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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today) — BOSTON — When Carl Edwards won four races and finished third in Sprint Cup points in 2005, his first full-time season at stock car racing’s highest level, he earned a place in the somewhat short line of presumptive future champions.
With a list of skills that included performing backflips off his winning vehicles and an engaging personality that made him attractive to sponsors, Edwards needed only to prove himself on track against major-league competition. He did that quickly, enhancing the race wins in 2005 by challenging eventual champion Tony Stewart and second-place Greg Biffle at the top of the standings.
Eleven years have passed, however, and Edwards still sits outside the throne room. He’ll turn 37 in August. Like many others who watched him in the early years of his NASCAR journey, Edwards figured he’d have that first title in hand this deep into his career.
After finishing third in 2005, he was second to Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and second to Stewart in 2011, a title decided in Stewart’s favor using a tiebreaker. (Those championships were determined before NASCAR switched to the current elimination system in the Chase).
“I was really close in those three years,” Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “Looking back, I could have won the championship in any one of those years. It’s going to make the championship really special when I get it. I’m not sure I would have appreciated it in 2005.”
Edwards has won 27 Sprint Cup races and established himself as one of the best drivers of his generation. The championship remains the flag not taken, though.
“To begin with, my goal was to make a living driving a race car,” he said. “I thought that would be great. Then when Jack Roush gave me an opportunity in the Cup series, I thought just winning a race would be spectacular. Now that I’ve won a bunch of races, my goal is simply to win the championship. That’s it.”
Edwards made the difficult decision two years ago to leave Roush Fenway Racing, which was (and still is) having performance issues, and move to Joe Gibbs Racing, a team on the rise. He landed in Toyotas in a Sprint Cup environment which demands more of its champions in a difficult playoff format.
“The goal is still out there,” Edwards said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’m a lot more prepared to battle for it now. I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been, and I think I have the best opportunity I’ve ever had.”
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR has added mandatory fines and other penalties for teams caught without five lug nuts on each wheel.
The move announced Monday comes less than a week after three-time series champion Tony Stewart urged NASCAR to take action. The series had stopped monitoring lug nuts during pit stops, and some teams were using fewer than five, allowing them to send cars out faster in hopes of getting better position and a better finish.
NASCAR can only check for every lug nut before and after a race, but may call a car back to pit road during a race.
The series said a tire falling off in a Sprint Cup race due to “improper installation” would mean a minimum four-race suspension of the crew chief and other pit crew members involved. If lug nuts are found missing after a race, Cup teams face at least a $20,000 fine and a one-race suspension for the crew chief.
Veteran crew chief Rodney Childers, who works with 2014 NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick, reacted to the change on Twitter by saying “I will sit at home for a week at some point.” Childers noted that rarely does his car end a race with all 20 lug nuts still attached.
The penalties are less for the Xfinity and Truck series, but still substantial for the lower-funded teams.
“Our job is whenever there’s a safety improvement to make or a policy to enhance things, we will just do that,” NASCAR CEO Brian France said Monday during an interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s as simple as that. There’s not a controversial thing. Our whole system is based on safe and competitive racing. If we can make an adjustment to make things safer, we just simply will.”
Stewart was fined $35,000 for his criticism, and that fine stands.
NASCAR said a “long-term solution” was in the works.
“They’re just trying to get it right and we’re trying to get it right,” France said. “And, by the way, we will. We have for 60 years and we will always sort out, especially when it comes to safety — you can mark that down — that we will get to the right to the right place as fast as we can. That’s Job 1 for us.”
Tony Stewart takes on gas and gets new tires during a pit stop during the Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Chet Strange)