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Edwards hopes for a repeat at Pocono
By BRANT JAMES
Published July 24, 2005
Nothing can eclipse the manic rush Carl Edwards felt the first time he took the checkered flag in the Nextel Cup series. The exultation that evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway was stoked by the finish itself, a last-lap dash and by-a-fender, 0.028-second victory over series star Jimmie Johnson in the fourth race of the season.
But win No. 2 came close. And as Edwards, with just 32 Nextel Cup starts in his career, returns to Pocono Raceway, site of that second victory on June 12, he admits that cool, easy feeling of satisfaction of belonging, feels pretty good, too.
"(Crew chief Bob Osborne), summed it up best, and I didn't think about it until after we'd won," Edwards said. "Actually, the second one was almost a better feeling because it validates the first win and says that, "Hey, we're here and we can compete.' The first win was almost a surprise. It happened and everything went perfectly that day, and I think we surprised ourselves as much as everyone else."
It came as no surprise to his comrades at Roush Racing. Edwards, 25, ascended from the Truck series to produce five top 10s in 13 races after replacing veteran Jeff Burton in the No. 99 Ford last summer.
"Carl's been great to help mentor," Busch said. "He's always come up with good questions and he's always willing to take time out of his practice session to come over and look for advice, whether it's from myself or Mark Martin. He's a character that runs good at all different styles of tracks."
Edwards said the team ramped up the pressure internally after the victory at the 2.5-mile Pocono track. Edwards, only the second driver to win his first Pocono start, finished no better than 19th the next three weeks and three top 10s over the next six weeks were tempered by finishes of 32nd at Talladega and 21st at Richmond.
"After that first win our expectations went way up, and we had some bad weeks," he said. "We worked really hard and I felt like the second one was won as a team, like we all had worked for it."
Edwards finished fifth at Michigan after the Pocono win to improve to fourth in the driver standings. But trouble followed again, making Pocono especially welcome as Edwards clambers to regain his footing in his bid for a berth in the Chase for the Championship. He began to struggle again after Michigan, qualifying poorly and constantly finding trouble, either mechanical failures or crashes. He finished 38th at Sonoma, 33rd at Daytona and 39th at Chicago before finishing 12th last weekend at New Hampshire to reverse the nosedive and improve to 12th in the driver standings. Edwards is just 72 points from the 400-point playoff cut with seven races remaining until the regular season finale Sept. 10 at Richmond.
As usual, the friendly Missourian has proved resilient and stayed upbeat in a confounding season.
"We need to put together seven really solid finishes and not have any of the bad runs like we've had in the past weeks," said Edwards, who set a track record with his win from the 29th spot at Pocono . "As well as we've run, when we don't have bad luck, we should be okay. If we could just keep things going without a failure and a wreck, we'd be awesome."