News & Media

Edwards shifts gear, pulls out of Nationwide race

June 25, 2011, Joe Menzer,

SONOMA, Calif. -- Displeased with his practice times and qualifying effort at Infineon Raceway

Carl Edwards remembers a time, not too long ago, when he dreaded driving a stock car on road courses.

Now he enjoys it so much that he contemplated doing it twice in one weekend, and was set to go to great lengths to do it until changing his mind following qualifying Friday for this Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

How great? Edwards was all set to travel nearly 4,500 miles to compete both in Saturday's Bucyrus 200 Nationwide race at Road America in Elkhart, Wis., and Sunday's event at Infineon. Edwards changed his mind only after he became displeased with the practice times and qualifying effort registered in his No. 99 Ford on Friday at Infineon.

"In the end, this puts us in the best position with both teams to perform well, so I'm grateful to be able to make the change and I feel like we are doing the right thing."


Edwards won last year's inaugural Nationwide event at Road America and said earlier Friday that he was anxious to return. But he eventually changed his mind about shuttling back and forth between two road-course venues located 2,179 miles apart.

Edwards said he firmly believes that racing on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn Road America course would have helped him negotiate the 1.99-mile, 12-turn track at Infineon. But he said he eventually came to the conclusion that he could not give up the two Sprint Cup practices he would have had to miss Saturday at Infineon.

"In the end, this puts us in the best position with both teams to perform well, so I'm grateful to be able to make the change and I feel like we are doing the right thing," said Edwards, whose Roush Fenway Racing Nationwide car will be driven now at Road America by Billy Johnson.

The fact that Edwards went so far out of his way to consider competing in two road-course races in one weekend illustrates how much he has improved on them since breaking into the NASCAR national touring series ranks in 2004. It was around that time that Edwards, knowing he needed work on his road-course game, sought the help of road-course specialist Boris Said.

"The first time I went road racing with Boris, about two minutes into it we were backwards in the grass," Edwards said.

Said laughed at the memory when reminded of it Friday.

"We lit the whole lawn on fire," he said. "We came around on the next lap and we were like, 'Wow. There's a big fire there.' And the next lap there was a fire truck there, trying to put it out."

Edwards said he remembers coming to Infineon to test for the first time. He didn't light the place on fire, at least, but that also could serve as an accurate description for his initial lap times at the facility.

"Coming here my first time for a test was one of the most humbling experiences I've had in racing," Edwards said. "Kasey Kahne was out there running about a second-and-a-half faster than me -- and that was all I had."

As he continued to work with Said -- who rode along with Edwards in a two-seater at first -- Edwards began to show an ability to improve quickly. Said was impressed.

"Oh, yeah, I remember how bad it was -- because I had to ride in the car with him, sitting next to him," Said said. "I mean, it's not that he was a bad driver. It's just that he sucked at road racing because he didn't know how different it was from oval racing.

"But he was one of the fastest-learning guys I ever worked with. If you just told him one thing one time, you never had to tell him again. Just sitting next to him, you could tell he had unbelievable car control. It was amazing, and he's an amazing driver. That's one thing, sitting in the right seat you learn about drivers. I've been with drivers who have made me sick; I've been drivers who have scared me to death [on road courses]. But after a few laps, I could have fallen asleep next to him."

"I've been with drivers who have made me sick; I've been drivers who have scared me to death [on road courses]. But after a few laps, I could have fallen asleep next to him."


It has showed in Edwards' ability to win Nationwide races on the road courses of Road America and Montreal -- as well as in what he has been able to do at Watkins Glen, the only other road course besides Infineon on the Sprint Cup circuit. Edwards has five consecutive top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen, including a third and two fifths. He also won the pole there last August before finishing fifth.

He hasn't fared as well at Infineon, with only two top-10 finishes in six career starts in Sonoma. His best finish was sixth in 2006, and his average finish is just 18.8.

"[Boris] helped me a lot, but I still have a lot to learn," Edwards said. "I've won some Nationwide races, but I still have to get that Cup win on a road course. I want to be able to contend for the win every time we come here. That is the next hurdle for me, to get that much better.

"We have been able to come here a couple times since that first test and be very fast; and we sat on the pole at Watkins Glen last year, which was huge for me."

Said insisted that Edwards, the current Sprint Cup points leader, eventually will obliterate his goal of winning a Cup road race in much the same way he obliterated that patch of grass during his first test run with Said back in the day.

"If he didn't learn it from me, he would have learned it from somebody else. He's just one of the most tenacious guys, one of the hardest-working guys who deserves everything he gets. He just loves racing," he said.

"He'll win a road-course race [at the Cup level], no problem. It's just a matter of time."

In the end, that's what made Edwards change his mind about trying to become the only Cup regular to attempt double duty at Road America and Infineon this weekend. He believes if he sticks around for the extra practices at Infineon that he'll actually improve what he considers his very real chances of winning Sunday's race.

"These places used to scare me a little bit," Edwards admitted. "I always thought I could lose a lot of points. Now I do look forward to them. They are a true test to your driving ability. You can't make a mistake. You can't miss a shift. You have to really temper your aggression. You can't just go in there and dive under people and wreck them because if you don't wreck them they will wreck you in the next corner and you will most likely wreck yourself. [Infineon] is a really tough place to be fast and to not make mistakes. It's hard.

"We haven't gotten a win here yet, but it's something different and changes the pace. We are in a good position, leading the points, and don't have a lot of pressure right now, so it's about going out here and trying to get a win."