CUP: Big Changes For Edwards

Carl Edwards has found a new perspective on life and racing this year, but don’t try to intertwine his becoming a father with his impressive comeback in the Sprint Cup point standings.

For Edwards, he believes they are two separate developments, even though much of his life revolves around being a father and a racer.

Edwards became a father on Feb. 17 when his wife, Kate, gave birth to their daughter, Anne. It was the biggest moment in Edwards’ personal life and a source of excitement off the track.

On the track, though, things weren’t going all that well early in the season and didn’t get much better after the baby was born. Following a nine-win season in 2008 in which he placed second in the standings, he didn’t win a race in 2009 and he was 20th in points four races into 2010.

A finish of 29th at Infineon Raceway in June was his low point in 2010 even though he was still 12th in the standings. But then things started to turn around. Roush Fenway Racing made gains in the front-end geometry of its cars during the summer. It also got a new Ford engine. Those changes, plus bringing better cars to the track at the start of the race weekend, have sparked the surge.

Regaining the confidence he had in 2008, Edwards has an average finish of 6.1 in the last 10 races – the best of any driver on the circuit.

“Sonoma was the low point for me,” Edwards said last week prior to the start of the Chase For The Sprint Cup. “At Sonoma, I thought it was a 50-50 chance we were going to make this thing and I was not very happy about that.

“It’s a far, far cry from where we’re at now. It’s totally different. It’s really like shocking to me that things can change that fast so I’m nervous they’ll change back before the season is over, so we’ve just got to keep digging.”

Much like the perfect backflip that Edwards has made famous during victory celebrations, maybe it’s all about timing. Edwards, who finished 11th at New Hampshire to open the Chase and sits seventh in the standings with a 95-point deficit to leader Denny Hamlin, believes his team can contend for the title.

About the only thing missing from his comeback is a victory.

“We’re going to win races,” Edwards said. “I’m not too worried about winning as a result, I’m worried about performing well enough. If we finish this Chase with two wins and we’re third in points, that won’t mean much to me.

“If we finish it with no wins and a championship, that will mean a lot. I’m out to win a championship, whatever that takes.”

In some ways, Edwards should be better prepared to handle the unexpected twists and turns of the Chase better than in 2008. As a new father, he doesn’t know what’s coming next from his infant daughter. He knows he has to get up when Anne wants to get up. And he knows he may to adjust his travel schedule if his wife and daughter are traveling with him.

“It’s given me definitely a different perspective on what’s important in life,” Edwards said. “It’s very helpful in a number of ways. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m fortunate because my wife takes care of all the difficult stuff. It hasn’t impacted my schedule very much at all. I’m able to take them with me almost everywhere I go.”

But Edwards won’t correlate the perspective of a new father with his mentality as a racer.

“Competition is a different thing,” Edwards said. “You have to be a certain way. Everybody always asks me [about the baby and racing], but I don’t really think about [anything at the track] other than what’s going on in the race car, other than the race.

“I guess that’s good and bad. That’s the way it is for me.”

At least for now, it’s positive things he’s thinking about in the race car. He said his team, led by crew chief Bob Osborne, had to change its mentality after the highs of 2008 followed by the lows of 2009.

“We’re maybe communicating better, being more open-minded across the board,” Edwards said. “It’s tough to change course. In 2008, we set the pace with our team and now we’re really relying on our teammates to go as fast as we’re going.

“That’s a different way of doing things for Bob and the engineers. The ability for them to change is huge.”

Edwards said he never thought about asking for a crew-chief change. “They would have had to pry Bob away from me,” he said. He says the key is for his team to keep trying to improve just as it has when it was struggling.

“I don’t feel like we’re ahead of anyone in particular,” Edwards said. “I feel like we’re caught up. So I’m not too worried about people figuring out what we’re doing. What I’m worried about is doing the next thing that is going to make us better, and that’s what we’re working on now.”

Doing that is much easier when a team is running well. And Edwards sees signs of that not just when he’s driving the car.

“At Richmond, we qualified for the pole, and prior to the race, I look over at my guys at the pit box and it looks like they’re having fun – first pit stall, they’re ready to race,” Edwards said. “They’re probably more excited to come to work that day than if we had qualified 30th.

“There’s a different feeling when you’re running well. … We started to run well and people are communicating better and a little more upbeat and there’s a little more pride in wearing that 99 uniform.”

Edwards admits that feeling wasn’t there when the year started off so slow. There wasn’t a feeling that a comeback was right around the corner.

“I was really hoping for it but I wasn’t holding my breath, just because I had seen how much work we had put in and how little we were gaining for so long,” Edwards said. “And now it is almost a little bit surreal how well we’re running all of a sudden.

“It’s like every week I expect us to go back to where we were and we keep running well every week. It’s really nice. I didn’t see it’s coming, but I can’t believe it’s coming right now. It’s perfect.” • David Ragan gets new crew chief as Drew Blickensderfer replaces Donnie Wingo at Roush Fenway Racing