DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Carl Edwards is a changed man. It’s not as if something significant happened in his personal life but there are subtle differences in the way he conducts himself. And after a disastrous 2012 season in which Edwards went winless and missed the Chase for the Championship, changes were necessary.
Edwards still isn’t sure what went wrong last season. It appears as if Edwards, a championship runner-up in 2011, was poised to finally close in on that elusive title, but absolutely nothing went right. He finished with just three top-fives and 13 top-10s and just couldn’t get out of the slump.
"We just didn’t get the luck we needed," Edwards told SB Nation at Daytona on Wednesday. "If we had just a little more luck and made the Chase, I think we would have been all right. But we didn’t run as well as we needed to and when that happens, no good will come of it … I wish I could pinpoint just one thing that we did wrong but I just don’t know."
Making matters worse, Edwards’ crew chief, Bob Osborne, took a leave of absence for health reasons and Chad Norris took his place at Indianapolis. The combination changed but the results were largely the same – a predicament Edwards doesn’t put on Norris.
"Chad came in and did the best he could under a pressure situation and we just couldn’t turn it around," Edwards said. "I was pretty famous but I tried to prevent it from getting me down."
Edwards made a point to have more fun during the offseason. With Matt Kenseth departing Roush Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, Edwards inherited his team – led by veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Edwards says he had a lot of fun meeting his new crew and called it the most enjoyable offseason of his career.
But Edwards, long known for his jocular personality and playful jab, finds himself more serious when he’s around his new crew chief, and that’s something he’s quickly grown to appreciate.
"Jimmy is really serious about racing," Edwards said. "It’s not a social event for him or about being on TV – or even the money. He’s here to win to find out what it’s going to take in order for us to do well."
It’s a mindset that has started to noticeably rub off. In each of his media appearances, Edwards is almost icy in his focus. Asked if there was any validity to the observation, Edwards confirmed his fresh approach.
"It’s interesting to me that people notice that," Edwards said. "That’s Jimmy Fennig rubbing off on me. I was in the garage watching him working on the car early (Wednesday) and the guys literally rallied around him.
"It’s like, the harder he worked, the harder they worked and I feel like that’s a positive influence on me too."
With the departure of Matt Kenseth, Roush-Fenway Racing is left without a clear-cut veteran leader. Edwards believes this has been the case since Mark Martin left the team in 2006, with the Roush drivers choosing teamwork over a clearly designated team leader. Kenseth’s most valuable asset, Edwards explained, was his "input and wisdom" but every team member contributed to the overall effort.
While Edwards is slow to embrace the notion of any leadership roles, his pairing with Fennig suggests that the no. 99 team is, in fact, Roush’s top team. After all, this is the crew chief and team that won three races last season, including the Daytona 500 – a fact not lost on Edwards.
He knows there is pressure in being paired with Fennig but is looking forward to rising to the challenge. In fact, that pressure is nothing compared to the expectations Edwards places on himself.
"I put so much pressure on myself that I don’t think anyone could add any more," he said. "Working with Jimmy definitely motivates me but I’ve been putting this pressure on myself since racing four-cylinder cars 10-15 years ago. I treated those races like they were the Daytona 500."
With the actual Great American Race approaching on Sunday, it finally appears Edwards has found the team, and mental approach, to finally push him over the hump and back into victory lane in 2013.
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