As NASCAR hits the twist and turns of Watkins Glen International, Carl Edwards is confident in the direction that Toyota is going.

2015 marked Edwards’ first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, and the first time since coming into the Cup Series in 2004, he wasn’t driving a Ford. Through the struggles of 2015, it made the No. 19 team stronger.

This season, Edwards says his confidence is at an all-time high. Arguably, he will have to beat his JGR teammates for the championship as Toyota has won 10 of the 21 races. For the No. 19 team, it’s all about maintaining momentum going into the Chase.

“Right now, we’re just gearing up for the Chase and making sure that we are ready for those final 10 races,” Edwards told Speedway Digest. “That’s what we’re here to do. I feel like I’ve got the best team and the best shot of winning a championship that I’ve ever had and I just want to make the most of it.”

Through the first 21 races this season, Edwards has two wins, coming at Bristol and at Richmond, where he moved his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch out of the way on Turn 4 of the final lap. The No. 19 car has 13 top-10 finishes this season, two shy of his 2015 total and one fewer than his total from his final year with Roush Fenway Racing in 2014.  

In his second year at Joe Gibbs Racing, getting used to the system that Joe Gibbs has implemented within JGR has been an adjustment for Edwards. This season, he is working with veteran crew chief Dave Rogers, who replaced Darian Grubb atop the pit box. Since the pairing was announced over the offseason, his confidence level has skyrocketed.  

“Everyone is different,” Edwards said on the differences between Rogers and Grubb. “Dave and I communicate the same way. Dave and I were joking that we don’t get along with everybody, but we get along with each other really well. I think that’ the best way to put it. The communication is effortless and I think that’s just the way sometimes it works out for people.”

Over the last five seasons of competition, Edwards has worked with five different crew chiefs. Bob Osborne was a guy who he had worked with for nine years, and the guy that might be most similar to Rogers.

Edwards wants Rogers to be the last crew chief of his Cup Series career. In year one, the duo sits fifth in the standings, eight points behind Busch. They both credit each other’s success on one another. Based on the way last year finished and this year has gone, the duo is confident heading into the Chase.

“I was new to the system and I was trying to prove myself,” Edwards said of 2015. “It was tough. I thought last year everybody pulled together really well, and we almost had a shot at the championship. I’m really proud of everyone’s performance. Looking back on it, it was really spectacular what we were able to do.”

Edwards’ No. 19 team finished fifth in the standings last year, satisfying the organization in his first year with the crew.

Self-admittedly, Edwards had a lot to learn coming over to a new organization last season. The Missouri native had new primary sponsors in ARRIS and Stanley, after working with Aflac and Fastenal for the majority of his Cup Series career. He is known as being a marketable guy, always thanking the sponsors, so working with new ones was a transition.

 He had new faces to learn after being at Roush Fenway Racing for 12 seasons. But a key variable was working with Matt Kenseth, someone that he knew well from RFR.

“I think Matt has really been the person that I’ve leaned on the most,” Edwards said. “He really facilitated all of the initial talks when I first signed up. He was in charge of the initial meetings. We had lunch last together week and he’s just someone that always tells me what he thinks and he’s helped me a lot.”

With five races remaining before the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway, Edwards believes his team is where it needs to be. The 36-year-old believes that the field will need to go through JGR to win the championship.

“I would like to win a couple of these races,” Edwards said of his goals before the Chase begins. “Our main goal is to be prepared for the Chase. I’ve won plenty of races, now I want to win a championship. That’s our mission.”

Leading up to the Chase, Edwards has won on four of the five tracks. He is the defending winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and most recently, he won the aforementioned races at Bristol and Richmond this year. At Michigan, he has two victories, with the last one coming in 2008.

A victory between now and Chicago would give Edwards three extra bonus points for the first round of the Chase. With 12 winners this season thus far, every point is critical as last year, Busch’s four victories prior to the Chase edged him into the second round of the Chase by a few points.

