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Edwards stays under the radar despite success

April 12, 2013, Holly Cain,

Since breaking his winless streak, Edwards' efforts have gone unnoticed among fights, rivalries

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FORT WORTH, Texas -- For a fellow that wows crowds with his signature victory backflips, stars in national commercials for Subway and has been an immediate asset to the ESPN Nationwide Series broadcast booth, Carl Edwards' success in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series this season has been a relatively low-profile affair.

With reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski, five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and the sport’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrestling each week for the championship points lead and feuding drivers’ post-race brouhahas stealing headlines, Edwards' workman-like run up the standings hasn’t spent much time in the spotlight.

He led a race-best 122 laps to snap a 70-race winless streak in February at Phoenix and has three top-five finishes in six races, but sits stealthily at seventh place in the standings entering Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It may not have the wow factor, but it puts Edwards well within striking distance of the leaders and, with an early season victory, in prime position for a potential Chase berth.

And he’ll take that.

"I've been having a lot of fun. And it’s a huge relief to have a win early."

-- Carl Edwards

“Yeah, we’ve been a little bit quiet, but that’s OK,’’ said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford.  “I’ve been having a lot of fun. And it’s a huge relief to have a win early. That was big for a number of reasons: Number one, we felt like we could run that well, so to get that win based on the crew chief and the driver and the pit crew all working really well together that early in the season, that was huge.  The other thing is it lets us play around a little bit more with setups and driving and strategy because we already have that win and we’re pretty decently high up in the points, so it’s just been kind of relaxing and fun.’’

Of course, the affable Edwards is all smiles even when faced with trials and tribulations like an uncharacteristic free fall in the championship last year. His 15th-place ranking in 2012 was the worst of his career and the only the second time (the other was 2006) in his eight full-time seasons that he didn’t qualify for NASCAR’s postseason.

More typically, Edwards is contending for the title. He’s finished top-five in the standings four times and runner-up twice, including 2008 when he won a series-best nine races, and in 2011, when he tortuously lost the championship to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker in the final race of the season.

Last year was tough and draining. And Edwards left this year’s season-opening Daytona 500 still shaking his head after crashing five different cars -- mostly collected in accidents not of his own doing.

The win a week later at Phoenix put him back on track and seemed to bode well for his 2013 pairing with veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig, who won the 2004 Cup title with driver Kurt Busch. At the track where he will compete this weekend, he has the sixth-best driver rating and only four drivers have led more than his 493 laps out front.

“I wish it was just up to willpower, because we would be all right, but it’s just the fact that Jimmy (Fennig) has a lot of experience,’’ Edwards said explaining the strong start. “I’m doing everything I can do. My pit crew has been a huge, huge part of our success this season. We had a bad race at Martinsville, but, other than that, our cars have also been very fast and very competitive.

“Doug Yates has been doing a great job with the engines. I think everything has to be there, and we’ve had a little bit of luck. Things have gone well, so I think if we just continue working as hard as we can, we’re running a little bit better now than we were last year. So we could weather a bad luck streak a little better right now, but it’s all the parts of the team.

“We’ve got good cars, good people, good pit stops.  That’s good stuff.”

He’s also got history in his back pocket at the super fast 1.5-mile Fort Worth track, where his Roush Fenway Racing team has nine wins with five different drivers and Ford has 11 victories overall.

Edwards owns three of those wins. He swept the track’s two races in 2008 and won this event in 2005 starting from the 30th position. His runner-up finish to Johnson in 2008 is the fifth closest finish in the track’s history.

“I don’t know why we’re so good here, but it is nice to come here,’’ Edwards said. “I think all of us look forward to coming here because of our past performances, and I know we expect a lot out of ourselves here.’’ ___________________________________________________________________________________________

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