HOMESTEAD, Fla. — As Carl Edwards coasted across the finish line Sunday, out of gas and relegated to another runner-up championship finish, he had some consoling words for his team.
“We will definitely get them next year,” Edwards said.
Don’t bet against them.
Sure, the Roush Fenway Racing driver came out of the final weekend of the NASCAR season at Homestead-Miami Speedway oh-for-two in his effort to win at least one of the titles in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup seasons, but he also gave everyone something to think about over the winter.
The 29-year-old Columbia native made it as interesting as he could, winning both the Nationwide race Saturday and the season-ending Sprint Cup event — his series-leading ninth victory — less than 24 hours later in his long-shot bid to catch Jimmie Johnson.
It just wasn’t enough.
Johnson, who needed only to finish 36th or better on Sunday to win a record-tying third consecutive Cup title, cruised to a comfortable 15th-place finish while Edwards stretched his mileage to its limits and hoped Johnson would find trouble.
“Second place in the championship isn’t what we came here for, but Jimmie’s a great guy,” Edwards said. “He deserved to win.”
Despite the two victories, it wasn’t the weekend Edwards hoped for.
He came up 21 points short of Clint Bowyer in the second-tier series and, despite chopping 114 points off Johnson’s lead over the last two races, Edwards wound up losing that championship by 69 points.
After doing his trademark victory backflip off his No. 99 Fusion for the final time this season following the Ford 400, Edwards was philosophical about the latest of his runner-up finishes.
“I’m sure glad we won today’s race because it will make it a little bit earlier to deal with the offseason and coming so close to that championship,” Edwards said. “We ran really well this season and it’s something I wanted to make sure my guys understood is they did their jobs.
“We have given it our best and performed very well.”
The numbers prove that.
His finish in Nationwide was sensational, nearly coming back from a 241-point deficit by winning four times and finishing no worse than fifth in the last nine races.
In Cup, besides his series-leading victory total, Edwards chalked up 18 top-five finishes and 26 top-10s. Add that to seven wins, 19 top-fives and 22 top-10s in Nationwide and it adds up to a heck of a season.
Trying to deny Johnson another title, Edwards stumbled with finishes of 29th at Talladega, where he took the blame for a multicar crash, and 33rd the next week at Charlotte, where he had an electrical problem.
But, instead of saying, “Wait ‘til next year,” Edwards charged to the end with finishes of third, first, first, fourth and first — the last two wins coming on amazing fuel economy runs.
“It’s been fun,” Edwards said. “We could go be aggressive. We knew we were at a disadvantage after those two races where we lost a bunch of points. But, not to be cliche or sad or whatever, but anybody out there shooting for something or trying for something, you can’t lose if you give it 100 percent. If you give it 100 percent, you win no matter what.”
“One of the toughest things to do is to just keep your head up, do the best you can and take what you get,” he added. “That is why I’m so excited the years to come because I feel like this team can do it, regardless of the odds.”
Now Edwards heads into the winter knowing he will be at least a co-favorite with Johnson for the 2009 Cup title — and that is just fine with him.
“We won more races than Jimmie, and we ran with him when he won,” he said. “I personally feel like we closed a big gap this season. ... I know they’ll enjoy this championship, but they knew we were here.”
Team owner Jack Roush agreed.
“It was a pretty good year for those guys,” Roush said, grinning. “I think they can top it next year.”