- John Schwarb
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Mike Edwards is amassing quite a list of superlatives this season for a guy with a grand total of zero wins.
No. 1 qualifiers? Uh-huh, got three of those. National record? Check, a landmark 212.03 mph speed last month in Houston. A winning engine program? Yes, thanks to Ron Krisher.
Those are no small feats, but in the NHRA Full Throttle series' ultracompetitive Pro Stock class, winning races is a must. You make a name for yourself by beating the likes Jeg Coughlin Jr., Greg Anderson and Jason Line; not doing so and claiming an Eddie Krawiec-like title (the motorcyclist's 2008 crown came without a national event win) is unthinkable.
Edwards has won in the past, 15 times in 12 full-time seasons dating to 1996. The driver from Broken Arrow, Okla., just hasn't won this year, despite unloading arguably the best car at three, maybe four of five events.
Two weeks ago at Las Vegas, Edwards qualified first in his Penhall/Young Life Pontiac GXP but lost to Coughlin when he red-lighted by -.007 seconds in a run that had the two-time defending champion beat. At Houston he became the first Pro Stocker to top 212 mph but it was in a losing effort to Krisher, who clocked the better elapsed time.
Gainesville, Fla., and Phoenix were two more top-qualifying races that ended abruptly in the second round with holeshot losses. Only at Pomona has Edwards reached a final round, losing to Line.
"It's been a great start, we're in a great position with the way we're running," said Edwards, third in points. "I'm just struggling right now with the things on Sunday."
He's hoping for a turnaround this weekend at the NHRA Southern Nationals outside Atlanta, one of the tracks where he won last season (he also won at Memphis). He will go in as a favorite, thanks to his equipment.
Edwards, 51, started his own engine program last year, seeing the writing on the wall of competing in Pro Stock without one. After winning at least one race every year he ran from 1996 to 2002 (he sat out 2000), he went five years with only two wins, both in 2006.
With in-house engines last season he won twice, exceeding expectations for his first year. An Edwards Motorsports engine has won this year, just in Krisher's car. The 61-year-old won at Houston in what Edwards called "the second-best thing that could have happened to us."
It's been a great start, we're in a great position with the way we're running. I'm just struggling right now with the things on Sunday.
”-- Mike Edwards
"Since they brought their own engine program in-house two years ago, they've made great strides," Coughlin said. "To go out and [qualify] the way they have, to set the national speed record, that's pretty awesome and there's only one word for that type of effort, and that's horsepower."
Yet horsepower is only half the battle. Pro Stock is still a starting-line contest in many rounds, and Edwards' 4-9 record on the Christmas Tree is 10th-best in the class. By comparison, the points leaders, Coughlin and Line, are 14-2 and 13-2 with two event titles each.
Edwards compares it to a batting slump, hopefully curable by repeated trips to the plate.
"You keep pulling up there and giving it the same thing again," he said. "I'm not the only one it happens to, it happens to all of us if you stay around here long enough."
The competition, to Edwards' credit, doesn't expect it to last forever.
"It definitely can get in your head and will get in your head, but Mike's a sharp enough racer to be able to shake that off," Coughlin said. "It's not good news for us."
John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.