New daddy Edwards still has a job to do

LAS VEGAS -- Carl Edwards loves to race more than anything in the world, but his world changed dramatically this week.

As of Wednesday, Edwards has a baby daughter. For the first time in his life, Edwards didn't want to leave home and fly to the next race.

"When I left the house, I kind of looked back," Edwards said. "I thought, 'Wow, I have a family.' It's pretty amazing. It was definitely a different emotion than I've ever had before."

Carl and Kate Edwards named their daughter Anne. Actually, Carl said he didn't have much input in the naming process.

"That's what Kate wanted to call her, and that was it," Edwards said. "I started to protest a little, but she made it clear that's what she really wanted. But we're going to call her Annie."

Edwards is learning that marriage is give-and-take, and he's opting to compromise at times. Priorities change when one's first child is born, making racing not quite the end-all activity it was in the past.

But Edwards still has a job to do. He still wants to be the best at what he does, maybe now more than ever. And he knows he wasn't close to the best one year ago.

This is a big week for Edwards personally, but it's also a big week professionally. He views this race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as a benchmark of where the No. 99 Ford team stands for improving things in 2010.

"We're focused on trying to find what we're missing," Edwards said. "If we're not out here with fast cars leading laps, we'll know where we stand. This one will show us a lot."

Edwards has seen some encouraging signs for Roush Fenway Racing in the first two races. Teammate Greg Biffle finished in the top 10 at Daytona and Fontana. Matt Kenseth, in his first race with Todd Parrott on the pit box, finished seventh last weekend.

But Edwards isn't satisfied with his team's performance in the first two events. He finished ninth at Daytona and 13th at Auto Club Speedway last week.

For many drivers, those results would be reason to celebrate. But for Edwards, it's not good enough.

The big fear is that it's an indication the team is headed down the same path as last season -- good enough to make the Chase, but not good enough to contend seriously for victories and the championship.

"We were mediocre at best in California," Edwards said. "We got to get better and got to get faster, and this is a track where we have to show it to make a difference."

It was Las Vegas two years ago where Edwards won his second consecutive race of the season. It cost him a 100-point penalty for a loose oil tank lid, but Edwards still left Vegas knowing he had the car to beat in 2008.

He finished the season with a series-best nine victories, including three of the last four events in the Chase. But he fell 69 short of catching Jimmie Johnson for the title.

Nevertheless, Edwards was the favorite to win the title last year. High expectations are a dangerous thing.

We went a long time with not many little ones coming into the sport. It felt strange. Now we've seen a steady growth of the families. It's good to see. It's the best experience anyone can have in life, bar none.

-- Mark Martin

Edwards didn't win a race in 2009 and finished 11th in the Chase. He was a victim of a rare down year at RFR. Jack Roush takes the blame for Edwards' not following up on his stellar year in 2008.

"There were times where we hurt the 99 last year in the pits,'' Roush said last month. "We've taken steps to correct those problems and added depth to that crew."

The changes haven't made much of a difference yet, but it's early.

A victory Sunday in the Shelby American would show Edwards he's back where he belongs, challenging for a championship. In his eyes, it would show that things have changed as much on the track as they have off the track.

And his life off the track is better than ever with Anne coming into the world.

"I had a lot of different emotions I didn't plan on," Edwards said about his daughter's birth. "I was watching them cut the cord on the baby, then I thought, 'Wait, Kate's over here. Is she OK?' It was just a rush of things all at once that I wasn't prepared for. It's just such a miracle."

Johnson also will become a father this summer. Elliott Sadler became a dad for the first time last week, and Jeff Gordon's wife is expecting their second child later this year.

"It makes me kind of proud," said Mark Martin, the resident grandpa of the Cup garage at age 51. "We went a long time with not many little ones coming into the sport. It felt strange.

"Now we've seen a steady growth of the families. It's good to see. It's the best experience anyone can have in life, bar none. And, really, these guys aren't that young. They're having kids at a great time, after they've had a chance to mature themselves."

Being a dad will mature you in a hurry -- not that Edwards needed it. But he is learning new things.

"I changed the first four of five diapers," Edwards said. "It went pretty well. Matt and Katie Kenseth let me do a little training [with their baby]. Matt had a good laugh about it. It was pretty funny. I'm getting better."

Edwards hopes he's also getting better on the track. This weekend should tell him a lot, but he still wishes he were home.

"I have one buddy who told me that I'm going to really love racing now," Edwards said. "I guess he means I get to leave when the baby's crying. Believe me, I haven't reached that point yet."

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.