Now That He's Back on Top in NASCAR, Can Carl Edwards Stay No. 1 in Sprint Cup?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

Carl Edwards waves to the crowd during driver introductions prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Now that he's at the top of the Sprint Cup standings heading into Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, where does Carl Edwards go from here?

Can he hold on to No. 1, or will he be more like "No. 1 and then done" after this Sunday?

Edwards is one of those drivers who has great talent, yet still has not won the biggest prize of all that a NASCAR driver seeks year in and year out: the Sprint Cup championship.

There's Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and so many more.

But there's one key difference that puts Edwards in a class by himself above all those other names.

If for only a few brief seconds, he is the only one to have tied for the championship. None of the others have ever come that close.

When you have guys like Jimmie Johnson winning six championships in his Cup career to date, Jeff Gordon four and Tony Stewart three, it's easy for NASCAR fans to forget what a driver doesn't achieve in a career.

It's been only three years, but Edwards actually tied for the 2011 championship. Remember that?

But while most every NASCAR fan knows it was Stewart who won the championship that season, breaking Johnson's streak of five titles in a row, Edwards has essentially become a forgotten man.

Edwards tied Stewart for the championship, only to lose on the first tiebreaker, which was wins. Stewart had five victories that season, Edwards one.

While the final standings will show Stewart and Edwards had an equal number of points in the overall season standings at the end of 2011, Stewart was crowned the champion, while Edwards was, as Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights, the first loser.

And from there, it has essentially been downhill for Edwards.

After coming so close in 2011, he went winless the following season and didn't even make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

In fact, one season after having his most successful season ever, he had the worst season of his career in 2012, with just three top-five and 13 top-10 finishes.

He rebounded somewhat in 2013, winning two races and making the Chase, only to fall apart in the 10-race playoff, finishing last in the expanded 13-driver field.

It's almost as if Edwards has never gotten over what happened to him in 2011.

Until now, it would seem. He's back on top, for the first time since 2011, not coincidentally, when he and Stewart had a back-and-forth dance during the 10-race Chase.

And by the way, Edwards was No. 1 over Stewart for seven of the first nine Chase races that year—until they tied after Homestead, only to be settled by the hardest way to win—or lose in Edwards' case—a championship.

I'm betting there are a couple of other things many fans likely have forgotten about Edwards and some of the other significant things he accomplished in 2011.

After finishing runner-up in the season-opening Daytona 500, pushing Trevor Bayne to victory in a selfless move, Edwards left Daytona first in the standings because Bayne was not eligible to earn points in the Sprint Cup Series, having chosen to be a regular competitor in the Nationwide Series that season.

From that point, hard as it may seem to believe—let alone remember—Edwards would go on to lead the standings for an incredible 24 weeks of the 36-race schedule.

But since then, he's never been No. 1 again—at least until after Sunday's race at Fontana.

Sure, he was ranked No. 2 for nine weeks last season, but again, never the guy at the top of the points charts. He didn't even jump up to No. 1 following his win at Bristol a couple weeks ago.

Now he is.

And whether or not he stays No. 1 for another week, or 24 like 2011, or for the next 31 weeks—the most important fact is that Carl Edwards is back on top once again.


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