Edwards may not win Chase, but can close 2013 strong

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A Sprint Cup championship is probably too tall an order for Carl Edwards, who sits 76 points off the lead in the Chase with three races to go. But the Roush Fenway Racing driver can certainly establish himself as a contender for 2014 in the remaining events.

Edwards, who starts from the pole for tomorrow’s AAA Texas 500, has the most wins at Texas Motor Speedway among active Sprint Cup drivers with three (2005, sweep in 2008). Next up after Texas is Phoenix, where he snapped a 70-race winless streak back in March. Then comes the season-finale on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Roush Fenway squads have triumphed seven times.

As Edwards himself stated after winning the pole on Friday, he couldn’t have picked a better set of tracks to finish the year on. And that makes him confident that he and his No. 99 crew can get a proper headstart on next season.

“There is nothing we are not bringing to the race track equipment-wise and effort-wise, and we are coming to win,” Edwards said. “For us, it is really about gearing up for next season…There are a lot of things changing but overall it would help to keep the guys motivated and everyone looking forward. Wins would be great.”

“I love racing here [at Texas] and we ran really well at Phoenix, and Homestead, for some reason, perfectly suits me and the way our cars work and the engine. We should be really good. At the very least, we will have a good time and have some fun which is something that is easy to forget. That is a big part of it.”

Edwards was hoping for bigger things from his 2013 Chase after winning the last “regular season” race at Richmond back in September. But after starting out with decent results in his first two post-season events, a 35th-place finish (broken wheel hub) in Chase Race No. 3 at Dover effectively ended his bid for a title.

However, Edwards noted that the Chase has still been productive for Roush Fenway as a whole, as the group has realized the need to step it up against its competition.

“We recognize that we need to be better,” he said. “I think Greg’s run at Martinsville last week was a turning point for us. The speed he had was huge.

“I believe this pole and hopefully a solid run by not just me but Ricky [Stenhouse] and Greg [Biffle] and the whole Ford RFR camp will hopefully give those guys a little bit of something to show for all their hard work because they have been really working hard in the shop. Yeah, we recognize this Chase hasn’t gone well and it spurned a lot of hard work.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”