Already one of the most physically fit drivers in the NASCAR paddock, Carl Edwards will now bring the same kind of singular focus to his mental game.
After finishing second overall in two of the past four NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons, Mr. Edwards won't be racing in the second tier Nationwide Series in 2012 after deciding to concentrate on the top echelon as he hopes to grasp his elusive first championship.
It's a huge change for Mr. Edwards, who ran full seasons in both series since he broke into the top of the stock car ranks in 2005, averaging more than 70 races combined in Cup and Nationwide each year.
"I believe that I made the decision not to run the Nationwide Series full-time about halfway through the season last year, and we were leading the points and doing really well all year," said Mr. Edwards, who won the Nationwide title in 2007.
"It's kind of a risky decision on my part, because I've known nothing but running the Nationwide Series full-time. But man, those are some long weekends and there are times where I have to walk away from our Cup team to go practice [with]a Nationwide car or hop on a plane and go to Montreal or another race. I love it and it's so much fun to do, but I think I will be doing myself a service to run just the Cup car ... being so close last season, it kind of galvanized it for me."
It also means that Mr. Edwards likely won't be in Montreal for August's NAPA Auto Parts 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve where he took a dramatic win in 2009 when he passed Marcos Ambrose in the final corner to steal the chequered flag.
The switch to a Cup-only campaign isn't the only big change for the No. 99 driver this year. His Roush Fenway Racing squad goes from four cars to three, something that may hurt the team as they will have one less driver to provide input on race weekends.
But Mr. Edwards feels fans should see little change on the track as the team adjusts to its new reality.
"[Team owner]Jack Roush pulled all of us aside and told us that the change to three teams was not going to come at the expense of any engineering, any engine programs, testing, any of that — he said, basically, that we are going to keep the same staff in place that makes these cars go fast," Mr. Edwards said.
"We will just have one less car to take to the racetrack. I don't know how long Jack can sustain that financially, but he's doing it, and I think it might make it easier on our guys not having to build too many cars."
It's hard to argue with this logic, especially after Roush drivers swept the front row for next weekend's season opening Daytona 500. Mr. Edwards took the top spot on the grid with a time of 194.738 mph, just 0.651 mph faster than teammate Greg Biffle in the No. 16 Ford. It was the quickest NASCAR lap at the Daytona International Speedway in 13 years.
The pole signals that Mr. Edwards is ready to pick up where he left off last season, when he started fast and was the class of the field. Last year, he finished in the top 10 eight times in the first 10 races, including a win in the third race in Las Vegas and a second in the season opener at the 2.5-mile tri-oval in Daytona. He also added a second in Bristol and Darlington.
In all, Mr. Edwards finished in the top 5 in an incredible 19 of 36 Cup starts, and posted an overall average finish of ninth place for the season.
Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, those fantastic numbers were all for naught as the 10-race Chase for the Cup saw the title slip through his fingers when rival Tony Stewart caught fire and won five of the 10 championship playoff races. While the pair tied in points, Mr. Stewart took the crown due to his five race wins versus Mr. Edwards' one.
But, if he had to do it all over again, Mr. Edwards and his team wouldn't change a thing.
"I am not naive and I am not above saying I can do better all the time — it's very easy to look back and say, 'We could gotten a point here' and 'We could have gotten one there.'
"We had a meeting after the season and [No. 99 crew chief]Bob Osborne piped up in the middle of the conversation and said: 'Guys, if the Chase started again tomorrow, we'd do the same things and make the same decisions and we would just hope that Tony Stewart wouldn't have the amazing run he did.' "
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