CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Success came quickly for Carl Edwards, who won four times and finished third in the championship race in his first full season at NASCAR's top level.
The next year was a disaster. Edwards failed to win a Sprint Cup race, missed the 2006 Chase, and learned it wasn't as easy as it looked just a season before.
"That woke me up quickly," Edwards said. "We were coming off a great year, and we missed the Chase, and that was really eye-opening. So I completely respect the position we are in."
The position he is in is precarious.
With nine races to go to set the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field, Edwards is in danger of missing the 12-driver field. Although he is 11th in the standings, the last two spots go to race winners, and Edwards would presently be leapfrogged by Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.
Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship last season, losing what would have been his first Cup title on a heartbreaking tiebreaker. A mere 16 races later, he and his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team looking nothing like they did last season, when he led the points for 23 weeks. Edwards only lost the championship because Stewart couldn't be stopped during a five-win push over the final 10 races.
There is a theory that the driver who loses the championship suffers through a hangover season the next year, and Edwards seemed to prove that after his nine-win runner-up 2008 season. He wasn't a factor the next year, when he again went winless and finished 11th in the final standings.
Edwards said this week in a phone interview with The Associated Press that he doesn't put much stock in the hangover notion, even though he appears to be suffering through one right now.
"What I believe is that the guy that almost wins the championship has a pretty big microscope above him," Edwards said. "The reality is that it is cyclical, and this team has proven to be really hot and cold, and that's really frustrating for everyone. But lately, I think the lows have been higher than what they used to be, we just need to prove that."