NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards

2012 Ride: No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
2012 Primary Sponsors: AFLAC, Best Buy, Cheez-It, Fastenal, Ford EcoBoost, Kellogg’s, Subway, UPS
2012 Car Owner: Jack Roush
2012 Crew Chiefs: Bob Osborne (Feb. – July), Chad Norris (July – Nov.)
2012 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 3 top fives, 13 top 10s, 1 pole, 15th in points

High Point: The Daytona 500. Edwards, not known as a restrictor-plate expert, shocked observers by taking the top spot for the Great American Race. In what would be a sign of things to come, he never led a lap despite leading the field to green and endured an up-and-down day, spending much of the rain-delayed spectacle around 20th place.

But when it was “go time,” the No. 99 had the speed to work its way to the front and Edwards charged forward late to post a strong eighth-place result. His third consecutive top-10 finish in NASCAR’s Super Bowl, not an easy accomplishment, helped fuel some early momentum for the team – they finished in the top five twice in the first five events.

Low Point: Richmond in April. After starting on the front row, Edwards made mincemeat of the field, leading 206 laps and clearly established himself as the dominant car. At one point, it seemed a mere formality a Sprint Cup winless streak that had lasted for over a year was nearing an end. But a late caution, which bunched up the field allowed Tony Stewart to sneak in front after pit stops.

When the green flew, Edwards was side-by-side with the new leader and pushed the issue in a bid to get back up front. NASCAR felt he crossed the line, posting a penalty for jumping the “restart zone” that drew the ire of normally cool-as-a-cucumber crew chief Bob Osborne. To this day, no one in the organization believes the penalty was fully justified, an officials’ call that could have changed the course of a season. Forced to pit for a pass-through penalty, Edwards could only work his way back to 10th in what became a seven-month long punch to the gut.

Summary: The runner-up jinx strikes again. Three times, Edwards has been the virtual bridesmaid in the Chase for the Championship (he was tied for second in 2005 with Greg Biffle, but lost the tiebreaker). In each case, the following season has become a winless disaster. But this time, one year removed from losing a tiebreaker to Stewart for the title he covets, 2012 reached a new level of despair for Edwards. Over the season’s last 31 races, he would post just one top-five result, a fifth at Dover. In all, there were three top-five finishes, his lowest number since entering the Cup Series as a part-timer in 2004.

After a strong early start, with six top 10s in the first nine races, Richmond seemed to let the wind out of this team’s sails. Edwards would go on to lead just 47 laps the rest of the season, slipping further behind the top-tier Cup contenders while enduring a long list of setup, strategy and speed-related problems. A poor Kentucky performance, in which Edwards spoke out against his crew following a 20th-place disappointment, seemed to seal Bob Osborne’s fate. Shortly thereafter, health-related concerns took him off the pit box although his replacement, Chad Norris, failed to energize the organization.

Needing a miracle to make the Chase midsummer, the team never had a dominant car to “go for broke” and win one of the final regular-season events. Missing the postseason, Edwards limped through the Chase; while Kyle Busch used the opportunity to rebuild himself, Cousin Carl suffered with a series of mediocre performances. He ended the year with five finishes between 11th and 18th, not exactly what Blue Oval execs hoped for when they signed the popular driver to a long-term extension back in mid-2011.

Team Ranking: Third of three. In a down year for Roush, Edwards was hiding in the basement for most of 2012. While teammates Matt Kenseth and Biffle made the Chase, briefly flirting with the phrase title contender, throughout the regular season Edwards didn’t even win a race. Never seriously in contention for the Chase, Ford’s “hope for the future” found his No. 99 Ford hopeless too often a year after signing his contract extension.

2013 Outlook: After a ho-hum conclusion to 2012, Edwards has gone through a crew chief change for the second time as veteran Jimmy Fennig takes the helm. Fennig, who won a title with Kurt Busch and a Daytona 500 with Kenseth, has a long list of accomplishments on his resume.

But can an old-school mentality mesh with a new-school driver in Edwards, one whose background has been with the engineering mindset of Osborne? “Boom or bust” may be the quote to describe this duo, as Edwards sets out to prove he was worth his lofty signing bonus. He’ll also need to dump the stigma he can’t be successful without Osborne at the helm.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: B-
2008 Grade: A+
2009 Grade: C-
2010 Grade: A-
2011 Grade: A
2012 Grade: C

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