Roush Fenway Racing might have gotten off to a slow start this season, but Carl Edwards used steady improvement to join the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners club.
Although an errant caution light and subsequent downpour Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway helped secure his first win of the season, Edwards was running strong throughout the race.
He and his No. 99 Ford team finished 17th in the Daytona 500, eighth at Phoenix and fifth at Las Vegas. RFR still has work to do on its intermediate track program, but Edwards victory should allow the organization to focus on improvement so it will be in good position to compete for this seasons championship.
Next up is Sundays Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where Edwards has one win (2008) but has finished among the top 10 an astounding 13 times in 16 Cup starts.
Edwards recently talked about this weekends race, how another Ford organization, Team Penske, has helped RFR raise its game and whether one win is good enough to make the Chase.
Q: What do you expect this weekend at California?
A: Were hoping to run well at California. As a group, we didnt run really well at Vegas and we talked a lot about the things we possibly missed, so hopefully California is a turning point for us. I think its a real test. If we can go there and do well, I think its going to bode well for the rest of the season. But that mile-and-a-half at Vegas threw us for a loop. That was not good.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Fontana track getting bumpier?
A: The bumpier the race tracks are, the better in my opinion. I think when race tracks have character and they age a little bit, I think thats good. Its not supposed to be easy and simple, its supposed to be tough, and when you throw in some bumps and aging pavement it makes the racing more dynamic. It makes it so that you can do something as a driver to make up for maybe a slow start or a poor-handling race car.
Q: Team Penske has made a lot of noise since becoming a Ford team. How has that changed things, if at all, at Roush?
A: Overall, if you look at Fords performance, its much higher than it has been recently, but most of that is due to Penske. They have been spectacular. I think what theyve been able to do this year is really amazing. Thats good for us in that it drives us and it makes us ask questions. We know that Doug Yates engines can go do the job and we know that the Ford Fusion can do it, we just have to figure out what part were missing as a group here at Roush Fenway and catch up with those guys. I think its a case where their success right now is going to drive us. Its kind of a sibling rivalry and makes us compete harder. So thats good.
Q: Is there added pressure to get a second win?
A: Ive been listening to the radio guys a lot and everybody is assuming that you win and youre in, and thats definitely not the case. We have 12 more races an all of a sudden it turns in to there are already 16 winners, but the first step is you have to win. I think were proving that right now. Youre going to have to have a win, I believe, to be in the Chase, so now that weve checked that box, we need to go get another win and then I think well be guaranteed to be in it.
Just to have a win this early is a huge relief. Its going to make California and Martinsville (Va.) its going be really fun to go there. I think this new format is going to change the way people race throughout the year. Its going to be very interesting to see how it all culminates at the end and see what everybody brings to those final 10 races, considering the fact that they have time to work on things because theres not that pressure.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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