There is no better encapsulation of Carl Edwards' frustrating 2012 season than Saturday night's NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway (see full Quaker State 400 results here).
The 1.5-mile track is the kind of oval Edwards has excelled on throughout his career, and he was expected to be in contention for the victory – or at the very least, a finish somewhere in the top five.
And for a while that was the case, as Edwards ran most of the evening in the top 10 and had worked himself up to third, in excellent position to get his first win of the year (a victory Edwards desperately needs if he is to qualify for the Chase).
But as has been the case so many times this season, Saturday's night race came down to fuel mileage, and if Edwards was to get that win, he was going to need a caution to help his cause. You see, under the previous yellow flag, Edwards was supposed to have pitted to top off his fuel, but by the time the message had been delivered, Edwards was already past pit road.
And with no cautions the rest of the way, Edwards was forced to make a green-flag pit stop with four laps to go, giving up the fourth position.
"We had a pretty good car at the end. Bob (Osborne, crew chief) called me onto pit road," Edwards said when interviewed after the race. "He knew we should have pitted that last time but I was already so far around that cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road. We were put in a box. We hoped there would be a caution but there wasn't."
Edwards finished 20th and finds himself in an even deeper hole points-wise than he was when the night started. He's now 34 points out of 10th and because he hasn't won, the Roush Fenway driver trails Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman – all of whom have been victorious – in the hunt for one of the two wild card spots.
"It is time for us to get it in gear," Edwards said. "I am real frustrated, Bob is real frustrated and I know we can do this. We ran as well as any Ford out here [Saturday]."
Because of how the championship was lost last year, as well as the frustration the No. 99 team has experienced this season, everyone on the team is now facing a crossroads. Either they can right the ship and still savage their season (much like Tony Stewart did last year) or they continue to unravel and go from title contender to also-ran.
"We have to stick together as a team," Edwards said. "That is what Bob and I talked about last week. I hear it all. I hear everything. I hear, ‘He is focused on the (TV) booth, he is tore up over Tony's deal last year, he needs a new crew chief.' None of that is true. We are having some bad luck and some bad communication here. We can do this together.
"We could divide right now or we could come together. I have the best crew chief in the business and he proved it at the end of the year last year. We got beat on a crazy call by Darian (Grubb) and those guys last year and we need to get going and get this Ford in Victory Lane."