Wheeler Picks Edwards

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CONCORD, N.C. - The NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge is a "super-sized" version of the Saturday night shootouts that take place each week at hundreds of short tracks across the nation.

As a result, H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, thinks Carl Edwards, just four years removed from those rough-and-tumble short-track wars, will collect the $1 million prize Saturday night for winning the 22nd running of NASCAR's annual all-star spectacular.

Wheeler named Edwards as his selection Monday during his annual pick-the-winner press conference in downtown Charlotte.

Known for his promotional flair and Karnac-type ability, Wheeler has correctly picked the winner of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge 10 times in the past 17 races.

"Carl Edwards is the epitome of the type of driver that can win a race like this," Wheeler said. "He came up on dirt running Saturday nights against some of the toughest, roughest guys in racing. He is long on courage and short on patience, and can drive a loose race car like (Dale) Earnhardt could. I've seen him save more sideways race cars than anybody in a long time."

Its three-segment format-40 laps, 30 laps and 20 laps-and the $1 million first-place prize combine to make the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge NASCAR's most unique race.

"I don't think people realize just how crazy guys get in this race. Drivers will go places on the track they wouldn't even think of in a normal race," Wheeler said. "Just look back at the history of this event and you can see where some of the best driving in NASCAR history was done and it's because there's no where they won't go, even the grass.

"Carl is perfect because he can get as crazy as any of them. Besides, we've never had a backflip in the winner's circle here before."

In just his second full season of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition, Edwards will be making his second start in the all-star event. He finished 15th last year after being one of 10 drivers eliminated in accidents.

Staying with his short-track theme, Wheeler selected former USAC open-wheel star Kasey Kahne as his dark horse pick.

"We have a much harder tire and the smaller fuel cells here, but Kasey's victories at Atlanta and Texas show he and his team have these 1.5-mile race tracks figured out," said Wheeler. "In addition, the final 20-lap segment of the all-star race is just like all those 20-lap features he ran in midgets and sprint cars-except this one pays $1 million to win."

Even though he finished second to Mark Martin in last year's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, Elliott Sadler has not visited victory lane since 2004 and thus is not qualified for this year's all-star race. Wheeler says the Emporia, Va., native will remedy that by winning the NEXTEL Open.

"I was actually shocked to learn Elliott isn't in the all-star race," said Wheeler. "There isn't a lot of strategy in the Open, it's just a stand-on-the-gas race and Elliott definitely proved he can do that when he set the track record here last fall at over 193 mph."

Veteran Ken Schrader is Wheeler's dark horse selection for the Open.

"Schrader looked good in testing, and his dirt-track experience helps him drive loose race cars," Wheeler noted.

In the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman Wednesday night, May 17, at the Bobcats Arena in downtown Charlotte, Wheeler predicts the event's unique format will result in true athleticism rising to the top.

"If the competition was a normal pit stop, it would be hard to bet against the 17 team," Wheeler said. "However, I think the training regimen that Ray Evernham puts his pit crew guys through will pay off. It was hard to pick from among his three teams, but my sources tell me Jeremy Mayfield's No. 19 team appears to have the edge."

On-track activities for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge kick off Friday night with qualifying for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the NEXTEL Open. In addition to qualifying, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will compete in the Quaker Steak & Lube 200.

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