By Mike Mulhern
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.
Carl Edwards is about to jump in the deep end of the swimming pool.
Well, he's not exactly jumping. He's being thrown in by car owner Jack Roush, as the replacement for Jeff Burton in a rare midseason driver change.
Burton moves to Richard Childress' team this week to take the ride that Dave Blaney has held the past three months.
Edwards, who is known for his back flips after victories on the Truck tour, is about to find out just how good he really is.
"I put so much pressure on myself ... but I'm going to try real hard not to let this overwhelm me," Edwards said. "I'm just going to try to qualify as well as we can. Because there is one thing I've learned from that Truck series it's that the world won't end if you don't win the race. The sun will come up tomorrow. So I've learned not to put quite so much pressure on myself.
"These guys are so good over here (on the Cup tour) that I'll benefit myself by simply completing all the laps and racing with them and learning to make adjustments. So I'll give it 90 percent and just be safe.
"We'll go test Tuesday at Kentucky and that will be the first time I've ever driven one of these things.
"I know zero right now and have no expectations. So after Kentucky we'll know whether to have confidence or be worried.
"I have a lot to learn. But there is no better way to learn than by driving equipment this good and racing with drivers this great.
"I don't know if you're ever ready to go run your first Cup race, but I'll just go give it my best."
Roush's original game plan was for Edwards to run seven Cup races next season and expand to a full Cup schedule in 2006.
"They've speeded up the process on me, and it's almost surreal," Edwards said. "It will be trial by fire."
The news came suddenly.
"Geoff Smith (head of Roush Racing) called me up and said 'Are you sitting down?' and I knew this was going to be big," Edwards said. "Luckily it was good.
"I had to call him back later in the day just to double-check and make sure this was really happening.
"It's just amazing.
"But this is what Roush Racing is all about. They give opportunities to guys like Carl Edwards. It's my birthday today, I'm 25. And on my 21st birthday I was over at somebody's shop wiring up trailer lights and getting ready to go dirt racing. I would have never thought that four years later I'd be standing here looking at this."
During his brief time in NASCAR, Edwards has been getting plenty of advice from his teammates at Roush. "Mark Martin is awesome, Kurt Busch is awesome, Greg Biffle has helped me a ton, Matt Kenseth helped me at Charlotte, Jeff Burton helped me a lot last year. That's one good thing about this team; there appears to be real good synergy among all the teammates."
Edwards may need all the synergy he can get, because the aerodynamic differences between Trucks and Cup cars is dramatic, as Brendan Gaughan has learned during this his rookie season.
"We'll found out," Edwards said. "Hey, if you're going to Michigan, you can help me.
"I'm going to talk to Brendan and hope he can help me. They say the Trucks have a lot more drag, and that these things are quicker, and when you let off the gas these things don't stop as quick.
"I'm sure it will be different. But it's just like anything, you'll have to figure it out."
Bristol and Richmond, Edwards concedes, will be particularly tough. "But I think they'll all be tough, until (crew chief) Bob Osborne and I and the crew really get working together,' he said. "It will be a battle. But it will be fun. I enjoy challenges, and this will be a challenge.
"The biggest thing will be getting comfortable and getting to know the guys. We just want to qualify solidly in the field, run all the laps, and make adjustments throughout the race, so I can get a good feel for how changes affect these vehicles."
Osborne concedes he and Edwards face a tough road ahead: "We're planning on testing quite a bit. At Michigan our goal is to finish the race without tearing anything up. We'll spend all weekend in race trim and let him feel the car and get the experience and try not to make rookie mistakes.
"And we'll progress through the rest of the season to where I'm comfortable, he's comfortable, and the team is comfortable with the normal routine of qualifying, practice and race. We'll get to that point. It may come sooner, it may come later.
"The aerodynamics will be a big step for him. He'll just have to get used to that. Other than getting track time, there's nothing we can do. So we're going to Kentucky just to make laps, and make some broad changes to the car so he can get a feeling for the direction and magnitude."
And how will other drivers treat him?
"Being a rookie, he will have to earn the room on the track," Osborne said. "If he puts himself in a situation, he's not going to have any leeway and he'll find himself in trouble. He'll have to show the patience and not put the car in a situation that gets him into trouble, that's all there is to it.
"I know the veteran guys aren't going to tolerate a rookie coming in and expecting to set the world on fire and put them at risk by them having to back out of the way for him. That's just not going to happen."
Mike Mulhern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org