From the end of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season to the time leading up to this weeks Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards has gone through a wild ride for the last eight months.
Between getting lost in the New York subway system during NASCAR’s season ending award ceremonies, planning a wedding, actually going through with the wedding, honeymooning in Thailand, or cycling through the thousands of Thai commuters on bikes, it’s been wild year. And the season hasn’t even started yet.
But why not take things up a notch? Edwards just came off a remarkable season and there was no reason to think that 2009 would be any different. He had the most dominant car for the entire season capturing mores wins, top-fives, and top-10s than anyone else.
He started the 2008 chase first in points and maintained it through the first two races. He even had more top-five finishes in the chase than anyone with eight.
His only slip in the chase happened in back to back races at Talladega and Charlotte with an average finish of 31st in both which were his only non top-fives in the chase. Eventual Chase winner Jimmie Johnson only had six top-fives, but won because his worst finish was 15th.
Prior to the 2009 season the entire pool of National NASCAR writers voted by a two to one margin that Edwards would capture the 2009 Championship. That is a lot pressure to put on his shoulders, but he did it to himself.
He raised the bar so high and performed at such a high level of excellence in the series that going up is the natural progression. Maybe not in wins because nine is such a high number, but definitely a driver that look like a Cup Champion.
Fast forward to this week leading into the Brickyard 400 and reality has surpassed the expectations with 19 races run in the 36-race season. Edwards currently sits a respectable sixth in points, but the most shocking surprise of the season is that he doesn’t have any wins.
At no time in NASCAR history has any driver had as many as nine wins in a season and not win in their next season while running every race. Not the type of dubious honor Edwards wants, but the physically fit, self motivated Edwards knows his time will come.
“I feel like we could’ve won, maybe should’ve won at Texas, and we had a little trouble at Talledega, we were a couple of hundred yards from winning, Edwards said. Martinsville, had an extremely fast car. So, I’m not too worried about that fact that we haven’t won, because I feel like we’ve performed well enough to have won two or three different races.”
A little trouble at Talladega? That’s putting it mildly, however spectacular the wreck was down the stretch, Edwards was just being Edwards in one of the classic NASCAR moments when jumped out of his mangled car and jogged to the finish line in an impromptu re-make of the Talladega Nights movie.
He’s always thinking about fitness even in the most dire moments.
His 2009 campaign is very similar to his 2006 season in regards to expectations. Following his first full season of 2005 when he captured fans everywhere doing his trademarked flips following a win three times ultimately finishing third in points, 2006 was supposed to be his year. Instead, he went winless the entire season finishing 12th in points.
“What happened in ‘06, with huge expectations after ‘05, and we just didn’t have a stellar year at all in ‘06, and I learned right there that hey, this is a tough sport, Edwards said. You can’t rest on anything you’ve done. You have to keep going and working. Last year, at the beginning of the year, we set out to win 10 races and the championship.
"That was our goal amongst myself and my crew chief. We won nine and finished second, so we were close. This year, the goal is simply to win the championship. So, whatever happens, happens. I guess expectation is what it is. Nobody has higher expectations than I do, on myself. That’s how it’s always been.”
So when will Edwards get that first elusive win of 2009? If all things were equal from last year, it would be easy to suggest one of the high banked 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte, or Texas.
But things aren’t equal by any means, and that goes for the entire Fenway-Roush organization who thrived on those type of tracks. Following back to back season opening wins by Matt Kenseth, the entire organization has gone winless.
The one bright spot on Edwards season was his best finish of the year at Pocono where he was second. Of all the races run this year, Pocono’s finish was the only one of 2009 that was equal, or on par with 2008 on similar tracks. He led the most laps in that race last month and almost got fuel mileage win ahead of Tony Stewart who crossed on fumes.
Last season, Edwards finished ninth and first in the two Pocono races, sandwiched in between a second place finish at the Brickyard. Because of the long straightaways and tight, flat turns, Indy and Pocono are very similar in regards to set-up. Throughout the history of Brickyard races, drivers who do well on one always do well on the other.
From 2008 through 2009 when combining all Pocono and Indy finishes, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 in all four races. It’s little surprise that the two are Edwards and Johnson.
Last season, Kasey Kahne finished in the top-10 of all three of those races run. Edwards, Johnson, and Kahne each got a win in one of those races.
If there is any week that points to Edwards getting his first win based on what he’s done this season as a link to 2008, it’s this weeks race at the storied grounds of the Brickyard.
“I can’t wait,’’ he said. “It’s going to feel good when we get a win.’’
After he gets past any of the possible anxieties that go along with not meeting expectations by finally getting that win, he can attempt to get fully geared and focused for the Chase to the Championship.
In an entire seasons span he could go from being the overwhelming favorite to win it all, to not meeting expectations, and then finally being called the improbable winner.
Now that is one heck of a ride.