With a NASCAR playoff spot virtually secured via a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards won’t be relaxing at Richmond International Raceway this weekend.
The mood around his No. 19 Toyota figures to be more happy-go-lucky both on and off the track, though.
The pressure is off because the punishment of a poor regular-season result is gone, too.
“It’s hard to describe,” Edwards said Tuesday morning during The Morning Drive on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s not a lack of effort. It gives you an opportunity to have less consequences to try the things you want to try.
“At Richmond, without a win, if we’re running sixth, and there’s a stop with 10 (laps) to go, you don’t know whether to roll the dice because you could fall back, lose points and affect the season.”
In Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400, there now is little doubt that Edwards and crew chief Dave Rogers will gamble in seeking the driver’s second victory at the 0.75-mile oval. Because a win qualifies a driver for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Edwards almost assuredly will be eligible for a championship run for the fifth consecutive season regardless of what happens in the next 18 regular-season races.
“Now we’ve got the win, we can really go for it,” Edwards said. “We can put out more effort and worry less about the consequences. We can take chances and try some things on the car and in the car with restarts (and) different lines. There’s less consequences. You can let it hang out more, which is really a lot of fun.”
It also could mean decreased pressure for his pit crew, which was under scrutiny at Bristol after a loose wheel in the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway cost Edwards a shot at a victory.
With much debate in NASCAR about whether teams should gamble on tightening fewer than five lug nuts to save time and gain positions in the pits, Edwards said ignorance is bliss for a driver.
“I trust my guys,” he said. “If they feel comfortable they got the wheel on there well, I’m better off to say ‘OK, that’s great.’ I don’t want to know whether it’s three, four, five (lug nuts). I’m going to assume it’s five. I don’t even want to think about it. As long as they don’t shake and fall off and we don’t have failures, I’m OK with it.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, though, can relate to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s blunt assessment that the possibility of fewer lug nuts “freaks me out.”
“I know exactly what Dale is saying,” Edwards said. “No one wants to feel a loose wheel and have it fall off. It can cause a lot of trouble.
“In a way, this originated with NASCAR wanting to have less people down there on pit road for a number of reasons. They said, ‘Look, you do whatever you want. If the wheel falls off, it’s going to be a big penalty.’ When you feel something loose, the first thing I do is ask Dave, ‘Hey, I think I got a wheel loose, what do you got?’ He looks down at (rear tire changer) Kip Wolfmeir and (front tire changer) Clay Robinson and says how we doing? If they say, ‘Eh, I don’t know about that,’ Dave’s going to tell me that, and I get to make the decision.”
Of course, the stress doesn’t end there if a driver pits, and the wheel isn’t loose after all.
“It does make it harder for the driver because you have ruined the day,” he said. “You have really screwed it up. And now you know going in there might only be 3-4 lug nuts on that thing. It probably makes you more likely to pull (into the pits), regardless of whether it’s real or not.”
Loose wheels aren’t the only major variable at Richmond, which will play host to a scheduled race on Sunday afternoon for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Though a few races have been postponed to daytime from Saturday night, this will mark the first time that teams are preparing all weekend for a daytime start since March 2, 1997. There also will be a new tire compound making its debut.
“It’s kind of neat to race in the daytime,” said Edwards, whose average RIR finish is 14th in 23 starts. “If the sun is out and 70 degrees, I think it’ll make the track slick, it’ll widen out, it’ll be more fun to drive. The lower downforce package has been fun all year, and Goodyear has been able to make tires that actually fall off and put a little strategy into it. I’d heard the groove even widened during the test (at Richmond), so I’m excited about the possibility of three-wide racing.”