PHOENIX -- If you took a poll of the drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage area about which race they would most want to win, most would put the Daytona 500 at the top of the list followed by the Brickyard 400. Many would also want to win the prestigious Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina -- the oldest superspeedway in NASCAR.
But Carl Edwards would give a far different answer.
To the driver of the No. 99 Ford, there's no place like home and that would be Kansas Speedway -- site of Sunday's STP 400.
Edwards grew up across the state line in Columbia, Mo., but he spent his formative years racing the dirt tracks of Kansas and Missouri before moving to NASCAR first in the Camping World Truck Series, then Nationwide and ultimately up to Cup as a full-time driver in 2005.
It would be a dream come true for Edwards to hit Victory Lane at Kansas in the Cup Series.
"There would be no bigger win on the circuit than Kansas for me," Edwards says with pride. "If I had to choose winning one race throughout the year, that would be the one I pick. The amount of pride that I would have winning that close to home and in front of so many people that are friends of mine and people that have helped me would be huge."
In nine Cup starts at Kansas Edwards has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes. He was fifth in both races last year and his best finish (second) came in the September 2008 race.
"Kansas means a ton. When they started building that racetrack it was a little bittersweet for me because I raced at my local dirt track and we were having a bunch of success and it was always a little deflating to hear people talk about that new racetrack. I knew the chances of me ever getting to race there were so slim, so it was kind of one of those things I tried to ignore because it was painful to think, 'Here's this beautiful facility. There's so much excitement around it and I'll probably just go there as a fan if I'm lucky some day.' For me now to drive over there and be one of the guys racing for the win at that place is a huge honor. There are a lot of people who come support me at that track, so a win there would truly be as big as a win at the Daytona 500. It would be as big as a win as the Brickyard or any of those, so that's an important race and I'm glad we're running twice [there this season]."
Edwards has already tasted Victory Lane at Kansas. In July 2004 he outlasted the field in a Truck series race there.
"That was a huge day for me," he recalled. "That was spectacular. Every win is important, every one of them. ... I'm very proud of that win."
Few drivers in Sprint Cup could use a win more than Edwards right now. After nearly winning the title in 2011 -- Stewart bested Edwards in a tiebreaker by virtue of his win total -- the Roush Fenway driver was expected to once again contend for the championship. But it hasn't gone that way. Yes, Edwards sits 11th in points with four top-10 finishes, but he's failed to lead a single lap after leading 903 last year.
"We've had a couple of bad races," he admitted. "We had Phoenix, where we ran out of fuel, and Bristol, where we wrecked early. If it weren't for that, I think we'd be up there near where Greg Biffle [the points leader] is at ... We've just got to get this thing dialed in."
Edwards finished eighth last Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in a race that teammate Greg Biffle won. And while Edwards would admit he hasn't gotten off to the hot start that he may have liked, his teammates at Roush Fenway couldn't be off to a better start, with Biffle leading the points and Matt Kenseth second, 19 points back.
"Matt's a guy, who started at the bottom ... of the sport," Edwards said. "He'll do anything in the shop. ?He's good with people. He's a nice guy. He understands this sport from the bottom up, and him and Greg seem to get along really well. We look to those guys for inspiration and advice and notes during the weekend. They've been fast and you guys know, if Greg Biffle is happy and he's feeling positive about his crew chief, he's going to be fast.?So I think there's a lot of attitude that comes into play over there. Those guys seem to be really happy."
A win on the track might help Edwards block out some of the drama currently surrounding him off the track. During NASCAR's off-week his former girlfriend, Olympic gold medal swimmer Amanda Beard, released a book which included details of her relationship with Edwards. She portrayed Edwards as a narcissist, who forced Beard to do things "Carl's Way," and that his goals, wants and needs trumped hers.
The couple split in 2006. Edwards, who is now married with two children, denied Beard's claims last week at Texas.
"To be honest with you guys, it is just weird. I don't know how to address things that I don't even remember happening. That is tough. It is pretty far out there out of left field for me."
While Edwards was dismayed at what was said in the book, he will have a chance to go to the White House along with Cup champion Tony Stewart when NASCAR is honored by President Barrack Obama.
"Boy, I would really like to be the one standing there next to the president with my Sprint Cup trophy," Edwards quipped. "I guess we are a couple spots closer. It is nice that the president is taking time to honor our sport and to honor Tony and the other championship contenders.
"To go there and see it and stand in a room that so many great people have stood in and to hear them tell the stories and see the artwork on the walls and the history of the place is spectacular. I don't know as much about that history as I should but it is always something that spurs me to go learn more. I think that as an American that is really neat to go do."
While Edwards will be honored as the Sprint Cup runner-up if he wants to have a chance to be honored by the President of the United States as the Sprint Cup champion, a win at Kansas may be just the thing he needs to catapult him back into the thick of things as NASCAR's schedule begins to really heat up.