Monday, April 30, 2012
2012 season no Field of Dreams for Edwards
Carl Edwards might not have been allowed to race for the win Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, but Edwards and his team also have reason to come away with some optimism. For the first time this season, Edwards clearly had a car that was capable of winning. After losing the championship on a tiebreaker last year, Edwards and the No. 99 team is certainly in need of a victory. Edwards' last victory came 42 races ago, the third race of the 2011 season at Las Vegas. By anyone's standard Edwards had an outstanding NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2011. He led in the points standings for much of the year. He had just six finishes out of the top 15 in the series' 36 point races. He had just one win, but was the model of consistency. It was known early in the 2011 season that he would be a contender for the title. He was first in the standings after 21 of those 36 races last season, including races 30 through 35. The problem is after that 36th and final race, he was No. 2. It was by the slimmest of margins, losing on a most wins tiebreaker to Tony Stewart, who pretty much had to win the last race to get the title, and then went out and did it. Edwards, who is looking for his first Sprint Cup title, took pride that his team didn't give the title away. And the numbers back that sentiment up. In the final 10 races, NASCAR's Chase for the Championship playoff-type system, Edwards' worst finish was 11th. He also had an eighth and a ninth. In the other seven races he finished in the top five, including second in each of the last three. Clearly, Edwards and his team, led by crew chief Bob Osborne, a Delaware County native, did not choke. Stewart took the title by winning five of those last 10 races, one of the hottest streaks in NASCAR history. However, being right on the cusp of reaching the pinnacle of your profession and not getting it can be quite a blow, no matter how it happens. It's like being interviewed for that job you've wanted for years, knowing you have a good chance to get it, knowing you're qualified to not only do it but do it well, and then not getting it. As Burt Lancaster said when playing Archibald "Moonlight" Graham in Field of Dreams, the character who reached the major leagues but never got an at-bat, "It was like coming this close to your dreams (holding his fingers about an inch apart) ... and then watch them brush past you like strangers in a crowd." It takes a while to get over that kind of disappointment and Edwards and his team may be going through the same kind of process this season. That was more evident Saturday night at Richmond, when a confusing restart led to a controversial penalty for Edwards and cost him a 40-mph drive through pit road penalty, essentially ending his chance to win. But the good news for Edwards and his team is that their dream is still alive. It's not that this season has been a disaster. He's ninth in the points standings, a place where a lot of other drivers would like to be. However, Saturday night at Richmond was the first time he was a serious contender to win this season. He led 206 laps Saturday, after leading just one lap in the first eight races. Even after Saturday's race, Edwards' numbers were not as strong as he, Osborne and owner Jack Roush would like. Of cars in the top 10 in the 2012 standings, he has run just 52.9 percent of his laps in the top 15. The next lowest number in the top 10 is 55.9 percent from 10th place Ryan Newman. The rest of the top 10 is at 72 percent or better in that category. Also, among drivers in the top 10 in the points standings, Edwards has the lowest amount of passes of cars in the top 15 at 51 percent, just behind Newman's 52 percent in that category. Edwards' number is a little misleading in that category because if you're leading a lot of laps like he was Saturday, that means there's no one left to pass. What may be a bit more disturbing for Edwards is that the start to this season is similar the start of the 2009 season, after he had finished second in the standings to Jimmie Johnson in 2008. In the first nine races of 2009, Edwards had two top 10 and one top five finish. He's had a better start to things this time around, with six top 10s in the first nine races, but the best finish has been fifth. Also in Field of Dreams, Lancaster's character says of that almost moment, "You know we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, well, there'll be other days. I didn't realize that that was the only day." The good news for Edwards and his team is that there will be plenty of other days. And while the start to this season may be a disappointing and a little frustrating, it will probably take, to put in baseball terms, that one big hit to get things started. It may have happened Saturday with Edwards and everyone else knowing he had a winning car. Stewart proved last year as he limped into the Chase ninth in the standings that it's a matter of getting hot at the right time. And for Edwards, there's plenty of time for that to happen and to achieve his dream of winning a Sprint Cup title.