Carl the comeback kid

Jonathan Baum
Yahoo! Sports

AVONDALE, Ariz. – There's just something about Carl Edwards and Phoenix.

A year ago the then-quasi rookie came here slumping badly, having dropped nine spots in the standings in just three races. He then proceeded to fall two laps down early. But Edwards rebounded that day and came back to finish seventh, vaulting him up five spots in points.

Fast forward a year and a wildly inconsistent Edwards, who entered the season as a championship favorite after finishing tied for second in points in '05, came into Phoenix fresh off two disappointing finishes and sat just 22nd in points.

And once again, he ran into trouble early.

Edwards, who won four races last year and finished sixth at PIR in the fall race, qualified fifth here for the Subway Fresh 500 and was running in the top five a little more than 50 laps into the race. But a collision on pit road damaged his car, forcing him to pit again under caution and leaving him back near the tail end of the lead lap.

This wasn't the first time pit woes have plagued him in 2006. Contact with Dave Blaney at Atlanta – where Edwards was the defending race winner – relegated him to a 40th-place finish there after he had been running in the top three earlier in the day.

At Phoenix, it appeared that bad luck again had bit the No. 99 team.

"The way things have been going, we got in that deal on pit road and I thought, 'Man, not again,'" said Edwards, who also has crashed out of two races this year.

But on this Saturday, Edwards and Co. were prepared for the worst Lady Luck could dish out.

"My fan club gave us a horseshoe and we mounted it on the tool box," Edwards said. "I think that really helped a lot."

It certainly seemed that way, as once again Edwards recovered from early troubles at Phoenix, collected a top-10 finish (fourth, to be exact) and vaulted himself up in the points (six spots to 16th, to be exact).

For a team with such high expectations after turning the NASCAR world upside down – literally, in a sense, with Edwards' propensity for celebratory backflips – a strong run this weekend was crucial, especially with the crapshoot that is Talladega looming next Sunday.

"In context of the season, this is perfect," said Edwards, who gained 57 points on 10th-place Casey Mears on Saturday and now is 123 points out of that all-important spot. "This is a great day for us."

The team's recovery in and of itself might have netted him a top-10 finish, but the good luck pendulum wasn't done swinging back in Edwards' direction.

Several leaders – including Edwards' teammate Greg Biffle, who also needing a good finish led 151 laps but ended up just 15th – were forced to pit for fuel in the race's waning laps, but Edwards had enough gas to come home in the top five.

"We got lucky there with the fuel mileage, guys dropping out," No. 99 crew chief Wally Brown said. "We had a really good car. It was probably a top-five to -seven car, but we'll take fourth."

Don't fret if Brown's name doesn't sound familiar. Saturday night's show marked his first race as Edwards' crew chief after team owner Jack Roush shook up the Nos. 99 and 26 teams in an effort, as Edwards claims, to jump-start teammate Jamie McMurray's struggling outfit – though Edwards himself also was stumbling.

Splitting Edwards from crew chief Bob Osbourne – who was moved to McMurray's team – was a potentially risky move, especially considering all the duo accomplished last season. That put even more pressure on Brown – and Edwards – to get their new partnership off on the right foot.

They did that Saturday night.

"That was a great way to get started," said Brown, who had been the lead engineer for the No. 99 team. "Had a lot of problems tonight, ran into a guy on pit road and had us come back from the back once, so that was a lot of work tonight, but that was a great day for the Office Depot guys, and we're all happy."

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