The Chase: Edwards looking for Kansas "home" victory

Carl Edwards is in the thick of the chase for Nextel Cup and Busch Series titles and is hoping that a solid weekend at his home track will bring him one step closer to those goals. The Roush Racing driver is third in the Nextel Cup standings,...

Carl Edwards is in the thick of the chase for Nextel Cup and Busch Series titles and is hoping that a solid weekend at his home track will bring him one step closer to those goals.

The Roush Racing driver is third in the Nextel Cup standings, three points behind leader Jeff Gordon pending Edwards' appeal of his 25 point penalty for failing to pass inspection after winning at Dover on Sunday. It's his highest points position of the year.

He also has a 754 point on David Reutimann in the Busch Series standings and is looking forward to a double-header weekend at Kansas Speedway.

"I'm really excited to race at Kansas this week," said Edwards, who hails from Columbia, MO, approximately 130 miles from the race track. "It's my hometown track so it will be neat having so many family and friends there."

It's no wonder that Edwards feels at home at this racetrack. He won here in the Craftsman Truck Series race in 2004 and has third and sixth place finishes here in the past two Nextel Cup races.

"Kansas is a really fun track to drive and I think we'll be able to have a good run there," said Edwards, who is looking to become the first driver to claim the Nextel Cup and Busch Series championships in the same year. "We are coming off a great win at Dover and with that momentum in the Chase, the entire Office Depot team is really pumped and looking forward to going racing at the kind of track where we've been successful in the past."

Edwards finished eighth or better in four of the five races leading into the Chase for the Championship. He picked up a 12th place finish to start the Chase followed by his third win of the season last Sunday at Dover.

But with the playoff field expanded to 12 cars for the first time since the new format was introduced in 2004, Edwards feels like this is the most competitive Chase field ever. The top four drivers are separated by just four points heading into the third playoff race this weekend.

"I think this Chase is turning into what people predicted," said Edwards, who has finished on the lead lap in all but one of the past 16 races. "The depth is such that I think you're going to have to win races. We're two races in and to have the top seven guys within 30-something points - that's insane. I think it's going to be an extremely tough Chase. You're going to have to have win races to be leading the points at the end."

Edwards said that after four years under the new format, all of the competitors have a good grasp on what it takes to win the championship.

"I think that folks are used to the format right now," said Edwards, one of 10 drivers that are making repeat appearances in the Chase. "Everyone has seen it happen and watched how guys have won it. I think everybody's points racing very well. People aren't making mistakes."

With the top 10 drivers separated by just 116 points, any of them could realistically switch places with Edwards this weekend. He said that the level of competition forces everyone to be at the top of their game for the final 10-race playoff.

"We're only two races in, but I just can't pick a guy out of the Chase that can't win the thing," Edwards said. "That's why I think it's going to be tough, and its showing."

Edwards believes that he has matured as a race car driver since participating in the Chase for the Championship two years ago and he hopes that experience will help him nail down the championship this year.

"Two years ago, I was learning a lot (and) as a team, we were not as mature as we are now, so it is a little different," said Edwards, who finished third in the championship chase in 2005 but missed the cut last year. "My perspective is (different) for sure. I look at it completely differently now. I look at it (as) go out at gain points, we can win the championship, don't make mistakes. Where in 2005 I thought pretty much, 'I'm just going to go race as hard as I can and see what happens.' So, it's different in that way."

Cut to the Chase: Kansas Speedway (Chase Race 3 of 10)

1. Jeff Gordon (5,340 points) -- Gordon turned a not-so-great day into a respectable 11th place finish last weekend at Dover to reclaim the championship lead. He won the first two Cup races at Kansas, but limped to a 39th place finish here last year,

2. Tony Stewart (2 points behind the leader) -- Stewart is becoming the model of consistency. He finished ninth last weekend for his ninth top-10 finish in the past 10 races. He has top-eight finishes in five of six races at Kansas, including a win here last year.

3. Carl Edwards (3 points behind the leader) - Edwards is appealing his 25 point penalty for failing to pass post-race inspection after winning at Dover last week. If the penalty stands, Edwards would drop to sixth place, 28 points behind Gordon. He finished sixth here last year.

4. Jimmie Johnson (4 points behind the leader) -- Johnson slipped out of the points lead after finishing 14th last week. He finished 14th after leading 105 laps here last year and has three top-10s in five tries.

5. Kyle Busch (10 points behind the leader) -- Busch snagged his second straight top-five to start the Chase last weekend. He has jumped from ninth to fifth and is within easy striking distance of the top of the pack. He finished seventh here last year after leading 64 laps.

6. Clint Bowyer (18 points behind the leader) -- Bowyer finished 12th last week and slipped down two spots in the standings. The Emporia, Kansas native led 43 laps and finished ninth at his home track last year.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (46 points behind the leader) -- Truex finished 13th at Dover last week but didn't look nearly as strong as he did when he grabbed his first career victory there in June. It may have been more of a case of the field catching up than Truex slipping. He finished 11th in his debut at Kansas last year.

8. Jeff Burton (75 points behind the leader) -- Burton finished seventh last week and bumped up a couple of spots. It may have kept his hopes alive for his first championship. Last year he earned his first top-5 finish in six trips to Kansas.

9. Kevin Harvick (115 points behind the leader) -- Harvick finished 20th last week and has just one top-10 finish in the past eight races. He needs a great finish this week to get his hopes back up, but he hasn't had much success at KS, finishing 15th here last year.

10. Matt Kenseth (116 points behind the leader) - Kenseth was a front-runner last week in Dover before his motor expired in the closing laps. He finished 35th and watched his chances for claiming his second championship go up in smoke. He was fifth at Kansas in 2005 but slipped to 23rd last year.

11. Kurt Busch (151 points behind the leader) -- Busch touched off a spectacular wreck in the closing laps at Dover that claimed a bunch of cars and his hopes of another series title. He has started both Chase races at the front of the field, but doesn't have anything to show for it. His sixth place finish in 2004 was his best effort in six Kansas races.

12. Denny Hamlin (158 points behind the leader) -- Hamlin led 61 laps but his disastrous 38th place finish last week will be all but impossible to overcome. His 18th place finish here last year was his best in two tries.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , David Reutimann , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch