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Carl Edwards didn't look like a championship contender, the way he was hobbling around on crutches and grimacing in pain at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday evening before the start of the PepBoys Auto 500, the second-to-last race of the Sprint Cup regular season. All weekend Edwards had endured the gibes of rival drivers, who ribbed him for breaking two bones in his right foot while playing Frisbee earlier in the week in his hometown of Columbia, Mo. Edwards laughed off the digs, but his smile concealed his concern. The day before, Edwards sat on his pit wall and confessed that he was worried—despite having essentially locked up a spot in the 12-man Chase field—that the injury would doom his title hopes. "I usually slap the throttle hard, but now I can't because it's too painful," said Edwards, who has to wear a walking boot to protect his broken second and fourth metatarsal bones, which could take up to six months to heal. "I'm hoping that it makes me a better racer because I'll have to think harder about when to get on and off the gas, but who knows?"
On Sunday, Edwards started smoothly, easing on and off the throttle in a delicate dance. He ran in the top 10 for most of the first 80 laps until a piece of debris punctured his radiator, forcing him into the garage for an extended repair. He wound up finishing 37th, behind winner Kasey Kahne. The good news? He'd had little pain. Though he won't be doing one of his signature backflips anytime soon, his injury shouldn't be a liability this fall—the time when Edwards traditionally comes on.
Currently fifth in the standings, Edwards has yet to win this season after taking a series-high nine checkered flags in '08, but he's considered a dark horse to win the title by many in the garage. Why? Two main reasons:
1) The schedule.
2) The team.
Can Edwards duplicate Biffle's fast Chase start of a year ago? He'll put his best foot forward.
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