Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Carl Edwards
2013 Finish: 13th
2013 Highlight: Edwards gets to be an answer to a pretty good NASCAR trivia question in a few years. "Who won the Richmond race that was plagued by Michael Waltrip Racing's race manipulation scandal?"
After winning the second race of the season at Phoenix, Edwards didn't win a race again until that night in Richmond, which set him up nicely for the Chase. After running inside the top three for most of the season, he was fourth entering the Chase. It was setting up nicely for a run similar to the one he had in 2011.
2013 Lowlight: Well, that optimism lasted a week into the Chase. And here's where Edwards gets to be the answer to another trivia question. "Before NASCAR expanded the Chase to 16 drivers for the 2014 season, who is the only Chase-qualified driver to finish 13th in the points standings?"
Yup, it's Edwards. He finished 9th at Chicago, but was then 35th at New Hampshire. A blown engine at Texas dropped him to 11th, and after a poor Phoenix race, he was destined to finish unlucky 13 in the points.
Why is Edwards here? It's easy to think of Edwards as a sleeper championship contender. His consistency kicked up a notch last year, and while Roush Fenway Racing wasn't at the level that Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing were at, it's not hard to envision the organization taking a step forward.
Edwards also seems like one of those drivers who is destined to win a championship at some point in his career. But in this era of Jimmie Johnson, the list of drivers like that keeps getting longer and longer. Someone isn't going to win one.
How could Edwards not be here? If the chance at the title doesn't come this year for Edwards, could it be his last at Roush? But where would he go? There aren't too many spots available, unless Joe Gibbs Racing wants to add a fourth car. (And can you imagine that driver lineup? Holy smokes. At least Brad Keselowski would have a true "rival" team.)
After finishing fourth and second in the points standings, Edwards has been 15th and 13th the last two years. He should make the Chase, but we also picked him to win the title in 2012 and he missed it altogether.
Best Winter Olympic event: Oh, this one is easy. Halfpipe, or anything where Edwards can utilize his backflip. He could even do figure skating and be the male version of Surya Bonaly. (10,000 bonus points for you if you get that reference. And no, I didn't have to look that one up.)
Worst Winter Olympic event: As one of the most athletic drivers in our lineup, we're pretty comfortable saying that Edwards could do most Olympic events. Would he be a good cross country skier? At least at the end of that marathon, he wouldn't have to worry about being tied with Tony Stewart. Heck, he may lap him.
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