It’s a given that every NASCAR Sprint Cup driver experiences good seasons and some that, well, aren’t so good.
Right now Jeff Gordon would certainly agree with that. He’s a four-time champion who is presently mired in 20th place in the point standings.
It’s reached the point that in order to make the Chase, Gordon is going to have to remain in the top 20 and, most likely, win at least two races.
It hasn’t gone too well for Gordon – and rest assured that has been widely reported.
There’s another driver whose situation isn’t nearly as dire. However, he’s not having the type of competitive season to which he’s become accustomed.
Surprisingly, Roush Fenway driver Carl Edwards hasn’t won a race this season. He stands 11th in points, just outside the top 10 that will automatically qualify for the Chase.
Edwards could easily move into the top 10 – and as early as after this weekend’s race at Sonoma – but he would remain in a precarious position.
It would be a far more secure one if he could win a race.
If the Chase began this weekend Edwards wouldn’t be in it. That’s because the entry format admits the top 10 in points and two “wildcard” entries – drivers who have won races and are among the top 20 in points.
So Edwards would be pushed aside. The current “wildcard” candidates are Kyle Busch, 12th in points with a victory, Ryan Newman, 13th in points with a victory, and Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, 15th and 16th in points, respectively, also with one win each.
As said, Edwards’ situation is not dire. Including this week’s Sonoma road-course event, there are 11 races remaining before the 10-lap Chase begins in September.
That’s plenty of time for Edwards to get more than he needs. There’s no reason to panic.
But then, there’s plenty of time for Edwards to falter even more.
“I think it is 50-50 right now,” he said. “The safest thing we can do is win races. We talked about it in the garage just the other day. I think that’s the best move – just go out there and win.
“Maybe with five races to go and we still haven’t won one and we are still on the bubble – which I don’t plan on being, I plan to be way up there – then we might say we have to focus on points.”
Perhaps Edwards’ season would receive far less scrutiny had he not had an excellent campaign in 2011, which established him as a championship contender in 2012.
Edwards won only once last year but parlayed 26 top-10 finishes into first place in points at a season’s end. He earned 2,403 points.
Trouble was, that is the same number of points Tony Stewart earned. Victories gained by each driver broke the tie.
In a memorable performance Stewart won five of the 10 races in the Chase. Thus, the 2011 Sprint Cup title was his, the first time ever by a tiebreaker.
However, many thought, and rightly so, that Edwards would be one of the top 2012 title contenders.
He still may be. But there is, obviously, work to do.
Edwards has experienced roller coaster seasons before. In 2008, he won nine races – still his career’s season high – and earned 27 finishes among the top10.
But he lost the championship by 69 points to the Jimmie Johnson juggernaut.
Edwards was promptly labeled a 2009 title threat. He wasn’t. In an uncharacteristically mediocre season, he didn’t win a race and earned only14 top-10 finishes. He failed to make the Chase.
No question, it was quite a drop-off in performance.
Edwards righted himself in 2010 with two victories and a fourth-place finish in points. And, of course, he did even better last year.
But for Edwards the roller coaster is speeding downward – at least at the moment.
He’s had only two finishes among the top 10 in the last five races. His best has been a seventh at Darlington.
He’s also had two consecutive finishes of 11th, including last week at Michigan.
Things will have to pick up if Edwards plans to advance in points.
“I try to come to the race track each week with my game face on,” Edwards said. “I try to be fast and not think about last week.
“If you start to weigh things, then you get all messed up. I just try to do the best I can each week and regroup if it doesn’t go well.
“We try not to carry baggage.”
Edwards has already declared he’s not carrying any baggage when it comes to race strategy. He repeated that it was uncluttered; all very simple.
“It’s the safer play to try to win races,” he said. “It’s like insurance, more so than to run easy and hope for points.
“With the luck we’ve had – like the tire thing at Dover – that stuff can happen in an instant and points can go away quickly.
“Wins are good. But each week is a new race. Nothing carries over.”