Long Pond, Pa. Carl Edwards heard the chants for the backflip, so he had to line up the right spot.
On cue, Edwards hopped on the center spot of the billiards table, took his position and celebrated his latest victory with his trademark ritual to the delight of the Dover crowd.
Edwards might have found the winning shots at a celebrity pool tournament, but he’s still looking for the right combinations to reach Victory Lane for the first time this season.
Considered a preseason threat to topple Jimmie Johnson’s three-year reign as Sprint Cup champion, Edwards has positioned himself as a Chase contender without the first-place finishes that dotted his record last season.
Edwards can race all season without a spin in Victory Lane if it means he’s celebrating with a title at the end.
“I’m definitely more concerned about the Chase,” Edwards said Friday. “I know it sounds silly, but we won plenty of races last year and we didn’t win the championship. I know what it feels like to win races. I’m worried about winning the championship.”
He nearly won the Cup championship last year with a series-high nine victories, including three of the final four in the Chase for the championship. All his dominant season got him was a runner-up finish, 69 points behind Johnson in the final standings. The lesson was clear: All those wins are nice, but they seem empty at the end without a Cup title.
Edwards also won three of the final four races and seven overall in the Nationwide Series and finished second in the second-tier series.
“I felt like at the end of last season, every other week we were winning races,” he said. “This is a long season. We’ve performed pretty well, we’ve had a little bit of bad luck. There are about three or four races we could have won.”
He was poised to make the leap from contender to champion — and still can if he qualifies for the Chase — but Edwards hasn’t put together the string of dominating races like he did last season. He’s 11th in the points standings, with only two top fives and no finish higher than third.
Edwards had a crew shakeup in April, removing a tire changer that messed up a pit stop that cost him a win at Texas Motor Speedway.
Johnson said the surprises of the season have been Tony Stewart’s success as owner/driver and a slow start by Edwards’ standards.
“I look at the No. 99, as strong as he was at the end of last year, and think that his story is more shocking,” Johnson said.
Edwards, who left rain-soaked Pocono Raceway early to practice for the Nationwide race in Nashville, Tenn., knows only a bunch of runs near the front can turn the season around.
“Things change quickly,” he said. “I’m praying that Jimmie won’t have to worry about that for long. He’ll be chasing us hopefully at the end.”
Edwards also laughed off the idea there was any tension between him and Roush-Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle.
Edwards took the blame last season when he ignited a wreck at Talladega that took out Biffle, and Biffle accepted responsibility for a crash this season at Darlington.
So when the two tangled again last week at Dover, it seemed like owner Jack Roush might have to calm down the pair. Instead, Biffle and Edwards hashed out their differences over a short conversation on Monday.
“I’m still mad as hell at Greg, I’m going to wreck him,” Edwards said with a laugh. “No, we’re fine. It was one of those deals where he was like, ’I can’t believe you turned down into me.’ I was like, ’I can’t believe you stuck your nose in there.”’
The late-race contact didn’t seriously derail either of the driver’s shot at a victory. Biffle was third and Edwards finished seventh. Biffle downplayed any teammates’ spat.
“You can clearly see it’s just racing,” Biffle said. “Carl didn’t know I was there. We talked about and we’re all good with it.”
While Edwards was able to brush off any talk of a simmering feud, the winless season is gnawing at him. But if it takes a big 0 in the win column to get into the Chase, then win the championship, that’s a deal he’ll make any time.
“I would rather be winning races,” Edwards said. “I won nine races last year and I’d trade that for a zero-win championship season any day of the week. My goal right now is to keep my pride at bay, not get frustrated and focus on how we can be the best we can for the last 10.”