 “If the fans like it, it’s good,” Edwards said. “It is difficult to pace yourself and to figure out when to give your best effort. This is the point of the season where what happens right now doesn’t really affect the outcome of the season, but you still put all of this pressure on yourself and so it’s a balance of going racing every week and preparing for the Chase.” 

While Toyota has ruled the sport this season, Edwards has remained one of the most consistent drivers at JGR. This season, he has outperformed Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, who has yet to win since the Daytona 500.

The JGR alliance with Furniture Row Racing seems to be beneficial throughout the Toyota camp, as Martin Truex, Jr. has led 1005 laps this season, the most of all drivers in the series. Edwards feels as though he is in the right position and that his No. 19 team is the best team in the garage.

A new era of NASCAR merchandising began on July 31, 2015. One year later and Fanatics has taken the fans of NASCAR by storm, introducing never before seen products, ultimately becoming part of the racing experience.

For years, fans were accustomed to the driver souvenir haulers, located around each and every race track. Many fans were sad to see their favorite drivers stand go away, but in the process adapted to Fanatics.

Chris Williams, Vice President of Trackside for Motorsports Authentic was one of the people in charge of setting up Fanatics. He had a vision of what he wanted to see at the track, and thought that this was the way of the future.

Williams has worked around for the sport for the past 30 years, and much like Fanatics celebrating it’s one year anniversary at Pocono Raceway, so is he. He once worked for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and then became the man in charge of the 30 plus souvenir haulers.

Much like the fans, getting used to the 1.5-acre tent that Fanatics is made up of has been a transition process for him over the season.

“Fanatics had a great vision of what they wanted to do with Trackside,” Williams said of the merchandise. “A lot of people don’t realize that we were digressing away from trailers because there were really only five guys that were making a profit and we were reducing trailers as they went. What was happening is we didn’t have a full assortment of drivers. We didn’t have any Truck drivers, hardly any XFINITY drivers at all and the lower tier drivers weren’t having any coverage at all from a Trackside standpoint.”

The support of the XFINITY Series drivers has said to gone up over 100 percent and the Truck Series over 150 percent, simply because prior to Fanatics, Motorsport Authentic didn’t carry much product for those two series.

Not only did the value of product increase, but so has the support from NASCAR. The way to purchase NASCAR merchandise at the race track is unlike any other sport. For that Fanatics and NASCAR have had a great relationship in year one.

“They [NASCAR] saw the numbers go down from the trailers and they knew they needed to keep the environment as part of the show,” Williams said of the support from NASCAR. “Shopping is a part of the excitement. We have the displays, interactions and hospitality, so they wanted something to be created that was going to be fan friendly. Going up to the trailers and waiting 40 minutes to be serviced was difficult.”

While shopping at Fanatics, fans will get in and out as quickly or as slowly as one wants. Each team has its own individual pod with hundreds of products for that organization. 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has five pods dedicated to him, which is upward of 100 feet of merchandising.

Over the past year brands such as Columbia, New Era and even Under Armor through Hendrick Motorsports have joined the sport. Fanatics is always trying to produce more and are hopeful that even more companies will join in the next calendar year.

Last weekend at Indianapolis was the last track that saw the new setup. Though the tent has been to every track, the company is not afraid to change.

“A year into this, we’ve gone to all the race tracks, we’ve changed them all a few times,
 Williams said. “We’ve even changed in dimension a few times. We’ve changed even location from a couple of the historical places that we set with the trailers. But when they find us, the shopping has been very good. All of the transactions are doing extremely well, compared to last year. Though we might have seen a declining in some of the race attendance, our sales are pretty much flat or better, which tells us we are giving the right things to the fans.”

Going into the new process, Motorsports Authentic wasn’t sure how the process would go. Most of the people are the same from the trailers, but this is said to be a unique experience that sets NASCAR apart.

Many of the products, including die-cast cars, t-shirts and fans are all merchandise that fans can see up close and even feel. Before, fans had to ask to see the product after waiting in a long line just to be serviced.

