Edwards gets some NFL-style training

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 11, 2014 at 6:51 PM

BRISTOL — When Carl Edwards agreed to participate in a football skills exhibition for a Bristol Motor Speedway appearance, the NASCAR driver had no idea he would receive personal instruction from a former NFL defensive back.

Lined up as a defender against former University of Louisville football player Graig Hoffman, Edwards received some last minute instructions from former Chicago Bears cornerback Teddy Gaines.

Edwards used the advice from Gaines, a former All-State player at Dobyns-Bennett and now an assistant coach at ETSU, to successfully break up several passes intended for Hoffman.

The driver also did some lateral band e xercises and heavy rope training Tuesday at the Velocity Sports Performance facility.

“It’s just like our sport, having so many details you have to work on to be good,” Edwards said. “Now I know when I watch an NFL guy does this amazing stuff, it’s because they’ve been working on all this for years. I work out with a trainer, and we do a lot of endurance training. But, I don’t get to do enough fun stuff. This is really interesting.”

Edwards is also interested in NASCAR’s changes to Sprint Cup Series qualifying and how a champion will be crowned. No longer will drivers complete just a solo lap around the track, but instead will go to knockout qualifying, similar to that used in Formula One and Indy Car.

The driver of the No. 99 Roush-Fenway Ford believes it could have a huge effect at Bristol when drivers qualify for next month’s Food City 500.

“The qualifying, specifically at Bristol, is going to be insane,” he said. “At Bristol, Martinsville and the restrictor-plate tracks, they will be the most entertaining qualifying sessions we have all year. It’s going to be crazy.”

Twice a runner-up for the Sprint Cup Series title, the 34-year-old Missouri native is still trying to dissect all the changes to the “Chase for the Championship.”

A win in one of the first 26 races now guarantees a spot in the Chase, which now features a series of eliminations instead of a driver simply compiling the most points over a10-race stretch.

“Our mission is to win the championship, so right off the bat a race win is key,” Edwards said. “Once that Chase starts, there is no telling what will happen. We have to see how this develops. When you change a format like NASCAR has, it throws everything out the window. Someone will game the system, and figure out the strategy to best put themselves in position to win the championship.”

Edwards, who expressed concerns about the format before it was announced, gained a better understanding of why it was implemented after meeting with NASCAR officials.

He knows the purpose is to make it more appealing to the fans.

“At the end of the day, anything that gets people interested in our sport is good,” said Edwards, a 21-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series. “Anything that happens in the sport, whether it’s controversy, changes in format, changes in the car, even the big debacle we had at Richmond last year, it’s an opportunity for people to look at the sport and to say, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’ I think it will be good.”

An early-season win would certainly ease some of the pressure off of a driver like Edwards, who needs to make the Chase to keep his car owner happy as well as meeting his own goals. For that reason, he wants to be in Bristol’s victory lane at the Food City 500 next month, and not facing a must-win situation at the IRWIN Tools Night Race in August, just two races before the Chase cut-off.

“There is definitely more pressure with this format,” he said. “The pressure will escalate as we approach the cut-off for the Chase. When you get to down to that four-race stretch before Richmond, it will become imperative for certain guys to win. It is possible you will see some crazy things happen because of that pressure.”

Despite finishing 18th in last year’s Food City 500, Edwards feels good about his chances at Bristol. He led 119 laps last August before falling out with an engine failure. It gives him hope that his No. 99 Ford will again be among the fastest cars.

“I think Matt Kenseth was the best at both of those races, but I felt we had the second-best car,” said Edwards, a two-time winner of the August night race. “I really like this place. It’s technical and fast where you have to get your rhythm. You have to be precise, but you also have to be real aggressive. It’s so easy to mess up here. I’ve wrecked about every different way. But, I feel I have a good base of knowledge to race here, so hopefully we can get another victory.”

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