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Notebook: Edwards predicts win at KS, Gordon giddy at PIR

October 06, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Carl Edwards came close to winning the Cup Series' championship in 2008, a season he led the league in victories but finished second in the final standings behind Jimmie Johnson. And he still remembers the Chase race at Kansas where he passed Johnson on the final lap, scraped the wall and was forced to watch the No. 48 streak by as Edwards' momentum slowed toward the start/finish line.

His second-place finish at Kansas wasn't the most stunning failure in Edwards' career, and it'll be interesting this weekend to see if he's able to put those lessons to use in order to win what he says might be one of the most important events of his career.

"It would mean the world to me to win that race. I feel we've run well enough at these mile-and-a-halfs. I feel like personally I'm very, very motivated to win that race."


"I think I'm different [now, than I was in 2008] in a number of ways, but I've learned a bunch," Edwards said. "I feel that you learn the most through your failures, not through your successes. We definitely were not able to close the deal in 2008. We went through a very tough time in 2009. Through all of that I think we learned how strong we can be.

"The thing I'm most proud of is we didn't collapse. Our team, we didn't start firing people, pointing fingers. Roush Fenway Racing buckled down, worked harder, worked smarter. We came back and were able to win the last two races last season, lead the points for most of the [2011] season. I feel we're a threat at every race track we go to."

Edwards said the past two seasons have made him a better person.

"How that applies to me personally, I have more true confidence and a little more calm approach to this whole championship," Edwards said. "Nothing will surprise me. If we go out and we're able to win it, I won't be surprised by that. If something crazy happens and we aren't able to win it, that won't surprise me either.

"I've been there and done that, too."

And Edwards vowed it'll take one definite thing to capture this championship.

"I do believe that the winner of the championship is going to win a race or two in the Chase," Edwards said. "I feel you're going to have to run so well, you will win a race or two. We should have won at Dover."

In fact, Edwards was so inspired after Dover that, a la Joe Namath or Babe Ruth "calling shots," he predicted a Kansas win.

"Well, that's my plan," Edwards said. "You know why I want to win there; it's my home track. It would mean the world to me to win that race. I feel we've run well enough at these mile-and-a-halfs. I feel like personally I'm very, very motivated to win that race. I think my guys feel they can do the job on pit road.

"So, yeah -- I was a little fired up after Dover. I hope we can come through with my prediction there."

Where the rubber meets the road

God bless Jeff Gordon, after all the laps he's run and things he's seen in 19 years rumbling around the Cup Series, that he could still be giddy over his first laps around Phoenix International Raceway's redesigned and repaved one-mile layout.

"It's kind of like a rollercoaster ride back there," Gordon said Tuesday of the reconfigured backstretch. "You have all that space out there. Driving it, I liked it. I don't know if I want to go through there side-by-side but just looking at it and driving it, it's a lot of fun."

Unfortunately, that experience also puts Gordon in a position to frankly state it may take some time before the decent racing seen on Phoenix's old pavement returns on the new surface.

New wild card?

Chances are that wider, smoother, slicker Phoenix International Raceway will have serious implications in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Gordon, along with about three-dozen of his competitors, got his first look at what they'll face in the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Tuesday. New paving, new banking and a new configuration of the unique backstretch dogleg were highlights.

Gordon said the latter made him take notice when Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson returned from Goodyear's recent five-car tire test with some in-car video. After experiencing it himself during the first day of a two-day test, Gordon was positive.

"It's different being here than it was on video," Gordon said. "On video, it's a narrow window looking through the windshield. I didn't like what I saw. I mean, it gets your attention the first couple times you go through there. Other than that, it's a heck of a ride."

And there's the racing rub. Pushing the backstretch back and changing the angle of the kink wasn't all that was done, with fans' enjoyment in mind. Here's hoping their patience can stand it.

"Driving it, I really enjoyed the elevation change that it has," Gordon said. "Just like Jimmie had told me, he said the first couple times through there when the track wasn't clean, it was a handful. Once the track got cleaned off, rubber got laid down; going through there [was] no problem -- a lot of fun. I don't know if I would have designed it that way, but I'm not a track designer.

"But I think certainly I like having the back straightaway elevated up for the fans so they can see what's going on back there. I feel like we sort of used to get hidden back there when we were racing. Now they're going to be able to have a heck of a view all the way around there."

For better or worse -- and as some people familiar with the tire test had predicted -- Phoenix's former brand of racing may take some time to return, Gordon admitted.

"When we come here to these tests, we're all trying to learn things, get laps, do our own thing," Gordon said. "We're not racing. We're not getting side-by-side with other cars. So naturally you're just going to see one groove built-in there. It's a very narrow groove right now.

"Driving it, I liked it. I don't know if I want to go through there side-by-side but just looking at it and driving it, it's a lot of fun."


"I hopped outside of it on more than one occasion [Tuesday] and it was exciting to say the least."

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and Phoenix International Raceway president Bryan Sperber told Carl Edwards on Wednesday morning that driving school cars will run "tons of laps" to lay rubber in the outside groove of the newly-repaved track before the penultimate race in the Chase, scheduled the weekend of Nov. 11-12.

During the test, some drivers expressed their distrust of the surface until an appreciable amount of rubber could be laid down outside the single, primary lane, or groove.

Gordon hopes full fields of Sprint Cup, Nationwide and K&N Pro Series cars will make the place racier in November -- but even with that, he added a qualifier.

"It's hard to say until we come back here and we have all of those cars and series running," Gordon said. "You always hope when you come back, that that groove will widen out, especially the Saturday race [with] double-file restarts. Then, just the double-file restarts in general with our race should widen it out.

"Regardless, it's going to be a narrow groove the first couple times we're here and it's going to take time and guys are going to have to push that edge, keep cleaning it off as we go. NASCAR is going to have to do a good job of keeping the debris and rubber and things that build up out there cleaned off as best they can on cautions, as well."

Gordon was mostly upbeat, especially considering his Phoenix win in February, right before the track remake started, not only snapped his longest career losing streak but marked he and crew chief Alan Gustafson as distinct championship threats.

"We hated to hear about the repave because I felt like we really had gotten this place figured out and I was looking forward to coming back under those conditions," Gordon said. "But we're also looking forward to the challenges that we're going to face here and hope that we can get that performance back."

A couple fast Fords

Two Richard Petty Motorsports machines posted Ford's quickest speeds Tuesday at Phoenix, as Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Fusion, posted the eighth-quickest speed of the day and teammate A.J. Allmendinger, pilot of the No. 43 sat 11th on the chart. Allmendinger ended the day singing the same tune as Gordon did.

"The track started off really, really slick and as more cars ran, it rubbered-in," Allmendinger said. "There's a lot more room and a lot more grip off of Turn 2. My biggest question is how much it will widen out when there are three series here because if it doesn't it will make passing kind of tough."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.