By Mike Harris
HAMPTON - There are no distractions for Carl Edwards inside his race car.
But that's the only place he's been at peace since NASCAR officials discovered the lid from the oil tank on his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was missing after his victory last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
That was the second straight victory for Edwards and it should have been a time to talk about being in first place in the Sprint Cup standings for the first time in his career and about the possibilities of making it three in a row in today's Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Instead, he has spent most of the week answering questions about that missing lid, being docked 100 points - dropping him to seventh in the standings - and losing crew chief Bob Osborne to a six-week suspension.
Edwards figures he has been able to handle the situation pretty well.
"I believe the last year or two I've been hardened a lot," he said. "The only distraction is having to ... talk about it.
"I have a very simple job and that's not to make any mistakes in that race car and go as fast as I can, so that's what I keep doing. I get my joy out of doing that job well. So, for me personally, it's more of just a nuisance to have to come over here and talk about this because I know what happened and it really doesn't matter to me what other people say about it."
What other people, including a lot of competitors in the NASCAR garage, have been saying is that they believe the Roush Fenway team intentionally let the oil tank lid come off to gain an aerodynamic advantage, estimated by several crew chiefs at between 100 and 170 pounds of additional downforce.
"It's fine by me if folks want to get worked up about it," Edwards said. "Then we've got 'em right where we want 'em. We're just racing hard."
Team owner Jack Roush has consistently denied any intent to cheat.
"We're not culpable," Roush said Friday. "It was not our intent. We did not have the expectation that that thing would come off, but apparently there's enough cheaters out there that have been playing in this area that they know absolutely for sure how much it's worth and the fact that there's an advantage.
"I support the fact that Carl says he would have won that race with or without the panel being loose."
Roush said he would consider appealing if his team believes it could get Osborne's suspension shortened or dropped. But the owner wasn't optimistic.
"The fact is, I've appealed (to the National Stock Car Commission) no less than four and probably more than six times in the 22 years I've been in this business and I've gotten relief exactly zero times in spite of the fact that the facts were in my favor many times."