BROOKLYN, Mich. — Carl Edwards has come a long way from the days when he was handing out business cards to strangers, hoping somebody would give him a shot at moving up the racing ladder.
Now an established star in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Edwards appreciates what he has. That’s why the message NASCAR President Mike Helton delivered at a meeting Friday with drivers and team owners resonated with the Roush-Fenway Racing driver.
During the gathering, which lasted only about 10 minutes, Helton made it clear that it’s time for the loud complaining about the Car of Tomorrow, rough race tracks and other weekly irritants to stop. He let it be known that the drivers need to think more about the plight of the fans, facing $4 a gallon gas and numerous other economic ills.
“I can understand (NASCAR’s) position,” Edwards said. “We’ve got it pretty good here. This is what I signed up for. And I think all of us, when we think back about where we started, we signed up to be race car drivers. And, part of that (is if) the car doesn’t handle real well, and sometimes the car is hot, sometimes you’re uncomfortable.
“It’s kind of what they pay us for, to do that job,” he added. “That’s what I got from that meeting, and I think that’s fair.”
There are reports that Sunday’s Lifelock 400 will be far short of the sellouts that used to be commonplace for the Cup races at the rural Michigan track. The campgrounds surrounding the facility appeared much emptier than usual on Saturday, and there are likely to be plenty of empty seats in the vast grandstands for the Cup race.
Edwards, the defending race winner, said he was already concerned before the meeting about what NASCAR fans are facing these days.
“I was following a couple of motor homes in here the other day, and it means a lot to me,” Edwards said. “These are hardworking people, and they take their money, and they decide, “Hey, we’re going to buy some tickets, we’re going to put gas in this motor home and we’re going to drive to the race track, and we’re going to take a couple of days off work.’ That’s huge. My family never did anything like that. It costs a lot.
“It concerns me just as much as it should concern any American. It’s a tough economic time. It’s just a reality. I brought three of my buddies with me and one of them just got laid off back home in Columbia ... I think the sport will go on. We just have to understand that we are going to suffer, just like everyone else.”
Edwards, who drives Fords, took part in a meeting with executives earlier this week at the car company’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters to discuss what Ford and NASCAR are facing in this struggling economy.
“It was really a straightforward, brutally honest meeting, and gas prices are not just going to affect the grandstands and from the spectators’ side,” he said. “It could have a huge effect on the manufacturers in the sport, (a) bigger effect than I ever imagined.
“So, what we do is focus. ... I have to go out and make sure to educate people and make them understand that, if they buy these products from Ford Motor Company or GM or Chrysler, that they’re really helping to keep the sport the way it is.”
Edwards has certainly been doing his job on the track.
After winning three of the first seven races this season, Edwards has gone seven races without a win. But that doesn’t mean he has slowed down.
He heads into Sunday’s race riding a string of five straight top-10s, including a pair of runner-up finishes that have him fourth in the points. Even better news for Edwards is that the two-mile MIS oval has been a very friendly place for both him and team co-owner Jack Roush.
With Friday’s qualifying rained out, the field was lined up by car owner points, meaning Edwards will start fourth, behind pole-sitter Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Roush’s Cup cars have won here 10 times, while Edwards has a win and six top-10 finishes in seven Michigan starts. His worst finish at this track was 22nd in the August race in 2006.
“This track takes everything,” Edwards said. “It takes a real great engine, a great aero package, a real smart crew chief, and we’ve got all those things. Roush really puts a lot of focus on these type of tracks.”