Edwards Gains Triple Crown Championship Perspective from Thoroughbred Jockey Cauthen
VERONA, Ky. - A pair of racing champions from contrasting disciplines united earlier this week with the common bond of horsepower to share stories of their signature Kentucky successes and strikingly similar rises to prominence.
One was Kentucky native Steve Cauthen, who at 18 years old, launched an international racing career by pacing Affirmed on an undefeated run through American thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown made up of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1978.
Another was Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards, who at 23 years old, jump started a stellar career by scoring his first NASCAR national touring series victory at Kentucky Speedway in an unsponsored Camping World Truck Series ride in 2003.
Edwards added a 2005 Nationwide Series triumph at the venue and stands a June 28 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts victory shy of becoming the second driver to complete a Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Triple Crown.
The two met for the first time at Cauthen's Dreamfields Farm to share their racing experiences Tuesday as part of Kentucky Speedway's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts media day.
"If you really think about being on one of those horses, at the speeds they're going, with everybody running into each other and basically fighting at speed - that's probably a pretty stressful environment. A lot of times that's how it feels in racecars," Edwards said.
Winning races in three different series at any NASCAR track ranks as a special achievement, but accomplishing the feat in Kentucky would take on added meaning for Edwards due to his personal connection to the facility and his penchant for conquering the high-risk, high-reward challenges posed by a 1.5-mile tri-oval.
"Coming to Kentucky means a lot because my first NASCAR win came here. It was in an unsponsored truck for Jack Roush and I had no guarantee of employment past that year. That was a breakthrough moment for my career and, really, my life," he said.
The track's unique conditions require drivers to be mentally and physically precise on each lap.
"It's a very tough, technical racetrack and that's what makes it fun for the drivers. The banking is different in (Turns) 1 and 2 versus 3 and 4. There are spots that are slick and spots that have a bunch of grip. As the race goes on, you learn things, you see people's weaknesses and you can find spots where you can make the car do things you can't do at other tracks," he analyzed.
Edwards delivered his best NSCS Kentucky finish with a fifth-place showing in the inaugural Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts in 2011. He averaged a 21st-place finish in the past two events.
This season, a No. 99 team led by veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig seems poised to provide a car that will place Edwards in Kentucky title contention.
He enters this weekend's Pocono Raceway event third in the NSCS championship standings owning an all-important Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying Bristol Motor Speedway victory from March 16.
The win provides insurance he can use to attempt to enhance his championship seeding by aggressively pursuing more checkered flags.
"I was one of the most vocally skeptical about the new Chase format, but I stood in Victory Lane at Bristol and it seemed pretty darn good to me," Edwards said. "It's proven, to me, to be a lot of fun because now we can go out and race, really, with abandon.
"This weekend at Pocono, if we have a final restart with five laps to go, I can be extremely aggressive and do things I normally wouldn't have done at this part of the season because I'm not really racing for points.
"I'm very grateful for where we are right now. To have a win and be third in points, especially the way we've run because we've been basically mediocre, we're very fortunate. If we can raise the level our performance a little bit, I think we're going to be very good."
Cauthen's championship perspective just might help Edwards develop an edge he can call on to separate himself from the field during the second half of the NSCS season.
"First of all, you need a good horse or car. It's a sense of timing, a fearlessness to go when you need to get through a gap or bump somebody in the rear end to let them know you need them to get out of your way.
"You have to have the desire to win and take the chances that are necessary to secure a victory. When you go to the front, you better make sure you feel you have enough to get all the way home," Cauthen advised.
Edwards, who began racing on Missouri dirt tracks, is now 34 years old and has raced to 66 combined victories in NASCAR's three national series. He earned four in 2007 while racing to the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) title.
Cauthen rose from similar humble beginnings to achieve stardom in his sport.
A Walton, Ky., native, he gained his parents' blessing to leave high school to pursue a thoroughbred riding career at age 16 . He advanced from stable worker and rode to a last-place finish in his first start in 1976. He later won his first race at Cincinnati, Ohio's River Downs aboard Red Pipe.
