MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Five years have passed since Carl Edwards got his last shot at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
And earlier this week, he got a painful-if-instructive reminder.
In 2011, Edwards came to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a three-point lead over Tony Stewart in what had evolved into a two-man battle for the series title.
Stewart won the race, and Edwards ran second, leaving the drivers tied for the points lead at the end of the Chase. But Stewart claimed the championship via tiebreaker, having won an unprecedented five of the Chase races.
Stewart is retiring from Sprint Cup racing at the end of the year, and his sendoff included a broadcast of the stirring 2011 season finale.
“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?’ and it was that race, and I thought … I sat and watched it,” Edwards said on Thursday during Championship 4 Media Day at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. “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. I was just thinking that while we were sitting here (that) last time I had this opportunity, it was just against two guys. This is much more dynamic and probably in a lot of ways going to be tougher. It’s different, but I feel like that experience was very good. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a lot of fun.”
It was painful, too. Edwards had an eight-point lead with three races left in the 2011 Chase, finished second three times and lost the championship.
So you can forgive the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for turning off the race replay before it reached conclusion.
“I had to go back and think about my mind-set during the race,” Edwards said. “Those last few laps, I was driving my guts out. That was everything I had. But at first I thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to watch this, and then I watched it, and I thought, this is good for me.
“I need to get to remember what that was like and remember and get a glimpse and a view of how important this is, and it really was. It was motivating. When I shut it off, I was really ready to race right then.”
With Jimmie Johnson trying to win a record-tying seventh championship, with JGR teammate Kyle Busch seeking back-to-back titles, and with Joey Logano coming off an opportunistic victory at Phoenix, Edwards may be the forgotten man in this year’s Championship 4.
After all, Edwards recovered from a blown tire at Martinsville to resurrect his championship with a win at Texas a week later. So does he feel he’s playing with house money in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC)?
“A little bit,” Edwards acknowledged, “but it wasn’t like we ran poorly at Martinsville. We had a problem, and I felt like … I really believed once we made it to that round, I felt like we were going to make it to Homestead. I just felt really confident, and then the tire problem kind of threw us for a loop.
“I thought, ‘Man, now we have to win,’ and (crew chief) Dave Rogers put it best. He said, ‘Well, you knew we were going to have to win at Homestead anyway. You might as well get to it now. So it was kind of a little kick in the pants there that got us going, and having to do that is hopefully that helped us.
“I mean, I know it did for me, for my confidence, and to know that our team could perform under the pressure, win when we had to. It feels really good.”
If Edwards can find his way to Victory Lane on Sunday evening, it will feel even better.