It's been a heck of a season so far, hasn't it? Jeff Gordon has stormed back onto center stage, Jimmie Johnson isn't surrendering anything in his run for a fourth straight title, Kyle Busch looks like he's going to be a perennial contender, and Kurt Busch has rejoined the ranks of the elite.
Still, I can't help but feel there's someone missing, someone we counted on and rooted for last year, someone who just hasn't performed the way we expected him to, who hasn't taken Sprint Cup by its throat. It's on the tip of my tongue ...
Oh, right. Him.
Carl Edwards' Talladega fence-slide (and subsequent appearances on Larry King, Ellen and other TV shows) put him back in the spotlight, but obscured the fact that he's having, for him, a down year. He's currently running 12th in the points, more than 300 behind Gordon, with no victories and only one top-five finish all season. At this point last year, he'd already won three races. He'd go on to win three of the season's final four, and under the old points system, would have won the Sprint Cup championship.
And that's not all. In the Nationwide series, Edwards has finished second four different times. And while he's only 31 points out of the lead, that leader is Kyle Busch -- who won't exactly sit still while Edwards reels him in.
So what's the problem? In one sense, it's part of a larger institutional difficulties at Roush-Fenway. Aside from Matt Kenseth's season-starting two wins, nobody at Roush -- not Edwards, Kenseth, Greg Biffle, David Ragan or Jamie McMurray -- has run particularly well. (Sometimes, they even take each other out, as happened at Darlington with Biffle and Edwards.) But Edwards has suffered more than his share of early-season bad luck; he was fifty yards from winning Talladega, and misfires with his crew have taken him out of the hunt in more than one race.
Here's the thing with Edwards, though. He's fast becoming the new face of NASCAR, what with Jeff Gordon aging, Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggling, and Jimmie Johnson not connecting. And no matter what his difficulties on-track, no matter what the stats say, you don't get the sense at all that Edwards and his team are panicking. If they can get over their pit miscues, everything could come together in a hurry for Edwards, the guy whom Darrell Waltrip has called NASCAR's perfect driver.
And with the way that the Chase points reset opens the door for any driver to have a hot run, Edwards is still very much in the hunt. A wreck at Talladega took him out of the championship hunt last year, even though he entered Homestead with a slight -- though still mathematically possible -- chance at victory. This time around, he'll be smarter -- and certain cars may not enjoy the same run of luck in the Chase.
That said, Edwards might not want to hang around the lower reaches of the Top 12 all that much longer. The season's not getting any longer.