It has become all too common in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Year in and year out, the driver who finished runner-up in the championship follows up their valiant contending push with a lackluster or downright terrible season the following year. This unusual trend has taken on the look of a curse in recent years, and the most recent victim of the dreaded “second place hangover” is none other than the Subway pitchman himself: Carl Edwards.
After fighting tooth and nail against Tony Stewart for the championship in 2011, the Edwards of 2012 is simply out to lunch. It hasn’t been a bad season per se, Edwards sits a passable 11th in points, but for a driver who delivered 26 top 10s the previous year and lost the championship in a tiebreaker, there is no reason why Edwards shouldn’t be in top form again this year. Consider the fact that Edwards’ two Roush-Fenway Racing teammates sit a dominant 1st and 3rd in the series standings, and Edwards 2012 season looks downright puzzling. Many will say that Edwards is a victim of the so-called curse, but there is a much deeper issue at play here, one that dates back to 2005. The issue? Carl Edwards can’t seal the deal, and I am beginning to doubt if he will ever learn how.
Let’s turn back the clock for a second. Carl Edwards is a quasi-rookie on the Sprint Cup circuit with only 13 Cup starts to his name, but he wastes no time getting up to speed. Edwards clicks off 3 wins on the season, including a decisive victory late in the Chase at Texas which vaulted the young star into the thick of the title hunt entering Homestead. He went into the season’s final two races with a mathematical chance at a title, but by the final lap in Homestead, he didn’t make up enough ground to unseat none other than Tony Stewart atop the standings, and wound up tied for 2nd in points.
No matter, people thought at this time, Edwards would surely be a threat for the Cup in 2006, and with how young he was at the time, folks figured that he’d be competing at the top for years to come.
But alas, Edwards was nowhere to be found in 2006, delivering a winless season in which he limped home a distant 12th in the final standings. Then came 2007, and it was more of the same. He was solid but not spectacular, and by this point most had written Carl off as a serious title contender. We know the story from here, Edwards went on a tear in 2008 and was the class of the field all season, but when it came down to crunch time in the Chase, he once again could not seal the deal, and gave up the title to Jimmie Johnson. Disturbingly, another two years of relative mediocrity set in before Edwards made his latest push for a championship in 2011, and he flat out got beat by Tony Stewart yet again.
To be so close to a championship so many times and continually failing to complete the transaction can only serve to wear a man down. Even someone as charming and upbeat as Edwards can only handle so much defeat.
“Close but no cigar” has been the theme of Carl’s career. When you dig a little deeper, it becomes clear it is not just Cup championships that Carl has had slip from his grasp in this manner. Consider the years in which he was running a full Nationwide schedule. From 2006-2010, Edwards finished 2nd in the Nationwide standings a whopping four times, the most notable loss being in 2008 when Edwards lost the title by a narrow 21 points to Kyle Busch–the very same year Edwards narrowly missed the Cup title. He did pick up a Nationwide title in 2007, but Edwards and his No. 60 team were leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else that year.
Whenever Edwards has been forced to go out and either take or retake the championship lead while in the thick of title contention, he has failed to do so an astounding seven times over the course of his career in NASCAR’s national touring series. Not only that, but he’s done the exact same thing in a number of individual races that appeared to be his for the taking. The 2011 Southern 500, 2009 Aarons 499, and 2012 Capital City 400 all come to mind as races that Edwards likely should have won but failed to do so.
Many in NASCAR like to criticize Denny Hamlin for being a choke artist due to his epic collapse in the 2010 Chase, but it is Edwards who has proven time and time again that he simply cannot finish out the Chase. And this folks, is exactly why Carl Edwards is struggling in 2012. You can here it in his voice, you can see it in his actions. He is not the same happy-go-lucky goofball he usually is. There is a tinge of well-veiled stress that can be seen in Edwards this year, and it all points back to years and years of continual failure on the big stage that reached a crescendo in the 2011 Ford 400.
How many times can one lose what is theirs for the taking before they start to believe that maybe they just aren’t capable of getting it done? Such a mindset consumed Denny Hamlin during the 2011 season, and it doesn’t take a Ph. D in Psychology to see that the same thing is happening with Edwards. There is simply no other reason why a driver as talented and accomplished as Edwards is not performing when his teammates are clearly demonstrating that the Roush Fords are the class of the field right now.
Until Carl Edwards can find a way to make it happen when the lights shine brightest and the competition is at its fiercest, be that a big race such as the Daytona 500 or pursuing that elusive hardware, Carl Edwards will have a monkey permanently attached to his back. You can only kick a man when he’s down so many times before he simply stays down, and Carl Edwards’ 2012 season is a reflection of that.
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