If most of the media picked up on the vibes Carl Edwards emitted during Champion’s Week in Las Vegas, which I think they did, they got the sense that the Roush Fenway Racing driver enjoyed himself.
But he also clearly felt the disappointment of losing the Sprint Cup championship by the closest margin in NASCAR history.
Shoot, do you really have to be told that? NASCAR drivers are intense competitors who love to win and hate to lose.
To have a championship within grasp only to see it snatched away at the last moment has to be agonizingly frustrating.
Throughout NASCAR’s history there have been many types of competitors, ranging from those who raced as an expensive hobby, to those who won multiple championships and became legends.
There have also been some who have come very close to winning a championship, but never did so throughout their careers.
I don’t think Edwards is going to be one of them.
First, if experience in championship tussles means anything, Edwards has lots of it. He finished third in 2005, second in 2008 and fourth in 2010.
Of course, there followed the 2011 season. Edwards was the point leader going into the final race at Homestead, where he finished second.
Unfortunately, rival Tony Stewart won the race to forced a tie in points with Edwards at 2,403.
Stewart became champ on the tiebreaker, which was the most seasonal wins. Stewart had five – all in the Chase – and Edwards had only one. That proved to be his Achilles’ heel.
Second, Edwards has said that, rather than succumb to disappointment and continually bemoan his fate, he is going to learn from the experience and do just a bit better in 2012.
Edwards knows, and has told us more than once, that his team was clearly championship caliber in 2011. At no time during the Chase did he, or it, make a mistake too large to overcome.
Nor did either give in to Stewart and his Stewart-Haas team. As the season came to an end, Edwards and Stewart fought for every point they earned in the Chase. One never attained a significant gain over the other.
Edwards lost the title by, perhaps, the only way he could have: because of a scintillating, come-from-behind performance in the Chase by Stewart.
Edwards looks at racing as his career, during which he wants to get better with each passing season. Therefore, he looks at 2011 as a stepping stone, something from which he has learned valuable lessons.
He vows he will not let emotions rule performance. If he slips competitively in 2012 it won’t be because “We got messed up in the head over not winning the championship.”
Let’s add proper attitude to experience as another ingredient for a championship.
Edwards has both.
Which is why I think that sooner or later – most likely sooner – he’s going to earn one.
As an aside, it’s going to be interesting to see how hard Edwards presses for victories next year. Something else I suspect he learned in 2011 is that the more he wins, the better his chances will be to emerge a champion if it all goes down to the wire.
If the outcome was disappointing, nevertheless Edwards’ championship run was the high-water mark for the Roush organization in 2011.
Edwards and his team took the lead in the four-car organization. Those that followed had seasons rated very good to unexpectedly unproductive.
Matt Kenseth was the only other Roush driver to join Edwards in the Chase. After the reseeding, he was fourth in points with two wins, one position ahead of Edwards.
Kenseth had five top-five finishes in the Chase, including a victory at Charlotte.
He rose as high as second in points following Talladega, the sixth race of the Chase, but finishes of 31st at Martinsville and 34th at Phoenix greased the path for his fourth-place standing at season’s end.
Kenseth, the 2004 champ, can certainly claim another title for Roush. His team can, and does, win races. However, perhaps a little more consistency would seal the deal.
Greg Biffle never figured in the Chase. With no wins, only one top-five finish and seven among the top 10, when the Chase began he was 15th in points and on the outside looking in.
I’m pretty sure Biffle – and Roush – are not pleased with all of that and I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that something needs to be done at Biffle’s team. I strongly suspect that is something the organization already knows.
With his victory in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, David Ragan won his first career a long way toward fulfilling the potential Jack Roush saw in him.
Ragan flirted with making the Chase, hoping that the victory would be enough to land him in one of the final two slots in the 12-car field.
It didn’t work out that way and Ragan finished 19th in points.
It seems all but certain he won’t be with Roush next year. The UPS sponsorship his team enjoyed has moved on and with no new financial backing on the horizon, Roush has released Ragan to search for work elsewhere (Penske?).
It appears Roush will be a three-car team next year – and it still needs to locate sponsorship for Kenseth’s team.
While Roush may be one of several organizations downsizing – or closing – because of the economic situation, I don’t think anyone should be surprised if it puts, at the very least, one car into the Chase in 2012.
Nor should we be surprised if that car is driven by Carl Edwards.