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The best in the business? At the moment that looks like Carl Edwards

Jack Roush: He says Carl Edwards knows when to put on the black hat and when to put on the white hat.
(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   Carl Edwards has become a formidable figure this season, and not just on the track. His persona off the track has been flat amazing.
   Whatever charm school Jack Roush sent him to in the off-season, well, there are a lot of fellow drivers who could use a little schooling like that.
   And some of these guys could use a lot….

   At the moment Edwards' ability to charm may be key to defusing the growing debate over just what tricks the Roush guys have added to their game the past two months.
   Roush men should romp here in Sunday's 400, and they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with, as they have all season. Quite a change since last spring, when Ford teams were reeling.
   Rival Tony Stewart says he feels like he's been taking a knife to a gunfight lately, in trying to match up against Edwards and the Roush guys. Since Stewart is factory-backed by Rick Hendrick, whose star has won five straight championships, that's not just idle grumbling.
   Can Edwards defuse things?
   Let's just watch him then….
   Not that Edwards has undergone any radical makeover this season, it's just that he has honed all those tools he has to a finer edge. He's been a popular figure in this sport since he burst to prominence back in 2005.
   If Edwards wins this season's NASCAR championship, as well he could, he'd certainly make an admirable champion.



   Carl Edwards, commuting between Kansas City and Chicago, Cup and Nationwide (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Last season, particularly in some of those heavy-handed run-ins with rivals like Brad Keselowski, Edwards showed his tough-guy side. This season he's been a little more measured….though he's still miffed at Kyle Busch for that Phoenix thing.
   Roush says Edwards now knows when to wear the  black hat and when to wear the white hat.
   And Edwards, primed to make Sunday's Kansas 400 his 20th career victory,  isn't afraid to stink up the show when he's got the hot iron, like he did at Charlotte, winning the All-Star going away, and dominating the 600 until caution flags turned everyone so topsy turvey.
    "Carl is a rock star," Roush says, perhaps somewhat in awe of Edwards' persona. 
    "He's the only back-flipper in the field…and was the first one to crawl up in the stands (in post-victory celebration).  Some of the drivers wouldn't go up in the stands like that after a race, and for good reason. But Carl is well thought of, and he's out there doing things that other people wish they had thought of first. And he drives the hell out of our race cars. 


   Crew chief Bob Osborne: the brain-trust behind Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "He is a cornerstone of our organization today," Roush goes on. 
    "He is certainly a draw for sponsors, and he's a rallying point for his team. 
    "Carl has been a factor at nearly all the races.  He would have had a good shot at Phoenix; he won in the fall there and had a good shot in the spring if he hadn't had an encounter with another car (Busch) and wound up off the race track early on.
   "He missed a couple (wins) just because…But I told Bob (Osborne, Edwards' crew chief) there were no right or wrong calls at Darlington or Dover; they just didn't work out." 


   Friends? Certainly competitors. Just don't get in between these two out on the track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Edwards this weekend is shuttling the 400 miles between Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, to make the Nationwide race. And Edwards shuttles from his Columbia home to the various tour tracks, making this area a real home for him.
   Commuting like that would appear a chore. But Edwards, a pilot himself, through running with a co-pilot, insists "it is not very difficult to do.
   "As long as you keep the stress down and don't get wound up about it…
    "Driving to the airport (here) is a nice drive. And that airplane is really easy to fly, and not a big stresser.
   "The weather (this weekend) is nice; there isn't a threat of weather with massive lines of thunderstorms to go through.
    "The reason I do it (this weekend) is because we have a chance to win that race. That is what we do this for. I have had some of the greatest races of my career this year in that Nationwide car. Last week was a blast with Matt Kenseth (at Charlotte, Kenseth winning). The race in Iowa was a lot of fun; I wouldn't trade that for anything, to be able to follow (teammate) Ricky Stenhouse to his first victory and race that hard.
   "If everything goes as planned, it shouldn't be that difficult."



Jack Roush may be right: how many other NASCAR drivers would dare sprint up into the grandstands to celebrate after a win? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Of all the tracks on the tour, this one is perhaps most special for Edwards, who lives in and commutes from nearby Columbia, 100 miles or so east.
    It was here back in 2002 that Edwards got one of his first big breaks. Then little known, Edwards ran eighth in a Truck race at this track, just opened.
    "It was huge….That kind of got things rolling in my career," Edwards says.
    "Then we won that race in 2004 here in the Truck series -- and it was an unreal race. I was racing too hard on the first lap and smacked the fence, and then came back and won the race. It was a very special win."
   Of course Edwards' most spectacular run here wasn't in victory. It was that carom off the wall the last lap of 2008 in zany passing attempt that stunned winner Jimmie Johnson: "If I could redo any race in my career, it would be this race in 2008. I am not going to tell you what I would do differently, but there is definitely something I would have done differently, and I think we would have won it."
   Edwards and Kyle Busch are the two men on the tour this season who are a threat to win every time NASCAR throws the green. Some have won more, but no one has been more consistent.
    And this spring Edwards has worked to mend some fences (though perhaps not yet with Busch).
   "Let's face it, we're all competitors," Edwards says. "If you go through the garage, there are a lot of people you go through times with…a lot of people you really don't like at certain points.
   "But we're all competitors.  The biggest thing for me right now is just to focus on what we've got going on with our team. 
    "I'm grateful I don't have any big issues with anyone. We're just racing.  I think it's good.  I think it's better for me, and I'm grateful for it."