In his first two months as a licensed jockey, he amassed 120 victories. By 1977, Cauthen was Sports Illustrated'sSportsman of the Year after capturing 487 victories and becoming the first jockey to earn $6 million in a season.
Cauthen was first introduced to Affirmed by Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera. Cauthen rode the then 2-year-old chestnut horse to a 1977 Sanford Stakes victory and set the tone for an historic run to come.
He recounted the ageless Triple Crown battles between Affirmed and Alydar. Affirmed beat rival Alydar by a nose in the Belmont to become the 11th and last Triple Crown winner.
"I don't think you could have put on a better show than those two horses did," Cauthen said. "There was probably no better way to win the Triple Crown than like that. We had a great rivalry. Both of them showed up at every one of their races, gave their all. It wasn't fun until I crossed the finish line, but then it was really fun and exciting."
Edwards and Cauthen exchanged mementos Tuesday before leaving Dreamfields Farm to head north on Interstate 71/75 to Erlanger for a Kentucky Speedway Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities (SCC) fundraiser. The nonprofit organization annually aids children's organizations in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Edwards is SCC's national spokesman.
The duo delved deeper into their racing memories while fielding questions from guests.
Edwards fondly described the closing moments of his 2003 Kentucky victory.
"It still gives me a little bit of anxiety thinking about that win. I'll never forget when they told me on the radio, they said 17 laps to go and you've got a 2.5 second lead. I thought, I don't think I'm going to live for 17 more laps. My heart was beating about 1,000 beats a minute, but somehow made it through."
He also vividly recalled the challenging circumstances in which he earned his 2005 NNS Kentucky victory while competing full-time in two different series at different tracks during the same weekend. He shuttled back and forth between Sparta and Brooklyn, Michigan to satisfy his NNS and NSCS obligations.
"That win was really special," Edwards said. "The trick was to get out of the racetrack to get to Michigan and I think I was riding on Greg Biffle's plane. I think Greg had a problem (in the race) and left early. We won the race. He was like, we're leaving you. We're in Victory Lane trying to go through all this stuff and it's like, how are we going to get back to the racetrack if he leaves? Fortunately, he hung around."
Edwards relayed his comments as an artist painted a portrait of him with his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the background. Once completed, the painting was put up for auction. Bidding stalled until Edwards pledged to match a bid for $5,000. The painting sold for $10,000.
Audience questions touched on a variety of topics - from his work as a substitute teacher before his racing career took off to his favorite driver (Mark Martin), passion for flying planes and his well-reviewed television and product endorsement work.
"I just had Subway at a truck stop up the road," Edwards said in a nod to one of his team's sponsors. "It was awesome."
Hanging with horse racing's last Triple Crown winning jockey was as well.
What does Cauthen think about current contender California Chrome's chances of closing out its Triple Crown run with Belmont victory Saturday?
"From what I can see, I think they're really doing everything just about perfect," Cauthen said of the horse and its jockey Victor Espinoza. "For one thing, Victor Espinoza has been there before which is a big help. Belmont is the only mile-and-a-half oval in the country. He's won the Derby and the Preakness and he rode in the Belmont. I just think he's got a lot of confidence in this horse. Confidence is a huge plus for anybody and the horse, from what I hear, is really thriving and has actually gained some weight, which is unusual. Affirmed actually lost some weight after the Preakness. This horse (California Chrome) seems to be thriving on these races and may even still be improving."
Edwards, for one, hopes Cauthen's record remains intact and a Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts victory completes a quest for a Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Triple Crown June 28.
"Right now the competition in the Sprint Cup Series is insane," Edwards said. "It's a tough race to win and it's definitely a great place to win. So, hopefully, we can do that. It would be really special."
NASCAR's three national series visit Kentucky Speedway June 26-28 for a three-race event weekend featuring the Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts, Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled over and Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225.
Tickets, ticket packages, Kroger Fan Zone passes that provide a stage-side view of Thomas Rhett's Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts race-day concert, and campsites can be reserved through the respective pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting the speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive, Sparta, Ky., 41086 just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
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