Back in 2011, Carl Edwards got as close as you could get to winning a championship without actually taking home the title. It’s a runner-up finish he’s at peace with, a near-miss people mention all the time.
This week was different.
Monday evening, NBC Sports played back the 2011 Homestead-Miami Speedway event, honoring Tony Stewart as he prepares for his farewell race from the sport this weekend. Edwards, unexpectedly catching the final 15 minutes of that race, was reminded of the heartbreak he hopes to prevent five years later.
“I got to my hotel the other night in New York, flipping through the channels, I was like, ‘what the hell is that on the TV?'” he explained during a press breakout session Thursday. “It was that race… and I sat and watched it, and I thought, man, this is really motivating.”
It was a difficult few moments that reset Edwards’ mental trajectory for this weekend. Remembering back to that day, Edwards tried to think on the bright side, enjoying the process of that championship fight. The outcome wasn’t what he had hoped for, but as the saying goes, you must lose one to win one.
“Those last few laps I was driving my guts out,” Edwards said. “That was everything I had. At first, I thought I didn’t want to watch this, but then I thought, ‘this is good for me.’ I need to remember what that was like and get a glimpse of how important this is. When I shut it off, I was ready to race.”
Edwards admitted that he watches film on a consistent basis, much like athletes of other sports. However, since 2011 almost everything in NASCAR has changed: the handling of the cars, the Chase format, even the overtime procedure. This session wasn’t an educational experience; it was an emotional gut-check.
Since the defeat, Edwards’ best championship finish is fifth, coming last year, competing in his first season for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’ll be guaranteed a better result this year after his Texas Motor Speedway victory qualified him for the Championship 4. In 2016, the No. 19 team has three victories, the most he has had in a single season since 2008.
During the Chase, Edwards has three top-10 finishes, the fewest of the Championship 4. But his past experiences give hope for a better outcome. Two weeks ago, that Texas victory came on the same tire compound that will be used at Homestead.
The 1.5-mile oval is also arguably Edwards’ best track on the circuit. In his career at the South Florida track, he has two victories with an average finish of 9.2. He has paced the field for 568 laps, including 119 in the 2011 race against Tony Stewart.
Will reliving that heartbreak turn 2016 around?
“It’s good to go through that experience,” he said. “It kind of galvanizes you and makes it easier to do it again. I really, really want to win this one.”
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