Carl Edwards is eager to take on the challenge.
Still pushing for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Edwards and the rest of the series drivers head this week for Sonoma, Calif., where a road-course race awaits.
“Sonoma is one of the most fun tracks we go to,” Edwards, who finished in third place on the 10-turn layout last year, said. “It is real slippery and it is so much different than what most of us grew up racing. It is a huge challenge.
“It is one of the tracks I look forward to the most.”
Edwards, who is 11th in Sprint Cup points, did not gain ground, or lose any, in the 400-mile race at Michigan International Speedway on Father’s Day.
Battling a loose condition in his No. 99 Ford Fusion, Edwards finished 11th after starting 42nd on the repaved 2-mile oval at MIS.
“I am glad we finished in one piece and got a decent day,” Edwards said.
Edwards, the runner-up in the 2011 Chase, is two points behind 10th place and the last automatic berth for this year’s Chase.
Still seeking his first win of 2012, Edwards, who has eight top-10 finishes in the 15 races run to date, is fifth in the wild card standings.
He relishes the opportunity to improve his position at the 2.52-mile Infineon Raceway, in the first of two Sprint Cup road-course races of the season.
“It is a very physical race and it is usually hot out there and grueling,” said Edwards, a physical-fitness buff. “A good run there, to me, is special. It says a lot about not only the car and team, but there is a lot of pride as a driver to run well because it is so much work.
“It is so neat to drive a stock car like that with all the horsepower, and you are shifting gears and jumping off curbs and locking up the tires.”
Matt Kenseth, who finished third at MIS behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, and retained the Sprint Cup points lead, finished 14th at Sonoma in 2011.
“That has probably been my worst track since we started racing in the Cup series,” said the career-long Ford driver and 2000 Rookie of the Year. “It is always a challenge.”
Kenseth will take to the West Coast the same goals he has every race for his No. 17 Fusion.
“You go there working as hard as you can in practice to get your car to drive as good as it can,” Kenseth said, “and certainly there are a lot more opportunities for mistakes from a driver’s standpoint at that track.
“It is a lot different (at Sonoma). You go there thinking about different things because your driving style and things you do in the car are a lot different.”
Greg Biffle, whose No. 16 Fusion finished fourth at Michigan, remained third in the standings. He was 23rd at Sonoma last year.
Marcos Ambrose, the pole winner at MIS in the No. 9 Fusion, was ninth at Michigan for his third top-10 finish in the last five races.
One of the more effective road-course racers in the Sprint Cup ranks, Ambrose was fifth at Sonoma and then won at Watkins Glen last year.
He enters the Sonoma race 17th in points, 70 markers out of 10th place.
Ricky Rudd gave Ford its most recent victory at Sonoma in 2002.