BRISTOL, Tenn. Carl Edwards’ NASCAR future with Joe Gibbs Racing was laid out earlier this week.
The present still offers the potential of the biggest prize of his career, however.
While the Roush Fenway Racing organization has struggled this season on the intermediate tracks that make up the bulk of the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Edwards has still accumulated two wins and is already locked in the championship Chase.
Another win and Edwards, 34, will be on par with Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and in contention for the Chase’s No. 1 seed.
He has the perfect opportunity in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track on which he collected his first win of the season in March. He’ll start third.
“Jack Roush and everyone at Roush Fenway Racing have given me everything – 100 percent effort. Everyone is going 100 percent to win this championship, regardless of what happens next year,” said Edwards, who has 23 career Cup wins but has yet to win a series championship.
Edwards has one Nationwide Series title and has finished second in the Cup standings on two occasions (2008 and 2011).
“I’ve been amazed at the teamwork going on even after we discussed me leaving,” he said. It’s a team effort.”
Opportunities to compete for the series championship don’t come around often – unless you’re Johnson, some would argue – so they cannot be dismissed in hopes of trying again next season.
The members of Edwards’ No. 99 team have invested a lot to be in position to challenge for a title. Even should Edwards make the Chase and fall short, the higher he finishes in the final standings, the more lucrative the payoff could be for everyone at Roush, both individually and as an organization.
Still, with five of the 10 races in the Chase taking place on intermediate tracks, Roush will have to see some improvement if Edwards, or teammate Greg Biffle, is to remain in the hunt.
“Right now, we’re at a point where we have to get better to win this championship. I have to get better, we have to have faster cars, we have to do everything right,” Edwards said.
“We’ve got two wins and that’s great for us but if the Chase started today, we’ve got work to do on these mile-and-a-halves.”
Edwards said plenty of changes have been made this season in an effort to improve.
“They’ve shaken up the engineering department. We can win this championship. I know that and we talk about it every week,” he said. “This organization is getting stronger every day.”
The question, then, is whether the improvement comes in time to help Edwards or any other Roush driver who makes the Chase.
Biffle believes it will.
“It’s obvious we were pretty far off the beginning and middle part of this year,” Biffle said. “We were working harder than anybody in this garage but sort of in the wrong direction.
“We’ve refocused on different areas of the car and all of the sudden we hit on something – hit us like a ton of bricks. We found 60 percent of the speed we were missing at a test at Michigan.”
The organization hopes to gain even more during a planned two-day test at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday and Tuesday.
“There is a lot of room for the organization to be more streamlined and innovative, and I truly believe it’s going to be,” Edwards said. “We’ve got some reorganization that needs to continue and the hope is that it’s there before the end of the Chase.
“I don’t look forward to racing against them next year, but I would really like to win a championship with them this year.”
Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.
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