   Now how cool would this be: ol' 43 finally winning again, in those legendary STP colors? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   However, now, with the heat – ambient temperature – expected to be an issue in the 400, will it have more effect on the cars or the drivers? And is there any correlation between heat and hot tempers in this sport?
   Heat, Edwards says, definitely affects "the way the tire interacts. And the speed slowing down I think has a bigger impact on the outcome of the race than the driver fitness and ability to handle the heat.
   "Last week I am probably not the only driver who was driving down the straights with my heels off the floor because it was burning your feet. That will be a factor in this race…not a huge factor, but it will be a factor."
   And temperature versus tempers?
   Edwards laughed.
   "I don't know if tempers and ambient temperature  have a big correlation. It would make for a good story though. If you want to write it, go for it: 'Oh, yeah, tempers are going to flare just as much as the sun beats down on the race track. It is going to be insane.'"

  Kyle Busch: wonder if his appeal were perk up if he leaped into the grandstands after one of his wins, to celebrate with fans? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Still, after laughing at the question, Edwards concedes the heat can make drivers "uncomfortable," and that can lead to mental mistakes.
   Of perhaps greater concern, in some corners of the garage, is the question 'Should NASCAR officiate differently in the final miles of a race than it does early-on?'
   That late crash at Charlotte, with cars spinning and crashing on the final restart, would likely have had NASCAR throwing a yellow earlier in the race. But NASCAR didn't throw a yellow, letting the race play out.
    Now with the option of throwing three green-white-checkereds in such a race, the question of not throwing the yellow  becomes perhaps more pointed, in that the no-call came as Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just taken the lead and appeared on his way to his first tour win in three years.
    Edwards, diplomatically, said "As it turned out, it didn't look like it needed to be a caution.
    "A caution would have helped us a lot, so from that perspective I wish there would have been one.
    "But NASCAR has to do the best they can, and they didn't feel like they needed to throw a caution there. And in the end everyone finished the race safely.
    "That is a lot bigger decision than I am paid to make."
    There is another NASCAR rule that played out at Charlotte that has raised eyebrows: the 'wave-around' rule, which is supposed to put front-runners ahead of slower drivers on restarts. At one point in the 600, a whopping 23 drivers took the 'wave-around,' and gained a lot of track position that in previous years they wouldn't have been given.
    Does that rule need to be reconsidered?
   "There is a lot to that," Edwards says, pondering the rule and its effects.
    "The reason we got put in a bad position was because we pitted and then a debris caution came out. If that caution hadn't been thrown, then I think it would have worked out fine.
    "There are a lot of variables in this sport. One of them is how to read those cautions. If we all knew when they were going to come out, it would be a lot simpler, and I don't think there would be as much trouble.
    "I don't know that the 'wave-around' is the issue. I think if that race would have gone without those debris cautions, it would have looked differently, and worked out better for us."

    It's not just Edwards but all Ford drivers are hot this season. "We were really turning the corner as a team the middle of the summer at Daytona," Edwards says.
   And what's made the difference?
    "The success comes from a number of places," Edwards says. "The engine is one. We have an engine that is equal to the others, which is huge.
    "Robbie Reiser being the team manager has helped us a lot. He has changed the structure (of shop work), and it has been great.
    "Our pit crews have stepped it up.
    "Our whole process -- from a pile of tubing to a finished race car -- is better, more streamlined, more attention to detail.
    "There is not one trick; we don't just have a good engine or just have a good aero package. We have good race cars."
    So it's all adding up to a big advantage, as Stewart claims?
    "I don't think we have an advantage," Edwards says quickly, thought noting "we might have a slight advantage at these 1-1/2-mile tracks.
    "Nobody is better than us right now, that is probably the best way to put it.
   "We are not head-and-shoulders above other people; we have caught up. We were behind, and worked on our cars quite a bit, and now that we have caught up it looks really good.
   I am just going to have to disagree with Tony and say we don't have a huge advantage. But that is what he is supposed to be doing -- he is supposed to be kicking and screaming and looking for an advantage."
   And here this weekend? "This is the most excited I have ever been to run this race in my Cup career," Edwards says.
    That may be an ominous warning for his rivals.


   For Carl Edwards this spring, everything's coming up roses (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I'm sorry, this whining by

I'm sorry, this whining by Tony Stewart is ridiculous. Chevy has had an engine advantage in NASCAR for 20+ years. The Ford teams had the same engine platform for nearly 30 years until this new FR9. The FR9 was designed to compete with what Chevy ALREADY had. You don't hear ECR whining about engine power do you? Maybe Stewart should start his own engine shop because you can guarantee Jimmie is the one getting the best Hendrick engines, not him.

But I have discussed this with Mike several times. This engine race in NASCAR is ridiculous. These cars have way too much power already and it only get's worse when a manufacturer introduces a new engine. NASCAR should have used Toyotas entrance into the sport to come up with a smaller, less powerful engine package.

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