- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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LEBANON, Tenn. -- While it will shock no one if "Concrete Carl" Edwards strikes another blow for the Nextel Cup Series drivers who continue to dominate the Busch Series, this weekend the series at least will have a different look.
That said, things might not seem all that different at the front of the pack. Edwards, who is dominating the championship standings, won at Nashville Superspeedway back in April, shortly after winning the Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Last Saturday, he claimed the Busch race at Dover -- making him perfect on the series' concrete tracks this season.
Edwards and eight fellow Cup drivers will be in the field for Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 300, but most of the Cup regulars will remain in Pennsylvania for the Pocono 500 Sunday and skip the travel headaches.
That opens up the field for some younger drivers hoping to make their mark in the sport. Chase Miller is making his Busch Series debut with Evernham Motorsports while Kevin Conway and Aric Almirola drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Timothy Peters is in a Richard Childress Racing entry, while Cale Gale and Kertus Davis drive for Kevin Harvick Inc.
Todd Kluever, meanwhile, is back in a Roush Racing entry, while Richard Johns drives for Team Rensi Motorsports and Bobby East makes his Brewco Motorsports debut. Kevin Hamlin gets another race with Chip Ganassi Racing, driving the car normally handled by Juan Pablo Montoya.
While it might be unlikely for any of these part-time drivers to win, or even finish in the top five, how they perform could go a long way in determining what future opportunities they receive.
East knows he'll be running a handful of events for Brewco this season and says his goal in his debut with the team is to finish on the lead lap and then take it from there. He hopes a recent test of an ARCA car at the track pays dividends.
"The biggest thing about going to Nashville is to feel comfortable on the track. By getting some test laps in earlier this year, plus racing there in the truck series [last year], makes a difference," East said. "We left the test real excited and we feel like we're ready for the race this weekend."
He's just glad to be at a track he's familiar with.
"The trucks run different than the cars, but seat time is seat time -- car or truck," East said. "When I raced there in a truck, we didn't run as well as we would have liked last year. Hopefully since I've been there before, I'll adapt quickly to the track and have a good run. Maybe by having that track time early this year helped, but I'm going to use that to my advantage."
The part-time role isn't easy for drivers, especially those just starting out. Conway is making just his third start of the year and the time on the sidelines isn't easy to deal with.
Then again, it's worth it for a shot at quality equipment when he is in the field.
"Sometimes you feel like you're on 'American Idol,' just hoping to survive and go on to the next round each race. But I'm loving it," Conway said. "Bristol and Dover are definitely unique and I liked those tracks a lot. We were able to figure both of them out in just a matter of laps.
"We should definitely be able to make short work out of getting up to speed at Nashville. It has its unique characteristics, but in talking with Denny [Hamlin] and [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff], it's really very much like the cookie-cutter 1.5-mile ovals. So that should flat-line our learning curve a good bit this weekend. It's definitely a track where having a good car will make more of a difference, so I'm looking forward to that a lot."
In the end, though, look for the likes of Edwards and Clint Bowyer to be at the head of the field. Bowyer's made six Busch Series starts at the track and has a win, two seconds and finishes of third, fourth and fifth.
Needless to say, he's considered a favorite on Saturday.
"I don't know what it is we've just always run well at Nashville. It's the first big track I ever ran so it seems like it just fits my driving style," Bowyer said. "We gave a few away -- don't let me kid you -- so this time I'm going to redeem myself for the five races I lost. I think we could have had two or maybe three more of those guitars so I'm going over there to get another one."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Making the Busch race (Nashville) and Cup race (Pocono) this weekend will be doubly difficult for a number of drivers simply because of the geography, which is good news for Carl Edwards.