Fresh off win, Edwards takes nothing for granted
March 21, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
FONTANA, Calif. -- One Bristol Motor Speedway victory and five days later, Carl Edwards didn't sound like a driver who had locked up his fate for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. Then again, he didn't sound like a driver dealing with a vast amount of uncertainty either.
His outlook was somewhere in the middle.
"The biggest thing it does is take pressure off, and allow us to go have more fun," Edwards said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "It is nice to be able to race like that."
But even though this year's new "win and you're in" format means a regular-season victory virtually clinches a Chase berth, Edwards isn't giving the accumulation of points short shrift.
"Of course. Mathematically we aren't in the Chase," said Edwards, who jumped from a tie for sixth to third in the Sprint Cup Series standings after his first victory of the year. "If 26 guys win races then the points are going to be pretty important. We are aware of that. We aren't going to go crazy right now. We are going to kind of see how things go for the next month or so and then once we really feel like we are locked in -- the easiest way to lock ourselves in is to win this weekend, then we will be good. Once we are in that position, it will be completely pressure-free which will be really nice."
Edwards' chances of winning in Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX) are as good as any driver in the 43-car field, based on his experience on two-mile tracks. Both Auto Club and sister track Michigan International Speedway have been prime locations for both himself and his Roush Fenway Racing team: Edwards has three Sprint Cup wins between the two similar speedways, and team owner Jack Roush has a combined 20 victories at Fontana and Michigan.
The end of Sunday's race -- the fifth in the series this season -- will mean that Sprint Cup teams will have competed on all varieties of oval tracks on the schedule. For Edwards, the litmus test will be how his No. 99 Ford performs at Auto Club.
"I think we are optimistic, but also realize we were not fast at Vegas and everybody at Roush Fenway is taking that very seriously," said Edwards, who rallied to finish fifth in Sin City on March 9. "Last week was nice and (Roush Fenway general manager) Robbie Reiser pointed out that we have to enjoy these wins, even though we have this project on the side to get better at the 1.5-mile tracks, we do appreciate how well we ran at Bristol. ... We feel like we still need to be better and this track is going to be a good place for us to start and work on things tomorrow and Sunday to be better at these big race tracks."
Horsepower and tire management on Auto Club's will be key factors come Sunday, but Edwards said that aerodynamics will also be crucial, especially with the speeds the cars are registering on the speed traps heading into Turn 1. That in mind, Edwards will place a premium on keeping the sheet metal of his car clean and crumple-free through the weekend.
"I was looking at that radar display they have at the end of the front straightaway -- 207 mph at the end of the front straightaway means there is an immense amount of aerodynamic influence on the race car," Edwards said. "I would say it is probably equal with the tires influence on getting the car around the track. It is hugely important here."
The characteristics are vastly different than Bristol, the .533-mile bullring where Edwards hoisted the winner's trophy after a long, rain-delayed day in the Tennessee hills. Aside from the shot in the arm of standing in Victory Lane and the virtual safe haven as far as the Chase is concerned, Edwards won't be able to transfer much to Sunday's main event, mechanically speaking.
"We know Bristol is a stand-alone, very unique race track and we don't think there is much carry-over," Edwards said. "It is huge from a team perspective that we were able to bring great cars there and all our Fords ran so well. It is a morale booster, but it won't make our cars faster here in California. Our California package has to stand on its own."