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NASCAR Cup Series

Carl Edwards Motivated At Strong Run For Cup Title

For the past 13 years, Carl Edwards has experienced the successes and struggles of being a genuine, front running NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor.  He’s made championship runs through consistency and a season laden with a plethora of victories, giving it all he’s got but just falling a little short of hoisting the big trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway by season’s end.

After racing with the Roush Fenway effort for 11 years, Edwards made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 team in 2015.  With a new racing home to adjust to last season, the Columbia, MO native found himself going a little over the edge at times, trying harder than he needed to contend for the win or getting that solid result by race’s end.

Even with the somewhat inconsistent first half to 2015, Edwards and his team found their stride and wound up placing fifth in the championship standings with two wins, seven top-fives and 15 top-10’s.  For most of the Cup garage, those results would feel like a title-winning effort but in this case, it was a prelude to this year.

To say the least, it has been terrific start to 2016 for Edwards with wins at Bristol and Richmond along with seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10’s through the first 18 races.  Despite a crew chief change with Dave Rogers atop the No. 19 pit box, Edwards attributes his strong start stemming from his adjustment period with the team to the progress overall for the Toyota and Gibbs efforts.

Edwards has found his comfort zone with the JGR team.

Edwards has found his comfort zone with the JGR team.

“I think it’s a couple of things,” Edwards said following first Cup practice at New Hamsphire Motor Speedway.  “I’m a little more comfortable in my position on the team.  I’ve kind of toned down my intensity a little bit which is good.  Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and Toyota, on the whole, have been doing really well.  I feel like I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of hard work over the last few years.

My crew chief Dave Rogers and I are getting along real well.  Everything is hitting on all cylinders, so to speak.  It’s good.  The cars are fast and that makes everything easy.”

While nothing is truly easy in Sprint Cup racing, a strong driver/crew chief chemistry will certainly ease the load and pressures of competing at this level.  Coming into this Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 ranked fourth in the championship standings, the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota team have truly been the model of consistency with stellar qualifying efforts backed up by stout race day results.

Recently, Edwards’ crew chief Dave Rogers sang his praises during the race weekend at Kentucky, so to speak, as he remarked, “I think I’ve got the best.  I think all of our drivers are great. But when I go to the race track, I’m 100 percent convinced that the best driver in the business is driving my race car.”

As confident as Rogers was in Edwards, the same could be said from the latter’s perspective as he pointed out some of his crew chief’s traits.

Edwards and crew chief Dave Rogers have found their stride rather quickly in 2016.

Edwards and crew chief Dave Rogers have found their stride rather quickly in 2016.

“It means a lot,” Edwards said.  “Right from the beginning, Dave and I, from our first conversation, I knew that this was a guy who gives it everything he’s got.  He’s a man of his word and he’s a true competitor.  I mean, he’s a fierce competitor.  To me, to have him in my corner is great and to know that he feels that way, that’s as good as it gets.”

Oftentimes, a strong rapport with driver and crew chief results in successful race weekends and that has been evident all season long for the hardy No. 19 team.  As a whole, the JGR camp has been the team to beat on the Cup circuit with defending series champion Kyle Busch in the sixth spot with three wins, Matt Kenseth in 10th with the victory at Dover, and Daytona 500 titlist Denny Hamlin ranked 11th.

With the early season triumphs at the short tracks in Bristol and Richmond, Edwards is in solid position to clinch his ninth Chase appearance in his Cup career as of press time.  There’s no such thing as a conservative approach for this racer as he views the season in parts with mindful expectations.

"We can have some fun and go racing," Edwards said.

“We can have some fun and go racing,” Edwards said.

“There’s basically two seasons or maybe five, depending on how you view it,” Edwards said.  “The first 26 races, that’s one where you have a set of goals.  You have to win a race and put yourself in the Chase.  We’ve done that.  We can now have some fun and go race for wins.  Once the Chase starts, it’s completely different and we have four rounds and each one of them is a mini season.  You have to really focus.  Right now, we can have some fun and go racing.”

Pursuing additional race wins can only help Edwards and his team with ranking higher in the Chase Grid as well as scoring bonus points to distance themselves from their title rivals.  Starting 13th in Sunday’s race, the No. 19 team consistently had one of the top-two fastest cars in a 10-lap run during Saturday’s final two practice rounds, an indication of the strong Camry they’ve brought to “The Magic Mile.”

While working towards the front of the field, Edwards will likely battle with some of the sport’s young, promising drivers of the Cup circuit.  Having been one when he started his Cup career on a full-time basis in late 2004, Edwards expressed admiration with the current crop of young racers, citing their approach on the track.

“I can’t say any of them really remind me of myself but I do look at the newer guys like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, those guys are so good,” Edwards observed.  “They’re spectacular and so fast.  They’re definitely putting on the pressure on all of us and that’s cool.  They’re just very, very quick.”

Sure, Edwards may be a NASCAR veteran at age 36 but he’s at the prime of his racing career and in the best position he’s been in to contend for race wins and that elusive first Sprint Cup title.  Unlike the young racers who may bust out those quick laps and race more on the edge each lap, Edwards’ patented smooth, smart, efficient approach on the track has paid off with an equally competitive crew chief and a No. 19 team that gives it all they’ve got each weekend.

Having come so close with winning the championship throughout the years, Edwards is making a strong case towards a strong run at that elusive prize in 2016.  Simply put, he comes to the track to work hard and to achieve NASCAR greatness with the strongest support he’s had yet in his Cup career.

Edwards looks to rejoice in confetti come this November.

Edwards looks to rejoice in confetti come this November.

“That’s why I do this now – to win the championship,” Edwards said.   “That’s it.  That’s the goal.  For me, the experience in 2005, I had no clue how fortunate I was to be in that position.  We got second in 2008.  It meant that I understood things a little better.

In 2011, that championship battle (with Tony Stewart), I knew what was on the line, we had to perform and we went through all of that.  Now, I feel like, if we were to win it, it would mean so much because of those three opportunities…it would mean the world to me.”

Ultimately, Edwards may just show that nice guys can finish first and that it’s the fourth time that’s the charm with attaining greatness in one’s profession.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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