There's still time left for Carl Edwards to make NASCAR's Chase for the Championship, the Sprint Cup's version of the playoffs. With eight regular-season races remaining on the schedule, including Sunday's race at Loudon, N.H., Edwards is 11th in points and currently not in the Chase.
This season has been a disappointing one for Edwards and the No. 99 Ford-powered team. He finished second on a tiebreaker to defending champion Tony Stewart last year. And it would be logical for Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne to think that the next step would be to win the title. That would seem to make sense.
But history is telling us something different and it's something Edwards and his team don't want to repeat.. When a driver finishes second in the Sprint Cup standings, the following year often is one that they would like to forget.
Starting with Denny Hamlin in 2011, the best points finish by a driver who finished second the previous year in the last seven seasons was Matt Kenseth taking fourth in 2005, a year after finishing second to Tony Stewart. Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who was fifth in 2005, are the only drivers to finish in the top five in points in that time period a year after finishing second.
Here's a look at how the last seven second-place finishers did in the following season: Hamlin was ninth in 2011, Mark Martin was 13th in 2010, Edwards was 11th in 2009, Jeff Gordon was seventh in 2008, Kenseth was fourth in 2007, Greg Biffle was 13th in 2006 and Jimmie Johnson was fifth in 2005. The last driver to win the Sprint Cup title a year after finishing second was Stewart in 2002. Bobby Labonte also accomplished the feat in 1999 and Gordon also did it in 1996.
But Edwards certainly isn't doing what he wants to on the track in 2012. Heading into Loudon, he is 31 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer. Edwards also does not have a win this year, meaning he has to get into that top 10 to qualify for the Chase. If he can get a win, then he would be in position to win a wild card, which goes to the two drivers inside the top 20 in points with the most wins.
And while much was made over Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaking his 143-race losing streak earlier this season at Michigan, Edwards is well overdue for a win to. The last time he performed one of his patented off-the-car victory back flips after a Sprint Cup race was at Las Vegas last year, a span of 51 races. His best finish this year has been fifth twice.
But not all hope is lost here. Is Edwards in an impossible situation? Certainly not. Does he need to start climbing that hill to reach the Chase, whether it be with a string of top-five finishes, or the much-needed win? Certainly yes.
And if there's anything that Edwards and others learned from last year it's that if you can just get in the Chase, anything can happen. It was just last season that Stewart, who admittedly struggled, and did not have a win, made the playoffs by being ninth in the points after 26 races. He then caught fire and won five of the last 10 races in a historic title run.
And that's the kind of history Edwards and Osborne wouldn't mind repeating.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
So, here is a look at who could fare well at Loudon this week.
Tony Stewart - It's the summertime and Smoke is on his usual roll. He's got three wins at New Hampshire and 14 top five finishes.
Ryan Newman - He's always run well here with three wins and six poles. It's good timing for him as the No. 39 team is looking for sponsorship for next year.
Jimmie Johnson - He also has three wins at Loudon and is still a top contender at any track.
Jeff Burton - He hung around and finished second last week. His only chance of making the Chase is to get a win somewhere, and he's got four of them at Loudon.
Clint Bowyer - He's got two wins at Loudon in his career. He is sitting 10th in points with one win on the season. One more victory this year would likely guarantee him a spot in the Chase.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Kurt Busch has three wins at Loudon, but being on an underfunded team has hurt him all year. There's no doubt Busch has the talent to win, though, which made him worth consideration here.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Daytona
Tony Stewart: 1st. A big push from Kasey Kahne on the final laps got him the win.
Matt Kenseth: 3rd. Easily could have won it, but lost drafting partner Greg Biffle for a few seconds on the final lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: 15th. He probably would have had a better finish but got caught up in the last lap melee. He was never really a serious threat to win though.
Kevin Harvick: 23rd. Also was gunning for a decent finish until final lap crash-fest.
Jimmie Johnson: 36th. No C-posts issues this time at Daytona, just accident issues that allowed to run only 123 of the 160 laps.
Here's a look at my results after 18 races and 90 picks.
33 top fives
42 top 10s
Grade for the week: B I gave you two of the top five, including the winner, which isn't bad for a restrictor plate race where anything can and usually does happen.
One Last Thing: Just show good has Jeff Burton been at Loudon? In 1999, he started 38th and won. Then in 2000, he led all 300 laps in a win at Loudon.