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Impatient Edwards eager to make gains

June 08, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Impatient Edwards eager to make gains
LONG POND, Pa. -- No. 99 driver is 'doing a good job,' but results must be better to make the Chase

It was only a test, but Carl Edwards still had a sense of urgency. Crew chief Bob Osborne wanted to stick to the plan the No. 99 team had lain out for the two-day session at Pocono Raceway. The driver just wanted to go faster.

"Bob and I are over there almost coming to blows," Edwards joked.

"Except for broken parts, [Carl Edwards] is not going to have a problem making the Chase. So there's not any reason for panic."

--JACK ROUSH

It's easy to see why Edwards feels the need to see his car number climb higher up the speed chart. Last year's Sprint Cup championship runner-up fell to 12th in points after a cut tire sent him into the wall early in last week's event at Dover, continuing a puzzling season for a driver whose performance has been good -- but too often, not good enough. While Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth stand first and second in the points, their teammate would be out of the Chase if the playoff started this week.

No one is more cognizant of that than Edwards, who despite his championship near-miss last season has gone 46 races since his last victory. He realizes results must improve if he hopes to make another bid at the title. A year ago, the two-time Pocono winner came to Long Pond with a series points lead so large, it withstood an engine failure that left him watching the rest of the race from the television booth. Now, Edwards is in danger of being left out of wild-card contention by other drivers with multiple victories.

"It's tough. There's a lot on the line, and it's so competitive right now," he said. "I can't describe how competitive it is. If you look at our 99 team and our situation, our teammates are leading, one and two. We're outside of the Chase right now, and it's not because we haven't run as well as those guys; we have not been able to put together everything. Luck has been a big factor, but we haven't been able to put it together, and if we have a couple of bad races, it could be really, really ugly. So these races are very important. We have to run well, so the pressure is on, which is kind of fun in a way. I think it was last year at this point in the season we were leading ... and there was really no pressure. We just had a win, we won the All-Star Race and we were cruising, so this is like a good workout before a big game. We've got to keep the pedal down and go."

Edwards was in the championship hunt until the final lap last year, a situation that often doesn't allow a team much time to prepare for the season to come. It also is not unusual for title contenders to be hesitant to change anything that worked so well in the previous campaign, which can lead to a step backward in the next one. Edwards concedes that was the case in 2009, when he plummeted to an 11th-place points finish after he won nine races and was the runner-up for the title in 2008.

But this year? Not so. Edwards said he and Osborne learned from experience, and were ready.

"We knew that could happen before we even started, so we said, 'OK, let's not do this. Let's not rest on what we did, keep our heads in the sand and not develop anything.' We actively and consciously tried to avoid the exact thing you're talking about. I think as a team we've shown, with Greg and Matt's success in the points, that it's worked out," Edwards said.

"I feel like I'm up here making excuses, but the reality is we had the tire at Dover, the fuel at Phoenix, the wreck at Talladega and the wreck at Bristol. That's a lot of points. It's like my brother was telling me last week -- he said, 'It's just luck. Last year, your luck was awesome. This year, it's terrible.' Hopefully, we can kind of use all that bad luck and still make the Chase and turn it around, because I know we can do it. That's the thing, but I do want to be very clear. I'll be honest with you guys, if I felt there was a hangover from last year or we were down-and-out because we didn't win, I'd tell you guys that we have to get our game faces on. But we really are, I think, doing a good job, and I don't feel like anyone over there is ashamed of what we did last year or anything like that. It's just plain bad luck. At the same time, we still have to run better, but I don't feel like it's because of last year."

* Track Smack: Edwards falling, Gordon climbing

No question, Edwards has battled his share of misfortune this season, the accident last week at Dover being the latest chapter. "Carl's had two wrecks that were not his fault, and he had a flat tire where he ran over something on the race track apparently at Dover. You take those out of the equation, and he'd be somewhere between fifth and seventh in points," car owner Jack Roush said.

But it's also clear that there seems to be a performance gap between the No. 99 and the two other Roush cars, which have combined for a pair of victories in addition to showing the consistency that's kept them at the top of the standings. Although Edwards has eight top-10 finishes, his effort six weeks ago at Richmond -- where he led 206 laps and had his chance at victory thwarted by a restart penalty -- was the only event where he asserted himself as a real contender to win. He's led a race at just one other point this season, at Kansas, and that was for only a single lap.

And yet, a sense of urgency does not translate into alarm. Roush said that as the season moves on, the setups on the 16, 17 and 99 cars will fall more into line. "Except for broken parts, [Edwards] is not going to have a problem making the Chase. So there's not any reason for panic," Roush said. There were also two new engineers added to the No. 99 team over the offseason, according to the car owner.

"We made some minor personnel changes that I'm very happy with over the winter," Roush said. "It doesn't surprise me that we are where we are with the 99. But it is unusual, and I'm sure it will rectify itself."