As usual, Edwards all smiles after strong finish
The ever-smiling sophomore racer came just short of winning his third race of the year Sunday, getting beat off pit road with less than 10 laps to go. Still, the driver of the No. 99 Ford managed a fourth-place finish at Michigan International Speedway and moved up one spot to a more secure ninth-place points position with three races remaining before the top 10 are sent into the championship playoffs.
"That's truly what we came here to do," Edwards said. "When we look back, I'm sure at the end of the year, this is going to be one of those races where we wished we had more like it. I dare not complain. That was a good day. We led a couple of laps. We finished fourth. I think we probably helped ourselves in the Chase deal. If we make the Chase, it's going to be awesome."
Of course, for the youngest driver in the Roush Racing stable, it's not all about playoffs at this point. This was supposed to be a solidifying year, where Edwards, who took over the No. 99 car late last season, was hoping to jell with his team and work toward building a foundation for the future.
Of course, those plans went out the window when, very early in the season, the No. 99 crew showed it was already prepared to compete. After finishing fifth in the second race of the season at California Speedway, Edwards and Co. went on to win their first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks later. After a win at Pocono Raceway in June, Edwards was firmly among the top 10 and the team was a force with which to contend.
But while the team remains in contention, Edwards finds it hard to take things too seriously. He wants to work hard, race hard and make the playoffs -- but he's still that kid living a dream on the inside.
"If we don't [make the Chase], we're going to go all out and win as many races as we can," he beamed. "Either way, it'll be all right. I'm having fun."
That much was evident on Sunday. The five-car Roush stable ran among the leaders all day, with Edwards showing promise to sneak into Victory Lane and dazzle the crowd with his signature victory back flip. But after battling for the lead late in the race, he lost out over the string of pit stops before the finish.
"I told the guys to keep their heads up because that's just a blast," Edwards said. "I had a good time. To be that close to victory and have it go on pit strategy and everything. I wish we would have seen a backflip though, man. I thought we were going to get it."
Still, Edwards couldn't complain about fourth. Over the past seven races, top-fives have been hard to come by. Edwards was ranked fourth in the standings following NASCAR's first trip to Michigan, but subsequent finishes of 38th, 33rd and 39th dropped him out of the top 10. He pulled himself back within safe ground last week, and Sunday's fourth-place run gave the team a further boost.
"I don't think there's anything I would have changed for the whole day and, to me, that's the definition of success," he said. "I'm really proud of the AAA crew. To be that close, there's like six laps left and you give up the lead coming down pit road. That's tough to do, but that's big-picture racing."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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