Edwards feels pres­sure for first win at home track

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Dave Skretta

Carl Edwards gen­er­ally loves the two races a year at Kansas Speed­way.

He was born and raised in Columbia, Mis­souri, and spent his for­ma­tive years rac­ing late mod­els across the Mid­west. So to this day, Edwards con­sid­ers the mile­and-a-half speed­way just down In­ter­state 70 and on the other side of the state line his home track.

He gets to see fam­ily and friends. The crowd adores him. There re­ally are no draw­backs.

Ex­cept that he can’t seem to win there. And that presents a prob­lem head­ing into Sun­day’s Sprint Cup race. It’s the sec­ond stop in the three-race round of 12 in the cham­pi­onship Chase, and a win would take the stress out of Tal­ladega by as­sur­ing him a spot in the next round.

“It’s pretty ob­vi­ous the pres­sure is pretty high in gen­eral with this for­mat,” said Edwards, who will start third on Sun­day . “But there is more pres­sure com­ing here. And it’s good pres­sure.”

In fair­ness, Edwards ac­tu­ally has been to victory lane at Kansas, though it was in the Truck Series more than a decade ago. He du­eled with Bobby Hamil­ton that day, and still re­mem­bers think­ing he had some en­gine trou­ble af­ter tak­ing the check­ered flag. When he shut it off, he re­al­ized the rum­bling that he’d heard in the driver’s seat was the crowd roar­ing its ap­proval.

It was the first time Edwards could ever re­mem­ber hear­ing the crowd over the sound of the en­gine.

Kansas hasn’t been so kind to him in the in­ter­ven­ing years. He’s won 38 times in the Xfinity Series, but never in seven tries at Kansas, and none of his 27 wins in the Sprint Cup Series has come there.

Per­haps most dis­ap­point­ing is how of­ten his car has been ca­pa­ble of win­ning.

Whether driv­ing for Jack Roush or Joe Gibbs, Edwards has typ­i­cally found his way to the front at some point in the race. Eleven dif­fer­ent times he’s led a lap, he’s fin­ished in the top 10 a dozen times, six times he’s been in the top five, with a ca­reer-best fin­ish of sec­ond in 2008.

Edwards qual­i­fied sec­ond in the Chase race a year ago be­fore fin­ish­ing eighth.

“This place, it’s go­ing to be spe­cial when we go to victory lane. It’s go­ing to be re­ally cool,” he said, mak­ing clear that it’s a mat­ter of “when” and not “if” he wins a race.

“Just the idea of win­ning here in front of all these peo­ple who sup­ported me so much,” Edwards said, “that would be huge. But the ic­ing on the cake would be no pres­sure at Tal­ladega.”

Jim­mie John­son al­ready has the pres­sure off af­ter his win last week­end at Char­lotte, and one of the 11 re­main­ing Chase con­tenders could be in the same sit­u­a­tion on Sun­day.

Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch qual­i­fied on the front row, while Edwards gave the Gibbs sta­ble a sweep of the top three spots. Throw in Martin Truex Jr., whose Fur­ni­ture Row team has an al­liance with them, in fourth, and Denny Ham­lin qual­i­fy­ing sev­enth, and it could be a ban­ner day for their team’s Chase hopes.

“It’s just a tes­ta­ment to Joe Gibbs Rac­ing and Toy­ota to be able to do what we’ve done,” Busch said, “and to have three of them in the front three spots and then Truex there in fourth. That’s re­ally good.”

Even if they don’t win Sun­day, the Gibbs team could still take some drama out of Tal­ladega.

Kenseth, Busch, Edwards and Truex es­caped en­gine trou­ble and wrecks at Char­lotte, giv­ing them a bit of a points cush­ion over five Chase driv­ers who fin­ished 30th or worse. Among them was Ham­lin, who finds him­self this week in the ten­u­ous eighth — and fi­nal — spot for ad­vanc­ing to the next round.

“The year has been pretty solid for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. We all had a pretty good day (in qual­i­fy­ing),” Kenseth said. “It’s great hav­ing team­mates that good, but it’s also hard to beat them.”

You can count Edwards among them.

The only blip he’s had this week­end was a poor first run in qual­i­fy­ing, which he wiped out with a bet­ter ef­fort later in the open­ing ses­sion. He wound up mak­ing the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing to take third on the grid, and was hov­er­ing solidly around the top 10 in the fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion Satur­day.

It was enough to raise his hopes for that long-awaited home win.

“I def­i­nitely envy Jim­mie John­son right now. Those guys did a re­ally good job last week,” he said. “I know he’s go­ing to be on his bike a bunch and re­lax­ing and hav­ing a good time the next two weeks. We want to be able to do that go­ing to Tal­ladega.”

ED ZURGA — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Carl Edwards walks to his garage for the start of prac­tice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speed­way.

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