Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011: 2. Carl Edwards

Birthdate: 15 August 1979 Hometown: Columbia, Missouri USA Team: Roush Fenway Racing Crew chief: Bob Osborne 2011 starts: 36 Poles: 3 Wins: 1 Top 5: 19 Top 10: 26 Annual earnings: $8,485,990 Championship points: 2403 Championship position: 2nd

Which is more important in a motor racing championship: overall performance and consistency, or simply race wins? It's an argument that can be debated in any series, including in F1 with Bernie Ecclestone's call to base the FIA world championship on a 'medal' system for podiums rather than by the slow accretion of points during the year. And we saw that same debate played out for real on track over a season of 36 races in NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2011.

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Carl Edwards was Mr Reliable and Mr Consistency throughout the year: 26 top ten finishes was five more than the next best (which was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, no less.) In the process it earned him almost two million dollars more in income over the year than the eventual Cup winner Tony Stewart. By almost every yardstick imaginable, Edwards had a stellar season.

The only thing missing was visits to victory lane. He came second on six occasions and third place on three more, but the outright wins proved elusive: he got to show off his trademark backflip off the door of the #99 only once, in Las Vegas, at the end of the third race of the season. After that there would be no more, and that left him vulnerable to Tony Stewart's astounding Chase surge of five victories at the end of the year. Perhaps it's vindication of NASCAR's newly overhauled points system that their different roads had ended up with them equal on points after the final race at Homestead-Miami, proof that both paths are equally valid. And if there has to be a tie-breaker, then surely that's when race wins should be the clincher.

Truth is, Edwards really should have won more races than he did. Roush Fenway were strong all season and Edwards himself clearly had the talent, so why did he just fall short by the narrowest of margins? Did his protracted contract renegotiations perhaps distract him at a critical juncture? Or was the running of a simultaneous full-season Nationwide campaign too much of an additional burden? If either one had cost him a single point during 2011, then that was what had eventually cost him the Cup championship.

Edwards was a text book example of how to be a gracious loser. But a big challenge now awaits him: traditionally, the driver who finishes second in the Cup championship has a pretty awful year of it during the following season (just look at Denny Hamlin in 2011.) Will the same sort of 'near-miss hangover' afflict Edwards in 2012, or will he be the exception to the rule - and prove to be even stronger in the next Cup campaign?

Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:

3. Brad Keselowski 4. Matt Kenseth 5. Kevin Harvick 6. Jeff Gordon 7. Marcos Ambrose 8. Jimmie Johnson 9. Kasey Kahne 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.