By Don Ward
(June 2005) Carl Edwards has come a long way since winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in July 2003 at the Kentucky Speedway and going on to earn the circuits Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.
| | July 2005
Kentucky Speedway Cover
Distance: 200 laps, 300 miles (1.5-mile tri-oval)
Qualifying: Sat., June 18, begins at 5 p.m. (EDT-fast time)
Race: 8 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, June 18
TV: FX (live)
Admission: $35 Friday; $50-$80 Saturday. Gates open 5 p.m. Fri.; 10 a.m. Sat.
Also at the Speedway: NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southeast Series Insight Communications 150 (100 laps/150 miles) at 8 p.m. Friday. Country star Travis Tritt performs at 3 p.m. Saturday on the B-105 Country Soundstage.
Drivers to Watch
Carl Edwards, Columbia, Mo. Powered by Roush Racing, the rookie has already won twice this year.
Reed Sorenson, Atlanta, Ga. Third in points, the rookie has one victory under his belt this year.
Shane Hmiel, Conover, N.C. Now in his fourth year, he has won once in 2005.
Tim Steele, Coopersville, Mich.
Last year, he finished third in points in the Truck Series circuit. He also competed in 13 of the last 14 NASCAR Busch Series races, with his best finish third place at Atlanta.
This year, at age 25, he has stepped up to the Busch and Nextel Cup Series and leads the Busch Series points race after having scored victories at Atlanta and Richmond in the No. 60 Charter Communications Ford. In his first seven Busch Series starts of 2005, Edwards had earned three top-five and five top-10 finishes in Busch races. In Nextel Cup racing, Edwards ranked eighth in points after seven events.
Along the way, the agile Edwards has thrilled audiences with his now-famous back flip, which he likes to perform off the top of his car at the finish line after a victory. At Atlanta in March, Edwards swept both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series races in the same weekend. He did back flips both times.
He did a flip at Kentucky after winning the truck race, and he is hoping to repeat that stunt at the June 18 Busch Series event, where he will drive for Roush Racing. The Columbia, Mo., native enters this months Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo on a familiar track and one that provides him with many fond memories from his earlier victory in the truck series.
He will actually pull double duty that weekend by qualifying his Nextel Cup car at Pocono on Friday and return there for Sundays race. Another driver will qualify his Busch Series car at Kentucky.
Besides getting support from crew chief Bob Osborne and team owner Jack Roush, Edwards shares time with Roush teammates Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin. Roush Racing also has two Truck Series drivers in Ricky Craven and Todd Kluever.
Photo by Chris Stanford/Getty Images
Carl Edwards accepts
his trophy after
winning at the Golden
Corral 500 Nextel Cup
race in Atlanta. He also
won the Busch race
During an April 12 teleconference, Edwards praised the support he gets from his team as his secret weapon for his early success this year.
From my perspective, the edge is just the way our teams work together, you know, without egos getting in the way. Its truly a team effort all the way up until the last 25 laps of the race, he said. Thats just an awesome feeling, to know that I can lean on my teammates for advice, for setups, for any type of help that we need. I think thats a big advantage.
Edwards said the early victories this season have taken some of the pressure off of him, but he remains a hard-charging competitor.
Anybody that knows me will tell you, man, Im the hardest person in the world on myself. There cant be any more pressure on me, he said. I dont really feel things from the outside as far as pressure is concerned. I have just this internal desire to win every time I go do anything. It wears me out sometimes.
Edwards said success has not changed him, but he admits that the publicity has put more demands on his time. Thats been the biggest thing, is just things are piling up. Im getting to do appearances and stuff for our sponsors that I probably wouldnt have gotten to do. So thats fun. The other cool thing is it seems like a lot of people recognize me now.
Edwards growing fame and career recently received an even bigger boost for the second half of the 2005 season. On May 19, Roush Racing and Office Depot announced that the office products company was extending its on-track sponsorship commitment of Edwardss No. 99 Ford to a total of 17 races for the remainder of the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup season.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Carl Edwards hugs
crew chief Todd Parrott
after winning the Busch
race April 30 in Atlanta.
In addition to the nine Nextel Cup races announced earlier this year, Office Depot will now sponsor a total of 17. With the addition of these races, Office Depot will appear on Edwards No. 99 Ford for six of the final 10 races in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
With Carls performance so far this season, the prospect of adding races is something that excites every one of Office Depots em-ployees and customers across the country, said Tony Ueber, vice president of Marketing Strategy for Office Depot.
Edwards began his racing career racing midgets and pro modifieds. Prior to signing with Roush Racing to drive trucks, he was a college student at the University of Missouri and a part-time substitute teacher.
He was introduced to racing by his father, Mike Edwards, who won more than 200 feature races at several Midwestern race tracks driving modified stock cars and midgets. Edwards parents divorced three years ago and his mother is remarried. Though he spends more time with his mother and stepfather these days, he credits his father for introducing him to the sport.
Photo by Chris Stanford/Getty Images
Carl Edwards performs his trademark
victory flip at the Aarons 312
race in Atlanta.
My mom was really a strong person and a huge influence in my life just trying to keep me focused and keep me working towards a goal, he said. They were both instrumental, but it was definitely in different ways. I think without either of them, I definitely wouldnt be racing like I am today.
Carl got the racing bug early and, once signed by Roush just a week before the start of the 2003 season, proved his metal by winning the rookie award that year. To do it, he won three races, finishing one victory shy of tying the rookie record for wins. He spent the final 18 weeks of the season in the top 10 in points.
In 2004, Edwards finished 37th in points in the Busch Series, with one top five and five top-10 performances. He succeeded Jeff Burton in the No. 99 car after Burton moved to Richard Childress Racing in August. Edwards started 13 of the final 14 races of the year. The one race he missed in October was because he was competing in the Truck Series race at Texas, where he placed ninth.
He finished 10th in his first Busch Series race of 2004. That came at Michigan, where his feat put him among an elite field of only five active drivers to post a top-10 finish in their first series race.
Roush Racing is a subsidiary of Livonia, Mich.-based Roush Industries that operates 10 motorsports teams in NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch and the Truck Series.
Race fans can follow news of Carl Edwards and the No. 99 race team all season long at www.officedepotracing.com or at www.nascar.com.