In a 2011 season filled with NASCAR firsts, Carl Edwards had too many seconds, something he hopes to rectify this season, as one of the favorites to win the Sprint Cup championship.
Last year saw five first-time winners in the Cup Series, Tony Stewart win a record five races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the closest points race in NASCAR history.
Edwards? Well, he opened 2011 by finishing second in the Daytona 500 and went on to finish in the runner-up position at Bristol, Darlington and Richmond during NASCAR’s 26-race regular season. His only race victory came at Las Vegas in the third race of the season. Edwards finished the season with three consecutive runner-up finishes at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, leaving him second in the standings tied on points with Stewart, but losing the championship tiebreaker on number of race victories.
Had Edwards been able to convert any of those seven runner-up finishes to a victory, he, not Stewart, would have been the champion. But all the woulda, coulda’, shoulda’s in the world won’t change what happened. It’s ancient history, as far as Edwards is concerned.
This week, though, Edwards starts out the Daytona 500 at the front of the field, thanks to a pole-winning lap of 194.738 miles per hour in his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Fusion.
What happened last season was not lost on Edwards when discussing Sunday’s pole run at Daytona.
“It feels really nice. This is our second pole in a row, so it feels nice to pick up right where we left off,” he said. “I’ve been telling everybody – it seems like every media question and all anybody says is, ‘How great would it have been to have one more point and how did you deal with that this off-season?’ I think this is nice to come here and show everyone that, hey, it isn’t just talk.”
In Sunday’s post-race press conference, Edwards was asked if there was anything he or the team could have done differently to pick up one more point and win the championship last year.
“It’s just like the 4000th time I’ve been asked that question,” Edwards said. “ ... We did the very best we could and there weren’t any races where I got out of the car and felt like, ‘Oh man, I could have got another spot.’ I got out of the car in seven or eight of those races and I thought, ‘Thank you Lord for the spots you gave me,’ and we were able to capitalize on it. In the end, it ended up a tie and that’s it. I don’t know how else to look at it. Another simple way to put it is we didn’t lose it. We didn’t go out there and do anything wrong. We went out and raced hard and raced well and they came and they beat us.”
Regardless of what happened then, this is a fresh season and Edwards is in excellent position to win his first Daytona 500, which will be televised live on FOX at 1 p.m. Sunday. He’ll be flanked on the pole by his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, and most of the Fords have been fast so far in Speedweeks. During Sunday’s qualifying session, six of the nine fastest times were set by Fords.
“After seeing how hard everybody works all winter and how much pride the guys take in how these cars qualify, it does mean something to me,” Edwards said of his pole-winning run. “It’s a sign of the strength of your team and it’s not that we just have one car up there. To have that whole front row says a lot about Roush Fenway Racing, about Ford. It’s huge for our sponsors.”
For team founder and co-owner Jack Roush, sweeping the front row was big, too. As a team, Roush Fenway Racing has won the July Daytona race four times, but its only Daytona 500 victory came in 2009, when Matt Kenseth won a rain-shortened race.
“Doug Yates and the guys in the engine shop did a nice job,” Roush said. “Robbie Reiser and the folks in the chassis and body shop built nice cars and the teams prepared them well. We worked all winter getting ready for this. It’s just the beginning. We hope we can put it together for the Twin 150s and for the 500 next Sunday.”
So does Edwards.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.