AVONDALE, Ariz. — Carl Edwards is one of the most popular drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
And he brings that popularity and a Sprint Cup points lead into the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Speedway
The 31-year-old Missouri native, however, doesn’t have the same level of popularity among his fellow drivers.
The fact is that Edwards’ aggressive style of driving doesn’t sit well with a number of his colleagues in NASCAR.
It isn’t just about his now famous dustups with Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski from the past two seasons.
First the pair duelled at Talladega in 2009 where Edwards was sent flying, his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford flipping over and nearly going through the speedway’s fence and into the crowded grandstand.
The two had another violent collision at Atlanta last season, this time it was Keselowski’s Dodge that was sent flying head over heals.
Most who witnessed that wreck called it payback for the Talladega incident, plain and simple.
NASCAR officials called both drivers into the big white truck in the next week at Bristol and gave them a verbal spanking.
While Edwards and Keselowski haven’t been involved with each other since, the No. 99 did get more than a few sideways glances during the run up to the Daytona 500 last week.
Several drivers, including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 48 and No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, were none too happy when Edwards drove his Ford into holes where there was none.
None of these incidents, however, take away from the fact that Edwards is among the most talented drivers in the sport.
He goes into Phoenix with a combined 53 race wins in NASCAR’s Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.
Those numbers rank him puts among the best of the active drivers in all series.
And thanks to a quirk in NASCAR rules that prevented last week’s surprise Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne from collecting championship points — because the 20-year-old will campaign in the Nationwide series this season — Edwards sits atop the Sprint Cup leaderboard this week.
With his second place at Daytona combined with his two race wins in the final two races in the 2010 season, Edwards is on a definite hot steak,
“The way we finished the 2010 season is the way we’d like to run all the time, and I feel the way our team is structured right now, we’re set to have one of our best seasons for Roush for all of the Roush teams, including ours,” Edwards told media members prior to the start of the season. “I’m excited about it.”
What he isn’t excited about is the fact that the one-mile flat oval at Phoenix — where he is defending race champion — is about to get bulldozed, with a new racing surface replacing it by the time NASCAR is back in Arizona next fall.
“I will be out there laying in front of the excavating equipment trying to get them to leave it alone,” Edwards said. “I really like that surface a lot.
“Everything they have done out there through the years has been better. The way they changed the outside wall off of Turn 2 was a good change at the time.
“I really liked that wall; I thought it was neat. I feel like the pavement will be positive. No matter how hard you try, I don’t think you can mess that race track up. It is the right size, the sun beats down and it gets slippery.”
The good news earlier this season that Gil de Ferran had put together a deal to have Tony Kanaan race for his team in the IZOD IndyCar series has turned into bad news for both. De Ferran announced on Thursday that funding for the team had fallen through and the partnership was over. “This is a very difficult announcement for us to make,” de Ferran said. “Regarding the future of our team, at this point we are unclear of our plans.” ... There are only 40 Nationwide Series entries for Saturday’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200. That marks the first time in three seasons NASCAR’s No. 2 series has failed to fill the 43-car grid.