Edwards Emerges As Man Of Character And Certain Future Contender
Carl Edwards may not have won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, but when the season ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway, not only was his reputation as one of NASCAR’s best drivers re-enforced, he also earned respect as a gracious, magnanimous loser.
No competitor in any sport likes to lose. But how he or she reacts in defeat speaks volumes about character.
Those who respond with dignity are recognized as athletes with high character and maturity. As a result they earn respect from fans and media alike. So it is with Edwards.
Edwards was clearly disappointed after he lost the championship to Tony Stewart in what is now the closest finish in NASCAR history.
But rather than rage in defeat, Edwards did two other things. He praised Stewart’s performance, adding that the Stewart-Haas driver was determined and mentally tough.
He also said that, while he was disappointed, he had no regrets. He was satisfied that he and his Roush Fenway Racing team had done as much as possible – and that he eagerly awaited 2012 and the opportunity to win the first championship of his career.
“My guys did a great job,” Edwards said. “We pushed Tony to the end and that is all I got. That is as hard as I can drive. I think it is really important to
give Tony the credit. Those guys did a good job.
“I will go home and work harder for next year and be back and make it just as hard on them, hopefully harder.”
Stewart’s victory margin was as close as it could possibly be, since he and Edwards finished with 2,403 points apiece. It came down to the tiebreaker, which was the most victories during the season.
Stewart had five; Edwards only one.
Remarkably, all five of Stewart’s victories came in the Chase. He started the “playoff” ranked ninth among the 12 contenders and, given that he hadn’t won all season, was convinced he wouldn’t be a factor in the championship battle.
But Stewart surprised everyone as he won the first two races in the Chase and rose to No. 1 in points. In the space of two weeks, he rose from self-described pretender to contender.
A week later, Stewart took it on the chin, as he finished 25th at Dover and fell to third in points.
Edwards took over second place on the basis of three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a third at Dover.
Although no one knew it at the time a trend was being established. Edwards maintained his role as a challenger through consistency. He never finished worse than 11th throughout the Chase.
Stewart, meanwhile, could not match Edwards’ level of consistency. He wound up outside the top 10 in two of three races following his consecutive victories.
Edwards was the points leader after Talladega, the sixth race of the Chase, and Stewart was in fourth place, 19 points back.
Stewart then again won twice in succession, at Martinsville and Texas. Edwards, however, held on to the points lead with consistent performances.
He was just three points ahead. The stage was set for the improbable and historical finish.
What makes the final three races of the year so competitively special in this year’s championship fight is that neither Edwards nor Stewart ever faltered.
Neither gave way to the other. It was like a heavyweight championship contest in which two bloodied fighters slugged each other mercilessly – but would not go down.
When Stewart won at Texas, Edwards finished second. Edwards hit back with a runnerup finish at Phoenix that was just one position ahead of Stewart.
The final round of the fight came at Homestead-Miami where Edwards maintained his three-point advantage.
No one really bothered to do the math in order to explain any potential championship scenarios. It was simple, really. For either driver to win regardless of what the other did he had to win – repeat, he HAD to win.
The race itself was the perfect example of how Stewart and Edwards had performed in the Chase.
Stewart overcame adversity. Early in the race his grille was busted and work in the pits eventually relegated him to a far back as 40th place.
It could have been over. However, Stewart rebounded again, mounting a determined effort to return to the head of the pack.
Which he did. It was reported that in his charge to the front Stewart passed 116 cars.
He also came back from an incident in the pits when an air gun broke and forced a two-tire change instead of four – which, again, meant the loss of track position.
Edwards remained the steady, unyielding force he had been throughout the Chase. He dominated, leading more laps than any other driver, and seemed well on his way to his third Homestead victory in four years.
Simply put, he repeated just about everything he had done earlier to put him at the cusp of a championship.
Stewart’s efforts were rewarded on lap 232 when he inherited the lead after Brad Keselowski was forced to pit. Four laps later Edwards moved into second place.
That set up the race-closing duel that ended when Stewart won by 1.3 seconds over Edwards. It marked the third straight time the two had finished a race separated by a single position.
The tiebreaker made the difference. Stewart’s unexpected five-victory surge in the Chase made him the champion.
“The only good thing about tonight
is that we didn’t make any mistakes, Edwards said. “We didn’t mess up and we didn’t beat ourselves. We made Tony and those guys come out and beat us and
they did. Congratulations to him. He is the champion and he earned it.
“I learned a ton, a lot about myself and competition at this level, and I will be ready to battle it out just like this every year if I get the opportunity.”
Oh, he will. I think it’s inevitable.
There’s an old saying in racing that goes, “In order to win a championship, first you must lose one.”
Many times, not always, that has held true.
If it does so again, it could mean that when it comes to a first career title, Carl Edwards will most certainly earn it.