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Last season's near-miss bolsters Edwards' confidence for 2012

January 13, 2012, David Caraviello,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chase runner-up arrives at Preseason Thunder testing eager to compete in '12

When Carl Edwards flew into the airport adjacent to Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, he wondered how he'd feel returning to a race track for the first time since he narrowly lost the Sprint Cup championship in late November. Would memories of that title chase, which Tony Stewart won in a tiebreaker, eat at him? Would he fixate on the missed opportunities that kept him from claiming his first crown on NASCAR's highest level?

After making his way over to the big 2.5-mile track and changing into his new blue and white firesuit, he realized he did feel different -- but perhaps not in the way everyone might have anticipated.

" I've accepted the fact that we didn't win it, but I'm also really excited about the way we that we could potentially run this year. So I feel more confident than I've felt, ever. Kind of more calm, you know?"


"I feel a little more excited, I feel more confidence," Edwards said on the opening day of Preseason Thunder testing. "I didn't know if that's how I'd feel. I didn't know if it would be something that would feel nagging, or something like that. I feel good, excited to go racing. What happened last year was one of the greatest battles I've ever been in [in] in a race car, and I feel like I learned a lot. ... I've accepted the fact that we didn't win it, but I'm also really excited about the way we that we could potentially run this year. So I feel more confident than I've felt, ever. Kind of more calm, you know? Because I know we can do it."

Edwards adopted that mindset in the immediate aftermath of last season's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race, Edwards finished second, and Stewart's five victories -- all of them coming in the Chase -- proved the championship difference after the standings ended up in a tie. He's maintained it in the month since NASCAR's Champions Week in Las Vegas, occasionally allowing himself to slip into the what-if game, but always coming back to the same place.

"I thought about stuff. There were times when I thought, man, I could have done this, I could have done that. But truly, not a lot," he said. "I'm very, very fortunate. I believe ... we're all fortunate [that] there wasn't an instance in that Chase where we really screwed something up. I feel like we had the best Chase, on average, that anyone has ever had. The points we accumulated, the saves -- we had days like Kansas and Martinsville where we were legitimately 25th-place cars, and we did a good job.

"I heard people comment and say, ah, well, they could have gotten a point here, they could have gotten a bonus point here. We also could have really screwed up and been back there fighting for sixth or eighth or something, and we weren't. I'm proud of it. I thought we did the most with what we had. Tony just did the unbelievable. They just pulled out an unbelievable Chase. That's how I really feel about it. It's not like I'm wake up, kick-the-dog mad or anything like that. I'm at peace with it."

So, it seems, is his No. 99 team. Three weeks ago, car owner Jack Roush held a meeting in which his organization discussed the end of last season and looked forward to 2012. At one point, Roush asked Edwards' crew chief, Bob Osborne, what he would have done differently last year. Osborne's answer, as Edwards remembers it, came without hesitation: "I wouldn't do anything differently. If we started this thing again tomorrow, that's how I'd approach it. We'd race the same way we did. We did the absolute best we could do."

To those on the outside, the impression was that Osborne took the championship near-miss very hard, especially since he skipped Champions Week festivities in Las Vegas. Instead, he went back to work in the shop. "Vegas costs money, and Vegas wasn't for us," Osborne said Thursday. "I felt like I should have been back at the shop working. At the end of the day, that was [crew chief] Darian [Grubb] and Tony's deal. I hoped they enjoyed it, they deserved it, for sure. We're working hard, and have been working hard, and looking forward to really getting started on the meat of the season."

A test and a Fest

Complementing the testing portion at Daytona is a special two-day Fan Fest event.

In actuality, Osborne said he was able to reach a peace over how last year ended, much like his driver did.

"I reached it pretty quick," he said. "We show up to the race track every weekend with the intention of doing the best we possibly can. Regardless of the outcome, myself and Carl and everyone on this program shows up and does absolutely the best they can. When the weekend's over, I don't look back, and I don't ask my guys to look back. I know Carl doesn't look back and say, 'Man, we didn't do a good enough job here, we didn't do a good enough job there.' We do highlight the things we could have done differently, but we understand the particular situations don't necessarily go the way you want them to go. ... There were a lot of opportunities that we didn't get the absolute most out of, but that didn't have anything to do with anyone not doing a good job or not doing the best they could."

