News & Media

More frustrating choices for Edwards at Brickyard

July 30, 2012, David Caraviello,

No. 99 team decides to come in and fix engine at Indy, ending up four laps down

INDIANAPOLIS -- The hope that comes with a new crew chief on top of the pit box, and the excitement that accompanies a fast car on the front row -- an optimistic Carl Edwards had them both. Edwards opened a make-or-break stretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- that is, until he uttered five ominous words over the radio just 11 laps into the race.

"Engine's blowing up, I think," he reported.

"We have to plan to win these races. I don't think we can think about points anymore. ...That is what I am saying when I say it is simpler. We just have to go race for wins now."


And with that, a frantic, frustrating Brickyard experience began to unfold for last season's championship runner-up, who saw his hopes of returning to the Chase take another serious hit. New crew chief Chad Norris faced a near worst-case scenario as the No. 99 team struggled to diagnose the cause of an engine issue that cost Edwards four laps on the race track and effectively doomed his chances of making the playoff on points.

"We have to take chances. We have to go race," Edwards said. "We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn't bet against us. We can do it."

After Sunday, he really has no other choice. Edwards finished 29th at Indianapolis and, while he dropped just one spot to 12th in the standings, he's now fifth in line for one of the two wild-card spots into a Chase that begins in just seven weeks. The four drivers ahead of him all have race victories -- Kasey Kahne has two to effectively sew up one spot -- and Edwards is 61 points out of 10th place, the last position to qualify solely on the standings.

Now, that avenue appears almost certainly closed. "It makes decisions simpler. ... We just have to do what we can," Edwards said. "We have to plan to win these races. I don't think we can think about points anymore. I don't know what the spread is but it can't be good. That is what I am saying when I say it is simpler. We just have to go race for wins now."

Sunday opened on a hopeful note for Edwards, who started on the front row in his first race with Norris, the former research and development chief at Roush Fenway who replaced Bob Osborne last week. But it all quickly unraveled due to the engine issue, which initially put Edwards two laps down. The No. 99 team labored over the decision on how to address the issue, with Edwards successfully arguing that he should stay out until a caution to avoid losing more laps. After all, he said, if the problem was terminal, it wouldn't matter anyway.

The engine hung on, and Edwards got his caution when Travis Kvapil cut down a tire, but only more tough decisions followed. Norris wanted to come in and fix the issue by replacing plugs and the fuel injection system's electronic control unit, one of which seemed to be the source of the problem. Edwards wanted to take a wave-around and get a lap back. The crew chief won out. "I'd rather come in now, bud," Norris radioed. "We have a lot of work to do."

Looking back, there were no easy answers. "It's a catch-22," Norris said after the race. "You've got to fix it, or you can possibly destroy it because you don't know what's going on. There [are] a lot of decisions to make to be really fast, and we want to make the smartest decisions we can to be able to run all day and try to accumulate the most amount of points we can."

Edwards realized his new crew chief was in a tough spot. "Chad got thrust into about the most terrible predicament a crew chief can be in," he said. Particularly when Edwards had to rush off pit road after the repairs, and was penalized by NASCAR for speeding. Edwards soon reported that his engine was running "100 percent," but getting there had left him four laps down to the leader. In retrospect, he believed he should have stayed out to protect his track position, and worked on the problem when a better opportunity arose.

"We definitely screwed that up. Let's be honest," he told his team over the radio. "I'm not trying to get down on you, I'm just very, very frustrated like we all are. Let's go forward. That's done."

After the race, Edwards spoke for a long time with Norris and his team engineer, making sure everyone was on the same page. "If we aren't worried about points, you just stay out and run it," Edwards said. "You don't know when there is a problem if there is a valve that will tear up a mechanical part of the engine, or if it is just an electronic thing, which in this case it was. Hindsight being 20-20, we could have stayed out and run, stayed on the lead lap, come in and change the ECU and then go back and race for the win. When you are points racing you can't take that chance. We will just go race now."

Afterward, he planned to relay that same strategy to the rest of the crew. Kahne and Kyle Busch may occupy the two wild card positions at the moment, and Edwards' chances seem to be diminishing with each week. But with six races still remaining until the Chase field is determined, he's not giving up hope.

"We're going to talk to the guys," he said. "Chad and I want to make sure they know that we do not quit. We keep going, we do not give up. We put our best effort out there, and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be."