FORT WORTH, Texas -- A year ago, it would have been difficult to spot Carl Edwards among the hoard of cameras and reporters in the garage area while walking to the qualifying line. He was right in the thick of the championship battle -- and everyone clamored to hear every word he uttered.
On Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, Edwards was just another guy in a driver's suit, signing a few autographs, waving to a few fans who yelled his name and walking to his car without much notice at all. When you're 14th in the points, the spotlight doesn't shine in your direction very often.
"Last year was the most exciting year of racing I've ever had."
-- Carl Edwards
"Last year was the most exciting year of racing I've ever had," Edwards said. "Those last few races were really, really, really fun. I'd like to have that shot every year. It's really neat to have a goal, to have it right there within reach to where you wake up every morning thinking about it and going to bed every night thinking about it."
Edwards came up a single point short of winning the Cup in 2011, and even though he didn't win a race, there was no reason not to expect him to be in contention again this year.
But with three races remaining, 2012 has to be one of the most disappointing -- and head-shaking -- seasons in Edwards' career. After top-10 finishes at Daytona and Las Vegas to open the year, Edwards finished 39th at Bristol after getting caught up in a multi-car accident early in the race.
The year has been nothing but an uphill slog for Edwards, who has only led 254 laps this season -- 206 of those at Richmond. His winless streak is now at 66 races -- No. 99 upside down -- and he's had just two top-10 finishes in his last 10 races.
It may have been surprising to see Edwards struggle earlier in the season. But as the season has gone along, and things haven't gotten any better, driver, team owner Jack Roush and crew chief Chad Norris began to look for answers.
"There are a number of reasons," Edwards said. "We did a spreadsheet on the way the first 26 races have gone, and 54 percent of the races we had some sort of wreck or failure or some trouble. That's about twice we've ever had every year before that. That's part of it. But we need to run better, too."
Edwards also mentioned Bob Osborne's departure from the team at the end of July for health reasons as another reason why the No. 99 Ford didn't live up to preseason expectations.
But give up? That's not in Edwards' vocabulary.
"I'm the eternal optimist, so all year, I've been thinking, 'We're going to turn it around, we're going to turn it around,' " Edwards said. "Finally, I and Jack [Roush] and Chad [Norris] and everybody all kind of accepted that we have to take this time to build the best team we can for next year.
"The greatest thing we could do would be to win this race right here, win at Phoenix, win at Homestead -- finish like we did in 2010 -- so we can get that excitement for next year. That's what we're working on right now."
Edwards realizes getting back on track -- or at least back in a position to run up front -- will take time and patience. With that in mind, he has a series of stepladder goals he'd like to accomplish.
Qualifying ninth for Sunday's AAA Texas 500 is a start.
"The short-term thing is win a race or two," Edwards said. "Mid-term is to build the best team, so that long-term, we can be competitive."
But after experiencing the thrill of being on the cusp of a championship, Edwards wouldn't mind hogging some of the spotlight again.
"We've just got to get it together," Edwards said. "This is a performance business and we've got to perform."