Edwards continues his transition to a new team and new car.
ATLANTA – Carl Edwards had a dream at Daytona that he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates would sweep the first three races of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series.
Obviously, Edwards' prognostication did not play out.
Matt Kenseth did win the first race of the season – the Sprint Unlimited – but not a points race. Certainly, Kenseth had a car capable of winning the Daytona 500. The veteran racer could have easily gone two-for-two had he not been wrecked 42 laps into the 500.
Kyle Busch has two Cup wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway – his second in 2013. Prior to misfortunes in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona, which have sidelined him with a broken right leg and left foot for the next few months, Busch could have easily been a contender on the 1.5-mile track or even at his home track – Las Vegas.
Denny Hamlin was also stout at Daytona, but had nothing for winner Joey Logano at the end. Still, Atlanta has provided the driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota with a solid stage. Since earning the pole in 2010, Hamlin has posted finishes of first, third and eighth. In the other two races his engine failed. Still, 222 of his 351 laps led at Atlanta were earned in those races.
And then there’s Edwards. Like his JGR teammates, the No. 19 was sporty in the Great American Race. He led three circuits but was shuffled back in the pack during the closing laps and couldn’t recover. As for the next two races, Edwards has three wins here and two at next weekend’s venue – Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A watershed moment
But it was the Cup race at Atlanta in 2005 that proved to be "a turning point” in Edwards’ life when he beat Jimmie Johnson to the line by 0.028-seconds for his first career win in his 17th Cup start. The track has continued to be one of his best venues on the circuit.
It's a fast track with a lot of character.
“This place is just fun and it's as good as ever,” Edwards said. “It's fun to drive here and I like it. It's a fast track with a lot of character. The corners aren't perfect – there's bumps and seams and spots with no grip and spots with a ton of grip. It's not perfect, it's got character. You throw the car down in the corner here and you toss that thing in sideways at 195 mph and you have to manage your tires.
“It's just a real fun race track. If you don't have the fastest car in one area you can make it up somewhere else and you just have to drive the whole way. It's a good place to race. To me, we could race here every week and I'd be happy. I love it."
Getting up to speed
Edwards rolls off fifth in the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota on Sunday – the same position where he landed in Happy Hour with a lap of 189.493 mph. It was the third day on the 1.5-miler that Edwards had to work with his new team and acclimate to a new car with a new aero and engine package and different tires. Edwards acknowledged that he’s “all for less and less downforce, so the farther we go in that direction, the better it is.”
The new package is a little bit different – it feels like we have more on throttle time.
As for his early review of the 2015 Camry, Edwards said, “The car feels great.”
“I'm still getting used to the seat and the wheel in the right position and getting my steering box the right speed and all that stuff, but it feels good,” Edwards added. “The new package is a little bit different – it feels like we have more on throttle time. We're not out of the throttle as much, so I have to get used to that a little here – it changes the way you drive this place being on the throttle a little more.
“It also looks like we're being real hard on tires right now, so we'll have to manage that and watch how that goes. Everything seems pretty good."
One thing is clear, Edwards brings a lot of confidence into Atlanta Motor Speedway. And while his pre-season prediction did not come true, he knows it’s in the best interest of the No. 19 ARRIS team to lock down a win early – and that’s not out of the question at Atlanta where he has nine top fives and 11 top 10 finishes in 17 starts.
“We've got ARRIS on board this weekend and Atlanta is where ARRIS is based,” Edwards said. “It was really cool last week at Daytona and we had a great run. We want to continue that. We feel like this is an opportunity to go get a victory and lock ourselves into the Chase early on."