Driver credits preparation for win in California.
Carl Edwards has never been a big fan of testing. He hated taking tests as a student in school. He hated giving tests when he was a substitute teacher back in Missouri while chasing his racing dream. And he especially hates testing a race car in the same mundane round-and-round pattern, turning laps almost mindlessly to collect data and information that may or may not help down the road in certain races or to improve the performance of his race car. But testing can be a necessary evil that eventually gives a great reward. Such is the case with Edwards and the Car of Tomorrow. With Hendrick Motorsports dominating the introduction of the COT in its 16 races (part of Cup racing's 36-race overall schedule) last season, Edwards tested so much to improve both his and the collective COT fortunes of Roush Fenway Racing that he earned a diploma from the School of Racing Knocks. Yet, Edwards proved that practice – and ergo, testing – oftentimes pays off as he won two COT races late last summer at Bristol, Tenn., and Dover, Del. Having tested even more this past off-season, it's not surprising Edwards became the first Sprint Cup driver to win on an intermediate track with the new car when he captured Monday's rain-delayed Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif. Edwards' Ford Fusion had so much power that he cruised to victory down the stretch, leading the last 13 laps to become the second winner thus far this season, after Ryan Newman's win last week in the season-opening Daytona 500. While testing can be monotonous, it also has its benefits. During testing at both Las Vegas and in Fontana during the end of January and first couple of days of this month, Edwards was the fastest driver overall. The information gleaned at those tests played a key part in his win Monday, Edwards admits, and could potentially lead to another win for him or one of his Roush Fenway Racing teammates this Sunday in the UAW-Dodge Dealers 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "If there's one thing we've learned, we've got to stay on top of (the continuing evolution of the COT), and we have to keep working as hard as we can," Edwards said. "We have to keep on top of it, but this is a great way to start. I hope we keep going like this." Edwards will quickly find out if that will indeed be the case. After leaving the two-mile high-banked track at Fontana, the Sprint Cup circuit now has back-to-back races scheduled at 1.5-mile tracks in Las Vegas this weekend and suburban Atlanta next week, the first time the COT has raced on tracks of that length. Those races will go a long way toward determining whether Roush Fenway truly is a challenger to the Hendrick camp. "I hope it's an indication that we've caught up with them," Edwards said of his win on Monday, and his third overall COT triumph since last season. "I hope this is a sign that we're up to (Hendrick's) standards, up to their level. I believe we are." We'll find that out Sunday, yet another significant test for Edwards. But he shouldn't worry: He's pulling all A's, being the only driver in the Roush Fenway and overall Ford camp who has reached victory lane in the new car. Who knows, given all the miles he's logged since last year in trying to see just what the new car can do, coupled with the three wins he now has in it, maybe Edwards is actually starting to like testing. "The reason we won (at Fontana) is because of the preparation," Edwards said. Maybe testing really isn't all that bad, after all. Jerry Bonkowski is National NASCAR Columnist for Yahoo! Sports and a featured contributor to Gatehouse News Service. He can be reached at NASCARColumnist@Yahoo.com. THE EDWARDS FILE - Some of the jobs Edwards held while pursuing his racing career: substitute teacher and reserve sheriff's deputy. - A big music buff, he owns his own recording studio and record label (Back 40 Records). Edwards started both to give aspiring local talent around his hometown of Columbia, Mo., opportunities to record demo tapes at little or no cost in hopes of some day being "discovered." - Edwards is a huge physical fitness buff and works out at least an hour or two every day, with the exception of race day.