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Edwards still seeking that elusive title

2/11/2009 - NASCAR

On the surface, Carl Edwards is everything that Jimmie Johnson is not.

Edwards is emotional; Johnson is calculating. Edwards is argumentative; Johnson is diplomatic.

"I am who I am," Edwards said. "I know sometimes I get all wound up about something, but at least I'm doing something that makes me that emotional and something that I feel passionate about."

Edwards has a way of standing out in the crowd; Johnson blends in, even after three consecutive Sprint Cup championships.

Edwards makes commercials with a duck; Johnson makes commercials for home improvement. Edwards gets attention for showing his washboard abs on a magazine cover; Johnson gets attention for falling off golf carts and cutting his hand.

Edwards has scuffled with other drivers, including a teammate. Johnson could be the poster boy for international brotherhood and goodwill.

Edwards will scream at crew chief Bob Osborne during a race. Chad Knaus may need to turn up the volume on his headset to hear all the intricate details of what Johnson is calmly telling him.

"Carl and Bob hate each other, I think, to be honest," said Jamie McMurray, Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing teammate. "I like both of them, but their personalities are, well, odd. It's amazing they get along since they fight as much as they do, but I guess that's what they need to push each other."

Edwards hails from the Show-Me State, a Missouri boy who constantly wants to prove himself. Johnson is Southern California cool, believing everything will work out in the end.

It appears Edwards couldn't be more different from the man he wants to unseat from the Cup throne. But appearances can be deceiving.

How does Johnson see Edwards?

"He's a focused and driven driver," Johnson said. "He and Bob have something special going."

How does Edwards see Johnson?

"Jimmie is as focused a driver as I've ever seen," Edwards said. "He and Chad have a special chemistry that works to perfection."

Hmmm. On the racetrack, don't sound all that different, do they? Off the track, their personalities are different from their respective public images.

Edwards is quiet, cordial and exceedingly courteous in his day-to-day demeanor. Johnson is a funny guy, even a bit cheeky at times, around the people he trusts.

However you see them, know this: Edwards desperately wants what Johnson has -- the top spot among the NASCAR drivers.

"If it comes down to me and Jimmie again, I want to beat him really badly," Edwards said. "I want to win that championship. I want to know what it feels like."

It's the one area in which Edwards wants to be like Jimmie.

"I won nine [Cup] races last year, and that's great,'' Edwards said. "But I'd take a championship with no wins rather than another nine-win season. I really want to accomplish that goal."

If either of these men has changed since the end of last season, it's Edwards. He's now a married man.

Edwards had his share of celebrity girlfriends throughout the years, including former Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard. But it was Kate Downey -- a hometown girl from Columbia, Mo., and childhood friend -- who stole his heart.

"A couple of years ago, if you had told me I'd be married, I couldn't have imagined that," Edwards said. "Being married is just a neat feeling and different than I expected."

The newlyweds recently bought a 425-acre farm in central Missouri. By the way, that's Dr. Downey, a physician who specializes in patients with traumatic brain injury.

Carl's a smart guy, but obviously, Kate can hold her own on the IQ scale. Maybe that's what it took for Edwards to meet his match.

"Hopefully it just makes life simpler, knowing I have a partner for life," Edwards said. "Having Kate there is something that kind of grounds me and gives me a constant in my life. And I think that stability will make me a better race car driver."

It's hard to imagine Edwards driving much better than he did in 2009. Three of his nine victories came in the last four races, including the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. He had a season-best 27 top-10s and 19 top-5 finishes.

It wasn't enough to catch Johnson. Back-to-back races in the Chase were the difference. Edwards caused a wreck at Talladega, finishing 33rd when Johnson came back from a lap down to finish ninth.

One week later at Charlotte, Edwards had a fluke double failure of his ignition boxes in the No. 99 Ford, resulting in a 29th-place finish when Johnson finished sixth.

But the big news that weekend was that Edwards and Kevin Harvick had a heated exchange in a garage over the Talladega incident.

It once again showed Edwards' volatile side. That anger had first surfaced a year earlier when Edwards was caught on camera arguing with teammate Matt Kenseth. Edwards gritted his teeth as he threw a fake punch.

To his critics, the Talladega wreck and the Harvick incident showed why Johnson won the title and Edwards didn't. His overaggressive nature cost him down the stretch, a theory Edwards finds laughable.

"The wreck at Talladega could have happened any number of ways," he said. "And the ignition boxes probably weren't about my emotions, unless it was a poltergeist.

"Look, I've run over things in my mind I don't know how many times. I feel confident that the things I did wrong last season I can learn from."

Team owner Jack Roush said placing blame is the wrong idea.

"Carl had the ignition failures, and maybe that was my fault,'' Roush said. "Talladega was a situation that was his fault, but a typical restrictor-plate-race situation.

"If only one of those had occurred and not both, he would have won the championship. So he doesn't need to be better, and we don't need to make the cars faster. We just need to be a little luckier."

Edwards said he feels like the luckiest guy on the planet. He took a trip to Thailand in the offseason after shocking race fans in Europe when he beat F1 legend Michael Schumacher in a Race of Champions matchup in London.

And, most of all, he's a happily married man. At age 29, Edwards likes where he is in life. He doesn't need to be like anyone else. He's truly comfortable in his own skin. Maybe that's all that was missing.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.