Commentary

Big Bad Dega not on Edwards' good side

Updated: April 25, 2009, 7:19 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- As far as Carl Edwards is concerned, restrictor-plate racing doesn't belong in his world.

"In a way, I know it's exciting for the fans," Edwards said on Friday. "But I personally don't think this style of racing should be a part of the Sprint Cup Series. It's just too bad we have to race like this."

So take that, all you Talladega and Daytona fans. Edwards can live without either speedway.

But who can blame him? The memory of Talladega last fall still haunts Edwards.

He went to Dega 10 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the top spot in the Chase. He left 72 points back. He outscored Johnson the rest of the way but lost the title by 69 points.

Returning to Talladega brings the what-ifs back for Edwards: "If not for Talladega …"

[+] EnlargeCarl Edwards
AP Photo/Kevin GlackmeyerTalladega has not been kind to Carl Edwards at times, including this wreck last fall in which the driver of the 99 car, second from right, took the blame.

And he has only himself to blame. One tiny mistake on the giant Alabama oval caused a big wreck and made scrap metal of Edwards' car with 14 laps to go.

Edwards picked the wrong place on the track to try to bump-draft teammate Greg Biffle. Edwards tried to push Biffle through Turn 3, but Biffle got loose and his car started to spin.

A chain-reaction crash ensued; 12 cars were involved. Half of them were Chase contenders: Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, along with Biffle and Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly, it made Edwards the designated bad guy of the Chase. Harvick and Edwards had a well-publicized confrontation over the incident one week later at Charlotte.

So it's easy to understand why Edwards views restrictor-plate racing in general, and Talladega specifically, with disdain.

"You've really got to go out there and put yourself in a position where you're just at the mercy of everything," Edwards said. "I hope someday we can find a way to race at these tracks without being in that position."

That debate has been going on for two decades. Without the restrictor plate choking down horsepower, these cars would be 3,400-pound missiles, zooming around the two giant ovals at more than 230 mph.

The risk of serious consequences from an accident, like a car going airborne and flying into the grandstands, is too great even to consider it.

The other ideas presented over the years are to greatly reduce engine size or eliminate the banking at both tracks, neither of which is considered a viable option.

So plate racing is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And Edwards knows it. That means bump-drafting in tight packs of cars inches apart at 190 mph with little throttle response.

Drivers hate it; many fans love it. Edwards knows he has to learn to deal with it if he's going to win a championship, so he's trying to look at the bright side.

"It's nerve-racking, in a way, to race here," Edwards said. "But it's something that's so different, it's a cool change of pace."

"Cool" isn't how things have gone for Edwards in most of his restrictor-plates races. He has only three finishes in the top 15 in nine Daytona starts, but he did finish second in the July event last year.

Edwards has three top-10s at Talladega, but he also has five finishes of 29th or worse, including three of the past four Dega events in his No. 99 Ford.

And there's more bad news. Ford has only one victory at Talladega since 1999. Dale Jarrett's fall victory in 2005 is the only Ford winner here in the past 20 Cup races.

But things are looking up. Ford has two victories in the past five plate races. Jamie McMurray won the 2007 July race at Daytona and Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 to start this season.

Kenseth knows the restrictor plate is about the only thing Daytona and Talladega have in common.

"Daytona is bumpy and more of a handling track," Kenseth said. "It has much tighter corners and a worn-out surface, so handling is very important.

Edwards Every time I come to these tracks, I know the opportunity is there to get that first one.

-- Carl Edwards

"Talladega's new surface is so smooth that it's more like a 200-miles-per-hour go-kart track. Everyone's car handles there and you run wide open all day. It's more about drafting and getting in the right position."

Edwards still is trying to figure it out at both plate tracks. He's 0-for-18 and counting at Daytona and Talladega.

Maybe he should talk to Johnson about that problem. Johnson was winless at the plate tracks the first four years of his career. When he finally figured it out in his fifth season, winning at Daytona and Talladega in 2006, he won his first championship.

Edwards, 29, now is racing his fifth full Cup season. Could history repeat itself if Edwards overcomes his plate woes and finds a way to win?

"Every time I come to these tracks, I know the opportunity is there to get that first one," Edwards said. "But it's a big challenge just to make it through the race without being a part of an accident."

Edwards, who ranks eighth entering Sunday's Aaron's 499, had three victories at this point last year. He is winless in 2009.

Winning at Talladega requires avoiding disaster and being in the right place at the right time near the end.

Come to think of it, so does winning a championship. For Edwards, maybe that's the secret.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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