Every sport needs an influx of young stars to stimulate fan interest and excitement. Carl Edwards driving for Roush Fenway Racing fulfills NASCAR's need for young, talented drivers to emerge and challenge its veteran stars. Edwards' 2008 season has his fans doing back flips after three victories, five top-10s and four top-five finishes.
His easygoing demeanor and acrobatics after victories have created a loyal following. At this point last year his average finish was 14.6, compared to 11.6 this year. After eight races in 2007, he had not won an event and led only three laps. This year paints a much different picture with three victories and a total of 306 laps led.
Speed bumps don't slow Edwards
With three wins in eight races this season, one might assume that Edwards would be the Cup points leader, or certainly higher than his ninth-place position. Two events have prevented a higher ranking. The first was a hefty 100-point penalty to the No. 99 team and suspension of crew chief Bob Osborne for six weeks. This was issued after his car failed the post-race inspection following his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the UAW-Dodge 400. The culprit was a missing oil tank lid. NASCAR considers this a major concern because it is a fire danger to the driver; it also creates better venting along with improved aerodynamics, an undue advantage to the car with the missing lid.
The second bump in the road followed the tainted victory when Edwards' car blew an engine with 51 laps to go in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This was upsetting because Edwards was leading the race with a fast car and was very much in the hunt for his third consecutive victory when the mechanical failure occurred. The Roush Racing team has very reliable engineers, but any time you are racing at speeds approaching 200 mph for 400 or 500 miles, there is always a risk of mechanical breakdowns.
Losing a crew chief can be very devastating to a driver. The symbiotic relationship between the two can translate into victories if good or poor finishes if bad. Given that Edwards and Osborne work very well together, there were major concerns on how the six weeks would play out. Even after the 42nd-place finish in the Kobalt Tools 500, Edwards has an average finish of 11.6. That includes a victory in the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway with interim crew chief Chris Andrews. Andrews is expected to continue serving in this capacity in the Aaron's 499 Sunday, April 27, at Talladega Superspeedway. Osborne is scheduled to return on May 3 at Richmond International Raceway for the Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400.
Roush Fenway succeeds as a team
Roush Racing this season has been very successful with Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth placing ninth, 10th and 15th, respectively, in the Cup standings. Edwards and teammate Kenseth have a professional but not very cordial relationship.
Edwards and Kenseth had two significant run-ins on the track last year, one in a Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway and the other at Martinsville Speedway. Following the Martinsville race, Edwards' anger boiled over. He waited until his teammate was being interviewed on national television and threw a fake punch at Kenseth. It was realistic enough to force Kenseth to flinch and make two police officers stop to make sure a fight wasn't going to break out.
A better team approach would benefit both drivers. They are both excellent drivers with dominant cars. We have witnessed no spillover from last year's instances through the first eight races, and fans hopefully will see improved team drafting and driving.
Edwards has been dominant this season with a combination of improved Roush Car of Tomorrow engineering and his coming-of-age presence on the track. Edwards is very adept at keeping himself in a position to win races without being overly aggressive on the track. He understands the importance of protecting his car and tires, pushing it only when needed. Last year, Edwards finished ninth in the Chase standings. He had three victories while leading 515 laps, only 4.9 percent of all laps run. He is a smart driver who understands that leading laps is great, but the only truly important one is the last.
Fantasy owners should feel comfortable with Edwards' prospects for the remaining races. He has already equaled his victory total from last year, and he has Osborne returning to his pits after the Aaron's 499 in Talladega. Edwards' best tracks are the intermediates, but he has shown improvement on short tracks this season. Restrictor plate tracks have been Edwards' primary challenge. Finishing in the top 10 at Talladega or Daytona International Speedway would be a major progression in Edwards' already impressive record. With the improved engineering and adjustments Roush has made with the COT, Edwards is in a position to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
About Bob Frykholm
Frykholm has been a KFFL contributor since February 2008.
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