For years, there were over 30 trailers touring the United States, going from track-to-track. Now, full-time employees are given days off in-between races, something that hasn’t been done before.  

“Presentation wise, it looks very good and fans love the presentation part of it,” Williams said. “I think from an expectation standpoint everyone seems happy. I know from a process standpoint it’s really good.”

With 26 full-time employees, Fanatics goes into each region looking for help. The company hires over 100 people per region to help set up the process as well work at the track. Over the last 52 weeks, the company has hired 12 new people, but that doesn’t fill more than 60 cash registers.

“We do a deal online through our HR department, where they can go out and say that they would like to work in Fanatics,” Williams said. “We have a training deal that we do for different colleges that come out that’s kind of like an internship as well as a placement of positions. So far it’s turned out really well. Everyone that has come on board except for one is still here and they really like the job. They like being mobile and dealing with the consumer, they thrive on getting it done in a certain amount of timeframe because there is such a limited window.”

As year two is now in the making, Fanatics is trying to get bigger and better. With goals of expanding based on each race track, the company knows that there will be challenges.

Unlike other sports, the drivers are constantly changing colors due to sponsorship. It’s something that some fans enjoy and other fans despise, but it’s all part of the game.

“I think what we need to do is get a little bit thinner and deeper in product because we didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said of one of his main goals. “We probably enlarged our inventory 30 to 35 percent more than we ever had it. Our sport is a little different than any other sport, so we kind of learn through that.”

 Income is based solely off the market. There will always be that die-hard fan that comes in at whatever track they go to, but the money varies by different markets.

It was announced earlier this week that Earnhardt was the top driver in merchandise sales. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was second on the list. Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was third in product sold, rookie Chase Elliott was fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

Since the beginning of the 2016 season at Daytona, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. have seen their merchandise sales improve the most from last season.

While staying in qualifying trim throughout the opening practice, turning just seven laps, Paul Menard led the way at 177. 438 mph in opening practice at Pocono Raceway Friday afternoon. 

It's the first practice session that the No. 27 car has been atop of in 2016 season. Menard is coming off his second top-10 finish of the season at Indianapolis, which he placed 10th. This week veteran Danny Stockman took over as the crew chief for the team, replacing Justin Alexander, who was in his second season atop the pit box. 

The next trio of drivers were all from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, led by four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin (177.406 mph). Looking for his first win at the track, Kyle Busch was third in practice at 177. 019 mph. Carl Edwards was fourth at 176.977 mph. 
Kevin Harvick was fifth on the board at 176.620 mph.

2015 winner, Martin Truex, Jr. was sixth on the speed chart (176. 602 mph), Joey Logano seventh (176.495 mph), rookie Chase Elliott was eighth (176.484 mph), Ryan Newman was ninth after leading the session early on (176.391 mph) and his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10 at 175.984 mph.

Spring winner, Kurt Busch was just outside the top 10 in 14th. In his return to Pocono, Jeff Gordon was 22nd on the board, over eight-tenths of a second off the top time. Defending winner Matt Kenseth put up a lap that was 24th quick. 

Only two drivers made a run of 10 or more laps, led by Danica Patrick (171.094 mph). Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was the other driver on that list, running 22 laps in the practice session, the most of all drivers. 

Qualifying is set to begin shortly after 4:00 p.m. ET. Brad Keselowski won the pole for the spring race eight weeks ago.

Kyle Busch dominates the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his third straight win of 2016. Justin Allgaier pulled a maneuver on Elliott Sadler in the first turn of the last lap to win the $100,000 Dash4Cash bonus. Kevin Harvick finished second followed by Paul Menard, Kyle Larson, and Allgaier rounded out the top-five. Busch holds off two late race restarts on older tires to clinch his sixth victory of 2016.

