Edwards believes title's still within reach
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Carl Edwards has never had more fun.
Being part of NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship in his first full year on the elite stock car circuit is unexpected, but it is also everything the 26-year-old driver could have hoped for.
Edwards got his opportunity last year when Jeff Burton left Roush Racing's five-car stable at midseason for Richard Childress Racing. He took full advantage of the surprising jump from the Craftsman Truck Series -- the racing equivalent of going from Double-A to the majors in baseball.
Edwards came up with a top-five and five top-10s in 13 starts -- more than enough to justify team owner Jack Roush keeping him in the No. 99 Ford this season.
Now, heading into the seventh race of the Chase -- Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- Edwards is fifth in the standings, trailing leader Tony Stewart by 149 points, with Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle in between.
Newman won his sixth straight Atlanta pole on Friday, with Edwards second. Stewart qualified 10th, Johnson 12th and Biffle 16th.
"To be honest with you, I am surprised," Edwards said of his quick success. "This is my first full season of Cup competition and I got signed up for this at just the right time. The [Roush] teams are as strong as they can be, we've got the smartest people around us, the bodies are great, the engines are great.
"I think I'm the one that benefits and it's making me look really good. The success we've had is not all my doing, that's for sure. But I am enjoying it."
Biffle, in only his third full season in Cup after a considerably longer apprenticeship than Edwards, 10 years his junior, is amazed by what his teammate has already accomplished.
"I'm very surprised about his performance," Biffle said Friday before the first of two practices at the suburban Atlanta track. "He has done a very good job."
In March, Biffle dominated the race here, leading the most laps, but wound up finishing third as Edwards outdueled Johnson for his first of two Cup victories.
"His car was similar to mine when he won Atlanta versus me finishing third, and it was just who was in front," Biffle said. "It was merely track position at the end of the race, so he's got the ability to drive the race cars."
Biffle pointed out that Edwards has also been able to take full advantage of information sharing with his four veteran teammates, all of them among the 10 drivers who qualified for the Chase and all of whom are behind him in the current points.
"If you give him the right car and the car is balanced properly, it's got the right aero numbers and all that, and then he's got to drive it, that makes it much easier to bring a guy in and be competitive right off," said Biffle, 66 points ahead of his teammate. "I'm excited that we're able to do that as a company, to be able to provide Carl with such a great opportunity. And he's taken advantage of it."
And Edwards, who has finished third and first in his only Cup races on the 1.5-mile Atlanta track, doesn't feel like he's just along for the ride in the Chase.
"I think we're just on the outside of having a good chance to win the championship," Edwards said. "So, if we were to do it, it would be spectacular. It would be a long shot, but, I'll tell you what, stranger things have happened.
"You know there's only four guys I'd trade with right now in the garage, points-position wise. So, I think we're doing OK. We'll make something happen here."
Edwards said he realizes winning the championship this year would be an incredible coup for someone with as little experience as he has on this level.
"Everything is a bonus right now," he said. "We didn't expect to be in the Chase. We don't have pressure on us, necessarily, to win the championship. It's all self-imposed pressure. We're in the perfect position. Just go out here and do the best you can, have a good time and everything's gravy."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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