Edwards handles defeat with grace

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Edwards led most of the race but couldn't shake Stewart

Edwards handles defeat with grace

Edwards led most of the race but couldn't shake Stewart

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Carl Edwards ended what for many would be the most disappointing day of their professional career by quoting Rudyard Kipling:

"He said, 'You have to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,' " Edwards said. "That's the truth."

He'd just finished the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship having posted the best average finish of any driver in the eight-year history of NASCAR's Chase, just scored the exact same amount of points as the champion, just forced Tony Stewart to pull off something that's never been done since NASCAR implemented its current scoring system in 1975 … and still he lost.

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Yet, as Stewart celebrated in victory lane – both his win in the Ford 400 and his third Sprint Cup championship – Edwards pulled out his Sharpie to sign a few autographs as he walked through a throng of fans on his way to talk about losing the closest championship battle in the history of NASCAR. He showed no sign of anxiety, no hint of regret. There were no tears of disappointment streaming down his face.

Yes, he'd lost, but on Kipling's advice, he would handle it the same as if he'd won.

"I'm telling you guys, this is how I feel," he explained moments later. "This is how I feel. I'm not BS'ing you – this is me. I'm not going to go rip the door off my motor home or freak out or anything. I'm going to go hang out with my family, and we'll go to the beach tomorrow.

"My true feeling right now, my real – like my gut feeling in my heart – is that I'm just, I'm obviously disappointed we didn't win," he continued. "That would have been a spectacular result, OK. But I'm very proud, some of the best races I've run in my life, were this Chase."

And that's just it. Had he scored even one more point over the course of the 10-race Chase, Edwards would be the 2011 champion. But where could he have gotten even one? In the history of the Chase, no driver has posted a better average finish. Edwards' 4.9 average included nine top-10s and an 11th-place finish. That would have been good enough to win every Chase but one – this one.

Only an epic performance could beat him, and that's exactly what Stewart turned in. He won five of the 10 races in the Chase, a first, and needed every one of them.

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Stewart entered the race trailing Edwards by three points, meaning he had to beat him by at least three positions or win the race outright. From the get-go it was clear Stewart likely would have to win the race to win the championship, something that had never been done since the implementation of NASCAR's modern scoring system in 1975.

Edwards did just about everything he needed to do this weekend in South Florida – he won the pole and led the most laps. The only thing he couldn't do was catch Stewart over the final 37 laps of Sunday's race. And that one spot – Stewart finishing first to Edwards' second – was the difference in the tightest championship battle in the sport's history.

To have a championship that close, to lose it at your very best, to get beaten by an all-time performance – that can grate on a person, fray his nerves, test his mettle. And in that moment, Edwards showed the person he is.

"I told myself, I told my family that the one thing I'm going to do is I'm going to walk back to that motor home, win, lose or draw, and I'm going to be a good example for my kids and work hard and go be better next season," he said. "I feel like personally, I passed the test. I didn't fall into the trap of the trash-talking – I didn't change the person I am to go compete at my highest level. I felt like I did it my way, and I'm proud of that."

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