CHICAGO — Carl Edwards knows that Toyotas have led more than half the laps and have won half the races in 2016.
He knows that, with a seasoned crew chief in Dave Rogers, he has as good a chance as any of the five Toyotas — Edwards and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates as well as JGR affiliate Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. — to win the 2016 Sprint Cup title.
Those chances are good. Really good. Like, if you were in charge of designing a championship T-shirt, you’d be smart to work on designs of Toyota drivers first.
“If you step back and look, I’ve never been in a better position,” Edwards said Thursday. “I feel like definitely we have the experience. We have the cars, the engines, the pit crew, the crew chief.
“I’ve got all the parts. I just need to go win the championship.”
But therein lies the issue. Edwards felt the same way in 2011 at Roush Fenway Racing, where he ended up tying Tony Stewart atop the standings, with Stewart earning the crown thanks to five wins in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
It won’t take five wins to earn the championship in the current format, an elimination-style Chase that sets up four drivers with an equal shot at the finale at Homestead.
The Chase field of 16 drivers will take the green flag Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with a similar goal of surviving the elimination rounds and having a shot at Homestead.
“Over a 10-race stretch, it would be more difficult to beat them than it would in a one-race event,” said six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “In one race, anything can happen.
“The odds really shift and change, and we hope we make it to the final four and then hope we have the best Homestead race of our lives. … I don’t have to beat them for 10 weeks. I have just got to beat them once.”
Of the drivers outside the Toyota camp, only Kevin Harvick is among the top five in laps led this season.
“We’ve just got to take good cars to the racetrack and do our job on pit road,” said Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers. “We’ve had good speed.
“I don’t think it is a lack of speed by any means. I feel good about what we’ve got, and hopefully it will be good enough.”
Rain puts Ky. Busch on pole for Chase opener
Kyle Busch will start the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener from the pole; qualifying at Chicagoland Speedway was rained out.
Gentlemen, start your Chase drama
Are we going to have a Chase filled with drama like last season, or are things going to stay relatively calm? Calm in not really the goal of the concept to begin with, writes Bob Pockrass.
Some non-Toyota drivers have more reason to hope than others. They break it down fairly simply as far as what they need to do to make it to Homestead.
“Go to work,” said 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who drives a Team Penske Ford. “Execute. I’m giving it my all, and I make the assumption that my team is too.”
If Toyota teams execute, they definitely will be hard to beat.
Kyle Busch, the top seed in the Chase, has four wins this year and has led 16.87 percent of the laps. Truex, with two wins, led 16.73 percent. After Harvick at 16.42 percent, Toyotas of Edwards (10.06 percent) and Matt Kenseth (6.64 percent) are next in laps led.
“I feel good now that if we hit 100 percent, we will win,” said Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Wheeler, whose driver has won three races but has led only 5.48 percent of the laps this year. “That’s something you strive for.
“The only problem is, there’s four or five of us. We share notes. We work together. We do the best we can for not only Joe Gibbs Racing but Toyota. … All it takes is a flat tire or a crash and you’re out.”
All it takes is a piece that costs $10 or less failing and it can cost a team or a driver. It happened to Johnson last year with a broken seal at Dover. It happened to Hamlin last year with a roof hatch issue at Talladega that put him laps down and resulted in his elimination.
“I consider us the biggest favorite, and I consider us the biggest underdog, as well,” Hamlin said. “I just don’t know — we’re not going to change how anybody else races. We just have to do the best we can, and that’s the common answer you’ll hear [from drivers].”
Because of the elimination-style Chase, it’s likely that another manufacturer other than Toyota will have representation at Homestead.
And, as Johnson said, once a driver gets to Homestead, anything can happen. Maybe that’s why Joey Logano feels as confident this year as he did in 2015 — he feels he has enough speed to contend.
“The Chase presents a lot of opportunity — opportunity to make mistakes, the opportunity to make something happen,” Logano said. “It’s the person that takes advantage of that who is going to be the guy at Homestead partying away. Hopefully we’re that guy.”