Why Carl Edwards Is a Serious 2013 Chase Contender Despite Flying Under Radar

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

It's time for Carl Edwards to avenge losing the 2011 Sprint Cup championship by a tiebreaker.
It's time for Carl Edwards to avenge losing the 2011 Sprint Cup championship by a tiebreaker.Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

In a way, that capsulizes Carl Edwards' bid for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Two years ago in the 2011 Chase, Edwards did everything the right way. He stayed neck and neck with Tony Stewart all the way through the Chase's 10 events.

While he didn't win as many races as Stewart that season (five to one), Edwards' incredible consistency kept him in the Chase all the way to the finish, ultimately tying Stewart for the title, only to lose it in a tiebreaker of total wins.

Edwards is two years older and probably a decade savvier than he was in the 2011 Chase.

At the bare minimum, he already has twice as many wins in 2013 (two) than he had in 2011 (one).

And while so much attention has been focused on what Matt Kenseth has done in the first two races—both wins—and Kyle Busch finishing runner-up to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in each of those two races as well, Edwards isn't far behind.

But be honest: If you didn't take a peek at the Sprint Cup standings right now, would you know that Edwards is ranked fourth, just 36 points behind Kenseth and 22 in back of Busch?

To say the least, Edwards has been flying under the radar the last three races: the last race prior to the Chase (Richmond, where he won), and he's finished 11th and ninth in the first two Chase events.

While his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate has been grabbing all the headlines and fostered talk about potentially making it three wins in a row this Sunday at Dover, Edwards finds himself in a most opportune place right now.

He comes into Dover not necessarily looked upon by many as a favorite. But while so many wonder what Kenseth and the younger Busch brother will do for encores in the third race of the Chase, Edwards is poised to steal a lot of thunder.

All the way to victory lane, even.

Sure, Jimmie Johnson has seven wins at the one-mile, moderately banked, all-concrete oval, tied for most by any single driver in the 87 Cup races that have been contested since the Monster Mile opened in 1969.

And, sure, Edwards has won just once at Dover in his career.

But check out these striking stats: In 18 career starts at Dover, Edwards has eight top-fives and 12 top-10s. His worst finish there has been 26th; every other finish has been 18th or higher.

Better yet, in the 14 races since the spring race at Dover in 2006 (when he finished 15th), Edwards has a win, seven other top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in total.

If that doesn't sound like a guy primed for a strong run Sunday, I don't know what does.

In the first two races of the 2011 Chase, Edwards finished fourth and eighth before winding up third at Dover.

And he took off from there. And, don't forget how he wound that season's Chase up: runner-up finishes in each of the last three races.

Had Edwards finished, say, second at Dover instead of third, he would have beaten Stewart by one point, instead of ultimately losing by one point.

Losing by so little really seemed to devastate Edwards. How else can you explain a driver that did so well in 2011, only to come back the following season and not only fail to win even one race, but completely missed qualifying for the Chase, as well?

Could this be a sign of things to come for Carl Edwards after the season finale at Homestead?
Could this be a sign of things to come for Carl Edwards after the season finale at Homestead?Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

That further illustrates why Sunday's race is so important to Edwards and his Chase hopes this year. Being 36 points back of the series leader after the first two races isn't all that bad, but if Edwards wants to stake his claim to be one of those in contention heading into Homestead, he has to do Sunday at Dover what he did there two years ago.

Namely, make his move. He can't be fooled or play the fool any more.

The time for flying under the radar, as much as it's helped Edwards up to this point, is over. He must fly higher than he ever has if he's ever to avenge just how close he came in 2011.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski


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