FORT WORTH, Texas -- Carl Edwards ended the regular season in Richmond Victory Lane and better yet, atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings.
He was full of hope and conviction that he could make a run at the championship even as his ranking dropped to fourth when the points standings were reset for the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But a 35th place at Dover three weeks later derailed his quest in what's been a top-heavy Chase absent of mulligans.
So Edwards' joy in winning the pole position for Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was genuine and invigorating -- a bright spot in a Chase of missed opportunity. With three races remaining, he's ranked 10th, 76 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.
"When the Chase started, truly we sat and thought with the two wins and leading the points that we could go out and lead these last 10 races and win this thing," Edwards said Friday after a near track record 196.114 mph in the No. 99 Aflac Ford.
"It has not happened that way obviously. Some guys have really stepped it up. For Jimmie and Matt and those guys and the 29 bunch with Kevin (Harvick) and now Jeff Gordon is back in the mix.
"As a company, everyone has recognized that at Roush Fenway Racing. I spent an hour or two with (general manager) Robbie Reiser this week and that man is working as hard as anybody I have seen to make sure that we can beat these guys. Not just this year but next year and beyond. We recognize that we need to be better."
With the exception of the Dover disappointment, Edwards' results in the Chase are decent, if not highlight reel. He has finished 12th or better in four of the seven races, including a fifth place at Kansas. However, after leading 447 laps in the regular season, he's led only three laps in the Chase.
His showing this week at Texas is no surprise. His three victories here is the most of any driver in the field and he's one of only two people to score a Texas season sweep (2008).
He arrives in Phoenix next week as the track's most recent winner, scoring his career second victory there this spring. He has won three poles at the one-miler and his 11.8 average finish is among the series' best.
It's a similar success story at Homestead-Miami, where the season concludes in the Nov. 17 Ford Ecoboost 400. He has a pair of wins and a pair of poles there and five top-five finishes in nine starts.
It may be more common for drivers out of Chase contention to toe the "we'll get 'em next year" party line, but Edwards is a consummate optimist.
"I would like to win the championship, but I don't know if that is in the cards," Edwards said smiling. "I can tell you that we will go to these last three races to win all three races. There is nothing we are not bringing to the race track equipment wise, effort wise and we are coming to win.
"I'd really like. ? no matter what the points situation to finish the season strong because I feel it will help us get started next season. There are a lot of things changing, but overall it would help to keep the guys motivated and everyone looking forward. Wins would be great."
"I couldn't pick a better three tracks to go to. I love racing here and we ran really well at Phoenix -- and Homestead for some reason perfectly suits me and the way our cars work and the engine. We should be really good.
"At the very least we will have a good time and have some fun which is something that is easy to forget. That is a big part of it."
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