HAMPTON, Ga. -- Carl Edwards is a victim of expectations -- including his own.
After a sensational Nextel Cup season in 2005 -- his first full year in NASCAR's top series -- Edwards has stumbled off the starting line this year.
He crashed out of the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished last, bounced back with a third-place finish at California and then suffered through a very frustrating 26th-place run last Sunday in Las Vegas.
That left Edwards 23rd in the standings, 284 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson heading into Sunday's Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The generally slow start hasn't got the 26-year-old racer down, though.
"Honestly, I've failed way more times than I've succeeded," he said Friday after the opening practice session on the 1.5-mile oval on which he won both Cup races in 2005. "Some of my failures have been a lot worse and more embarrassing than Las Vegas.
"I'm pretty confident I know what we did wrong at Las Vegas, and that's pretty comforting because, if we were to run that bad and not know what went wrong, that would be pretty scary."
Edwards said the team simply chose the wrong springs to run in Las Vegas.
"We brought the same car here and it's fast, so it wasn't the car."
Still, after struggling at two of the first three races, Edwards let a little bit of desperation creep into this thinking -- at least temporarily.
"I caught myself this week getting a little nervous, thinking, 'Man, I've got to go here and win this race again.' But that's not the case," he said. "The case is we have to be in the top 10 in points at Richmond in the fall, and that's all that we have to do.
"To do that, you can't wreck, you can't mess up. If we run second, we run second. I'm not going to break the car trying to win it."
This has been a great track for Edwards, who also finished fourth in the fall of 2004 in his only other Cup start here.
"Coming to this track, this is what we need right now," he said. "We need to just get out of here with a top five run, just like we did at California, and maybe lead some laps, move ourselves up in the points.
"We had such a terrible week in Daytona, and Las Vegas was surprisingly bad. We didn't expect that, so we need a good one."
Mark Martin, his veteran teammate at Roush Racing, agreed with Edwards that it's way too soon to be worried about the youngster's performance.
"Just because he's not stacked up in the points doesn't mean he's not going to get there and going to have the great success that we all know he will have," Martin said.
Edwards, who celebrates race wins with a back flip off his car, said he can live with a slow start, but wants to get things turned around as quickly as possible.
"We had a great year [in 2005]. We had a lot of good luck and things went our way a lot," he said. "But we did have some bad luck, too. I mean, we went to Bristol and wrecked in qualifying, wrecked out at Martinsville, wrecked at Talladega, wrecked at the second Daytona.
"Hopefully, we won't have any more bad luck this year. And we're not changing our strategy. I'm not panicking but, if we go to Martinsville, Bristol and Talladega and wreck, that's going to make for a miserable season."
Edwards said he and his No. 99 Ford team expect more of themselves than they've managed so far in 2006.
"If we didn't, we wouldn't be the competitors that we are," he said. "Our whole team, we want to perform at the highest level. And, to do that, we have to have a little bit of luck. But we can also be better at some decision-making stuff and I can do a little better job driving.
"Hey, man, if it was all easy, it wouldn't be as much fun when you win."