BROOKLYN, Mich. – Carl Edwards acknowledges this trip to Michigan feels a bit different to him.
"It is a little strange to come here to this race and not be driving for Jack Roush, because we put so much emphasis on this event for so many years," he said. "To win this race would be really special for me now just because I know from the other side how much everyone prepares — Jack and the other teams — because for the domestic car manufacturers, this is their backyard."
Edwards drives a Toyota now for Joe Gibbs Racing after more than a decade with Roush Fenway, so perhaps that makes him a bit of an outsider for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Toyota hasn't won a Cup race at MIS since 2011, with Chevrolet and Ford winning three each since then.
Edwards has won twice at this track, but not since 2008. He was out of the top 20 in his two attempts last year for Roush Fenway and Ford.
"For me to win in a Toyota would be really special here," Edwards said.
Edwards is 16th in the points standings this year, but he already has a victory, so he's in good shape to reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup. His old team has been struggling. Greg Biffle is in 18th place, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 28th and Trevor Bayne is 30th. None of those three Roush drivers has won a race.
"You take that whole group at Roush Fenway Racing, they don't quit," Edwards said. "They're the toughest guys in the world. They will keep working and I don't ever — I always expect them each week to come back and be faster and faster. They're great competitors."
Edwards is starting in the second row for Sunday's race. Kasey Kahne took the pole Friday and was followed in qualifying by Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Here are a few more things to watch in Sunday's 400-mile, 200-lap race:
HAPPY MEMORIES: Michigan has always been a special track for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at MIS in 2008 and 2012, snapping long losing streaks both times.
Earnhardt will start in position No. 14 on Sunday after a so-so qualifying effort.
"I think we will race good. This place is a lot of fun, wide racetrack," he said. "We will have a good, competitive car. We haven't qualified well all year. I don't get too worried about it when we don't do well there."
HIGH SPEEDS: Michigan is home to some of the highest speeds in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon won the pole last August at a track-record 206.558 mph. Kahne's speed of 201.992 on Friday was well short of that, but the track's reputation remains the same.
"All of us love going fast, that's why we started racing," Edwards said. "When you don't slow down for the corners, there's really not a lot of opportunity to get an advantage on someone. It really doesn't matter to any of us if we're going 200 mph down the straightaway as long as we have to get in that corner and slide the car and brake and use our skill set to get through the corner. Those are the kind of things that NASCAR and everybody is working on."
FOLLOWING UP: Martin Truex Jr. will try for a second straight victory after winning at Pocono last weekend.
Truex is second in the standings, 39 points behind Harvick, impressive heights for his Furniture Row Racing team.
"Certainly the last four weeks have been great," Truex said. "I feel like we have shown and proved that we can battle with them week in and week out."
IS THIS THE YEAR? Keselowski has a Sprint Cup championship on his resume, but he's never won a Cup race in his home state of Michigan. He'll start near the front Sunday. "I honestly didn't think we would qualify this well," he said. "We came with some new stuff on the car, which seems to be working."
PRESSURE: Gordon is retiring at the end of this season, and it's not clear if he'll be in the Chase at the end. He's 10th in points and hasn't won a race. He did win at Michigan last August. "The performance has not quite been there, the confidence has not quite been there," Gordon said. "One race can make a huge difference in getting you back there, and I think this is definitely a track that can do that for us."