More than likely, Carl Edwards will clinch his first-ever Busch Series championship this Saturday at Memphis. An eighth-place finish is all that’s needed to secure the trophy with three races left, no matter what second-place points man David Reutimann does on the racetrack. It’s a significant achievement for a man who’s never won a title in any of the top-three series, validation of a sparkling season in which the No. 60 has won four times, collected 19 top-10 finishes and leads his closest pursuer by 638 points.
Yet even with all those scintillating stats, there appears to be a slight tinge of wonder, a feeling that even things could have gone so much better.
Because they should have.
At the end of July, Edwards stood an unbelievable 852 markers ahead of Reutimann, on pace to shatter last year’s record 824-point victory margin set by Kevin Harvick – ironically, a record accomplished by beating Edwards himself. But all of a sudden, a season filled with perfection has finished less than perfect – in the past nine races, the No. 60 Ford has finished in the top 10 just twice, allowing Reutimann to gain respectability back by slashing the margin 214 points. At the same time, the owner points title – once thought to be won by Edwards’s team in a runaway – now appears lost, as both the No. 29 team of Richard Childress Racing and the No. 20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing have blown by the Roush Racing juggernaut. Facing a 180-point deficit and a lack of momentum, it’s going to take a small miracle for the No. 60 to regain control of that race, making it just the second time in Busch Series history the owner and driver championships will go to two different organizations.
Of course, since those other two cars have a handful of different drivers at their disposal, no one from those teams is within earshot of title contention. But the mere fact they’re able to put such distance between Edwards and his team suggests they’d put up some stout competition at the very least if they just stuck to running one person in all the races. Indeed, Edwards has benefited from that and other Cup drivers cutting back, most notably the decision of Harvick to not defend his Busch Series title full-time. Running a limited schedule, Harvick is currently third in this year’s standings despite only starting 23 of 31 events – meaning he’d need just a 22nd-place average finish in those races he missed in order to take the points lead away from Edwards. Not only would that have been possible, it’s be almost a given considering the way the RCR veteran has dominated this series over the years.
Now, all this theorizing is not meant to take away from all that Edwards accomplished. This team was nothing less than dominant in the season’s first half, where four wins in 15 races established him as a weekly challenger for Victory Lane.
Only thing is, he hasn’t been back since. That’s what makes his title-clinching race at Memphis so important; as a win could work wonders to validate the significance of this season.
Without it, he appears on the verge of being your “run-of-the mill” Busch Series champion. A very successful accomplishment, indeed; but nowhere near the record-setting performance we thought this year was about.