Carl Edwards: two finals shots at making the playoffs
By Mike Mulhern
Yowza, yowza! Maybe this sport is turning things around, and just at the right moment.
That sizzling finish at Watkins Glen, that rousing race at Michigan, and now that hot night in Bristol...leading into two events that should be just as good, Sunday's night's 500 here at Atlanta Motor Speedway just south of town, and next Saturday night at Richmond, Paul Sawyer's old place.
But, uh, think this NASCAR tour is a bit long -- from Valentine's Day in Daytona through Thanksgiving week in Homestead-Miami -- well, you just might be right. Football is just getting under way, and that season will be all-but over by the time the stock car guys get to the Gateway to the Keys for the Nov. 18th season finale.
Certainly the way some tempers are flaring -- gotta love the visual of angry Tony Stewart hurling his helmet at Matt Kenseth last Saturday, and the anger that Kyle Busch somehow managed to contain after that wild last lap at the Glen -- you can tell this grueling summer stretch from Memorial Day in May to Labor Day weekend in September is taking its toll.
The best part of the Bristol night race of course was the crowd. After several races playing out to dwindling crowds, this time there were few empty seats in the 160,000-seat Blue Ridge emporium. Wonder what that might mean for ticket sales for next March's Bristol 500....
This weekend's 500 is on one of the sport's best racing surfaces, where tires wear the way drivers and crews like to see, slowing down over a 100-mile run and creating different race strategies.
A note to all this: with the rash of track repaving projects over the last few years, this track stands out -- because it hasn't been repaved since 1997.
Michigan was just repaved, Pocono was just repaved, Daytona was just repaved, Phoenix was just repaved, and Kansas Speedway, which opened only eight years ago, will have new asphalt for this fall's 400.
But drivers, even though the Atlanta asphalt is very worn, do not like any talk of repaving this place.
One big story line this weekend: Carl Edwards versus Kyle Busch versus Jeff Gordon versus Ryan Newman for a wild card spot in the upcoming playoffs.
Edwards needs to win.
But it's been a year and a half since his tour victory.
Edwards runs well here, but next week's stop at Richmond isn't a great one for him. That puts tremendous pressure on Edwards here.
"I've never said we're out of time," Edwards says. "What I've said is we've got to go out here and let it hang out, and take chances.
"We recognize the position we're in; we don't like it, and the only thing we can do is go out and race like we've got nothing to lose, because in a way we don't.
"We need to win. That's why you saw me stay out at Bristol and hang on to old tires and a low tank of fuel
"The bigger part of competition is dealing with circumstances that don't go the way you want them to.
"That's the tough thing to do. And in auto racing you've got to do it more than dealing with winning.
"We feel we have time. We feel we have the team. We just need things to fall our way and we will capitalize on it."
Another major story line is the new pavement at Kansas Speedway, for the Oct. playoff races.
Goodyear tested at Kansas Monday and Tuesday, and Greg Stucker says the new asphalt has "a considerable amount of grip" as expected.
"It took about a half-day of running with the nine cars involved in the test, but the track took rubber nicely and a narrow groove developed. We expect that groove to widen out during the race weekend."
The Michigan tire setup, which worked well there two weeks ago, is the "leading candidate" for the Kansas 400, Stucker says.
The drivers testing: Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Regan Smith, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Keselowski and Earnhardt are two favorites in the championship playoffs.