The 2012 season began with high hopes for the No. 99 Ford team from Roush Fenway Racing.
It's not too late for those hopes to be realized, butCarl Edwards could not mask his frustration over the way Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway ended -- and the way his season has unfolded so far. An apparent miscommunication between driver Carl Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne led to a risky, and ultimately costly, gamble on fuel mileage in Kentucky.
"I am definitely frustrated with how it played out," Edwards said after having to pit for fuel with four laps remaining, leaving him with a 20th-place finish. He had been running third when his fuel light began blinking.
But, by then, he knew it was coming. Edwards was short on fuel because he had last pitted on Lap 203. Others, such as eventual winner Brad Keselowski, had come in for their final stop on or around Lap 209 at the 1.5-mile track. Edwards had a chance to come in and top off with fuel under a caution at the same time -- but by the time Osborne told him to come to pit road, it was too late.
They then had a mild debate over the team radio about pitting next time around before Osborne implored Edwards to stay out -- against Edwards' wishes. The theory was that by pitting they would give up too much track position, whereas if they stayed out and stayed up front, all they would need was one more caution and they might have challenged for the victory.
"We had a pretty good car at the end. Bob [Osborne] called me onto pit road. He knew we should have pitted that last time, but I was already so far around that [commitment] cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road," Edwards said. "So, we were put in a box. We hoped there would be a caution but there wasn't.
"It is time for us to get it in gear. I am real frustrated, Bob is real frustrated and I know we can do this. We ran as well as any Ford out here tonight. At the end, I think with some fuel we would have had a chance to win it."
Immediately after climbing from his car, Edwards engaged in an earnest conversation with Osborne. The two shook hands afterward -- and again after they emerged separately from the No. 99 hauler and spoke briefly one more time.
"Well, the problem was I called him down pit road too late and he missed pit road," Osborne said. "At that point, we looked at our options and decided to take our chance on a caution -- and the caution didn't come. We just ran it to the end and did a splash-and-go when the caution didn't come. It just didn't go our way. We didn't get the job done."
The 20th-place finish left Edwards 11th in the points standings -- the same spot he occupied coming in. But he has yet to win this season and had hoped to use the Kentucky race to move back inside the top 10.
The top 10 drivers in the points standings, plus two wild-card entries determined by those with the most wins 11th through 20th in the standings, determine the 12 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers who will compete for the championship over the season's final 10 races. There are now only nine races left before the 26-race cutoff for the Chase.
Furthermore, Edwards -- the runner-up to championTony Stewart last season -- has not had a top-10 since finishing ninth at Charlotte more than a month ago. He's had three finishes of 20th or worse in the past five races, and two finishes this season of 31st or worse.
Edwards said he has heard criticism of his team and himself in efforts to explain his struggles. He said he -- and his team -- must ignore the barbs and keep working toward the common goals of winning races and making the Chase.
"We just have to stick together as a team," Edwards said. "That's what Bob and I talked about last week. I hear it all. I hear everything. I hear, 'He is focused on the booth; he is tore up over Tony's deal last year; he needs a new crew chief.' None of that is true.
"We are having some bad luck and some bad communication here. We can do this together. We could divide right now or we could come together."
Both Edwards and Osborne clearly vote for coming together.
"We've been a little snake-bitten, for sure," Osborne said. "I feel like we had a good car. We started 25th and were able to run up front there when we had to -- and on older tires than everybody else. ...We've got things that aren't going right, and we're not making the most of the opportunities that we have. We've got to improve on that. We've got to do the right thing at the right time, and we're not getting that done. I've got to do a better job of making things like that happen."
Edwards wanted to make it clear that he still believes Osborne is the best man for the job atop the No. 99 pit box.
"I have the best crew chief in the business, and he proved it at the end of the year last year," Edwards said. "We got beat on a crazy call by [then-Stewart crew chief] Darian [Grubb] and those guys last year and we need to get going and get this Ford in Victory Lane for Fastenal and everyone that supports us."
Of course, Fastenal was not the primary sponsor on Edwards' car Saturday night. He was carrying the UPS colors.
"We had UPS here and wanted to have a really good run for them. I really wanted to beat Denny [Hamlin, whose primary sponsor is FedEx] considering the implications there for delivery companies," said Edwards, who ultimately finished 17 spots behind the third-place finisher in Hamlin.
There were more serious implications, however, as Edwards and his crew chief clearly are battling to save their season.
"It's not really a lack of communication," Osborne insisted. "The communication is there. You know, it's just not working the way we want it to work. And it's difficult because our teammates run great every week. We seem to have really good cars quite often, but we're just not getting the finishes. We've got to figure out how to reverse that and get the finishes that this team is capable of doing."
Edwards did try to keep it all in proper perspective.
"A bad day at the race track is still better than a good day with a real job, but we need to get this in gear. We need to go," he said.