Edwards keeping fans' troubles in mind

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Carl Edwards has come a long way from the days when he was handing out business cards to strangers, hoping somebody would give him a shot at moving up the racing ladder.

Now an established star in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Edwards appreciates what he has. That's why the message NASCAR president Mike Helton delivered at a meeting Friday with drivers and team owners resonated with the Roush-Fenway Racing driver.

During the gathering, which lasted only about 10 minutes, Helton made it clear that it's time for the loud complaining about the Car of Tomorrow, rough race tracks and other weekly irritants to stop. He let it be known that the drivers need to think more about the plight of the fans, facing $4 a gallon gas and numerous other economic ills.

'I can understand (NASCAR's) position,' Edwards said. 'We've got it pretty good here. This is what I signed up for. And I think all of us, when we think back about where we started, we signed up to be race car drivers. And, part of that (is if) the car doesn't handle real well, and sometimes the car is hot, sometimes you're uncomfortable.

'It's kind of what they pay us for, to do that job,' he added. 'That's what I got from that meeting, and I think that's fair.'

There are reports that today's Lifelock 400 will be far short of the sellouts that used to be commonplace for the Cup races at the rural Michigan track. The campgrounds that surround the facility appeared much emptier than usual on Saturday and there are likely to be plenty of empty seats in the vast grandstands for the Cup race.

Edwards, the defending race winner, said he was already concerned before the meeting about what NASCAR fans are facing these days.

'I was following a couple of motor homes in here the other day and it means a lot to me,' Edwards said. 'These are hardworking people and they take their money and they decide, 'Hey, we're going to buy some tickets, we're going to put gas in this motor home and we're going to drive to the race track and we're going to take a couple of days off work.' That's huge. My family never did anything like that. It costs a lot.

'It concerns me just as much as it should concern any American. It's a tough economic time. It's just a reality. I brought three of my buddies with me and one of them just got laid off back home in Columbia (Mo.) ... I think the sport will go on. We just have to understand that we are going to suffer, just like everyone else.'

Edwards, who drives Fords, took part in a meeting with executives earlier this week at the car company's Dearborn, Mich., headquarters to discuss what Ford and NASCAR are facing in this struggling economy.

'It was really a straight forward, brutally honest meeting, and gas prices are not just going to affect the grandstands and from the spectators' side,' he said. 'It could have a huge effect on the manufacturers in the sport, (a) bigger effect than I ever imagined."