The 2010 Sprint Cup season has to have left Carl Edwards with a smile. That's because Edwards -- who knows what it means to enter a season as one of the championship favorites -- can honestly say, after enduring the agony of a near two-year, 70-race winless drought, that his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team is the best it's ever been.
Edwards bases that contention on ending the 2010 season with consecutive victories at Phoenix and Homestead, the fifth time he's scored back-to-back victories in his career, which includes 18 Cup wins.
"For our team to finish like this and be on the upswing that we are, this is as good as it gets," Edwards said after the Ford 400 finale. "We have a new engine that we're working on that just keeps getting better and better."
That's a good thing, because Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates still somewhat struggled with consistency throughout the season. The positive thing was the way they finished, with Edwards fourth, Matt Kenseth fifth and Greg Biffle sixth. It was a particularly great turnaround for Edwards, who finished 11th last year.
"I think I have a good perspective on the season," Edwards said, "I'm able to look at what we've done, look at two race wins and fourth in points and say, 'Hey, if you would've told me 10 races into the season this is how we're gonna wrap this thing up,' I wouldn't have believed you.
"This is beyond the comeback that I expected. It's really beyond what I hoped for. This is a very good finish to the season."
But as good as it was, the gist of what troubled Edwards was summarized by his performance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He ended the 26-race regular season fourth in the championship but entered the 12-man Chase seeded ninth, because he hadn't won since the 2008 Homestead finale.
The season's low point -- putting aside Edwards intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski at Atlanta in the spring -- probably came right after Edwards drew within 53 points of leader and ultimately five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, after Kansas.
At California, the next race, Edwards finished 34th, fell 262 points behind and saw his championship hopes end. Four races later, Edwards was 317 points out. Only the two wins enabled him to get within 229 points of Johnson at the end.
Crew chief Bob Osborne said it wasn't a big gain that enabled the turnaround, though Edwards stressed the new Ford FR-9 engine, introduced in mid-season, was a big part of it.
"There's not really any one specific piece, technique [or] process that we've changed to turn the corner," Osborne said. "It's just a lot of little things that seem to have built momentum for us and has gotten us back to Victory Lane."
"The engine is something that you can't ever discount because you use it every lap, qualifying, leaving the pits, restarts, all of that," Edwards said. "I think the engine is really important and that's something I believe we're a lot better than we were a year ago and we're still making progress on that."
And it's that potential that has Edwards so enthused about 2011, even if beating Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team remains the sport's ultimate challenge. Don't forget, Edwards won a league-leading nine races in 2008, putting him under a microscope in '09.
"I feel a lot better right now going into 2011 than I did going into 2009," Edwards said. "I feel like we've got a lot of momentum, we've got a new engine that we're working on that just keeps getting better. This is the best performance down the straightaway that I've had in a long time.
"I can't tell you guys how much it means to finish the season like this -- it's spectacular for us. The upside to all of this and the thing I'm excited about is I don't feel like we have implemented all the things we've figured out yet.
"I think we have a lot of really positive things that they're working on at the shop, so I think we're poised to be extremely good at the beginning of next season, maybe in a better situation than we were at the end of 2008, where I felt like we had been ahead and people were catching us."