“Cousin” Carl Edwards
2006 Ride: No. 99 Office Depot Ford
2006 Owner: Jack Roush
2006 Crew Chief: Bob Osborne (Feb-April)/Wally Brown (April-Nov)/Bob Osborne (Nov-2007)
2006 Stats: 36 races, zero wins, 10 top fives, 20 top 10s, 12th in points.
High Point: Even though a season-long struggle left Edwards one of the odd men out in the Chase, he still turned on the afterburners during the playoffs nevertheless. Highlighted by a runner-up finish at Dover (inheriting second when Matt Kenseth ran out of fuel), Cousin Carl had nine consecutive top-15 finishes to wrap up the year, scoring more points during that span than any driver except Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.
Low Point: Edwards’s low point actually came at a moment he was “up high,” ending his second Daytona 500 appearance by riding on the hood of Kyle Petty‘s car. Trying to avoid a developing multi-car wreck on the backstretch, Edwards never saw Petty and flat ran into him, destroying the front of his car and starting his sophomore season with a 43rd-place finish. For all intents and purposes, he and his team never recovered from that.
Summary: After mounting a late charge against 2005 champ Stewart that ended up just short, Edwards was the trendy media pick for the title this year after finishing third in the final standings. Unfortunately, third was the highest finish the No. 99 car would achieve in any race over the first half of 2006, with a series of fluke situations, loose-handling racecars and plain old bad luck putting Edwards in a deep hole in the points. After three crashes and two DNFs in the first seven races, Bob Osborne was ousted as crew chief, replaced by Wally Brown in April with limited improvement. In the end, it took three-quarters of a season for Edwards to get it together, but despite running well in the final few races he failed to win a race in Cup, a sharp contrast to his four-win performance from 2005. That was enough to bring Osborne back into the fold in November, returning as crew chief after a stint as Jamie McMurray‘s head wrench during midseason. All in all, it was a tough year for Cousin Carl, who even saw his “good guy” reputation come under fire after slamming into Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s car following a Busch Series race at Michigan; Junior had spun Carl in the final laps in order to claim the win. Stewart and Casey Mears were among other drivers who Edwards had conflicts with as well during the year, completing what was a classic example of the legendary “sophomore slump.”
2007 Outlook: With Osborne back in the fold and the team back on track after a disastrous start, look for Edwards to come out of the box strong in ’07. In their third full seasons, similar young phenoms like Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Kenseth either won or seriously challenged for the Nextel Cup title; with Edwards now one of the “veterans” at Roush, expect a similar type of maturation to occur.