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Times Staff Writer

It has been missing from the Nextel Cup series all year: a back flip by Carl Edwards.

The young driver from Missouri celebrates his victories by jumping backward from the window of his No. 99 Roush Racing Ford, a feat many expected him to perform more than once this season.

After all, he had a banner year in 2005 with four victories and nine other top-five finishes, lifting him to third in the series championship in only his first full year on the circuit.

Edwards’ wide grin, athletic physique and amiable manner -- he tends to say he’s having “a blast” at every race -- also endeared him to fans and landed him on the cover of several magazines. The onetime schoolteacher began this season figuring not only to win more races, but perhaps the series title as well.

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Instead, Edwards has slogged through a mediocre year that, at times, has made him a portrait of frustration. After 23 races, he has yet to win, despite seven top-five finishes.

He is 13th in the standings after his seventh-place finish in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, and enters Sunday night’s Sony HD 500 at California Speedway in danger of missing the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship.

Only the top 10 drivers in points qualify for the Chase, which covers the final 10 races of the 36-race season. The field will be set after next week’s race in Richmond, Va.

“We’ll just go on, keep our heads up,” said Edwards, who turned 27 two weeks ago. “The worst thing we can do right now is get down.”

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The recent race at Michigan was emblematic of Edwards’ year. He led 32 of the 200 laps after qualifying 20th on the 43-car grid. But with fewer than 30 laps remaining, he collided with another car and finished 22nd.

His fortunes could change at Fontana, where Roush Racing has been strong. He finished third at California Speedway’s first Cup race this year in February, a race won by teammate Matt Kenseth, and Edwards sat on the pole at the track’s Labor Day race a year ago.

Edwards also has enjoyed a good season in the Busch Series, where he has won four times.

But at the Cup and Busch levels, Edwards’ frustration has flared.

In July for instance, he was furious with defending Cup champion Tony Stewart, after Stewart had triggered a wreck at Pocono Raceway that also collected Edwards.

Edwards later retaliated by bumping Stewart as they entered the pits, and Stewart later took responsibility for the crash.

And this month at a Busch race at Michigan International Speedway, Edwards was battling for the lead but was shoved out of the way by winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Again in retaliation, Edwards, who finished 23rd, banged into Earnhardt’s car as the race ended under caution. NASCAR responded by slapping Edwards with a $20,000 fine and putting him on probation for the rest of the year.

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Said Edwards: “I just wanted to make sure he knew I was mad that he wrecked me.”

Some observers have said Edwards’ problems this year were exacerbated in mid-April, when Roush shook up his operation by moving Edwards’ crew chief, Bob Osborne, to Jamie McMurray’s team. Wally Brown, who had been the head engineer on Edwards’ team, assumed the crew chief’s job.

But when the switch was made, Edwards was 22nd in points. Although much of Edwards early-season problems stemmed from accidents, not the car’s performance, he has moved up in points since Brown arrived.

Edwards has said he didn’t want the switch, simply because he and Osborne had enjoyed so much success last year. But Edwards also said he was still running well with Brown at the helm.

No matter how he finishes this season, or whether he meets anyone’s expectations, Edwards says he hasn’t changed as a driver.

“It is what it is, and all I can do is my best,” he said. “Either we make the Chase or we don’t. It is not going to affect anything that I do.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Edwards’ flip side

Carl Edwards, known for his victory-lane theatrics, has flipped only over Busch Series victories this season, above. He has zero Nextel Cup victories. His finishes:

Race, Track; Start; Finish; Laps; Run; Purse

Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway; 5; 43; 203; a-78; $269,882

Auto Club 500, California Speedway; 22; 3; 251; 251; $165,550

UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Las Vegas Motor Speedway; 21; 26; 270; 270; $90,225

Golden Corral 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway; 18; 40; 325; 313; $85,700

Food City 500, Bristol Motor Speedway; 3; 4; 500; 500; $122,575

DirecTV 500, Martinsville Speedway; 15; 16; 500; 500; $89,100

Samsung/RadioShack 500, Texas Motor Speedway; 371; 36; 334; a-256; $101,175

Subway Fresh 500, Phoenix International Raceway; 5; 4; 312; 312; $126,685

Aarons 499,Talladega Superspeedway; 3; 8; 188; 188; $118,975

Crown Royal 400, Richmond International Raceway; 9; 7; 400; 400; $100,100

Dodge Charger 500, Darlington Raceway; 7; 39; 367; e-281; $86,550

Coca-Cola 600, Lowes Motor Speedway; 22; 3; 400; 400; $201,050

Neighborhood Excellence 400, Dover International Speedway; 25; 15; 400; 400; $104,125

Pocono 500, Pocono Raceway; 40; 25; 200; 199; $82,775

3M Performance 400, Michigan International Speedway; 31; 2; 146; 129; $147,200

Dodge/Save Mart 350, Infineon Raceway; 20; 6; 110; 110; $116,800

Pepsi 400, Daytona International Speedway; 29; 39; 160; 156; $100,650

USG Sheetrock 400, Chicagoland Speedway; 21; 20; 270; 270; $106,725

Lenox Industrial Tools 300, New Hampshire International Speedway; 17; 2; 308; 308; $177,900

Pennsylvania 500, Pocono Raceway; 16; 39; 200; 196; $80,125

Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, Indianapolis Motor Speedway; 22; 9; 160; 160; $202,975

AMD at The Glen, Watkins Glen International; 21; 5; 90; 90; $110,725

GFS Marketplace 400, Michigan International Speedway; 20; 22; 200; 200; $90,750

Sharpie 500, Bristol Motor Speedway; 39; 7; 500; 500; $128,200

a-accident; e-engine. TOTAL: $3,006,517

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Source: NASCAR.com


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