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CONCORD, N.C. -- It's raining. Hard. Steady.
But there is Carl Edwards, hanging out in the garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway next to his No. 99 Ford Fusion with his new crew as they do whatever they can to the new "Gen 6" car before NASCAR officially rules the first of this two-day test a wash around noon.
"The bright side of the rain for me is I get to spend a little more time with the guys here, a little more time at the shop," Edwards says.
Edwards was the only driver here for much of the morning. Gradually, David Ragan and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrived. Bobby Labonte showed up, too. There are Twitter signs Juan Pablo Montoya was around.
Most drivers stayed home.
But Edwards is on a mission to forget a 2012 season in which he lost crew chief Bob Osborne to an illness, failed to win a race and failed to make the Chase a year after losing the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker.
He's committed to making the most of every moment of this offseason -- even when it's raining so hard NASCAR's new track drying mechanism would be rendered ineffective -- if it is ready for use.
"Sometimes when we get a break like this it breaks the normal cycle and I get to get more in-depth with the guys," Edwards says. "I haven't had to do that for a while. Bob and I had been together for so long, we knew each other pretty well.
"With a new group, it's something I have to work harder at because it is important to have personal relationships and understand the things they like and don't like."
Edwards inherited crew chief Jimmy Fennig and most of the No. 17 crew that worked with former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth last season. Only two members of his former team -- an engine tuner and his spotter -- came with him.
So Thursday was important for him even if it wasn't for a lot of drivers.
Fennig let him know that -- early.
"Jimmy Fennig was the first text message I got this morning," Edwards says. "He had an alternate plan. He said, 'Since it's raining, go by the shop first and then come to the track.'
"He had my whole schedule set up by 7 a.m. To me, that's what Jimmy's good at. He thinks of me as more of a tool, maybe in more ways than one."
Edwards laughs, then continues: "He thinks of me as a tool in his toolbox that helps him go win races."
This is a new world for Edwards. Osborne was more laid-back. He and his driver knew each other so well there would have been no need to text him on a rainy test day.
Fennig is more stern, in some ways more demanding. He doesn't say a lot, but when he says it there's a purpose.
"Jimmy hasn't said this, but I think he's feeling me out, too," Edwards says. "He wants me to be around as much as possible. We're communicating more."
Fennig's purpose for Thursday was to get Edwards by the shop and track to test out his new seat.
"The car we brought to test he's never sat in," Fennig says. "I'm the type person I want to use my test testing. I don't want to use it sitting in the car. He sat in the car and everything looks fine."
Little was fine last season for Edwards. He finished 15th in points and had only three top-5 finishes after having 19 the year before. He led a lap in only five races, and none in the final 12.
"Thanks to a lot of you guys and a lot of fans, I have heard every possible reason for my lack of winning last year," Edwards says. "I have looked at a lot of it, and what I have done is just dedicate myself to being the very best driver I can be."
That starts with getting to know his new team come rain or shine. That he is one of the few drivers who doesn't live in the Charlotte area -- he flew from his home in Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday -- gave him little reason not to be here.
|Carl Edwards somehow kept smiling through an awful 2012.|
"In the 10 years or so I've worked with [RFR] I lived here in Charlotte for three or four years," Edwards says. "I've seen the good and bad of being here all the time, and I've seen the good and bad of being gone. Some of our best successes have happened when I haven't been to the shop for months."
This is different, though. This is a new team with a new car and a driver feeling the need to prove himself all over again.
"You do build that foundation where you get to know people a little bit and understand everybody's role," Edwards says. "The most important thing for me is to make sure right off the bat everybody knows I want to hear their opinions and I want to hear their critiques of me."
One thing Brad Keselowski made clear last season en route to his first title was the importance -- in his mind -- of being around the shop and crew every day possible. Many drivers don't subscribe to that theory, but it's hard to argue against the results.
"We've got to get his input on what the car is doing," Fennig says. "But he does what he wants. I'm not the director of what his deal is."
But if being around the team gives him an edge, Edwards will make the time for it just as Earnhardt felt it was important for him to drive here to be with his crew.
"I'll get something out of everybody on a rainy day," Fennig says with a laugh.
Edwards can't wait for Fennig to get something out of him on the track. This is the first time he's seen the "Gen 6" car for the mile-and-a-half tracks that make up a major portion of the schedule -- on which he led only one lap a year ago after leading 349 in 2011.
"This test has been the biggest thing on my calendar all winter," Edwards says.
It's still raining. Hard. Steady.
Edwards has plans to go to RFR later and work on his welding skills with the shop foreman. And no, Fennig won't let him weld on the new car.
"Hell no," Edwards says. "I'll probably weld up the mailbox or something."
Edwards notices a flock of birds over the back stands. He notices no other drivers are with their teams. He doesn't blame them.
"It's raining," he reminds with a smile. "If my house was right up the road it wouldn't be hard for me to leave."
But he wouldn't have.
This is an important time for him.