DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Carl Edwards said he had no regrets about the way the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season unfolded.
Certainly, the driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford would have preferred to win a tiebreaker and not finish runner-up to Tony Stewart in the Chase for the Championship, but he expressed no misgivings about the effort his team put forth.
After all, he did just about everything possible to win his first Sprint Cup title, taking a scant 3-point lead over Stewart into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he won the pole position and led the most laps, only to finish runner-up to Stewart in the closest finish in Chase history.
“If you do all the things right and you go do your best, it’s only a matter of time - you’ll get the reward,’’ said Edwards, who wound up tied with Stewart in the final points (2,403) but lost the tiebreaker by virtue of Stewart’s five wins (all in the Chase) to his lone victory (at Las Vegas).
The next day, Edwards did his best to compartmentalize his frustration. As he shared a long walk with his wife on Miami’s South Beach before the Nationwide Series banquet, she reminded him of the great season he had had and how he did not lose anything. He had simply tied Stewart and finished second.
“It bothered me after the race for a few minutes, but that’s not how I try to do things,’’ Edwards said. “I go out and do the best I can, and I’m a realist. There’s a reality in the world and the reality is we finished second, so that’s just it.
“I didn’t really have much trouble with that, but what I had trouble with was the waiting for this season - just sitting around with no racing, trying to get up in the morning and find constructive things to go do, because I’m ready to go race.’’
So too, it seemed, was the entire Roush Fenway organization.
Car owner Jack Roush knew all too well the disappointment of finishing runner-up in the championship, having done so four times (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002) with driver Mark Martin.
“He did a great job,’’ Roush said of Edwards. “Tony was blessed with unbelievable good fortune last year. I’m not a luck-driven person, but if you looked at running the car out of gas, making it to pit road, not over-speeding, and being able to get back and not have to pay a terrible price for that, taking a piece of brake rotor through the front screen and knock out the radiator, and be able to fix the screen and be able to get back in the race without changing anything . . .
“That’s not strategy, it’s just good fortune that’s fallen upon you. And when you have that going for you, sometimes you cannot be denied.
“Other times, you got it going against you, and the monkey just rides high. We were lucky as well last year, but we just weren’t as lucky as Tony was.’’
At season’s end, Roush met with Edwards, crew chief Bob Osborne, chassis boss Robbie Reiser, and head engineer Chip Bolin to figure out what they could have done better.
When Roush asked, Edwards drew a breath and began to reply when he was interrupted by Osborne.
“No - if we started the Chase again, we’d do the same thing, put our efforts in the same places,’’ Osborne said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.’’
Said Edwards, “At the end of the championship, when you look at it, we tied a guy who won half the [Chase] races. I’d venture to say if we would have been able to win half of those races, we would have just dominated the thing.
“We didn’t lose it. We didn’t go out and do anything wrong. We went out, raced hard, did well, and they came in and beat us.’’
It was all the motivation Edwards and his team would need during the offseason.
That was evident during pole qualifications last Sunday for the Daytona 500 when Edwards led a Roush Fenway sweep of the front row. He captured the pole when he toured the 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway with a fast lap of 194.738 miles per hour - the fastest qualifying lap at Daytona in 13 years.
He was joined on the front of the 43-car grid by teammate Greg Biffle, who captured the outside pole with a lap of 194.087 m.p.h.
It sent a message to the rest of the competitors that Edwards - who began last season as a runner-up to rookie winner Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500 - was not going to take a back seat to anyone this season.
“How much pride the guys take in how these cars qualify, it does mean something to me,’’ Edwards said. “It’s a sign of the strength of your team.
“It’s not that we just have one car up there. To have two cars, to have that whole front row, I mean, that says a lot about Roush Fenway Racing, about Ford. It’s huge for our sponsors.’’
Although he has tried not to dwell on last year’s result, it was the second time in his career he finished runner-up for a championship, leading some to wonder whether he is on the same career track as Martin, a veteran of 830 starts, 51 poles, and 40 wins, but no championships.
“I think Mark Martin is a champion of the sport, whether he’s got the trophy or not,’’ said Edwards, bristling at the comparison. “People want to categorize people and they want to put you in a box.
“The fact of the matter is, I hope I have many more chapters to write, many more wins and championships.
“And, at the end of the day, if what people say about me is, ‘Hey, he’s gives it 100 percent, he’s a racer,’ I’ll be OK with that.’’