Adversity Marks Edwards Banner Season

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- If it has wheels, Carl Edwards will race it. He's game for anything, anytime -- even a lawn mower race on the infield.

He's always had that passion, and it finally paid off this season when Edwards won the Busch Series title for his first NASCAR championship. Edwards, who was to collect $2.4 million at Friday night's awards dinner, earned it with four wins and a cushy 618-point margin over runner-up David Reutimann.

And he did it as a side job, running the full schedule as a complement to a successful Nextel Cup season. Edwards won three races in the premier series and earned a berth in the Chase for the championship.

``I felt like it was a pretty good year overall,'' Edwards said. ``Actually, a really good year.''

It didn't come without adversity, though, and Edwards brought much of it on himself.

The moment that most likely will define his year came in October after a race at Martinsville. His confrontation with teammate Matt Kenseth was caught on camera and posted on YouTube hours later. It elicited a barrage of criticism of Edwards from other Cup drivers.

``I just learned a little bit about perspective,'' Edwards said. ``The bottom line is this is an entertainment sport. It has competition and there are going to be times where it doesn't go as you want. The bottom line is, if it wasn't something you got wound up about every now and then, it wouldn't be worth doing.''

Kenseth, who finished 10th in the series standings, said the teammates are slowly moving past it.

``We haven't really talked about it that much,'' he said. ``Things are all right. It's still slightly awkward, honestly, but it's nothing that will affect our racing on the track.''

Car owner Jack Roush believes Edwards will benefit in the long run. In just his fifth year in NASCAR, the 27-year-old driver is still finding his footing after rocketing to stardom when he got a Cup ride late in the 2004 season.

``That incident was a matter of them establishing between themselves what the ground rules were on respect,'' Roush said. ``I come out on Matt's side of that disagreement based on the fact I don't think Carl showed him the respect he deserved. But I think Carl has learned that that is not going to be conducive with the kind of success and acceptance that he needs and wants.

``Carl had the year that I think was inevitable for him to have. He was ambitious and courageous to a fault and he was frustrated with it some this year and he's grown from that. He won't have that same frustration next year. It will be fine.''

Edwards doesn't doubt that. This career season came as he found a balance in his life that has helped him handle the hectic pace of a NASCAR star.

He returned home to Columbia, Mo., this year, moving into his childhood home. His brother lives upstairs; his longtime friends are all close. He's constantly surrounded by family. Much like Tony Stewart, who found peace when he returned home to Indiana, Edwards believes spending three days a week in Missouri has centered him and streamlined his life.

``It's huge for me. It's the best thing in the world,'' he said. ``My trainer told me once, `Whatever it is that you really want to do, that's the most important thing to do.' What else is there in life? Being there ... I just feel more like a normal person. I just feel like I can breathe.''

With that comes security. A struggling racer before Roush plucked him from obscurity, Edwards had spent time substitute teaching to make ends meet and help fund his career. But with close to $24 million in NASCAR winnings, he's comfortable now.

It's taken some adjusting because Edwards has found it hard to shake the mentality of the struggling racer.

``I've never been middle class -- I'd either been bottom of the barrel, and now I am rich,'' he said. ``I never took out a loan. I just didn't own anything. I just lived at my mom's and drove a car my buddy gave me. I still feel like I live the same way.

``It is nice to know that I paid for the house I live in and I don't have to worry about money. That's a big stressor in a racer's life. There's a lot of racers out there that look at every damn thing and say `How many tires could I buy with that? If I just don't go out to dinner or save $20 bucks here or there, now I can buy a new tire.' That's the way we went for a long time and now I don't have to. I am very fortunate.''

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