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NASCAR's Edwards regains spark with help from crusty crew chief
The driver said Jimmy Fennig's leadership and planning is going "to pay off a lot" this season.
Carl Edwards gives a fist pump to his pit crew as he walks with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Sunday, March 3, 2013, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Friday, March 8, 2013
Carl Edwards’ first encounter with crew chief Jimmy Fennig was an eye-opener.
It was the week of the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last fall when car owner Jack Roush had decided to pair Edwards with Fennig’s crew for the 2013 season — once Matt Kenseth departed for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Edwards and Fennig exchanged pleasantries at the race shop in Charlotte, N.C., made small talk about families and walked around the race car Fennig was preparing for Kenseth.
“I started looking under the hood a little bit to poke around,” Edwards recalled, “and he said, ‘OK, OK, that’s enough.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘We’re still racing against you this weekend. This isn’t your race car. … Let’s go look at something else.’ ”
That told Edwards everything he needed to know about Fennig, a crusty and meticulous 59-year-old who won a Sprint Cup championship with Kurt Busch in 2004 and directed wins in the Daytona 500 by Kenseth in 2012 and Bobby Allison in 1988.
Edwards, who came within a hood ornament of winning the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, suffered through a miserable 2012 season, failing to win a race or qualify for the Chase and was in need of a new outlook.
Sure enough, after struggling through the first week at the Daytona 500, Edwards bounced back last week and snapped a 70-race winless streak at Phoenix. And he’ll head into Sunday’s race as a heavy favorite at Las Vegas, where he last won in 2011.
Fennig may have been the missing link the No. 99 team needed.
“Well, I don’t think I’m the missing link,” Fennig said. “Me, I go about my work a little different than some people do. I’m a hard worker. We sit there, and we pay attention to detail on our race cars, and that’s about it. I did the same thing I did with Matt, with Mark Martin in ’98. That’s the way I work.
“We still have 85 percent of the team left from the 17. That’s still there, and everybody knows the way I operate, what I want, and we’re just trying to deliver it to Carl.”
Edwards responded to Fennig’s game plans.
“Jimmy specifically told me before the season started that he wants me to make sure that I understand the changes they have planned for practice, that I make sure to be there available to the engineers after practice, and that I’m actually sitting there engaged with them so that we don’t miss something,” Edwards said.
“He didn’t ask, ‘How did you do it last year?’ He said, ‘This is exactly what I want. This is how I do it. And I think that leadership and knowing what he wants is something that’s going to pay off a lot.”
Considering Edwards has enjoyed success at Las Vegas, including wins in 2008 and 2011, he’s confident heading into this weekend.
“I know this is probably wrong to admit, but I didn’t really have Phoenix marked on the calendar as the one that we were going to go win the first race,” said Edwards, who has won 20 career Cup races. “I was looking at Vegas as the race that would be the really good one. So … after seeing the pit crew perform at Phoenix, I feel like I’m going to Vegas to win this thing this weekend.”
If victorious, Edwards will be better prepared this week to execute his trademark back flip than he was in Phoenix.
“I was actually very worried at Phoenix because I hadn’t done a back flip for a long time, and when I was standing up on the window I actually slipped a little bit,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if they showed that on TV, but I thought, ‘Man, don’t fall down when you do this because you’re really going to look stupid.’
“It seems to be easier to do the louder the crowd is. So if the crowd is cheering really hard, it’s usually something pretty simple to do.”
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