DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —Carl Edwards asked himself the same questions over and over while evaluating an unacceptable season of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
Who's the real Carl Edwards? Is he the one who won a series-most nine Sprint Cup races in 2008 and was the chic pick to win the championship in 2009?
Or is he the Carl Edwards who went winless in 2009?
After much soul-searching, Edwards, from Columbia, Mo., came up with the answer.
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"The real Carl Edwards is the guy who goes out there and gives 100 percent, who thinks about racing and practices racing, and prepares myself to be the best racer I can be for my whole adult life," he said Friday at Daytona International Speedway, site of Sunday's Daytona 500.
"In 2008, that 100 percent looked pretty good. In 2009, it didn't look so hot."
There were plenty of reasons to explain Edwards' goose egg last year. Other than Matt Kenseth's winning the first two races of the season — Daytona and California — Roush-Fenway Racing did not win another race, even though Edwards and Greg Biffle collected enough points to qualify for The Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The Roush Fords had some handling problems that hampered their drivers. And it didn't help Edwards that he broke a foot while playing Frisbee late in the season, which further compromised his maneuvering his No. 99 Fusion.
"I'm not passing on any blame or anything like that for our performance," said Edwards, who won five races in the Nationwide Series, "but racing, like it or not, is a team sport. And not to sound conceited, but I've proven that I can win these races and I can do the job.
"Greg Biffle has proven he can win races and championships and Matt Kenseth the same way. We've all proven it. We have to go out and put all the pieces together and prove we can do that year in and year out."
Edwards, 30 , has won 16 career Sprint Cup races, the 2007 Nationwide Series championship and came within 69 points of the Jimmie Johnson for the 2008 Sprint Cup championship.
"People say, 'What's it take to beat Jimmie Johnson?' " Edwards said. "Well, I know what it takes. I scored more points than him in 2008 (before the Chase). I won more races than him in 2008. Our team performed at a higher level than theirs, on average. We didn't win the Chase, but we know we can do it.
"The difference is they do that every year. That's what we have to do. We've been working at the small things. Our pit crew ... in the Gatorade Duel, I passed more people on pit road than I've passed in the last two seasons in hundreds of pit stops.
"Our pit crew is a big part of it. Qualifying is a big part. And the engineering Jack (Roush) has been working on. I hope when we put all the pieces together, we're as good as I think we are or can be."
Geoff Smith, Roush Fenway Racing president, agreed that the inability of his company's cars to turn better in the corners had a dramatic effect on Edwards' 2008 season.
"Carl had three or four wins that he didn't get last year that he was flipped out of," Smith said. "It made his year look worse than it actually was. It's nothing about Carl. It was about our cars."
Edwards hasn't had much success in the Daytona 500. He won the Camping World Trucks Series race here in 2004 and was second in the Nationwide race last year. But he's never been better than 11th in five Daytona 500s, including 18th last year.
On Sunday, Edwards will be hungry to win for several reasons. One of his major sponsors, Subway, is running a promotion in which fans across the country can vote for their favorite sub sandwich, and the ZIP code with the most votes cast by March 22 will receive a donation of 500 foot-longs to a local food bank.
And if Edwards were to win, the food bank in Columbia would receive 500 subs, plus an additional 50 subs for each lap he leads. Edwards takes that very seriously. He recently taped a public-service announcement with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon , who told him how desperate the food banks in central Missouri are for nutritious food.
"We do a thing in Missouri called Share the Harvest for the deer hunters who can share some of the meat that is processed," Edwards said, "and he said when they take that meat to the people at the food banks, the people are in tears, because they haven't had a decent meal or something good to eat.
"Hopefully we lead plenty of laps and win the race and give a lot of food to a lot of folks. ... 500 foot-long subs, that's almost a tenth of a mile of subs."
Edwards' thoughts are also back home in Columbia, where his wife, Kate, is due to give birth to a daughter, Ann, on Wednesday. He flew home on Thursday, when they put together the crib.
"My phone is on ... a new one from Sprint," Edwards said, plugging another sponsor.
And if Kate gives birth today or Sunday while Carl is racing?
"Then we'll have a baby," he said, beaming. "It would be great to take a Daytona 500 trophy home to her to Missouri."