Even with 10th-place finish at Fontana, Carl Edwards is the newest leader atop Sprint Cup standings

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Carl Edwards has been on an uphill climb all season. Sunday, he hit the top of the mountain. With plenty of others also vying for the same spot, now the question is how long he’ll stay there.

After starting off the season with his worst showing thus far in 2014, 17th place in the Daytona 500, Edwards has been in perpetual motion upward in the Sprint Cup standings.

Following Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in suburban Los Angeles, and even though he finished 10th in the race, Edwards finds himself atop the Cup rankings.

Admittedly, Edwards’ lead is anything but secure, with four fellow drivers within seven points of his lead.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led the Sprint Cup points first three weeks, climbed back up from third-place to second, just one point behind Edwards.

And Brad Keselowski, who led the points coming into Sunday’s race, dropped to third in the standings, but is just four points behind Edwards.

Let’s not forget Edwards’ former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth. He’s only seven points away in fifth place.

Even if you haven’t watched all of the first five races, you could readily see Edwards’ progress in his individual race finishes.

After Daytona, he finished eighth at Phoenix, fifth at Las Vegas, rallied late to win last Sunday at Bristol and then battled handling problems yet still came back to finish in the top 10 Sunday in Fontana.

Add that all up and Edwards has one win, two top-fives and four top-10s in the first five Cup races, equal to Jeff Gordon’s record thus far, and just behind the identical marks of one win, three top-five and three top-10s by Earnhardt and Keselowski.

Edwards is still seeking his first Sprint Cup championship. He almost won it in 2011, tying Tony Stewart in points, but losing in the first tie-breaker of overall wins (five wins for Stewart vs. just one for Edwards).

With his win at Bristol, Edwards is most of the way into the Chase, but not completely. The way NASCAR has structured the new Chase qualifying format, wins are of utmost importance. But if there are more than 16 winners in the first 26 races of the regular season, an early season winner like Edwards, Keselowski, Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick or even Sunday’s winner Kyle Busch could still come up short of the playoffs.

“There has been a lot of talk about it (among fellow drivers, media and fans),” Edwards said after his Bristol win. “I’ve been listening to the radio guys a lot and everybody is assuming that you win and you’re in, and that’s definitely not the case.

“We have 12 more races (two races before the Chase-qualifying cut-off race at Richmond in September) and all of a sudden it turns in to there are already 16 winners, but the first step is you have to win. I think we’re proving that right now. You’re going to have to have a win, I believe, to be in the Chase, so now that we’ve checked that box, we need to go get another win and then I think we’ll be guaranteed to be in it.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”