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Top 20 Countdown: T-No. 3 Carl Edwards

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the top 20 drivers of the 2011 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked five NASCAR journalists – Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports), Jenna Fryer (Associated Press), Dustin Long (Landmark Newspapers) and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2011 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 11 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

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2010 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
4 3 2 9 19
The countdown
No. 14 (tie): Joey Logano | Career stats
No. 14 (tie): Jeff Burton | Career stats
No. 3 (tie): Denny Hamlin | Career stats
No. 3 (tie): Carl Edwards | Career stats
No. 2: Revealed Feb. 10

2010 finish: 4th

Our 2011 predictions:
• Jay Busbee: 2nd
• Jay Hart: 2nd
• Jenna Fryer: 5th
• Dustin Long: 2nd
• Nate Ryan: 6th

2011 outlook: Back in 2009, when Carl Edwards was the darling pick to dethrone Jimmie Johnson, he was the talk of the sport because he'd won three of the final four races of the 2008 season. Then Edwards went out and failed to win a single race in 2009 en route to a supremely disappointing 11th-place finish in the standings.

Fast forward to now. While no driver was hotter than Edwards at the end of the 2010 season – he finished the year win-win – it's with good reason that no one on this panel is picking Edwards to win it all.

You know how the saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

That said, expect Edwards to be a player in the 2011 championship, and that's a good thing because it means Roush Fenway is a player, too. That's exactly what NASCAR needs – multiple teams challenging for the title. Assuming Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are in the mix with Johnson, that makes four teams vying for the championship.

None of Johnson's challengers go into the season with more momentum than Edwards, who was mediocre early in 2010 but great late. He led a total of 427 laps last season, with all but six of them coming in the final 12 races.

What you need to know: Edwards will be the biggest name on a long list of free agents in 2011. This could become a distraction if he doesn't re-sign with Roush Fenway early or could derail his season entirely if he winds up signing elsewhere – possible landing spots include Joe Gibbs Racing (if the organization expands to four cars) or Penske Racing (the dark horse) – thus making Edwards a lame-duck driver when the Chase rolls around.