Surging Edwards enjoys gold-medal weekend at Michigan

8/18/2008 - NASCAR

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The judge from Ann Arbor, Mich., gives Carl Edwards a 6.9. The judge from nearby Clinton gives him a 6.6. The judge from Saline gives him a 5.4.


Edwards didn't stick his patented backflip after winning Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. He stumbled backward and nearly fell into the infield grass, a mistake that would have been costly in the Beijing Olympics.

But on the track, the Roush Fenway driver had a nearly flawless weekend.

He won for the fifth time this season and completed the first Michigan sweep -- he also won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday -- since former teammate Mark Martin in 1993.

He also reminded that it's way too early to give the gold medal to points leader Kyle Busch, who finished six car lengths back of his ninth win.

"We're winning races, we're gearing up for the Chase and I'm feeling stronger than ever," said Edwards, who turned 29 on Friday.

Edwards won on this picture-perfect day with a Michael Phelps-type effort on the final restart with two laps to go.

He had to.

Busch has earned a reputation this season as somewhat of a master of restarts. He typically lays back, charges and bumps the rear bumper of the car ahead and then makes the pass.

He did it on the final restart to beat two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson last month at Chicagoland. He did it late in Sunday's race to get around third-place finisher David Ragan.

But before Busch could make his move, Edwards pulled out to a five-car-length advantage.

The rest, as Busch noted, was history.

"Kyle is good on restarts," Edwards said. "That's just a fact. I just didn't want to have to go through that pain [Johnson did]. I did everything I could to have the best restart I could and it worked out great."

Crew chief Bob Osborne spent most of the final caution warning Edwards what was coming. Edwards remained calm, saying, "Don't worry about it. I've got him."

Yes, Edwards has confidence.

If you didn't know it before, you certainly did after his postrace news conference.

"My psyche and mentality is pretty much fixed on that I'm the greatest race car driver that ever lived," Edwards said. "That's what David Pearson told me. He said if you don't believe that, you don't belong in the race car."

Osborne laughed.

"Actually, I don't think I'm the best crew chief out here," he said. "Yes, [beating Busch is] great for the confidence level, ego, whatever you want to say for our entire program."

Confidence is important. But Edwards is a long way from reaching the status of Pearson, who won three Cup titles and is second in all-time victories with 105 despite running a partial schedule much of his career.

One could, however, make a case that Edwards been one of the best in the sport since making his Cup debut here with a 10th-place finish in 2004.

"Deep down, you really have to believe in yourself," Edwards said after his 11th career win. "Everyone that performs at a high level in any sport does. I was watching the Olympics last night. You see individuals that achieve so well and they achieve such great things, and then there's all the other folks that don't.''

Edwards has the potential for greatness. He's only 40 points behind Busch where it counts -- bonus points used to reshuffle the standings once the 10-race playoff begins in four weeks -- and would be only 30 back if 10 weren't taken away by NASCAR after a win at Las Vegas.

"That's the great part, that we didn't give up more bonus points to Kyle," Edwards said. "Every time I win and he finishes second, that's a 20-point spread. That's what we need to keep doing in these next three races and go into this Chase on even ground."

Edwards has shown glimpses of greatness before. He won four races in 2005 and finished tied with teammate Greg Biffle for second in the Chase.

But he's never looked this strong for this long, a sign to team owner Jack Roush that the driver he gambled on to replace Jeff Burton is ready to win a title.

"He's as good at this as anybody I've ever known and he's going to stay there for a long time," Roush said.

Roush wasn't basing that on Sunday's performance, in which he had four drivers in the top five and all five in the top 10. He has more wins at MIS -- he has 19 overall, 11 in Cup -- than any owner.

No, Roush knew four years ago Edwards was destined for greatness, predicting then he would be the next great superstar. He since has told Edwards he'll stay in the sport as long as he drives.

"I hope I have job security for a long time now on account of that," Roush said.

He at least has Edwards through 2011 based on a three-year extension signed earlier this season. But both Roush and Edwards aren't focused on the long term.

Their goal is to win a title this season, and Edwards' win was a statement that he can give Busch a run for his money.

"Somebody said, 'Oh, it's coming down to me and Kyle,'" Edwards said. "I hope it's just me and Kyle. It would be nice just to have to beat one other guy.

"But I have a feeling this Chase is going to be spectacularly competitive."

It will be if there are more showdowns like Sunday's.

Flawed backflips aside, that is.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.