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
"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."