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It’s open to debate whether a 70-race winless streak or the inability to reach last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ made Carl Edwards irrelevant.
Edwards, however, rendered the argument moot with last weekend’s victory at Phoenix International Raceway in which he led 122 laps and held off champions Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkers shoot-out.
Now it’s on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Edwards can savor memories of his 2011 Kobalt Tools 400 victory without the baggage of two years of losses.
“I’m more excited to go to Vegas than I’ve been in a long time,” said Edwards of Sunday’s third race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. “[I’m] very pumped.”
Perhaps Edwards should tip his helmet to former teammate Matt Kenseth the next time they pass in the garage. Because of Kenseth’s move to Joe Gibbs Racing, longtime crew chief Jimmy Fennig became available.
Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush elected to shift Fennig and a majority of the No. 17 team’s crew to Edwards’ No. 99 Ford. The decision took exactly two races to pay huge dividends. The Phoenix victory was No. 20 for Edwards and the 37th for the 59-year-old Fennig, who scored three wins in 2012 with Kenseth.
“We were holding Carl back last year without meaning to, just because we didn’t have the right chemistry around him,” Roush said.
Fennig might not be the missing link that ended Edwards’ career-matching long winless streak and, in Denny Hamlin’s words, made him relevant again. But there’s little doubt Fennig plays a key role in what Edwards and Roush hope will be a championship-contending season.
A NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief since 1986, Fennig won the 1988 Daytona 500 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison. With Roush Fenway Racing, he won 14 races with Mark Martin – including the 1998 Kobalt Tools 400 – and the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with Kurt Busch.
Fennig could be described as “old school” to a fault – except there are no faults.
“Me, I go about my work a little different than some people do,” he said. “I’m a hard worker. We sit there and we pay attention to detail on our race cars and that’s about it. I do the same thing I did with Matt and 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.”