Edwards’ top-5 in Kansas gives him points lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Carl Edwards spent six-plus months under scrutiny for scouring the job market and looking for the best possible deal.

His free agency dominated the NASCAR rumor mill all summer, and Edwards couldn’t escape the scrutiny despite numerous pleas to be allowed to handle his business affairs in private. Then a funny thing happened: Edwards signed a contract extension with Roush Fenway Racing and nobody paid any attention to him at all.

His days of peace and tranquility are officially over.

Edwards‘ gutted out a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s race at Kansas to claim sole possession of first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings. With six races remaining, he holds a one-point lead over Kevin Harvick with five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson sitting four points back.

It’s the first time in eight weeks that Edwards has been the points leader, a position he held for 16 of the 26 “regular season” races. But his time on the top was plagued by speculation about both his future and the havoc a prolonged free agency could wreak on his title chances.

Everybody wondered just how the points leader could even be considering leaving Roush, the team that gave him his break in NASCAR and now had him in championship contention. Then came the musings of four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who maybe was publicly tweaking Edwards when he surmised in late July that dragging out the job hunt would only hurt Edwards‘ title chances.

And if Edwards decided to leave? Well, Gordon said he could kiss the Sprint Cup goodbye.

A mere six days later, months of waffling between Roush and Joe Gibbs Racing abruptly ended with Edwards signing an extension to stay with Roush. The intrigue over, he quietly faded from the headlines as attention turned to just about everybody else.

It didn’t help that, three races after announcing his new contract, an engine issue led to a 36th-place finish at Michigan and dropped him to third in the standings. Just like that, he was an afterthought to Kyle Busch, Gordon, Johnson, Kevin Harvick and the suddenly streaking Brad Keselowski.

But a closer examination shows that Edwards should have always been on the radar, and any team that dared to overlook him is paying for it now.

Edwards has yet to finish outside the top-10 in the seven races since Michigan, and five of those events ended with top-five finishes. He’s the only one of the 12 Chase drivers to notch a top-10 in each of the first four Chase races, and he’s shown an ability to overcome every obstacle thrown his way.

Two weeks ago at Dover, his first speeding penalty of the season dropped him to 28th in the field and Edwards recovered to finish third. At Kansas, the wrong setup put him in trouble early _ something Edwards recognized in the opening laps of the race.

Crew chief Bob Osborne set out to make the needed changes, work that required a lengthy stop on pit road and dropped Edwards as far back as 25th. He was two laps down at one point, in danger of a horrific day at his home track, until late cautions put him in position to pull out a miracle.

Edwards seemed as surprised as anyone when he crossed the finish line in fifth.

“I cannot believe we finished fifth, it feels like a win,” Edwards said. “That is the most we have done with a car that wasn’t capable of winning, ever.”

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