DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Even as he prepared for the opening of the 2014 NASCAR season, Carl Edwards could not resist looking ahead. Way ahead.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
All the way to NASCAR’s season-ending race at Miami-Homestead.
That’s where the Chase for the Sprint Cup will culminate in a winner-take-all championship race among four finalists who survive three elimination rounds.
Edwards expects to be one of those four. And if so …
“If we do things the right way, we can win this championship, just based on our performance at Homestead,” said Edwards, of Columbia. “I feel as good as I can about that. We’re focusing now on being fast enough to be there, to be one of those four guys and snatch this.”
Edwards has been at his best at Homestead, where he won in 2008 and 2010 and finished second to Tony Stewart in 2011, when the two went head-to-head for the championship, won by Stewart in a tie-breaker.
Before the past two seasons, when Edwards finished 12th each year at Homestead at the conclusion of perhaps the two worst seasons of his career, his average finish at Homestead was fourth. He never finished worse than eighth from 2005 to 2011.
The key to making Homestead a factor will be whether Edwards can rebound — starting with Sunday’s Daytona 500 — from the past two seasons, when he went winless and missed the Chase in 2012 and won two races in 2013 but ended up 13th in the standings.
“It wasn’t the year we hoped for. … We didn’t have the year we hoped for the year before,” Roush Fenway co-owner Jack Roush said. “But in 2011, Carl tied for first in points with Tony Stewart. So one year in three, we had a real good shot at a championship. …
“One of the least-reported (pieces of) news was after 26 races, Carl led in the points last year.”
After Edwards won a controversy-filled race No. 26 at Richmond, Va., he entered the Chase fifth after the points had been reset. But little went right for the No. 99 Ford team in the Chase, because the Roush Fenway cars did not have the speed to keep up with the Chevys and Toyotas.
“It went terrible in the Chase,” Edwards said. “Loose wheel at Dover. … Our engine blew up at Texas. … I ran out of fuel leading at Phoenix.”
He wasn’t alone in his frustration. So the Roush Fenway teams — the No. 16 of Greg Biffle, who finished ninth in the Chase, and the No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse, who went winless and finished 19th in his rookie year — spent the offseason re-evaluating everything under the hood.
“We got a little behind last year on our car,” Roush said of the new Gen-6 car. “We weren’t as quick to take advantage of the opportunities some people did.”
Last month, testing went poorly at Daytona, but the cars found their speed when Biffle and Edwards posted the third- and fourth-fastest times in last week’s Daytona 500 qualifying.
“We went back and worked really hard and it paid off,” Edwards said. “We’re fast at Daytona. Right now we’re working on how to be fast at Phoenix, at Vegas. We’ve been testing. My guys left here (after testing), went back to the shop, worked all day … we went testing again … and they’re back here today.
“It’s a new day at Roush Fenway. Everyone is working harder than I’ve ever seen … and smarter, too.”
At first, Edwards wasn’t keen on the change in the Chase format. Edwards, 34, has been a classic points racer during his career, counting on consistency to keep him in championship contention. In 2011, when he finished second to Stewart, he won just one race but led the series with 19 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes.
“He’s been conservative when it comes to finishing the best he can with his car,” Roush said. “He’s more pragmatic and thoughtful and for the long haul than this new (format) will reward. It’s not going to reward the kind of consistency we’ve been known for.
“Under this year’s rules, as long as you can win a race (in each elimination round), you have a chance to win a championship.”
Edwards won nine races in 2008, when he finished second to Jimmie Johnson, so he feels equipped to handle the new emphasis on winning.
“I’ve approached it to try and win every race, but definitely I don’t want to make mistakes that cost me something, and that has paid off,” Edwards said. “There’s no telling how this is going to play out.
“In 2011, Tony had the speed and ability to win those five races in the Chase. We hung on tooth and nail, and we tied (for the title). Two totally different routes to get to the same point. It was the neatest thing I’ve ever been part of in racing. Hopefully, we’ll get to do it again.”