Much has been made of Carl Edwards not winning at Kansas Speedway, his home track. Eighteen starts, 11 top-10 finishes, a memorable 2008 final-lap duel with Jimmie Johnson — but there’s been no rolling into victory lane.
In Sprint Cup.
But Edwards knows how winning feels at Kansas. In 2004, he piloted his Ford F-150 to a first-place finish in a truck series event. Even then, his postrace backflip was a thing, and as he prepared to uncoil this one threw Edwards for a loop.
“I heard this noise and I thought the engine was blowing up,” Edwards said. “At least the race is over, I can shut the engine off.
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“But I realized that noise was the crowd. I had never heard the crowd from inside the car. People were really excited and that win meant a lot to me.”
Just as a triumph in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 would.
The stakes are high for the drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The title run has been trimmed from 16 drivers to 12, and only Jimmie Johnson is guaranteed to advance to the next round of eight by virtue of his victory last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A triumph in Kansas or the following week at Talladega Superspeedway also will guarantee advancement, and all eyes are on Edwards, the Columbia native who loves driving at Kansas.
“Just the idea of winning here in front of all the people who have supported me so much, that would be huge,” Edwards said. “But icing on the cake would be no pressure at Talladega. I definitely envy Jimmie Johnson right now.”
The Chase can be a crapshoot. Five of the 12 Chase drivers finished 30th or worse at Charlotte because of mechanical issues or wrecks. Edwards wasn’t among them, finishing 12th, but he was a bit disappointed. His Xfinity Toyota Camry climbed into the top three but fell back after getting caught up in a wreck.
On Friday, Edwards qualified third for the Hollywood Casino 400, part of a 1-2-3 finish for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Matt Kenseth earned his first pole of the season, followed by Kyle Busch and Edwards.
It’s been a productive season, his second with Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards has two victories, seven top-fives and won six poles. His average finish of 12.6 is Edwards’ best since 2011, when he finished second in the Chase. Edwards was tied in points with Tony Stewart but lost out on a tiebreaker, which was the number of victories.
But this season is down to a few races, and the Chase format, revamped in 2014 to resemble other sports’ playoffs, heightens the tension as the races unfold.
That’s why, as much as Edwards enjoys the familiar environment and greeting friends, he has to treat the weekend as a business trip — an important one.
“They’ll come down to the pit box before the race or they’ll be around during practice,” Edward said. “But when I go back to the motor home or talk with the crew chief, everybody knows I’m here to do a job.”
No one knows that more than fellow driver Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kan. He’s not part of the Chase, but like Edwards, Bowyer considers Kansas Speedway his home track. And in this case, Bowyer wants to see a championship for the Kansas City area.
“I would hope my fans are rooting for him, being the local guy and fan favorite here for us all,” Bowyer said. “I know he wants to win here just as bad as I do.
“You respect a guy a guy like that and you appreciate him and his talents and abilities on the racetrack. He will win. He’s going to win here one of these days. You just hope you can beat him to it.”