March 10, 2012
Edwards' time comingChasing end to year-long winless run
By Dean McNulty, QMI Agency
LAS VEGAS - It is hard to believe that it has been a full calendar year since Carl Edwards and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford parked in Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
This was the same team that spent most of the 2011 season atop the leaderboard in NASCAR’s premier series and that fought Tony Stewart right down to the final turn on the final lap of the final race of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway for the championship in November of last year only to lose in a tiebreaker — Stewart had five wins to Edwards’ one.
It was both an agonizing defeat and an incredible testimony to the consistency of Edwards and the whole No. 99 team.
But this is a new season, with the goal of being even better and faster.
For Edwards, he doesn’t look at his winless streak as a negative thing. In fact he says he doesn’t think about it being a year since his last win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway much at all.
“No, it doesn’t feel like that to me,” he said at Las Vegas before Saturday’s final practice for Sunday’s Kobalt 500.
“I guess it’s reality, but we go out every week and race as hard as we can and there were many races last year that we very well could have won if things would have gone slightly different.”
Edwards said that he can’t recall any driver or any team who has had so many top finishes — 26 Top 10s in 36 races in 2011 — in the history of Cup racing.
“We obviously ran very well,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the best average ever, but we feel very strong.
“The way this sport works is if you run that well, you’ll win your fair share of races. Any week would be a good week to go ahead and win another one, so this would be just fine.”
Just two races into the 2012 Cup season Edwards said that the performance of the whole RFR garage is better than it was a year ago.
Matt Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500 and Greg Biffle was third at Daytona and Phoenix. And Edwards was eighth at Daytona, but slipped to an unfamiliar 17th at PIR.
Those finishes still buoyed Edwards hopes that he can dethrone Stewart this season.
“I think we’re as good as we hoped,” he said. “Daytona was huge. We were way better there than I expected, so that was as good as it gets.
“At Phoenix, I felt like we missed it just a little bit, but there at the end of the race Greg was extremely fast and that gives us some hope.”
Las Vegas marks the first intermediate 1.5-mile track on the schedule and that means all teams use this as a benchmark for the remainder of the season when they will race on those tracks seven more times.
“This race is important to everyone in the garage because it’s that first mile-and-a-half,” Edwards said. “You get to go out and kind of see what you’ve got and what you’ve been working on since Homestead, and it gives us a little insight into who is strong at these type of race tracks for the whole year, so, hopefully we’ll run well.”
Edwards said that the car feels as good as it was in 2011 when he got his lone win here.
“I think we’re as good as we were last year at this time, which is huge for us,” he said. “To run as well as we have for as long as we have and to seemingly have not fallen off over the winter, that’s huge. Anytime you can do that in this sport that’s good, so we’ll find out on Sunday.”
In his win last season at LVMS he had — guess who — Stewart in his rearview mirror and that rivalry grew with every race, every finish.
And it appears it hasn’t disappeared in the off season.
In fact Stewart took a shot at Edwards this week when asked if he would follow the No. 99 driver’s daredevil exploits like jumping off the Stratosphere Casino tower like he did last season.
“Carl’s deal has been circus acts from Day 1,” Stewart said. “I’m just kind of a straight up old school, I just want to go out and win races type guys.
“I’m not much for jumping through flaming hoops and flipping around and jumping off stuff. I’ll just drive race cars and all that.”
Hometown boy Kyle Busch will move from the front row where he qualified the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the back row in a back-up Toyota after twisting the car’s frame after hitting the wall in practice Saturday ... Joining Busch at the back will be five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who also stuffed his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the fence in the final practice, and Juan Pablo Montoya and the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who did the same thing on Friday.