- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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If Carl Edwards is to get what's still shaping up as a stellar first full season on the Nextel Cup circuit back in high gear, he might well be at the right place this weekend.
Except when he's in Colorado, that is.
Edwards' nearly cross-country-and-back weekend will start in Long
Pond, Pa., where he'll spend Friday practicing for Sunday's Pennsylvania
500. The good news is that he might not need a lot of practice to get back in a groove at a track where he posted his second Cup win just six weeks ago.
The bad news is that Edwards' Roush Racing Ford undoubtedly will
have to be fast in the race -- since the driver will start it from the back of
the pack. After practicing at Pocono, Edwards will fly to Colorado Springs, Colo., for Saturday's Busch Series event.
That will necessitate missing qualifying at Pocono, so he'll start
Sunday's race from the back of the field no matter where six-time ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) champion Frank Kimmel qualifies the No. 99 Ford.
Of course, by Sunday, Edwards should be used to having to try to
race his way through the field. Busch Series practice and qualifying at
Pikes Peak International Raceway will be held Friday, meaning he'll also
start that race from the back of the pack.
To make up for missing practice at PPIR, Edwards and his team
tested there recently. It will be hectic, but he hopes to have struck the
proper balance. A slightly different scenario worked - at least where
Pocono's concerned - back in June.
Edwards was able to qualify the car himself at Pocono in June
before flying to Nashville for a Busch race that never got started because of rain. He ended up giving up the points lead by skipping the race to win at
Pocono the next day.
And he didn't arrive in Pocono until nearly 4 a.m. after waiting
out the rain in Tennessee. This time, at least, the Busch race is an
afternoon affair, so he'll have the opportunity to get a normal night's rest.
Even if that doesn't occur, Edwards isn't about to complain.
"Really, I'm just getting used to the pace. I'm trying to get kind
of acclimated to the pace of how everything is going," he says. "I feel
like I'm getting to the point where it's becoming a little bit normal. It's
not really any extra pressure. It's pretty fun."
In that case, his schedule just looks as though there's no room for the
There's also little margin for error with just seven races left
before the top 10 is locked in for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Edwards was comfortably inside the top 10 a month ago, but incidents at Sonoma, Calif., Daytona, Fla., and Chicago left him on the outside looking in.
A 12th-place finish at New Hampshire this past weekend helped stabilize the situation, and he heads to Pocono 12th in points, just 54 behind 10th-place Dale Jarrett.
Edwards and car owner Jack Roush discussed the driver's recent tough stretch before heading to New Hampshire.
"We sat down at a table, and Jack just said, 'Carl, you've gone out the
last three weeks and had terrible finishes. You've put your car in places
where you probably will learn not to.' He said, 'You can go out here and if you do everything right and you give it 100 percent and you drive the wheels off it, you might win three more races but you'll probably wreck three or four more times and you won't be in that Chase. Or you can go out here and run and try to finish fifth every week and you'll be awesome. You'll be in the Chase, and you'll have no problems.'
"He said, 'I don't care what you do, just realize that those are your
options.' I was like, 'Wow, OK.' And those are the two different ways to
race. I think what I'm gonna try to do is I'm gonna do my best to go out and use the first 75-80 percent of the races just to race for points. ... At the end of that, [crew chief] Bob Osborne and I will talk and say, 'What do you
think the best strategy is?' If we feel like we can go out and drive the
wheels off of it and try to win the race, that's what we'll try to do."
Edwards' goals entering the year were to win at least one race and to make the Chase. So with two wins already, he can make the Chase his primary goal.
"I think now is definitely the time to go race for points. That's
something I'm not really good at yet, so I'm gonna take these next [seven]
races and work on that," he says. "If we don't make the Chase, you're
gonna see one hell of an aggressive driver for those last 10. We're gonna
win some races, so that's the bottom line."
Edwards, though, might not have been that confident heading to
Pocono's unique tri-oval layout for the first time six weeks ago. He had never tested at the track, but he took to it right away and made it pay off.
"We came into Pocono, and I looked at the racetrack. I think I rode
my bicycle around it that night or something with my spotter and we just
talked about all the different parts of the racetrack and I just didn't
know how it was gonna go," Edwards says. "You don't know. To come out of there with a win, I just couldn't believe it.
"It feels very strange. It's weird when you go to a racetrack and you
run up front the whole day. The racetrack looks different to you. It's a
different feeling than going and running in the middle of the pack all day.
You just get a different sense for the racetrack, so Pocono is definitely
one in my mind where I truly believe we have a chance to go back there and win again. I feel like it's an awesome racetrack for me."
If for no other reason than that Edwards has been successful at Pocono before, don't be surprised by anything he accomplishes this time around.
And who knows, he might be quite tired, to boot.
"I might stay up to 4 a.m. just because it worked last time,"
Edwards says with a smile.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.
As if a hectic travel schedule wasn't enough, Carl Edwards will have to start two races at a distinct disadvantage this weekend.