Tim Tuttle
Tuesday August 11th, 2009

It's very hard to believe, but 22 races into the Sprint Cup season, Carl Edwards hasn't done a single backflip, his signature victory celebration. It's even more difficult to believe considering he had nine wins -- the most in the series -- in 2008.

The season's second race at Michigan International Speedway is on Sunday, and it's a prime opportunity for Edwards to show off his acrobatic skill. He won this race a year ago, his second victory in the past five at the 2-mile track west of Detroit. Edwards' 6.3 finishing average in 10 races is the best in the field. He has six top-fives and nine top-10s.

Edwards finished fourth at MIS in June in a fuel-economy run won by Mark Martin, and the big, fast superspeedways have been strongest for Edwards this season. His best run was at Pocono in June, when he led 103 laps and lost the lead to Tony Stewart on his last pit stop. Stewart won in another fuel-economy run with Edwards second. Edwards also was third at Atlanta and fourth at Lowe's.

Edwards hasn't been that close to the front recently on the big ovals. He ran 14th at Chicagoland, 15th at Indianapolis and 16th at Pocono II. Edwards has led a total of one lap in the past eight races.

He desperately needs to turn things around at Michigan. He'll make the Chase -- he's sixth in the points, 203 in front of 13th-place Kyle Busch -- but unless he can be a contender on the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks, he won't have a chance of winning the championship. Five of the 10 Chase tracks are 1.5- or 2-mile tracks.

It's clear that Edwards drop-off in performance can be traced to Roush Fenway Racing and Ford. Matt Kenseth won the opening two races of the season and neither the five-car team nor the manufacturer has been to Victory Lane since. Still, Greg Biffle, in 10th, and Kenseth, in 12th, are in the Chase with four regular season races remaining.

Roush Fenway has won Cup races at Michigan the past seven years and has 11 total victories at the track. Biffle and Kenseth each have two. It's a race that is vital to the entire organization, and the heat is on everybody from Jack Roush on down.

Despite a season of struggles, Edwards put the down payment on some momentum with his run to third at Watkins Glen on Monday, his best finish on a road course in Cup.

"From [starting] 33rd to third, that was a good, solid day for us," Edwards said. "I'm really proud of my guys for the strategy, it was great. It was just a perfect day for points for us. I wanted to win this thing really bad -- that's one of my goals this year, to win on a road course -- but third place, we'll take it."

Edwards did his job well. He was sixth for the final restart with 17 laps to go and passed Juan Pablo Montoya and Biffle to get up to fourth in a couple of laps. Edwards closed the gap on Kyle Busch and pressured him into a mistake, driving off line, to move up to third.

"I knew that I wanted to be in front of the 18 [Busch] because coming in, he was 13th in points," Edwards said. "The difference between fourth and third, it's not a lot, but that's the morale for the guys, to open up that gap a little more. And going into Richmond [the final regular season race], I know I need all I can. To make ground on 13th, other than win races, that's our mission for the 99 team right now."

Michigan has been historically significant in Edwards' career. It's where he made his first Cup start in 2004, finishing 10th, and it's where he won in his 100th Cup start in June, 2007, which also broke a 52-race winless streak. Sunday's race figures to be historically significant, too, in determining how Edwards' 2009 season will go into the record books.

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