 

“Man, these guys are so good, but you’ve got to drive the car to make it happen too, so I give the driver a little bit of credit, but overall, man, just a great day. Joe Gibbs Racing obviously does a great job for me – Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Joe Gibbs Racing Engines – and it’s fun to run here and get some more experience for tomorrow. I feel like this car’s really helped me in the last few years at being excel here at the Brickyard and I’m looking forward to what we’ve got for them tomorrow,” said Kyle Busch in a post race interview in victory lane.

 

 Busch also dominated his first heat. Larson finished second followed by Joey Logano in third, Daniel Suarez in fourth, and Elliott Sadler in fifth.  This heat went caution free.

 

Erik Jones dominated the second heat. Harvick finished second, Allgaier finished third, Paul Menard finished fourth, and Brennan Poole finished in fifth. The heat went caution free.

 

The main event saw three lead changes among two different drivers. Busch led 62 laps and Brendan Gaughan led one lap under green flag pit stops. The caution flag flew twice for a total of 10 laps. The first caution was for a spin by Erik Jones, and the second caution was brought out by an accident between Harrison Rhodes and Ray Black Jr. The average speed of the race was 136.298 mph. The time of the race was 1 hour, 9 minutes, and 20 seconds. The margin of victory was 0.411 seconds.

 

Allgaier was able to hold off Sadler, Jones, and Daniel Suarez to win the Dash4Cash bonus. Jones was the suspected winner of the bonus, but contact with the wall resulted in tire failure causing Jones to spin. Suarez assumed the lead in the race for the bonus, but a late race restart led to his demise giving Sadler the lead. Sadler lost the lead to Allgaier assumed the lead by passing Sadler in turn one on the last lap to clinch his first Dash4Cash Bonus in 2016.

 

“Just a solid weekend for us. We had speed right off the truck. They (the team) just pushed me through to the end of the race and put us in a good position. God parted the seas for us with the 19 (Suarez) and 20 (E. Jones) having their bad luck, I was able to bail it out,” said Allgaier of his victory.

 

Daniel Suarez maintains a 14-point lead over Elliott Sadler followed by Ty Dillon (-50), Justin Allgaier (-66), and Erik Jones (-69). The chase grid remains the same after today’s event. Jones holds the top seed with three wins and Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez hold the second and third seed with one win each.

 

The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to Iowa Speedway for the US Cellular 250 on Saturday night. NBCSN and Motor Racing Network will have all the action from Iowa Speedway.

Kyle Busch clinches the pole for the Lilly Diabetes 250 by two thousandths of a second over Erik Jones at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, Busch and Jones will start on the pole in their respective heat races. This is the sixth pole for Busch in the 2016 season. 

 

In the first round of single car qualifying, drivers were battling the sun and cloud cover on the speedway. Despite the weather challenges, Erik Jones toppled the track record with a speed of 182.271 mph. Kyle Larson qualified second with a speed of 181.926 mph, Kyle Busch with a speed of 181.899 mph, Daniel Suarez with a speed of 180.242 mph, and Blake Koch with a speed of 179.978 mph. Notable drivers who did not advance include Blake Koch (P13), Darrell Wallace Jr. (P14), Ty Dillon (P16), Brendan Gaughan (P18), and Elliott Sadler (P19). Sadler’s qualifying run was plagued by being too loose. TJ Bell is the lone driver to not qualify for today’s event. 

 

The second round of qualifying saw drivers on a hot and slick racetrack baking in the sun. Kevin Harvick edged out Daniel Suarez for the fourth position by one thousandths of a second. Ryan Sieg, who snuck his way into the second round, qualified 12th. 

 

Drivers who qualified in odd-numbered positions will be in the first heat race, and drivers who qualified in even numbered positions will be in the second heat race. The heat races will be 20 laps each, with the main even being 60 laps.

 

The Lilly Diabetes 250 will begin at 3:30 pm eastern with the first heat. The second heat will begin at approximately 4:25 pm, and the main event will begin at approximately 5:05 pm. NBCSN and IMS Radio Network in collaboration with Performance Racing Network will have coverage beginning at 3:00 pm.