Edwards not about to give up on 2006 title hunt

Updated: February 26, 2006, 8:03 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

Carl Edwards greeted race fans this season, shirtless, plastered on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. Hot Out of the Box, the article's headline read.

I think we are fortunate this is the next race considering our position, you know, our finishing position at Daytona.
Carl Edwards

In his first full Nextel Cup Season, Edwards soared past expectations and finished third in the points standings after having won four races. Poised to follow up and land his first Nextel Cup Championship this season, eh?

While his last-place finish in last week's Daytona 500 didn't do much for his hot-out-the-box rep, some might say Edwards is off to a championship start. After all, it wasn't long ago -- four years, in fact -- that Tony Stewart finished last in the 500-miler only to win his first championship. Stewart says Edwards has every chance of following in his footsteps as long as he doesn't let this one race mess with his mind.

So far, rest assured he hasn't.

"I hope we can pick up a couple of spots in the points standings," he said this week. "I don't think we can fall much further back."

The slow start to the 2006 campaign was a product of other drivers goofing up at restrictor-plate racing. Dale Jarrett made contact with Jeff Green in Turn 3 midway throught the 500 and that sent Green shooting straight for the wall. Cars started darting to the left hoping to avoid the wreck and Edwards, worried that someone would rear-end him, gunned it through the smoke hoping to come out on the other side clean.

He came out riding the left-front fender of Kyle Petty's No. 45 Dodge.

"I should have been more worried about stopping my car than people from behind running into me," Edwards said with lesson learned and filed away. "It's extremely disappointing. It's not how we wanted to start our season, but we'll just have to work harder."

After an engine failure left Stewart in last place after the 2002 Daytona 500, the notoriously short-tempered racer took a long, calming drive home to North Carolina. From Daytona Beach, Fla.

"It was old school," Stewart said.

Edwards is decidedly new school. He flew home like the rest of the team, and used the extra time once he got there to refocus his energy and make sure his mind was right for the next 25 races -- which will determine who qualifies for NASCAR's championship playoffs. Meanwhile, early this week, Edwards' crew pored over every inch of the No. 99 Roush Racing Ford in preparation for this weekend's race at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Crew chief Bob Osborne said nobody -- neither driver nor crew -- has hung their heads. The Daytona accident was out of their control. What is in their control is their approach to the remainder of the season. And this weekend's West Coast trip is a welcome one for everyone on the team.

"[We're] looking forward to getting back to actual race tracks where the driver and team can essentially make changes to the racecar that will influence its performance throughout the entire race, at least handling wise," crew chief Bob Osborne said. "We [definitely] have to have a good showing in Fontana and I expect that we will. Our intermediate program is fairly strong. The team is looking to come out of there with a top-10 and continue to look forward to the next race."

A top 10 is a good bet for Edwards. He's raced at the 2-mile D-shaped oval three times in a Cup car and has finished sixth, fifth and fourth, respectively. He won the pole during his last visit to California.

"I think we are fortunate this is the next race considering our position, you know, our finishing position at Daytona," Edwards said. " … California is going to be great, I love racing there. It's a big, fast, slick race track. It's a lot of fun. We have great cars and great engines." Now he just needs good luck.

Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@yahoo.com.