Carl Edwards is optimistic about remaining a close title contender throughout the Chase for the Sprint Cup after getting back to the top of the standings following the third round of the playoff series.
The Roush Fenway Ford driver led the points throughout most of the regular season, but dropped back once the Chase field was set due to having a single win while many of his rivals scored multiple victories in the first 26 races. Since the title race started at Chicagoland three weeks ago, Edwards has scored more points than anyone else in the Cup field and has finished inside the top 10 at every race, overcoming a pitlane penalty that put him a lap down last weekend to finish a close third at Dover behind reigning champion Jimmie Johnson.
Edwards is level on points with Kevin Harvick at the top of the championship and the Roush man believes his team has got what it takes to continue to lead into the decisive races, in what is turning out to be a closely fought championship.
"We led the points I think for 13 or 15 weeks," said Edwards. "I feel that our team, we know we can lead the points. We know we can finish well enough to stay up front, but our strategy hasn't changed much. Right now it's essentially as if we haven't run three races.
"Those nine guys separated by 19 points – I think was the way it ended up at Dover – so nine people separated by that small of a window, it's still as if we're just starting the Chase.
"All we have to do is keep doing what we've been doing, do the best we can. We got lucky at Dover. We need that luck on our side. But we're tied for the points lead because we've run well enough to be there. If we can just continue that, I think we have a real shot at this. I feel really good about it."
Edwards believes that in order to win the championship, he will need to win more races while also avoiding a poor finish – something he has managed during the first three races of the Chase thus far, while others as Johnson have already stumbled.
The former Nationwide Series champion last drove to Victory Lane at Las Vegas – the third race of the season – and has finished second three times since then. He remains the most recent winner at Homestead, where the championship is expected be up for grabs once again.
"I do believe that the winner of the championship is going to win a race or two in the Chase," he said. "We should have won at Dover. I think the more important thing is going to be the bad days.
"I truly believe that. You're going to have guys run out of fuel or wreck and take themselves out of that group of nine guys that are all competing. It's going to slowly whittle itself to seven, six, five. By the end of the Chase, you're going to have four guys, three guys going into Homestead with a chance. Then it's going to be who doesn't have that bad race at Homestead."
"Everybody knows that one mistake can cost them a shot at it. There's a lot of pressure on everybody."
Back in 2008, Edwards was Johnson's closest rival during the Chase but his team then endured a difficult 2009 and he was only able to win again at the end of last year, taking victories in the final two races of the season. Edwards believes since then his team has been on a charge that has reassured him of their ability to fight for victory every week and ultimately this year's title.
"We went through a very tough time in 2009," recalled Edwards. "Through all of that, I think we learned how strong we can be. The thing I'm most proud of is we didn't collapse. Our team, we didn't start firing people or pointing fingers. Roush Fenway Racing buckled down, worked harder, worked smarter.
"We came back and were able to win the last two races last season, lead the points for most of the season. I feel we're a threat at every race track we go to. How that applies to me personally, I have more true confidence and a little more calm approach to this whole championship."
Besides his solid Sprint Cup season this year, Edwards has also enjoyed success in the Nationwide Series where he has won seven races, although he is not eligible to contend for the title.