NASCAR: Will 2013 Put That Familiar Smile Back on Carl Edwards' Face?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 05:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Subway Ford, sits in his car in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Carl Edwards didn't have a lot of opportunities to flash his famous smile last season.

Would you smile if you failed to win a race all season, extending a winless streak that began early the season before and now stands at 69 consecutive races?

Would you smile if, after finishing second in 2011 in the closest championship battle in NASCAR history, only to lose by one point due to a tiebreaker, you failed miserably to even make the Chase for the Sprint Cup the following year?

Would you smile if your trusted crew chief and confidant, Bob Osborne, mysteriously disappeared from atop the pit box around midseason due to a mysterious health issue? (Or was it really because Edwards' performance up to that point had been mediocre at best?)

Add all the "would you's" up and you can see why Edwards had a dismal season in 2012. Oh yes, did we mention that Edwards' 15th-place finish in the final season standings was the worst of his Sprint Cup career?

That's what happens when you don't win even one race, along with having just three top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 36 starts.

The contrast between almost winning the championship in 2011 and falling completely off the map in 2012 was indeed stark, but it also wasn't the first time Edwards has gone from outstanding to outlandish.

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In 2008, Edwards had a series-leading nine wins, 19 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes in 36 starts. To cap things off, he finished a close second to champion Jimmie Johnson, who won his third consecutive Cup title en route to an unprecedented five in a row by 2010.

But in 2009, Edwards fell apart. Although he made the Chase, he finished a dismal 11th of 12 competitors, recorded zero wins and had just seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.

Here's an even more interesting stat: Starting with his first full season in 2005, Edwards' season finishes have gone like this (in order): third, 12th, ninth, second, 11th, fourth, second and 15th.

Do you see a pattern there? Up and down; up, up and down; followed by up, up and down again. What a picture of consistency—the wrong type, that is.

Based upon those results, though, it would indicate that, at least on paper, Edwards is due for a big upswing season in 2013.

It will help immensely that veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig will be atop Edwards' pit box. Fennig already has a Cup championship, having directed Kurt Busch to the first Chase title in 2004.

Fennig is an old-school kind of crew chief, similar in makeup and strategy to Osborne. He also is not the type to bark orders at Edwards, but rather lets his driver run his own race, for the most part.

More importantly, though, with the departure of Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing and into a Toyota, Edwards essentially rises to the No. 1 driver at Ford's No. 1 team, Roush Fenway Racing, this season.

Although he's never publicly said it, Edwards at times over his career has given the impression that he wasn't happy playing second fiddle to Kenseth, who had raced in Sprint Cup for RFR since 2000.

Who can forget the time at Martinsville a few years ago when Edwards and Kenseth almost came to blows, only to later say the incident was no big deal and that their relationship was fine.

If he indeed was jealous of Kenseth's status atop the RFR depth chart, we'll find out how Edwards fares this season as Numero Uno.

Greg Biffle remains the good and loyal RFR soldier and actually gets a promotion from No. 3 to No. 2 in the RFR hierarchy now that Kenseth is gone. And rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the last two Nationwide Series championships, has been promoted to the Cup series and brings up the rear in the RFR camp.

The table has been set, now the rest is up to Edwards in 2013 to turn last season's negative into this season's positive. Whether it's feast (like 2011) or famine (like 2012) will likely be determined by how much Edwards smiles in 2013.

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