AVONDALE, Ariz. – Carl Edwards has his mojo back.
Or, more specifically, his crew chief.
After winning four races last season and finishing tied for second in the Chase, Edwards was expected to be a title contender this time around.
Edwards struggled with inconsistency and bad luck early in the season and then again over the summer, causing him to miss this year's Chase. Team owner Jack Roush, in an effort to jump-start both Edwards' No. 99 and teammate Jamie McMurray's No. 26, moved Edwards' crew chief Bob Osborne to the No. 26 program early in the season.
Neither team benefited all that much, so Roush moved Osborne back to 99 to serve as its crew chief, starting this weekend here at Phoenix.
The move paid immediate dividends.
Edwards started 12th, ran with the leaders all day and challenged for the lead on various occasions before finishing fifth for his 10th top-five of the season.
"Our Office Depot Fusion was really good all day," Edwards said. "We had a little trouble with track position there at the end on that last pit stop, but other than that, the day was great. I had a blast."
Performing well at Phoenix shouldn't be too much of a surprise, as Edwards now has finished seventh or better in his last four starts here – including a couple of impressive in-race comeback efforts after falling off the lead lap in some of those previous races. He also has a win and four top-10s in four Busch starts at the unique one-mile oval.
"We had a good time," Edwards said. "The crew did a good job. Four out of five of our pit stops were spectacular, and I just had fun. It's cool to run that well, especially at a fun race track like Phoenix."
Aside from a return to form in terms of performance, Edwards on Sunday also maintained his propensity to mix it up on the track with other drivers. He raced Jeff Gordon hard a couple of times, and Gordon returned the favor on a late restart by whacking a slow-starting Edwards and dropping him from third to fifth, likely costing Edwards at least two spots in the final finishing order.
Edwards wasn't happy initially, but he seemed more philosophical after the race.
"The 24 car, he got up under me just a little bit on the last restart and that really hurt us, but I had fun," said Edwards, who spoke to Gordon after the race and joked that they simply were discussing offseason vacation plans. "He's a true champion of the sport, and I just wanted to make sure that anything that we have go on on the race track, that there are no issues and we get it all out in the air and, hopefully, we just kind of go forward."
Gordon, who pointed out that Edwards had gotten into him earlier in the race, essentially echoed Edwards' last sentiment.
"We've been racing real hard a lot lately," Gordon said. "Some of it has been fun, some of it has been aggravating and we're just trying to talk to see how we can race one another in the future.
"He's a great racer. He got in the back of me off Turn 2, and on that restart I got in the back of him. I think everything is settled."
Starting with a last-place finish at the season-opening Daytona 500, crashes, engine problems and other maladies kept Edwards out of the top 10 in points all season – though he did rise as high as 12th, where he currently sits – and have helped to rob him the opportunity to perform any backflips on the Cup side. Finally being reunited with Osborne seemed to give the team a boost Sunday, which begs the question of whether the split from Osborne held back this team and stunted its progress.
In reality, the 99 Ford already had been running especially well during the Chase.
With Wally Brown calling the shots, Edwards had finished no worse than 15th in the last eight races and has collected six top-10s in that span, including Sunday's run at Phoenix. And really, when this team has avoided trouble and/or terrible setups, it has run pretty well this season – as evidenced by its 19 top-10s (only three teams have more).
Even Sunday's stout car had Brown's fingerprints all over it.
"Really, we didn't know Bob was gonna be here [as crew chief] until the truck had left [the shop], so Wally did a great job on the car," Edwards said.
Still, the reunion and Sunday's finish – while not quite enough to have Edwards doing backflips – do have Edwards feeling pretty good.
"It's cool to have Bob Osborne back," he said. "Bob did a great job calling the race, and it was fast all weekend.
"It's fun to race like that."