Carl Edwards gazed at the mural-sized image of his photo-finish 2005 win over Jimmie Johnson gracing the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center wall Saturday morning and sighed.
"That moment was ... I don't even know how to describe it," Edwards said. "It changed my whole career and my whole life."
Before that weekend, Edwards was a wide-eyed, eager rookie driver from Missouri. Afterwards, he was a contender. The day before his Cup win, he'd earned his first Nationwide Series win, becoming the first driver in Atlanta history to sweep the two weekend events.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams, and I'm enjoying every minute of it," Edwards said at the time. "About two-and-a-half years ago, I was working on my dirt car in my garage at home; this is pretty cool. It's unbelievable."
A lot has changed in the intervening years. That young driver has become a proven veteran with 19 race wins to his credit. He has gotten married and quickly added two kids to his family.
What hasn't changed is his love for the track that changed it all for him.
"This is a fun race track," Edwards said. "This race track drives like a race track should. There are multiple grooves. As the pavement has aged ... to me, it's perfect. It's a really great race track to race on. It helps that I've got some of my best memories of racing here."
Four NASCAR K&N Pro Series East drivers visited with the media Saturday morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, points leader Max Gresham and Sergio Pena discussed the season's final races, their futures, and an autograph session today at AMS.
All four drivers – as well as NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse, Timmy Hill and Blake Koch and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Austin Dillon, James Buescher, and Joey Coulter – will sign autographs today at 1 p.m for the first 150 kids age 16 and under at the speedway ticket office.
For Gresham, it's a sweet return to the track where he began his racing career at the tender young age of 8 in a Bandolero Bandit.
"I love the Legends and Bandoleros, the Thursday Thunder stuff," Gresham said. "I loved hopping out and seeing all those people there – it makes you feel like a superstar, because everybody's there to watch you. But the coolest part was running during Cup weekends. In your mind you're thinking all the big shots are watching you. Whether they are or not, it makes you want to perform even better."
They must have been watching, because Gresham was snapped up by Joe Gibbs Racing's development program in 2009. Last year, he picked up two K&N Pro Series wins and finished eighth in points. He also had three ARCA starts, claiming a win at Mansfield in just his third series race.
Gresham said his plans for next year are still a little up in the air, as he concentrates on wrapping up his first NASCAR title in the K&N Pro Series this month. But he's got his eye on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ... and he's aiming even higher than that.
"The Legends Car Series was a great place for me to cut my teeth and learn car control," Gresham said. "To think that in NASCAR you have two Georgia natives (David Ragan and Reed Sorenson), and Joey (Logano) who was kind of from Georgia ... it's cool to think I could hopefully be the next Georgia guy to make it to the Sprint Cup Series. That would be awesome."
GORDON CLINCHED – BUT HOW?
Even Jeff Gordon wasn't really sure what changed to show that he has now clinched a place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And he assigned full blame for that to his longtime PR man, Jon Edwards.
"I was at a Pepsi Max photo shoot Wednesday and a Hendrick rep was there and got the news," Gordon said. "I'll be honest, I was in the middle of everything and I still have not got clarification what happened. But my first thought was, 'Yo, Jon Edwards, what's up with that?' He's always the guy who tells you if this happens, if this happens, if this happens, you'll clinch. So I was surprised he didn't pick up on that prior to the race."
In the interest of fairness, Edwards was asked to respond to the pointed accusations.
"Do you know how many pages and pages of information I went through to TRY and figure it out?" he asked incredulously.