Team: #19 (Joe Gibbs Racing)
Top 5s: 9
Top 10s: 18
Best finish: 1st (Bristol, Richmond, Texas)
Points finish: 4th
Carl Edwards’ 2016 season will be remembered as the second time that he has had a great championship chance foiled. After a superbly strong and consistent season, Edwards managed to get all the way through the playoffs to get a spot in the championship deciding race at Homestead-Miami.
After having taken 18 top ten finishes in the previous 35 races, Edwards entered the race confident that he could claim a first championship. It was all going his way until a late race caution, with a slightly too aggressive defensive move on the restart triggering a huge wreck that took him out of contention.
Nevertheless, it’s been a year that Edwards should be proud of. Here’s hoping that the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver can keep the momentum going into the new year so that he can try and fight for a championship again.
Back-to-back wins at Bristol and Richmond. Edwards secured his spot in the chase fairly early into the regular season. It was a simply dominant performance at Bristol Motor Speedway in April’s Food City 500 that got Edwards his first win of the year:
After taking pole position by almost a tenth of a second, Edwards would go on to lead 276 of the 500 laps to take the victory. It wasn’t all simple though, with five race restarts in the last 100 laps meaning that Edwards had to nail his starts to keep the challenging cars behind:
“There were so many different things happening out there,” Edwards said. “Different guys were fast at different times. I have to work on my drag racing stuff, Kurt (Busch) has those restarts figured out. He was tough. Just awesome. This is a real testament to my team.
One week later, Edwards would be back in victory lane after another great race at Richmond. Carl failed to get back-to-back pole positions, but he’d go on to lead the most laps once again before finding himself hunting down team-mate Kyle Busch as the laps counted down to the finish.
Edwards was right on Kyle’s bumper as they began the last lap, with a last-minute opportunity coming his way as the pair entered the penultimate corner. Edwards gave his team-mate a nudge mid-corner that would send Busch up the race track, allowing Edwards to pass on the inside.
The pair had already secured wins prior to the race at Richmond, so there weren’t too many hard feelings between the pair post-race, but it was a statement made by Edwards that he was willing to fight anyone who stood in his way to try and secure a championship.
The championship-ending race restart at Homestead. For much of the championship deciding Ford Ecoboost 400, Carl Edwards looked like the man who was going to reign supreme over his three rivals. He looked to have the fastest car of the championship four by a margin.
However, Edwards’ chances took a hit when the race went under caution with 15 laps to go, meaning that at least one race restart would stand between him and the title. The race got back underway with 10 to go, but Carl got a bad start. This allowed championship rival Joey Logano a chance to get to his inside on the run into turn one.
Edwards wasn’t having any of it though. He drove Logano all the way down the apron and beyond, with the pair eventually making contact. Logano escaped with bodywork damage, but Edwards was sent on a wild ride up the track and into the path of oncoming cars. Heavy hits were had for many drivers, with Edwards’ #19 Toyota Camry winding up in a crumpled heap at the top of the race-track.
Edwards was unhurt in the incident, but as a result, his championship hopes were over. Rather than storming off in disappointment – which would have been perfectly justified given the circumstances – Edwards made a point of heading up to Logano’s pit-box to apologize for the incident and to wish Logano the best in the closing laps. If you ever needed an example of what a sportsperson should be, that’s it right there.
Of course, Carl Edwards and the #19 team will see 2016 as the year that the championship got away from them, but they should not let that get them too down. It was a fantastically strong season by him and the team and there’s no reason that Joe Gibbs Racing couldn’t give Edwards another chance at a championship next year – given how good their cars have been this year.
Edwards needs to not let the disappointment of his championship loss affect his mindset next year. If he can do that, expect to see him in the hunt once again at the end of 2017.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com: http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/16/main/carl-edwards-main-win.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original