Carl Edwards hasn’t disappeared.
There he is in the results of Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – 19th, the last car on the lead lap.
All the talk about the Chase and which of the Dandy Dozen might ascend to the championship means little to Edwards these days (although he obviously has a stake in how Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth perform over the course of the playoffs).
For Edwards, racing the rest of this season is mostly a prelude to next year and a renewed launch for the Sprint Cup championship he continues to chase.
“I’ve had to come up with new things to create pressure,” Edwards said. “It’s a letdown to not have that big goal right now, so our goals have shifted to just winning races and, as important, building our team for next year.
“Those are the goals now, so there’s not a lot of pressure with either one of those goals. We know how to win races, and we’ll do it if we can. We know how to build a good team, and we’ll do that, so it’s almost like the biggest goal for me is the 2013 championship.”
It’s kind of an odd calendar moment – Edwards beginning pursuit of a 2013 title in September. But it’s the reality of the situation.
“This is the earliest I’ve ever started thinking about a championship for next year, but that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got, so we’ve got to make the most of it.”
From now through the end of the schedule in mid-November, Edwards and his team will be re-evaluating and re-examining every aspect of their operation to zero in on the low points that blocked their door to the Chase this season.
“We kind of had a heart-to-heart about a week ago and we said, ‘Hey, look. If we can just back up a few feet and look at this thing objectively, where are we losing these races? Where is our performance?’ And we have specific areas,” he said. “We have about three or four things that we need to be better at, and those are the things we’re working on. That’s all you can do is be real honest with yourself and say, ‘This is our problem. How do we fix it?’”
The result to date, Edwards said, is that the team is focusing on three specific areas: faster pit stops, better qualifying and better car balance.
“Basically, we’ve got to be faster on pit road,” he said. “That’s a start. We’re half-a-second to a second behind on pit road, and that starts with me getting in the box, with everybody being able to work together. We know our guys can do it. We just have to do it consistently.
“We have to qualify better consistently. That could be the way we practice, the way I drive, the way I communicate. That has to be better. And the balance of our race cars has to be a little bit different than it is now. That’s something we struggle with at some tracks. And we’ve got to work on those things, so I would say those are the three biggest things that if we could fix all three of those things each week, we’d have a lot better chance of winning.
“The good things we have is that our engines are really great, and we don’t have a lot of parts breaking; things that for a lot of teams would be problems. We don’t have a lot of those problems. I feel like our problems are pretty simple to fix.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.