Carl Edwards has a peachy record at Georgia’s premier motor racing venue. Atlanta Motor Speedway, site of the NASCAR’s AdvoCare 500 Sunday, the penultimate race in the 2012 Sprint Cup Series regular season, is the Columbia, Mo., native’s favorite NASCAR track, which is good news for Edwards, who is on the outside looking in the race to make the Chase, NASCAR’s playoffs to determine the 2012 Sprint Cup champion.
The bad news, though, is that Edwards is practically out of time to secure one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase for the Cup field, which is his only hope of missing the championship series for the first time in six years.
For the driver of the No. 99 Ford Fusion for Roush-Fenway Racing, which is already assured of getting two drivers In this season’s Chase for the Cup (points-leader Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth), it has simply come down to this simple truth: Win this weekend at Atlanta and next week at Richmond or call it a season – and a very disappointing one, at that.
The way the 12-car Chase lineup works, the top 10 drivers in the points standings after next week’s race at Richmond automatically qualify for the 10-race championship series. Two remaining spots qualify as wild-card entries. Those two drivers are selected on the basis of the most wins by the drivers who are in positions 11 through 20 in the points standings after 26 races.
Edwards has only two top-fives this season and 11 top-10 finishes, but, importantly no wins. He does somehow sit 12th currently in the standings, but would lose out to Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose or Joey Logano, all of whom trail Edwards in the points but have one win. If the regular-season ended today, the 12th and final spot in the Chase field would be awarded to Kyle Busch, who is 13th in the standings.
While the attention all season has been on the trials and travails of Edwards, last season’s championship runner-up, and the No. 99 Roush-Fenway car, the other Kansas City area NASCAR favorite, Clint Bowyer, of Emporia, Kan., has quietly and comfortably worked himself up to sixth place in the points standings, 59 points back of the leader, Biffle, and 44 better than 10th-place Tony Stewart, the 2011 Sprint Cup champion.
Bowyer is in his first season driving the No. 15 Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing. The native Kansan’s spot in the 2012 Chase field is assured with just two Cup races to go, but it will take a miracle at this point for Edwards to make the field.
It isn’t that Edwards, who just turned 33 last month, hasn’t had his opportunities this season. He has led five races, including late in the going last week at Bristol Motor Speedway. He also started on the pole at the season-opening Daytona 500 and qualified second in two other races.
Edwards has three previous Sprint Cup wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His first win at the 1.5-mile oval track, one of the fastest on the NASCAR circuit, came in 2005 in his first full season of then-Nextel Cup racing. On the weekend he won for the first time at Atlanta, he became the first driver to record both his first win in what is now the Nationwide Series (previously named the Busch Series) and his first Sprint Cup victory on the same weekend.
His most recent win at Atlanta Motor Speedway was in October 2008, during the Chase for the Cup. That same weekend, he also won the Nationwide Series event in Memphis, becoming the first NASCAR driver to win twice on the same weekend at two different racetracks.
Edwards has been passed for the lead in three of his last three Cup races in Atlanta, He finished fifth there last season.
“I don’t think there’s a more fun racetrack on the circuit,” Edwards said during practice sessions this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “We feel like we’ve got a car that can go with this race, so we’re really excited.”
After a half-century of having two race events every year at Atlanta Motor Speedway, this is the second consecutive year the Sprint Cup Series has only raced once in Atlanta.
The AdvCare 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be televised on Sunday on ESPN, starting a 6:30 p.m. CT.
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