Carl Edwards believes he will return a stronger driver in 2012 after losing his best chance of becoming a Sprint Cup Series champion last weekend.
Edwards led the standings more than any other driver this season, including six out of the 10 weeks of Chase contention. However, a single victory during the year meant he lost the tie-breaker after Sunday's race, Tony Stewart winning half the races of the playoff to shift the balance in his favor.
The Roush Fenway racer has admitted his disappointment at losing the title but said he was proud of his performance this season, by far his most consistent ever.
"I'm obviously disappointed we didn't win," Edwards said. "That would have been a spectacular result, OK. But I'm very proud, some of the best races I've run in my life, were this Chase. Kansas was unbelievable. Martinsville, I've never used my head as much as I did at Martinsville.
"I've never been able to put down my frustration like I did at Dover. If I look back on this Chase, there's not one thing that I say, 'Man, I wish I'd have done this,' or, 'I wish I'd have done that.' This whole season has gone very well. I'm truly proud of this season. I mean, but it's over."
Edwards praised his team for performing under pressure to deliver consistent results through the Chase and said he can look ahead with the confidence of having one of the best groups supporting his future championship bids.
"I guess the only thing I'm able to take away from this that's really positive, something I think is really important, is that at least we know that we can compete with any of these people," Edwards said. "We can compete with a two-time champion or three-time champion now winning half of the Chase races; we can still score as many points as them. That's a big deal.
"And I know that there are a lot of tests in life and I think that the last three or four weeks have been a huge test for me and for my team mentally. You know, for us to keep our confidence up, to keep our cool, and to go out and perform and do our jobs, I'm really proud and believe next year we'll do even better."
The 32-year-old was also full of praise for rival Stewart, underlining his and the Stewart-Haas Racing team's mental strength to avoid making any mistakes under the pressure of delivering a top result in order to be champions.
"To be honest with you, I was very, very impressed with Tony," he said. "I think that for all of the talk and all of the chest-pounding that he did, I could see that he was really – I mean, he was nervous about this, too. They had to perform at a very high level, and I honestly thought that there was a good chance of them making a mistake – of him over-driving, trying too hard. They showed a lot of mental toughness to watch us go lead the first half of this [Homestead] race essentially and not panic, not make mistakes. I thought they did a really good job."
Last weekend, Edwards gave boss Jack Roush the owner's title in the Nationwide Series (ABOVE), also outscoring champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. through the year. A new rule that restricted drivers to contend for a single national title meant he couldn't claim a second championship in the second-tier series.