Updated: July 2, 2012, 4:41 PM ET

Edwards may be caught in The Hangover

Newton By David Newton

Austin DillonChris Trotman/Getty ImagesIs it time for the 3 to come back to the Sprint Cup Series? It's already won races at the Camping World Truck and Nationwide level with Austin Dillon behind the wheel.

Carl Edwards did it again.

No, not another subpar finish, although he did get that thanks to a late stop for fuel that left him 20th in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

What Edwards did again was mention the hangover -- the jinx, so to speak -- that has followed the runner-up from previous Cup seasons and that seemingly has followed Edwards after losing the 2011 title on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart.

Without being asked about it.

After bad pit strategy cost Edwards a chance at a top-5 finish, maybe even a win, on Saturday he tossed it out there without being asked about the speculation that the problem is with longtime crew chief Bob Osborne.

"I hear it all," Edwards told reporters after the race. "I hear everything. I hear [about myself], 'He is focused on the [broadcast] booth. He is tore up over Tony's deal last year. He needs a new crew chief.'

"None of that is true. We are having some bad luck and some bad communication here. We can do this together. We could divide right now or we could come together. I have the best crew chief in the business, and he proved it at the end of the year last year. We got beat on a crazy call by Darian [Grubb, Stewart's crew chief] and those guys last year, and we need to get going."

Two weeks earlier at Michigan, Edwards was more blatant in mentioning the hangover. He prefaced a television interview by telling commentator Darrell Waltrip his misfortune has nothing to do with how last season ended, then addressed it again during his Friday media availability -- this time when asked about it.

"Let me be clear, a hangover from last year does not make tires blow or Denny [Hamlin] forget where his brakes are," Edwards said. "That has nothing to do with us. Anyway, it is not the hangover, but thank you."

Thank you, but no driver who has finished runner-up in the Chase has improved his position the next season. The average finish for that driver the next year is 9.25, including 2006, when Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle finished 12th and 13th a year after tying for second.

Edwards is doing nothing to dispel the hangover theory with his performance this year. He is 11th in points with only two top-5s a year after registering 19, including nine in the first 17 races -- where the series stands now.

His average finish has gone from 9.3 in 2011 to 14.6. He has led only one lap outside the 206 he led at Richmond, where he had a potential win erased when he was black-flagged for jumping the restart with 82 laps to go.

Hangover or not, Edwards is in danger of not making the Chase. He is 34 points out of the top 10 guaranteed a spot in the 10-race playoff. He has Kyle Busch (12th), Kasey Kahne (T-14th), Ryan Newman (T-14th) and Joey Logano (T-14th) breathing down his neck with one win each for the two wild-card spots.

With nine races left before the field is set, Edwards can't afford another bad finish.

And he needs a win for a team struggling to lead a lap.

Edwards keeps saying the team isn't that far off, that this isn't a performance issue. It's definitely not a Roush Fenway Racing issue. Teammate Matt Kenseth leads the points with a win and eight top-5s. Biffle led the points for 11 weeks, has a win and eight top-5s, and is fourth in points.

But Edwards is right about one thing: His team needs to get going.

"We just … we have to stick together as a team," Edwards said. "That is what Bob and I talked about last week."

Saturday couldn't have helped that. Edwards had to pit late when others stayed out because he didn't top off for fuel around Lap 209 when a caution was out.

Edwards didn't pit with others around Lap 209 because by the time Osborne told him to come in, he was too close to the commitment cone to make the stop without causing havoc. He didn't pit the next time around because Osborne told him to stay out, leading to a debate over the in-car radio.

"I am definitely frustrated with how it played out," Edwards said. "We had a pretty good car at the end. Bob called me onto pit road. He knew we should have pitted that last time, but I was already so far around that cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road.

"We were put in a box. We hoped there would be a caution, but there wasn't."

So Edwards gave up a top-5 position for fuel, losing even more ground to eventual winner Brad Keselowski, who is 10th in points.

"It is time for us to get it in gear," Edwards said. "I am real frustrated, Bob is real frustrated and I know we can do this. We ran as well as any Ford out here. At the end, I think with some fuel we would have had a chance to win it.

"… [We] need to get this in gear. We need to go."

If not, the hangover could keep Edwards from a season-ending trip to Las Vegas for the banquet.

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It shouldn't be overlooked that Richard Petty turned 75 on Monday.

"I really don't think about age too much," Petty said in a team statement. "I just keep going to the next race. I've been doing that all my life, and that's what I'm going to keep doing. But I am grateful for each day and all the fans who make this a lot of fun for us."

Have a happy one, King.

Nationwide Series: Austin Dillon wins in the 3

Austin Dillon's win in Friday night's race again brought up the question: Will the black No. 3, made famous by Dale Earnhardt and now driven by Dillon in the Nationwide Series, ever return to Cup?

Team owner Richard Childress, who won six titles with Earnhardt in that number, left a crack in the door after watching his grandson collect his first Nationwide win.

"Dale Earnhardt made that stylized No. 3 famous, and we don't have any intentions of running that stylized No. 3 in Cup," Childress told reporters after the race. "We don't have any intentions, but that always leaves an opening. Right now, we don't have any intentions of running that stylized No. 3 in Cup."

The "right now" part was deafening. Childress didn't do anything to tone it down, pausing and then adding, "That leaves an opening, doesn't it?"

Yes, it does. And when somebody talks about an opening, that implies it is or will be under consideration.

Dillon is on the fast track to Cup. He drove two full seasons in the Truck series, winning the title in 2011. Friday's win shot him into the Nationwide points lead by two over Elliott Sadler, although he's expected to lose that when NASCAR penalizes him because his car was too low in postrace inspection.

Sources said Dillon likely will suffer a loss of six championship and driver points, just as Sadler's team did earlier this year from a penalty at Iowa.

But the key number remains 3. Dillon has driven that number in Trucks and Nationwide. He has embraced it, saying the pressure that comes with the number drives him to give "110" percent.

On Friday, Childress said Earnhardt would have been proud, adding, "I know Dale's looking down smiling to see that 3 win tonight."

He should be just as proud if Childress brings the number that he drove before Earnhardt back to Cup with a family member behind the wheel. It's time, and Dillon's time for Cup isn't far off.

The 22-year-old already has run a couple of Cup races, and is likely to run at least a partial Cup schedule in 2013.

When he makes the move, it should be in the 3.

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Camping World Truck Series: Title race heating up

Don't look now, but the Truck series has the tightest race in NASCAR.

Timothy Peters has a four-point lead over Justin Lofton and Ty Dillon, with James Buescher only nine behind. Buescher brought himself closer to the mix by winning Thursday night at Kentucky.

Five other drivers are within 57 points of the lead. Only four drivers are that close in the Cup and Nationwide series.

Recap | Results

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.


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