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Edwards poised for return to form after swoon

January 18, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

Two-year lapse following title hunt has Edwards hungry for 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Although he failed to finish in the top 10 in points in each of the previous two seasons, Carl Edwards says his Roush Fenway Racing team has all the ingredients necessary to contend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

In fact, the parts and pieces are there, he said, for the entire RFR group to enjoy success in 2014.

“We feel like we have the best people,” Edwards, 34, said Jan. 9 while attending Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway. “We feel like we have the best manufacturer support behind us. We believe we have drivers, including myself, that are as good as anybody in the garage.”

Having the necessary items at hand is a big part of the equation. But Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford, knows a lot more is required.

“We have to put all of that together … we have to have a really strong leader like Robbie Reiser to put all of it together and see the results that we think we should have,” he said.

“If we can be a stronger team and greater than the sum of our individual parts, I think we’ll be very good.”

Reiser, a former crew chief, led former Roush driver Matt Kenseth to the 2003 Cup championship, as well as 16 of his 31 career wins between 2000 and ’07. The following year, he helped guide Edwards to a win at Texas Motor Speedway while serving as interim crew chief for five races.

Today Reiser serves as general manager at RFR, overseeing the organization’s Cup effort, which consists of Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., as well as its Nationwide Series program with Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher.

Twice a winner last season, Edwards qualified for NASCAR’s Chase For the Sprint Cup, but admits the team fell well short of its goal. Paired for the first time with veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig, Edwards won at Phoenix early and Richmond late before four finishes outside the top 15 doomed any title hopes during the final 10 races.

With a new rules package for the intermediate tracks and the sorting-out process that goes on at the start of every season, Edwards said “we won’t know where we stand until basically 10, 15 races into the season. …

“But we’ll know if we’ve made improvements, and I think that will be evidenced by Ricky and Greg and I being able to lead laps and win races the first part of the season.”

Fifteenth two years ago and 13th this past season, Edwards hasn’t contended for the title since going door-to-door with Tony Stewart in 2011. And he was top-five in points in two of the three seasons preceding that epic battle.

More changes are possibly on the horizon for the sport -- the qualifying format is expected to get an overhaul and NASCAR CEO Brian France has recently mentioned “coming up with things that put the incentive on winning races and competing at the highest level."

Edwards said he appreciates and understands what officials are trying to accomplish through changes to the rules packages to possible tweaks to the various formats.

But, he said, “I don’t know how you make it perfect all the time.

“I don’t know (that) you can make every race as important as the final lap of the final race for the championship.

“But I can tell you this: Every driver out there … we don’t have to get motivated to go try to win that race. If anything, you have to sometimes not be too motivated so you don’t ruin your championship hopes.

“I think it’s a battle, but everyone’s doing the best they can.”


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