Commentary

Carl Edwards & Co. go back to basics

Updated: February 26, 2011, 11:59 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Forget about pairs racing, engine temperatures rising, tires lasting forever and drivers blabbering on the radio to non-teammates on the track.

That was last week at Daytona. This is a different world at Phoenix, back to old-school racing. In the eyes of many drivers, it's back to real racing.

"Running 202 miles per hour at Daytona two-by-two, that's racing too," Carl Edwards said Friday. "It's a different style of racing."

Much different, but it's back to basics Sunday for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

"Auto racing is about driving down into the corner and managing the throttle and the brakes and the grip of the tires," Edwards said. "The other thing, [restrictor-plate racing] is something we do four times a year. The other 32 times is racing like this, tracks where you can control more."

[+] EnlargeCarl Edwards
Tom Pennington/NASCAR/Getty ImagesCarl Edwards enters Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 as the Sprint Cup points leader.

Edwards, who starts on the pole Sunday, has things under control for the moment. He has the unusual situation of leading the Sprint Cup standings after one race even though he finished second in the Daytona 500.

Surprising winner Trevor Bayne is racing for the Nationwide title, so he wasn't awarded any points for his victory.

That put Edwards on top heading to the track he won at last November. Is he the favorite Sunday?

"I don't know if I'm the favorite, but I plan on winning the race," Edwards said. "I don't know if it's gonna work out like that."

Sunday is the last race on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval before the surface is repaved and reconfigured. Some drivers aren't too happy about the planned renovations.

"They already kind of messed it up," Tony Stewart said Friday. "I said a long time ago when they took the Goodyear bridge away and the exit at Turn 2, they screwed it up. Anything they do now is not going to matter to me anymore."

PIR is a relatively flat track, but it's being changed to add progressive banking, meaning the banking increases from the bottom to the top.

"There's no guarantee progressive banking will make it better," Stewart said. "This has been an historic, famed racetrack out West for a long time. They already took away the mystique it once had, and it looks like they are going to do it again."

Well, you can't please everybody, but new asphalt and more banking won't lead to tandem racing or anything like it.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesFive-time defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson is in a hole after a 27th-place finish at Daytona.

The teams aren't worried about the changes for now. Sunday is about getting it done on the gnarly old pavement and tar lines that fill the cracks.

"This racetrack is fun because it's old," Kyle Busch said Saturday. "The layout is cool, too, with the differences in the turns and dogleg on the backstretch."

All that will change after Sunday's race. Drivers confident in their skills don't like repaves, feeling it diminishes their advantage over other drivers.

"It brings the field a lot closer together," Busch said. "There's more room for error on a setup when you have fresh pavement."

But all tracks reach a point where repaving is a must-do. The PIR pavement is 21 years old.

Drivers get one last chance to make the most of it on the old surface. For the championship contenders who had bad results at Daytona, Sunday also is about making up ground .

"The good news for us is all the other good cars that had problems last week," said Kevin Harvick, who finished 42nd after an engine failure at Daytona. "I couldn't even tell you who half of the top 10 [in points] are."

After race No. 1 of 36, the top 10 includes David Gilliland, Regan Smith, Paul Menard and AJ Allmendinger, drivers unaccustomed to such lofty heights.

And drivers 25th or worse include Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Harvick, all of whom were in the Chase last year.

That will change over the next few weeks at tracks where it doesn't take two to tango.

Terry Blount is a senior writer 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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