Sitting outside the top 10 in points without a win, every race that ticks by without a trip to victory lane decreases Carl Edwards' window of opportunity to make the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. And after finishing 20th Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, Edwards admitted that the team needed to pick up the pace.
After steadily working his way through the field, Edwards restarted in third with 48 laps to go after a lengthy caution for Ryan Newman's expired engine came out with many teams on the precipice of their fuel windows. Edwards was one of those on the edge.
Some cars chose to top off their fuel tanks while others stayed out. When Edwards got the call to come in to top off to make it safely to the end, he was already committed to the racetrack. He was going to need another caution to make it to the checkered flag on fuel. He never got it, and was forced to pit from fourth place with seven laps to go.
He finished 20th.
"(Crew chief) Bob (Osborne) called me on to pit road, he knew we should have pitted that last time but I was already so far around the cone, I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down and trying to make it to pit road," Edwards said. "So we were put in a box and we hoped that there would be a caution and there wasn't. But it's just time for us to get it in gear. We gotta go. I'm real frustrated, Bob's real frustrated. I know we can do this though — we ran as well as any Ford out here tonight and at the end with some fuel I think we would have had a chance to win it."
Edwards is now 11th in the points standings, 34 points behind Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski for 10th. But because he's winless so far this year -- his highest finish is fifth -- he's behind Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano, drivers all with a win, in the Wild Card pecking order.
From the expression on Edwards' face and his meaningful delivery of his post-race comments, you could tell that the (relative) struggles of his race team were very real. Just last year he was tied with Tony Stewart for the championship, only to lose that tiebreaker five to one on wins. Now, crazily enough, he's a driver in badly need of a win on a 50(!) race winless streak.
And perhaps he's cognizant of the second place slump that's haunted himself and other drivers recently. After finishing second to Jimmie Johnson and leading the circuit in wins in 2008, Edwards went winless and finished 11th in 2009. Mark Martin, who finished second that year, was 13th in 2010. And Denny Hamlin, who was second in 10 and, like Edwards in 2008, led the series in wins, finished 9th in 2011.
Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford parted ways at the end of 2011. Edwards was quick to shoot down any thoughts of parting ways with Osborne, or any other popular theory that's been floated as a reason for the team's struggles. (Edwards and Osborne have been together since the beginning of Edwards' Sprint Cup career, save for 27 races in the middle of 2006.)
"We have to stick together as a team," Edwards said. "That's what Bob and I talked about last week I mean — I hear it all, I hear everything — 'Oh, he's focused on the booth,' 'He's tore up over Tony's deal last year,' 'He needs a new crew chief' — all these things. None of that's true. We're having some bad luck and we're having some bad communication here. And we can do this together. So we could divide right now or we could come together. I've got the best crew chief in the business, he proved it at the end of the year last year. We got beat on a crazy call by (former Tony Stewart crew chief) Darian (Grubb) and those guys (when Stewart stayed out longer than Edwards and others at Homestead). But we just need to go and keep going and get this Ford in victory lane for Fastenal and all the people who support us."
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