There are certain races Carl Edwards thought he would rather forget. But earlier this week, Edwards found one staring right back at him from the television in his hotel room in New York.
Edwards was in New York promoting NASCAR’s Chase championship round, of which he will be part Sunday, along with Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This is the closest Edwards has come to the title since he came up short in 2011 to Tony Stewart in an epic season-finale at Homestead. In what was then another version of the Chase, Stewart beat Edwards, who entered the race with a three-point lead and started on the pole, for the title. Stewart battled from behind for much of the race, and would win for the fifth time in 10 Chase races. Those five victories gave Stewart the championship through a tiebreaker after they finished tied atop the point standings.
“I got to my hotel the other night in New York, flipping through the channels, I was like, what the hell is that on the TV?” Edwards said Thursday. “It was that race. I sat and watched it, and I thought, man, this is really motivating. I really, really want to win this one. So yeah, I guess it’s a motivator, and I thought the experience was great.”
Edwards’ reaction this week to seeing the race again wasn’t that different to how he handled losing it five years ago. He handled what was a crushing loss with grace and humility.
“That’s as hard as I can drive,” Edwards said after the race, in which he led a race-high 117 laps. “Give Tony and those guys the credit. That’s all I got at the end.”
And all these years later, Edwards maintains there is some good that came from losing that day.
“Look, any time you go to the final race and can battle for the championship, it’s a good experience,” he said. “That battle was really intense. It had built up for weeks. Tony was on a roll, then he had to catch us during the race. He had all the pressure, and he performed really well. I obviously didn’t like the outcome, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.”
Times are different now. The Chase boils down to which of the four drivers finishes highest at Homestead. Edwards – as do Logano, Johnson and Busch – thinks the best way to win the championship is to win the race (something Busch did last season and Kevin Harvick did in 2014).
“The last time I had this opportunity, it was just two guys,” said Edwards. “This much more dynamic and probably in a lot of ways going to be tougher. It’s different, but I feel like that experience in 2011 was very good. I wouldn’t trade it.”
Stewart will be in the field at Homestead on Sunday, not as a title contender but as a driver competing in his final Cup race (he’s retiring after this season).
He’s received plenty of gifts from all over the sport and his fans.
Edwards’ retirement present to Stewart?
The helmet Edwards wore during that memorable race in 2011.