Just so there's no misunderstandings, Edwards far from giving up
Carl Edwards believes he's misunderstood, and so do a lot of the people around him. Things that aren't in question? His relentless drive for success and his sincerity when he says he still has a shot at the title, writes David Newton.
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Carl Edwards is noticeably nervous standing just inside the door of his No. 99 hauler on a rainy Friday. He can drive 200 mph at Talladega Superspeedway and make a daring "slide" move like the one he made at Kansas Speedway to temporarily pass Jimmie Johnson for the lead on the last lap without thinking twice. Ask him about his personal life, and he gets uneasy.Who can blame him, actually? Edwards has gone from practically a no-name before he won consecutive races at Atlanta and Texas in 2005 to become a threat for the Sprint Cup title to one of the more recognizable faces in the sport.Whether it's driving a car in a television commercial with the Aflac duck or showing off his six-pack abs and pectorals on the cover of Men's Health, the 29-year-old native of Columbia, Mo., is everywhere you turn.Sometimes he gets more attention than he'd like, such as two weeks ago when he and Kevin Harvick got into a physical confrontation at the Nationwide Series garage at Lowe's Motor Speedway.Or last season when he took a fake jab at Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth after a race at Martinsville.Kyle Busch jokingly took a shot at Edwards recently on a radio show, saying he is "probably on more juice than Barry Bonds."Edwards slowly is learning to handle such things. But it's that intensity that occasionally drives him over the edge that also makes him believe he can overcome his 198-point deficit to Johnson during the next four races in the Chase for the Cup, as hopeless as that might seem. It was here at Atlanta Motor Speedway three years ago that he began a comeback from a 149-point deficit to come up only 35 short of Tony Stewart."Hell, yeah, I think I can do it," said Edwards, who won a season-high six races before the 10-race playoff began.At the same time, Edwards wants people to like him. He doesn't want to be NASCAR's bad-guy poster boy like Busch. He often feels misunderstood, that people don't believe the person behind his toothpaste smile is genuine, particularly when he can maintain that look in the most adverse situations.Harvick definitely has something against him, saying after the confrontation, "I could give two sh--s about who Carl Edwards is and what he's in the race for.""People have told me it bothers them," Edwards said as he prepared for Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "I don't know what to tell them. Go talk to the people I spend my time with. I'm generally a pretty happy guy."For the most part, Edwards is no different now from the person who once handed out business cards trying to land a ride -- any ride -- in any series. He's the same person who performed his first backflip for a Cup audience after a win in the 2005 spring race at Atlanta.He hangs out with many of the same friends he went to high school with, and his mom, Nancy Sterling, is one of his closest friends. He still doesn't carry a lot of cash in his pockets, although he has plenty after signing a multiyear extension with Roush Fenway Racing earlier this year."I'm rich," he jokingly said.But fame and fortune haven't changed Edwards to the point that he wants to return to life as it was before, when he could walk down any street or into any restaurant without being recognized, when he was substitute teaching to support his racing, his then-hobby."I had this overwhelming desire to get to this point," Edwards said. "Why should I want to go back?"If anything, Edwards wants to move forward. He wants to win a Cup title so badly he can taste it. Perhaps that's why he got so upset when Harvick blamed him for a Talladega crash he already knew was his fault and called him a pansy for hanging around the back of the pack."He prefers not to have the bad-boy image," crew chief Bob Osborne said. "Circumstances in this sport sometimes lead you down that road. That's what he doesn't like. He knows his character and we know his character, and it's not the bad-boy, tough-guy persona that comes out every once in a while."It's a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and he hates that sometimes it gets portrayed the other way."Guy's guy
Edwards was taking a walk with his fiancée, Kate Downey, last week when the driver of a passing car recognized him.
Osborne's voice was calm as he talked Edwards through the final laps of the 2005 fall race at Atlanta.
He does not like to let things linger. It's hard for some people to understand that, but it's the best way to be. There's no reason to let things lay and fester into something bigger than they need to be.
-- Bob Osborne
"That's why we work so well together. Neither of us will sit still and let something lie. We approach each other directly to the point and make sure both of us are on the same page."Edwards and Osborne admittedly weren't ready to win a title in 2005. Roush believes they are now."My assessment, based on watching him and other rookies that have come into this business under my watch, is he now has the stability and the maturity and the tools to be able to not only do what it takes in a race car, but what he needs to do strategy-wise and emotional-wise to be able to not miss an opportunity," Roush said.In 2005, Edwards couldn't handle running for second or third. He took huge risks that often put him in trouble. He's not that way anymore."Not at Kansas," said Edwards, recalling the "slide" move that sent him into the wall as he slingshot past Johnson. "That was special. That was a calculated risk. I thought I would still make it across the finish line no matter what."I still make mistakes. Talladega was a big mistake, but I'm learning."Edwards probably learned more about himself between the crash at Talladega that left him 29th, the mechanical failure at Charlotte that left him 33rd and the incident with Harvick than he did in his first four Cup seasons combined."Sometimes I'm just real, real competitive," he said. "That's the deal. I think that it's almost like you've just got to laugh it off and move on. That's all there is to it. We're here to do jobs, and I really enjoy the racing. That's the most fun thing in the world."And if 15 years from now Edwards still is racing, still is competitive and still is able to hang out with the same group of friends back home, "I've won.""You've got to pick a career or hope that you get to be part of a career that gives you some satisfaction," he said. "I think I've got that. At night, when I go to bed, that feels good."David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.