins this season to Edwards' one], Edwards admitted he has been spending some sleepless nights thinking about how and when he could have gained that one extra point that would have made the difference. Under the new NASCAR points system introduced prior to last season, all it would have taken is one more pass, one more improved position in the Chase.

"There were a lot of places where I could have gotten one point. Of course. But you can't go back and change that," Edwards said. "And truly, we did try. It wasn't like we had an off day down the stretch where we said, 'Wow. We really screwed that up.' We were on it.

"Pit-road speeding at Dover [in the third of 10 Chase for the Sprint Cup races] was probably the biggest mistake we made, and we still recovered from that in a huge manner. I was really proud of that."

Edwards didn't win in the Chase, but he did finish second in each of the final three races at Texas, Phoenix and in the season finale at Homestead, where he qualified on the pole. He lost out on the championship because Stewart won two of those three and five of 10 overall in the Chase, including Homestead.

"That's the one thing that's nice about this. It's not like I missed a gear or screwed up qualifying at Homestead, or did something wrong," Edwards said. "I felt like we kept our heads in the game until the checkered flag and it just didn't work out for us."

Recent history

Edwards is well aware of the recent history of second-place finishers in the standings suffering setbacks the following year. Denny Hamlin, winner of a series-high eight races in 2010, struggled mightily in 2011 and finished ninth, winning only one race. Mark Martin, runner-up in 2009 with five race wins, finished 13th in points and failed to win a single race in 2010.

Then there is Edwards' own experience. He won a series-high nine races in 2008 and thought he was poised to win it all the next season.

Instead, he didn't win a single race in 2009 and placed a disappointing 11th in points.

Edwards remembers the frustration of 2009 all too well. But he said, at age 32 and married now with two children, he also has learned to keep everything in racing in proper perspective.

"Here's the deal: I've learned to think of this not only not in terms of each race or even each season. This is a career. This is a lifetime career path that I'm on, and I want to get better all the time," Edwards said. "And my mission is to be able to look back on this season and look at our run as a stepping stone -- as something that helped me learn and become better.

"And I'm going to treat next season just like I treated that last race: I'm not going to let someone or something slow me down and cause me to make mistakes. We're going to go out and do the best that we can -- and I swear to you right here: if we don't run well next season, it won't be because we got messed up in the head over not winning. We're truly going out there and focusing on what's important. That's not just because of me. I've got truly good people around me who will keep reminding me."

One of those is his wife, Kate.

"She's said, 'You're good. You can beat these guys.' I think without that support, I might be worried. But I'm not," Edwards said.

One other piece of karma that Edwards appears to have going for him: Stewart said it's only a matter of time until Edwards wins the first of what Stewart figures will be multiple Cup championships.

Edwards obviously hopes that Stewart is right, and that his time is up in 2012.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Watch all of Edwards' highlights from the 2011 season: