Carl Edwards has finally earned a victory with his new team, Joe Gibbs Racing. Could this be a sign of things to come?
I've noticed a pattern in NASCAR over the past couple years involving star drivers who left their long-time teams for something fresh. The immediate improvement in their performance was nothing short of staggering.
Same song, third verse?
In 2013, Matt Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing after spending the first 14 years of his career with Roush-Fenway. It was arguebly his best year yet with a career-high seven wins, three poles and 1783 laps led during the season. In the end, he came just one position short of the championship.
In 2014, we witnessed a nearly identical story unfold with Kevin Harvick. After spending the first 12 years of his career with Richard Childress Racing, he moved over to Stewart-Haas. Harvick earned a career-high five wins, eight poles and 2137 laps led during the season. For the first time in his career, Harvick was crowned champion when the checkered flag flew at Homestead, a race he also won.
And now onto 2015. Carl Edwards has a new team in Joe Gibbs Racing after spending the first ten years of his Sprint Cup career with Roush-Fenway - Sound familiar?
One of the best
Many consider Edwards to be a highly capable racer and Brad Keselowski was even quoted as calling him the best out there. He has the ability to not only wheel a car, but to carry one on his back and all the way to Victory Lane when need be. The thought was that with the right machine under him, he could finally be a champion after watching three titles slip through his grasps.
Now he has the car, the team, the crew chief in Darian Grubb, and history behind him to achieve true greatness. However, the racing gods have not been kind to Edwards during his new venuture, so far. After 11 races, his best finish was tenth and he was sitting 18th in the standings.
A season-altering gamble
But during the Coke 600 at Charlotte, his team took a gamble and pitted during a late caution, trying to stretch the fuel to the finish of NASCAR's longest race. It worked out and just like that, Edwards is in the Chase and finally has a victory with JGR under his belt. That win completely changes the complexion of his year. Come September, he knows he will be one of 16 with a shot at the Sprint Cup championship.
All Gibbs Toyotas have struggled to keep pace with the Chevrolet and Ford teams on the bigger ovals, but Charlotte was a different story. The three Gibbs drivers combined to lead a total of 104 laps and all finished inside the top eight.
Could this be a turning point in the season for both Toyota and Edwards? I certainly believe it so. The man himself admitted that he may have been pushing too hard, putting unneeded pressure on himself to get the results he knew JGR could attain, saying "I've been stressed. I'm so competitive and I'm not happy with how we've performed and the results we've had. I feel like this is a gift. This is truly a gift."
But since Edwards has finally broken through that glass ceiling and TRD is back on their game, that No. 19 may be a much more frequent player at the front of the field in the weeks to come and more importantly, a contender for the title at season's end.