As team owner Joe Gibbs attempted to quell the tension among Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth emanating from a frustrating finish just days before, Carl Edwards sat in the drivers-only meeting as virtual neutral party.
A blown tire that had sent him careening into the outside Turn 3 wall relegated Edwards to a 36th-place finish last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Otherwise in all likelihood the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would've joined his teammates in tussling for position behind eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson, which culminated with Kenseth saying Hamlin blocked him like an NFL offensive lineman, and Busch decrying how their lack of teamwork permitted Johnson to score a victory that locked him into the title round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.
"The only good thing about having that tire problem is that I didn't get caught up in any of that -- if there was something good out of it," Edwards said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
But while Edwards was able to escape the inner-team drama within JGR this week, he does find himself in a far less enviable position than his teammates.
Because Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch finished 3-4-5 at Martinsville, they're in good shape to fill out the four-driver bracket in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The same cannot be said for Edwards, whose title hopes are dependent on winning either Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC) or next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
"Now the goal is simple -- just go out and win the race," Edwards said. "... So that's what we've got to do. And really, it's time to get to it. If we want to win the championship we have to win Homestead anyway so it's good to get in this mode. If we can get it done the next two races it's only going to help us at Homestead so I think in that respect it's good."
If there is a silver lining in the midst of Edwards' situation, Texas and Phoenix are realistic tracks for him to score the victory he needs to procure advancement to the finale. He finished second by mere inches to Kevin Harvick (the exact margin was 0.010 seconds) at Phoenix in March, and four weeks later led 124 laps and was challenging for the win at Texas before a loose wheel necessitated an unscheduled pit stop.
And as he dealt with his tire-related problem a week ago at Martinsville, it wasn't lost on Edwards that his Chase fate will be decided on two of his better tracks.
"The first thing I thought of was how fortunate we are to be going to Phoenix and Texas," Edwards said. "I feel like we had an opportunity to win both of those races and we had speed at both of the tracks. And obviously, we could've won both of them if things had gone a little differently."
By all appearances the speed Edwards had in the spring at Texas has carried over to this weekend. He qualified ninth Friday, then had the first and fifth fastest 10-consecutive lap average in Saturday's two practice sessions -- a good indicator of a car's speed over long green flag runs, a common occurrence on the 1.5-mile oval.
"We're going to lay it out there," Edward said. "We have to win if we're within reach of the victory on Sunday or next Sunday."
AAA TEXAS 500 LINEUP
|12||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||189.560|
|20||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||189.195|