Edwards aims to improve New Hampshire outlook
September 21, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
Chase driver hoping early struggles subside by Sunday
LOUDON, N.H. -- Carl Edwards' two wins this season were separated by exactly 23 races -- the sort of dry spell that seldom will net a driver a championship.
In search of his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title and just nine events left on the 2013 schedule including Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), Edwards can't afford to suffer a similar relapse.
Despite the forecast of early morning Sunday showers, another drought may be in store for the Roush Fenway Racing driver, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway hasn't been kind to Edwards in the past. Early returns this weekend don't indicate a change in fortune.
Edwards chugged his way through three practice sessions in which he averaged a leaderboard spot of 15th, culminating in Saturday's final run-through in which his speed of 131.688 mph paled in comparison to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s session-leading 133.059.
"This weekend is not good because we’re struggling. We thought we'd be a lot better," Edwards said. "If there's one thing (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig and my crew can do, they can make up a lot of ground through strategy and pit stops, so we've got our work cut out for us, but we'll just go do it."
Currently fifth in the standings, Edwards' stock appeared to be trending up with a win at Richmond -- the ultimate momentum builder to head into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with -- but a finish outside the top-10 at Chicagoland in the Chase opener and a rough start to the weekend at Loudon are worrisome.
While Edwards has finished every race he's run at the Magic Mile, in 18 starts he's earned just four top-10 finishes -- only two of which were top-fives. As a notoriously difficult track to pass on, you can point to the fact that Edwards has qualified outside the top 10 a dozen times when trying to analyze his poor finishes here. When Edwards has qualified in spots 11-20, he's finished in the top 10 only twice, while leading just two laps total the six times he's qualified outside the top 20.
The No. 99 brushed the wall during qualifying, forcing a rougher-than-expected lap. Despite his starting position of 26th being a cause for concern, Edwards remains positive.
"That didn't go very well. At least we're looking at the good side of my race car, the clean side because I hit the fence with the other side," he said Friday. "That was a pretty tough lap, but Jimmie Johnson showed us you can come from the back here. He had an engine change in the earlier race and did a great job, so we're gonna have to fight for this one."
As the season winds down, every subpar finish is magnified tremendously -- as illustrated by the DNFs of Joey Logano and Earnhardt last week that have all but buried their title hopes -- so Edwards and his crew need to find a way to make the necessary adjustments to salvage a decent race.
"That's something we're going to look at is work on our strategy and work on the car to get it better so we can get back up front," said Fennig. "Track position is big anywhere, so you've always got to look at pit strategy no matter where you start. I'm still not happy. We need to be running better. We need to unload off the truck better, so we've got work to do."
That said, sometimes it doesn't always come down to pit strategy or mechanical adjustments. The inspiration factor will occasionally make itself known and a fair amount of parallels exist between Edwards (who missed the Chase last year) and the 2013 Boston Red Sox, who Friday night earned their first American League East division title since 2007 after a last-place finish just a year ago.
"We've got (Red Sox owner and Roush Fenway Racing co-owner) John Henry and all the folks at Fenway Sports Group that back us up -- the Red Sox Nation -- everybody is so great to us up here that we’d love to get a win for them."