News & Media


Happy Hour: Edwards admits any Kentucky advantage is gone

July 08, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

SPARTA, Ky. -- Two test sessions have leveled the playing field with proof in final practice

If Carl Edwards hopes to regain the Sprint Cup points lead he has held for most of this season, the first item on his checklist at Kentucky Speedway this weekend is simple.

He just has to keep his cool.

"I thought there would be a bigger advantage, but it doesn't look like that will be the case. This test day kind of negated that advantage, I think."

--CARL EDWARDS

Not as in his temper, but rather as in the temperature inside the No. 99 Ford he drives for Roush Fenway Racing. After an early-race wreck last Saturday night at Daytona ripped the crush panel from his car, Edwards quickly began experiencing intense and uncomfortable heat at a level he had never previously had to endure inside a cockpit.

"Whatever was going on back there, it was pumping the exhaust fumes directly into the car," Edwards said. "That's the hottest I've ever been in my life -- by a large margin."

He doesn't expect to have to battle such adversity in Saturday's inaugural Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. But after initially believing he and the likes of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski might have an advantage on other Sprint Cup drivers because they've run Nationwide Series races at the 1.5-mile track in recent years, Edwards also said he thinks that possible advantage disappeared during a lengthy test session Thursday.

"I felt like I had an advantage the first two or three runs out there [during Thursday's test], and then it seemed like everybody figured it out," Edwards said. "The other thing is that the Nationwide cars drive so much differently. The Cup cars, you are off the throttle, the front end of the car is loaded longer in the corner. The bumps [in the track] feel different; the way you apply the throttle is different.

"I thought there would be a bigger advantage, but it doesn't look like that will be the case. This test day kind of negated that advantage, I think."

The top lap speeds posted during Friday's final Cup practice bore out Edwards' opinion. Kyle Busch, who topped the Happy Hour speed chart with a top lap of 182.803 mph, has considerable recent experience running at Kentucky and won the Camping World Truck Series race at the venue Thursday night. But he was followed in the top five by a foursome who obviously benefitted from Thursday's test session: Juan Montoya (182.500 mph), Kurt Busch (182.346 mph), Kasey Kahne (182.291 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (182.285 mph).

Johnson, the five-time defending Cup Series champion, said there was no question that Thursday's extensive test period -- during which teams collectively logged more than 4,000 laps -- was necessary and beneficial to those, such as himself, who have not run much at the Kentucky track in recent years.

"It was nice to get that on-track experience to close the gap between the experienced drivers here and the ones that weren't," Johnson said.

Johnson said when Thursday's open testing session first began, he attempted to follow Keselowski around the 1.5-mile loop to see what he could learn from the driver who has been a regular in recent years in Nationwide races at the track.

"During my first laps on the track, I had Brad behind me. I let him go and got in behind him just to see what line he was running," Johnson said. "He only showed me [Turns] 1 and 2 and then he pulled off and came to pit road. I wish I could have followed him a little bit more. It was a big help."

Obviously. Keselowski ended up sixth on the final practice speed chart, one spot behind Johnson. He turned a fast lap of 181.861 mph.

Edwards, meanwhile, was seventh (181.824 mph) and hopes to rebound Saturday after being relegated to a 37th-place finish at Daytona. It was his second 37th-place finish in four races, matching the 37th he posted at Pocono in early June. Even though he finished fifth and third at Michigan and Sonoma in the two races in between, he lost the points lead to Kevin Harvick for the first time in 10 weeks after the Daytona debacle.

"It's a bit of a reality check for us," said Edwards, who has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes this season but only one win -- at Las Vegas in the third race of the season. "Although it has felt nice to be atop the standings, if the Chase started [now] we wouldn't be atop the standings. We need four wins to be on top and we don't have four wins.

"So I think [the slip in the standings] has been good, in a way, for us. It puts us back on the offensive, and we can go out and test ourselves a little bit here these last nine races. It's nine races before the Chase starts, right? So essentially we get a practice Chase, starting right now. I am curious to see how we can perform."

Performing well at Kentucky, where Edwards won a Nationwide event in 2005 and finished second in last year's Nationwide race, would be a good start to the rest of his season.

"If we can climb back to the top of the standings and build a big points lead again, it will give us confidence going into the Chase," Edwards said. "We are looking at what happened in Daytona as an opportunity to take a step back and look at the reality of the situation that we have to beat these guys in the final 10 races."

One of those would-be contenders, Denny Hamlin, suffered a setback during Friday's final practice when his No. 11 Toyota team elected to make an engine change after he turned only two laps. Hamlin was 26th-fastest on the speed chart with a top lap speed of 180.264 mph, but the engine change means he will have to start at the rear of the 43-car field in Saturday's race.

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