With new crew chief, Edwards hopes to recapture 2011 form
There were “flashes of speed,” Carl Edwards said in recounting his 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and occasions when he felt his Roush Fenway Racing team was on the brink of turning the corner.
But the flashes were no more than brief bursts that generated encouragement and optimism, but fell short of honest-to-goodness success.
Had it been another team, another driver, another year even, perhaps the lackluster results wouldn’t have been quite so startling. But coming off a 2011 season in which Edwards had battled Tony Stewart down to the very last lap of the very last race of the season, only to lose the Sprint Cup championship on a tiebreaker of all things? Great things were expected for the 33-year-old; great struggles were not.
Instead, the 2012 season closed with his last Cup win a distant memory. Edwards missed the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for just the second time in eight years, and his 15th-place points finish was a career worst.
Looking back, Edwards says simply “our performance was mediocre and our luck was terrible. So if you take those two things together, you’re just bad.”
"I feel like we respond really well to change."
-- Carl Edwards
A flurry of offseason changes at RFR saw the departure of longtime teammate Matt Kenseth (now at Joe Gibbs Racing) and the ascension of two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to the Sprint Cup. The result of that movement has paired Edwards with veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig and the bulk of the No. 17 team that guided Kenseth to three victories and into the Chase last season.
Eighteen of Edwards’ 19 Cup wins came with crew chief Bob Osborne at the helm. A handful of others have been atop the pit box from time to time, but neither Osborne nor the others have the experience of Fennig, a 28-year Cup veteran with 36 wins and 817 races under his belt.
Edwards said he got a glimpse of Fennig’s longevity and success during one of their initial conversations late last season.
“We were talking, and he was saying ‘Bobby Allison did this, Kurt Busch did this, Matt Kenseth did this,’ ” Edwards said. “He has champion drivers that he has known intimately. That’s really cool.
“I felt relatively ignorant sitting there in his office. But I think that’s good for a person. At this level of the sport, it’s real easy to get a big head and think you know everything. He’ll be a good measuring stick, I guess, for me. He can say, ‘Hey look, you’re not pulling your weight here’ or ‘You’re good here.’ I think that will make me be better.”
Both driver and crew chief will have to adapt to working with someone new, and while Fennig said he doesn’t anticipate changing the way he has approached the sport in previous years, he doesn’t run his team with a “my way or the highway” approach either.
“I’m the type of person who is open-minded,” he said. “I know how important simulation is and a lot of the other tools we have at our disposal as a race team, and I want to make sure that Carl gives our engineers and myself all of the feedback on what that car is doing so we can help him. Our simulation is a big part of what we do and our engineering staff is a big strength of our organization that we’ve got to make sure it works.”
It’s unknown how much of an impact the arrival of the Generation-6 car will create, but Edwards said the car should be “really good for us.”
“I feel like we respond really well to change,” Edwards added. “New tracks, that sort of thing, that’s kind of been our bread and butter (in the past).”
The opportunity is there, he said, “for someone to get ahead of the curve for a year or two. And I hope that it’s us.”