Bristol: Special setup for special track

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You're headed for Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time this weekend and you need some advice on how to set up your car and maneuver the tight corners.

Whom do you call?

Carl Edwards would be a good place to start. Edwards has won two of the past three Sprint Cup races at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile Track." He is the only Roush Fenway Racing driver to win a race there in NASCAR's top three series -- Cup in '07 and '08, Nationwide in '07 and Truck Series in '04.

He hasn't turned as many laps there as Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon, who have five Bristol wins apiece to lead all active drivers. But Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne certainly qualify as experts.

"The first key to winning at Bristol is qualifying," Edwards said. "You have to qualify well. Secondly, your car has to handle well. You don't want to fight a car for 500 laps at Bristol. It seems in the end to come down to the smallest things -- like where you restart, a lot of times you end up rubbing on people and they do the same to you.

"Overall, you have to be tough all day with the grind, and you have to be able to deal with it until the end. There's 450 laps and then there's the sprint at the finish."

Edwards doesn't have a great qualifying record at Bristol. His average starting position is 21.6.

But that also makes Edwards somewhat of an expert on the importance of qualifying well. Only once in his four top-10 finishes has he started outside the top 10. He was seventh in 2006 after starting 39th.

His average finish in five races starting outside the top 10 is 20.4, well above his average finish of 13.8 overall.

He won from the pole in the August 2008 night race.

That makes Osborne's job simple: Have the car ready to go before Edwards gets to the track.

"Our goal is unload fast, qualify well, lead laps and win the race," Osborne said.

Roush's Greg Biffle agrees with that strategy. He just has trouble pulling it off, failing to start in the top five in the past five Bristol races and in seven of 12 total starts there.

"If you have a bad qualifying run or have to start in the back for some other reason, it can be difficult even with a good car to get back through the field," he said.

Getting through the field isn't as difficult as it once was. Drivers don't have to use the old bump-and-shove-the-guy-in-front-out-of-the-way move to make a pass since the track was resurfaced a couple of years ago.

"I haven't had the success since they have resurfaced it," said Busch, who won four of five Bristol races from 2002 to 2004 and tossed in another in 2006. "It's the fact that it's not so cut-and-dried anymore. You had to race the bottom. You had to be on the bottom. That's where you had to get your car to set up and work well.

"Now you can run around anywhere on that racetrack. It still has some small things that are Bristol, but yet it's not as tough. It's not as mean as it used to be."

But Busch agrees with Edwards that a good qualifying run is essential. Three of his wins came from the top 10 and another from 13th.

But the strategy for winning at Bristol has changed in recent seasons.

"Well, it definitely still has its same attitude, in that if you're the leader and the second-place car catches you, the second-place car is usually a little quicker," Busch said. "Does that leader want to give up that inside or does he want to give up the lead or is it a guy behind him he doesn't care for and he really wants to put up a fight? That's what makes Bristol great.

"Usually the fastest car wins, but a lot of times it's who had the strategy to stay out, who ended up dodging the traffic the best when cars get in the traffic, that will happen. So that's what makes Bristol so exciting, is you just never can predict how things are going to happen."

What makes Bristol so exciting to Edwards isn't so much the setup or strategy.

"There are 160,000 fans -- you know -- that turn the place into a coliseum," he said. "It's such a fast half-mile race track and the history of the great finishes and the great races at Bristol is what makes it such a great place. It's just fun!"

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.


NASCAR track guide: Bristol Motor Speedway