Osborne will concede, there were moments when he wondered about the what-ifs. But he moved past them. "I think it's important to let it all go," he said. "But I am human, too. There are times you look back and say, one more point here would have made a huge difference. And you look at not only things that our program did, but you also look at things other programs did to change how the points wound up. There are a lot of things that we look at. But that was last year. We worry about this year now."

When the subject turns to last season, though, Edwards takes comfort in his results, and an average finish of 4.9 over the final 10 races that would have been good enough to win any previous Chase. Stewart beat him with, he thinks, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of charge at the end.

Preseason Thunder: Day 1

Morning Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed PosDriverTimeSpeed
2.Paul Menard46.785 192.369 18. Kasey Kahne 47.160 190.840
3.Kurt Busch46.787 192.361 19. Kevin Harvick 47.176 190.775
4.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.46.885 191.959 20. Clint Bowyer 47.199 190.682
5. Juan Montoya46.911 191.853 21. Mark Martin 47.225 190.577
6. Jimmie Johnson46.933191.763 22. Marcos Ambrose 47.238 190.525
7. Greg Biffle46.987 191.542 23. Aric Almirola 47.255 190.456
8. Danica Patrick47.004 191.473 24. Jamie McMurray 47.269 190.400
9. Jeff Burton47.019 191.412 25. Regan Smith 47.374 189.978
10. Trevor Bayne47.022 191.400 26. A.J. Allmendinger 47.419 189.797
11.Dale Earnhardt Jr.47.025 191.388 27. Carl Edwards 47.435 189.733
12. Tony Stewart 47.032 191.359 28. Brad Keselowski 47.504 189.458
13. Kyle Busch47.037 191.339 29.Casey Mears 47.508 189.442
14. Joey Logano 47.059 191.249 30. Martin Truex Jr. 47.633 188.945
15. Ryan Newman 47.110 191.042 31. Joe Nemechek 48.304 186.320
16. Denny Hamlin 47.122 190.994

Preseason Thunder: Day 1

Afternoon Practice Speeds
Pos.DriverTimeSpeed Pos.DriverTimeSpeed
2.Joey Logano44.469202.388 18.Jeff Burton46.945191.714
3.Brad Keselowski44.505202.224 19.Juan Montoya46.969191.616
4.A.J. Allmendinger44.506202.220 20.Matt Kenseth46.997191.502
5.Dale Earnhardt Jr.44.794200.920 21.Marcos Ambrose47.007 191.461
6.Jimmie Johnson44.795200.915 22.Ryan Newman47.010191.449
7.Denny Hamlin44.965200.156 23.Kevin Harvick47.052191.278
8.Kasey Kahne45.047199.791 24.Trevor Bayne47.061191.241
9.Mark Martin45.782196.584 25.Martin Truex Jr.47.095191.103
10.Clint Bowyer45.782196.584 26.Jamie McMurray47.102191.075
11.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.46.164194.957 27.Regan Smith47.266190.412
12.Jeff Gordon46.482193.623 28.Carl Edwards47.285190.335
13.Paul Menard46.726192.612 29.Aric Almirola47.296190.291
14.Kurt Busch46.835192.164 30.Dave Blaney47.453189.661
15.Tony Stewart46.887191.951 31.Casey Mears47.671188.794
16.Danica Patrick46.893191.926 32.Joe Nemechek 48.038187.352

"Truthfully, I think we ran a hell of a Chase," Edwards said. "If we do that again this year, I challenge anyone to do what Tony did. I don't know that that's ever going to be possible again. No offense to anybody or anything, but if you said, you have to go win half the Chase races to win this championship, I'd say, man, I don't know that anybody could do that. But they did. What I'm saying is, over the next years, if we can perform like we're performing now, we're going to be tough to beat."