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Carl Edwards is still red-hot....and teammate Greg Biffle is sizzling mad.

  So this is what a 'petrifying' lap at Bristol looks like? Carl Edwards is hot, hot, hot....(Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern


   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Whatever Jack Roush's guys discovered last summer, it's still working, and rivals seem increasingly bamboozled.
   Not only that, but it seems to work everywhere – Daytona, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and here at Bristol.

   Four different types of tracks.
   And the man leading the charge is Carl Edwards, who has become this sport's most charismatic figure over the past several months.
   Couple all that -- and don't ignore Ford's new FR9 engine, which is looking pretty powerful – with NASCAR's new controversial championship points system, which penalizes bad days much more than rewarding good days, and no wonder that some of this season's expected title rivals, like Kevin Harvick and the Richard Childress guys, and the Joe Gibbs' guys, and even Roush's own Greg Biffle, are all becoming very concerned about making the playoffs.
   Even though the playoff cut doesn't come till September.

     When will Greg Biffle's luck turn for the better? (Photo: Autostock)

   Edwards has always been an outgoing, feisty guy. But his work outside the cars lately has been almost mesmerizing.
   But then maybe running good makes a man feel good.
   Goodyear's mid-weekend tire swap-out, after the original spec tire didn't rubber up the track enough and tire wear was excessive on the right-rear, isn't setting well with teams.
   And it's not clear if Goodyear misjudged how much faster the Sprint Cup cars would be here, or if teams somehow leapfrogged Goodyear's own tire technology. Have NASCAR inspectors lost control of some parts of these cars now? Are these guys 'crab-walking' again?
   Let's ask Edwards:
   "You're saying that maybe it's not all the tires….that it's the cars are different that's causing it?" Edwards says. "That's a good question. 
    "We are really fast.  I don’t know how much of it is tire and how much of it is car.
     "I tell you what -- that first fast qualifying lap I made in practice got my attention..  That's the fastest I can ever remember feeling like I've gone in a race car.  That was a screaming lap.
    "And my second lap was petrifying."


The right-rears aren't supposed to look like this Friday. So Goodyear brought in 1200 new right-sides Saturday morning. The new tires seemed slower, but with limited practice it's hard to tell what to expect in Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Teammate Matt Kenseth said of the 'new' tire, since swapped out: "We seem to be running about a half-second faster than last year. It's a pretty big mess up to bring something like that (the unexpected right-side tire swap-out Saturday), and only having one set of tires to practice on (before the race). It's going to be whoever guesses the closest."
    Goodyear engineers said they brought tires here to meet NASCAR's own request for tires that wouldn't 'grease' up the track as much as last August's tires did. NASCAR said teams had requested the change.
     Now Goodyear is going back to last August's tires….which Ryan Newman said were decidedly different in handling characteristics than last spring's tires here.
     One big problem in all this is that it is extremely difficult for Goodyear to get a good tire test on any concrete track – Dover, Bristol, Nashville – even if it brings in a dozen drivers to try to rubber the track before the test. So Goodyear has to rely on computer simulations.
    And something went awry here.
    Or did it?
    The 'new' tires? Teams only got two new right-sides for Saturday morning practice.
   "The car doesn't drive anything like it did Friday," Biffle says of the 'new' tires. "Probably three or four-tenths a lap slower."
    Biffle ran 60 laps on the one set of 'new' tires. "We felt that was our best opportunity to get a good read on the tire wear," Biffle says. "With the other tire, there was just so much grip there wasn't a whole lot we could learn from it."


     Don't overlook Chevy's Ragan Smith, one of the 'good guys' trying to make a go of it in this sport, and turning things around this spring (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Biffle, who has had one of the fastest cars all season, one of the few to match Edwards, has had terrible luck so far: the crash at Daytona left him 35th; problems at Phoenix, 20th; and pit road issues at Las Vegas, 28th.
    To say Biffle is distraught is understatement.
    NASCAR's new points system makes it even harder to play catch-up this season. And one big criticism of the old Latford point system was that it didn't reward home runs as much as it penalized strikeouts. Instead of resolving that issue, NASCAR, for whatever reason, has put a lot of top drivers like Biffle and Harvick behind the eight-ball.
    Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin came in here with a game plan for tire management – stretch tires over the full 130-lap fuel run. Don't burn them out early in a run.
    So when Goodyear and NASCAR suddenly changed the rules Friday afternoon, Biffle and Erwin were livid.

   Tony Stewart, the tour leader, expresses the frustration of many drivers at the unexpected tire swap (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Goodyear, for its side, has over the past two years become extremely proactive in tire development. It has hit a number of good licks, like Daytona, on that tricky new asphalt.
    However teams have been complaining that Goodyear's weekly tire data DVDs, so critical, with NASCAR's testing ban, haven't given them good data to use for setups.
    Here even Jimmie Johnson is grumbling about the whole tire situation. He nearly crashed in qualifying.
    At Las Vegas, the tour's toughest track on tires, it seemed at times that many drivers were simply trying to make it to the end of the race without incident, with 200 mph speeds into the corners on a 1-1/2-mile track. Tony Stewart was the only driver who has his act together at Vegas. Everyone else seemed to be just hanging on.
    Biffle says concrete tracks like this one "are temperamental.  When they take that rubber (and turn black in the corners), it just gets slick, and you can't do anything.  It doesn't provide any good racing side-by-side, because it gets really slicked up. 
     "Goodyear has their hands full.  This is very difficult what they do.  It's really hard to play the game they're playing: not too much rubber… but now we don't have enough."
   Can you hear the frustration in his voice?


   Remember Trevor Bayne? The rookie from Knoxville is not doing badly, for a kid with only four Cup races under his belt. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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