Edwards must go for broke

Last modified: 8/5/2012 12:00:00 AM
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He changed crew chiefs. He has no wins. He has only two top-fives, and only one pole.

Nothing's worked in 2012 for Carl Edwards. And in a year defined so far by what he doesn't have, it's clear that Edwards does have one thing. He has a problem - a big one that, barring the incredible, has made this a lost season for one of NASCAR's most consistent drivers.

Edwards certainly isn't due for any validation of his status as one of the Sprint Cup's top drivers. His record speaks for itself. He's finished in the top five in the Cup standings three of the past four years. He finished second last year behind Tony Stewart by one point. Who knows, maybe if one pit stop had gone a tad faster, maybe if one of his results down the stretch had been one place higher - we're talking just a few seconds here - Edwards is the defending Cup champion.

This year, however, the drama's been missing. Edwards now needs to win. The problem is that he hasn't been coming close.

The Chase for the Cup is six races away, and Edwards needs to win at least one of them, or pick up enough points to jump from 12th to 10th, to make the cut. It's a position that four-time champion Jeff Gordon is also in, but he's at least showing hope that the breakthrough is coming. Gordon's finished in the top six five of the past six races. He was in the hunt at Loudon and Indianapolis. After a terrible start, Gordon's driving like he realizes the high stakes he's dealing with.

Edwards, on the other hand, can't shake his funk. While Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rack up top 10s - en route to second- and third-place positions in the standings, respectively - Edwards is mired in the middle of the pack. The driver with 26 top-10s a year ago has nine so far in 2012. Aside from the 206 laps he led at Richmond, he's led one in the other 19 Cup races. His last five results include one only top-10, and three finishes of 20th or worse.

It's not good enough, and Edwards knows it.

"We have to take chances," he said following the Brickyard 400. "We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice."

The No. 99 team switched crew chiefs when Bob Osborne, whom Edwards steadfastly supported throughout his career, stepped down for health reasons and Chad Norris took over following the Loudon race. Any hope of the switch providing a jolt vanished quickly, as Edwards stumbled to a 29th-place finish in Indianapolis.

Now, more than ever, he has to find his winning form from last year. It looks bleak, but don't tell that to Edwards.

"We just go race for wins," he said. "I wouldn't bet against us. We can do it."

 Logano's chance?

Going to Indianapolis is a highlight for most drivers. Joey Logano couldn't wait to leave.

After all, up next is Logano's favorite track. The scene shifts to Pocono Raceway, where Logano won earlier this year and where he's won two straight poles.

A disappointing Brickyard 400 - Logano finished 33rd - dropped him to 17th in the standings, and he might need another win to re-enter the Chase conversation. Returning to Pocono makes this week as good as any to get that victory, which Logano recognized.

"I think it's a good shot," he said. "I mean, you look at previous races and this is a really good one for me."

 Three up

• Jimmie Johnson - Johnson kissed the bricks for the fourth time at Indianapolis last week. The victory was Johnson's third this year, and with his Cup-best 10 top-fives it looks like the five-time champion is gearing up for a strong Chase.

• Jeff Gordon - Chase dreams are still a longshot for Gordon, but the No. 24 team has led in four of the past six races. He needs wins, and he's driving the way he has to to do it.

• Denny Hamlin - Hamlin finished second with the best car at Loudon, then came in sixth out of the pole in Indy. Those two efforts should give the No. 11 team plenty of confidence going forward.

 Three down

• Paul Menard - At 15th place in the standings with no wins to his credit, Menard could have used a strong effort last week, maybe even a repeat Brickyard 400 win. Instead, a 14th-place showing puts him back at the drawing board with the regular season dwindling down.

• Matt Kenseth - Kenseth lost his perch atop the Cup standings after a crash led to a dismal 35th-place finish in Indy.

• Kevin Harvick - "Happy" is enduring his most difficult stretch of the season, as a 13th-place result at the Brickyard made it six 10th-or-worse finishes in seven races.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or abonifant@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)'


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