It's not often that one day can either be one of the greatest or one of the worst of your life, and you know it going in. Carl Edwards faced that on Sunday, and for much of the day, it looked like the fates would favor him.
But the fates had other ideas, as did Tony Stewart. And so while Stewart celebrated in victory lane, confetti and fireworks lighting up the South Florida sky, Edwards stood by his car, eyes red-rimmed, quietly but firmly answering every question put his way.
As devastating as this is, though, Edwards can take heart in one fact: he's set up well for a lot of future success. Although the whole "if there were no Chase" argument is as tired as they come, Edwards would have two Cups now without the Chase (this year and 2008). While other drivers come and go, Edwards has been around and at the front of the pack for half a decade now.
And here's the thing: as wickedly consistent as Edwards was this year, this is just a continuation of what he'd begun last year. He closed off 2010 with two first-place finishes and 13 top 10s in the last 19 races. The guy is absolutely dialed in right now. Hot streaks come and go, but consistency ... that's the kind of thing you can rely on for years upon end.
Edwards is, without question, the star of the Roush Fenway firmament right now. He'll get the best equipment, the best engineers, the best sponsor support — what's he up to now, eight? Ten? the guy collects sponsors like baseball cards — the best options for future success.
You know who he resembles right now? A guy who, in 2004 and 2005, was oh-so-close but couldn't quite get up over the hill. A guy who was in second place at the end of 2004 and second place with one race left in the 2005 season.
A guy who would go on to win five straight Cups starting the very next year.
Look, it's too soon to compare Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, but we're just saying that the foundations are similar, the parallels are there. They're roughly the same age (Johnson was 30 when he won his first Cup; Edwards is 31) and they both have a strong, close relationship with both their team and their crew chief. And for both drivers, there are no limits in sight.
"He's going to be up here one day," Tony Stewart said of Edwards, motioning to the championship stage around him. "And I hope we're the ones he beats."
It didn't happen on Sunday ... but it could happen sooner than we think.