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Edwards hoping 2011 feels a lot like Johnson's '08

October 14, 2011, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Atlanta race key to defending champ's third title; Edwards hopes Kansas is his

Carl Edwards has a distinct memory from the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

After winning the seventh event in that 10-race Chase, Edwards was feeling pretty joyful in Victory Lane. Not only had he won, but he figured that Jimmie Johnson, then a mere two-time defending Sprint Cup champion and the driver he was pursuing in the standings, had endured a tough day. Then he realized the truth. Johnson had finished right on the bumper of Edwards' No. 99 Ford, finishing second to maintain a nearly 200-point advantage with only three races remaining.

"I think to win the championship, you have to not have bad days. And I think that showed our team is better prepared to recover from some days like that than we have been in the past."


It was like winning a key battle, but realizing before you can properly celebrate the victory that you're still losing the war. It was a disheartening realization.

"We won Atlanta and Jimmie was having a terrible day," Edwards said. "I thought, 'Man, we smoked him in the points today.' And then I looked up at the scoreboard and I think he finished second. I was like, 'How in the heck did he finish second? Things were going so terribly for him.'"

Fast forward to 2011 and last Sunday's fourth race of this Chase at Kansas Speedway. Edwards said later that he knew something was wrong with his car when he drove into the first turn on the very first lap of the 267-lap race. Having gone into the day with very high hopes, Edwards said it underscored the unpredictable nature of this year's Chase -- in fact, this year's entire season.

"It is more unpredictable," Edwards said Thursday, in between practices for this Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I truly went into Kansas thinking, 'Boy, I sure hope we don't finish second or third in this race. I'm here to win this one.' And then about 15 laps into it, I thought, 'Man, I'd give anything to finish second or third in this race.' So you just don't know what to expect. You don't know what's going to happen. Your best race track could end up being your worst nightmare. You just don't know."

With the handling in his car way off, Edwards quickly fell one lap down to the leaders -- and most of the other Chasers -- at Kansas. At one point, he fell two laps off the pace.

All the while, Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne kept relatively cool heads and Osborne kept making adjustments to the car. Edwards eventually got back on the lead lap and then Osborne elected to put four tires on during a key pit stop.

Suddenly Edwards was back in the top 10. Toward the end of the race, he passed Kevin Harvick for fifth -- giving him the points lead over the driver he had entered the day tied with at the top.

Johnson won the race, but Edwards thought he saw a familiar emotion flicker across the race winner's face when Johnson was told in Victory Lane that Edwards had recovered from his rough start to finish fifth.

"First of all, last week we got very lucky to get the breaks we got," Edwards said. "But we did come back and we didn't lose our heads -- and I believe that comes from the maturity that we've built through a lot of pain and frustration through the last couple of years. When I watched some of the interviews [from Victory Lane] afterward, it reminded me of 2008.

"I remembered how I felt in Atlanta that day when I found out the 48 had finished second. They came back that day and I could see that look in Jimmie's eyes [last Sunday] like, 'Man, I didn't know they [meaning the No. 99 team of Edwards] finished fifth.' They were probably really counting on putting a pretty good beating on us in the points. So I think to win the championship, you have to not have bad days. And I think [the Kansas finish] showed our team is better prepared to recover from some days like that than we have been in the past. ... I was very proud of it. That's the best way to put it."

Johnson took notice, and admitted on Thursday that he, too, thought back to that 2008 day in Atlanta when the roles were reversed. He said that was one of a few moments over the past five seasons when he thought he had successfully implanted himself in the heads of his fellow Chase competitors.

"I know in Victory Lane that day, it was told [to Edwards] that we finished second and you could tell that shocked him and got to him a little bit," Johnson said. "I think [another year] racing with Jeff Gordon, we won like four or five races in that Chase. We won at Phoenix and he came into Victory Lane with a white towel, waving it. There have been some small moments where you've been able to see it."

Now Edwards is hoping he's in the process of turning the tables on Johnson and the rest of the Chase field. He hopes to continue doing so Saturday at a track where he's encountered his share of troubles -- despite winning the Sprint All-Star Race last May on the 1.5-mile layout.

"I hope we come out of here on Saturday with a win," Edwards said. "We have not run well at this race track. This has been one of my tougher race tracks, but this year I feel like we turned a corner with our All-Star win and our run in the 600. Our car was very fast.

"We've got the same kind of theory for setup and some of the same approaches for our car and our suspension as we had in the All-Star race, so I'm excited. ... I hope this is the race we can turn it around and win a points race here. That would be huge."

Watch: Carl Edwards discusses feeling like Kansas was a victory