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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NASCAR Driver Preview: Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards Age: 27
0 wins, 10 top 5's, 20 top 10's, 24 top 15's,
Avg Start: 19.3 Avg finish 15.2
Points Standing: 12th Driver Rating:87.6
#99 Office Depot Ford Crew Chief: Bob Osborne

Carl Edwards surprised everyone by winning four races and nearly winning the Chase in 2005. It was nearly as shocking that he had zero wins and missed the Chase in 2006. That means 2007 is a rubber-year of sorts. Will the real Carl Edwards please stand up or at least backflip?

It's not that Edwards' 2006 was a complete failure. Expectations were a little too lofty for a driver with only 49 Cup starts prior to 2006. He didn't win any races and never really threatened to make the Chase. The season had an inconsistent start due to bad luck (crash at Daytona, engine at Darlington), pit problems (Atlanta) and impatience (crash at Texas). 4 sub-35 finishes in the first 11 races dug Edwards a large hole. After the Texas race, Jack Roush moved crew chief Bob Osborne to Jamie McMurray's team hoping to get the new #26 team some traction. Edwards got engineer Wally Brown as his new pit boss. The change was intended to help McMurray's team and Roush said it did not reflect on Edwards' performance. Edwards was still unhappy with the change, although the results did improve for the #99.

Edwards had three straight top ten starts and finishes after the change. Although he had several solid finishes during the summer, there were too many poor finishes mixed in. He finished 25th at the June Pocono race, a race he won last year. He had another crash at Daytona (39th) and struggled at Chicago (20th). One race that really hurt his Chase chances was the July Pocono race. Edwards was collected in an incident between Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. Realizing how the crash hurt his Chase outlook, Edwards retaliated against Stewart, spinning him while entering the pits. He was fined and placed on probation by NASCAR. Edwards' frustration continued to mount.

During the Michigan Busch race in August, things boiled over. Edwards was bumped and wrecked on the last lap of the race by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt was declared the winner and during his victory lap Edwards returned to the track to bump him. He also confronted Earnhardt in victory lane, causing more embarassment than reaching resolution. In both incidents, Edwards was the innocent party. His mistake was escalating things. Later in the year he proved he learned from his lessons. Another wreck not of his doing, this time with Casey Mears was shrugged off by a patient Edwards.

Although he didn't pull any backflips on the Cup side, Edwards did score 4 Busch wins during a 2nd place points finish. He proved he can win at different types of tracks and he should return to winning on the Cup side very soon.His best tracks are 1.5 and 2 mile tracks, California, Michigan, Atlanta and Texas. In two-plus years he has also added short tracks and 1 mile tracks to his repertoire. He also scored top tens at both road courses.

Roush Racing is very different than 2005 when they put all five cars in the Chase. Only one team has the same driver and crew chief from last season. Mark Martin is gone, replaced by inexperienced rookie David Ragan. Their vaunted intermediate program is also not the same. There were times in 2005 when Roush drivers were literally taking turns leading races. That didn't happen very much last year. Matt Kenseth was strong all season until the Chase. Edwards and Biffle had good runs, but not always at the same time. McMurray never found consistency at the intermediate tracks.

With two races left in 2006, Brown announced he would not return to Roush Racing. The opened the door for Roush to hit undo and switch Osborne back to Edwards' team. The return of Osborne is a good sign, but it is only a part of the solution for the #99 team. It is a similar situation to Dale Earnhardt Jr in 2005. After a rough season, Junior reunited with Tony Eury Jr. It was a step in the right direction, but it also took DEI time to improve the cars. It took Earnhardt most of the spring before he began resumed running up front consistently.Neither Edwards and Roush didn't suffer the sever decline that DEI did. It may not take as long, but there will probably be an adjustment period.

During the 2005 season Edwards had everything go his way. He only had one DNF and five finishes of 30th or worse. Compare that with 3 DNF's and 7 sub-30 finishes in 2006, and it's clearer how he struggled more in his sophomore season. If Roush and Edwards suffered a down year in 2006, it still wasn't that bad. He finished on a high note, with seven top tens and an average finish of 9.0 over the final ten races. Edwards is a safe bet to make the Chase and the final ten races set up very well for his stregths. Two wins is a reasonable goal, along with 10-12 top 5's and 20 top tens. That, for a change, wouldn't surprise anyone.

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