Edwards flips for Atlanta

During his relatively short NASCAR career, Carl Edwards has developed a flair for the dramatic. The 25-year-old from Columbia, Missouri comes across as a laid back, polite, respectful young driver, but don't let his demeanor fool you. When he ...

During his relatively short NASCAR career, Carl Edwards has developed a flair for the dramatic.

The 25-year-old from Columbia, Missouri comes across as a laid back, polite, respectful young driver, but don't let his demeanor fool you. When he puts himself in the position to win a race, Edwards is as assertive as they come.

On a late-race restart at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Halloween, Edwards was behind teammate Mark Martin, a 20-year Cup Series veteran. Edwards had fresher tires than his more experienced teammate and was looking to get by him to make a run at leader Jimmie Johnson. His entire team was fighting for their jobs for the 2005 season and Edwards knew he had a chance to take them to victory lane. Martin pulled away in the closing laps and Edwards finished third - his first Cup Series Top-5 finish - but he learned a valuable lesson. Edwards was quickly understanding that he had the equipment and skill to compete for wins at the sport's highest level.

"That was a little bit nerve-wracking," Edwards reflected on his 13-race initiation to Cup racing last year. "I don't have very much experience in these types of race cars to begin with, so I was a little nervous that maybe they were asking me to do something a little bit early. Then I thought, 'Man, you don't get very many opportunities like this. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and if I'm not prepared for it well enough, I could really set myself back a long way.' It was my one opportunity and I think that pressure really helped me a little bit. I like that kind of pressure and it really made us run a little better."

On Friday, Edwards qualified fourth - the same spot he started in his debut in Atlanta last October - and then paced Happy Hour at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was looking to claim the pole for Sunday's Golden Corral 500 (12:30 p.m. Eastern on FOX), but Edwards is satisfied with his first top-10 starting spot of the season.

"That felt like a really good lap all the way up to turn three," Edwards said of his qualifying lap. "I tried just too hard in turn three and it was loose. I knew I should have been a little more conservative, but it was either all or nothing there and I'm just glad we didn't wreck. Man, I wanted to be on the pole for this race."

Edwards joined Roush Racing's Craftsman Truck Series program in 2002 and first gained attention by doing backflips off of his truck to celebrate victories. Edwards and Roush combined for six Truck Series wins in two years and when Jeff Burton decided not to renew his option for the 2005 season, Roush tabbed Edwards to fill the seat of the number 99 Ford. Edwards finished 10th in his Cup Series debut last August in Michigan, but it was in Atlanta where he came closest to performing his gymnastics routine for his first Cup Series win.

"It's always hard to come into a new series, or at least it has been for me, and get that feeling of, 'Man, I belong here. I can race with these guys and I deserve to lead these races,'" Edwards admitted despite picking up five top-10 finishes in 13 races last season. "I don't feel like I'm quite to that point yet, but every time I have a good run I feel a little bit better, so those are definitely confidence builders."

Edwards started this season with a 12th-place run in the Daytona 500. He led 33 laps and finished fifth at Fontana before a 14th place finish in Las Vegas last weekend. He also has top-10 finishes in all four Busch Series races so far this season and is second in the point standings behind fellow Cup regular Kevin Harvick.

"We've had some really good runs and I think that says a lot about the team that I'm involved with," said Edwards, who started racing in dirt modifieds in Missouri before graduating to USAC midgets. "Not knowing much about these race tracks and these race cars and the competitors, I think it's the team being so well prepared and having such great people and great teammates to lean on. That's what's helped me the most, but, yes, definitely some of these runs have been really surprising. It's really neat to be able to run that well in the Nextel Cup Series."

Despite their strong run in Atlanta last year, the number 99 team elected to test at AMS two weeks ago. The group wanted to make sure that they were ready for another strong run in Atlanta this weekend.

"The rules package is different and the tires are different, so we wanted to make sure - even though it's the same chassis and we did our very best to get the car as good as it was last season - that we would come back here and run really well," said Edwards, who finished seventh in his only Truck Series start in Atlanta. "We unloaded the car and it was great. It was really fast, so we actually cut off the second day of our test because we felt so good about it. We weren't really looking for anything new, we were just making sure we were alright."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Mark Martin