Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup clinch in sight, it's title or bust for No. 99 team
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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- With a berth in NASCAR’s Chase For the NASCAR Sprint Cup within his grasp, Carl Edwards has a simple game plan for the next three weeks.
“We’ve got nothing to lose these last few races,” Edwards, third in points, said after qualifying his Roush Fenway Racing Ford third for tonight’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, “so we’re going to go hard, and we’re going to let it all hang out.”
Have some fun, he said, and hopefully pick up a win between now and the start of the Chase, which begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
|Pos.||Driver||Ahead of 11th||+/-|
|7.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.
|Pos.||Driver||Pts back of 10th||Wins|
|12.||Martin Truex Jr.
With a 103-point spread between himself and 11th-place Kasey Kahne, Edwards can clinch a top-10 Chase spot outright with a win or runner-up finish in tonight’s race, a third-place finish (with at least one lap led) or fourth-place result (if he leads the most laps).
The focus is the championship, and he admits his No. 99 team still has plenty of work to do in the coming weeks. And it all starts here, on the tiny half-mile where he has two wins (2007, ’08) and seven top-10s in 18 career starts.
“I’m not sure if we have a race-winning car,” he said. “I think it’s close for this race.”
Denny Hamlin will start on the Coors Light Pole, the result of a 128.969 mph lap that was slightly off the track record of 129.535 mph set by Kyle Busch earlier this year. Kurt Busch will start second while Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth will start fourth and fifth, respectively.
In spite of his lofty points position, and a win earlier this season at Phoenix, Edwards said he believes Ford teams in general have “struggled relative to some of our competition” of late. The brand has scored only four wins this year, less than half the total of Chevrolet (10) and Toyota (9) teams.
Joey Logano (Penske Racing) is the series’, as well as Ford’s, most recent winner, claiming the victory a week ago in Michigan.
“I think a bright spot for us, or something we can look towards, was Joey last week with his Ford,” Edwards said. “That was pretty impressive, but we feel like we have to be a little bit faster.
“…Consistency wins the championship. It gets you in the Chase and it could win the championship, but you’d like to be really fast as well. You really need both, and I feel like we still have a little bit of speed to make up.”
Edwards might be a bit more at ease given his points position, but he said he’s still mindful of those around him, especially his Ford teammates. He knows the close-quarters racing typical for Bristol invites mayhem -- and one small slip could end a driver’s season prematurely.
So the plan is to race aggressively but be aware of one’s surroundings.
“There are guys in the position that I’m in and we can be pretty aggressive and go out and take some chances and do some things, but I don’t want to negatively impact someone else’s Chase hopes,” he said. “My teammate, Greg Biffle, is right there on the (Chase) bubble, and I don’t want to see him caught up in anything, so I think from my seat, I’m going to be as aggressive as I can be and still respect the situation that everyone is in.”
Given his own situation, he said, “we can kind of just go out there and have some fun and try to get a win. For us right now, this is a great track to come to.
“We get to try a couple things, but, still, we’re focusing on Chicago and Loudon and those races for the Chase, especially with what (crew chief) Jimmy Fennig has accomplished in his career with drivers like Kurt (with whom Fennig won the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004, the last time Ford won the title).
“Anything short of a championship would be a disappointment for us.”
Points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 13th. Kyle Busch, attempting to repeat his 2010 feat of sweeping the NASCAR Camping World Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, will line up 43rd, the result of a crash during his qualifying attempt on Friday.