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Edwards gladly wings it for NASCAR

Carl Edwards loves being in the cockpit of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

He might prefer a different cockpit even more, without which he probably couldn’t fulfill his obligations of about 60 days a year while making promotional appearances as a NASCAR star.

Because he owns and pilots his own seven-passenger Cessna Citation CJ jet, Edwards said he not only endures but enjoys traveling to take care of those midweek job responsibilities.

One of Edwards’ many commitments was fulfilled Thursday when he spent the afternoon in Las Vegas — and took a plunge from the Stratosphere Tower — to promote the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race March 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

For the 31-year-old Edwards, the jet affords him the luxury of living with family and friends in his hometown of Columbia, Mo., instead of Charlotte, N.C., where nearly every NASCAR driver resides. From home, he can make a quick flight to either coast.

The racer left Columbia on Thursday morning, made a brief stop in New Mexico and landed at North Las Vegas Airport around 11 a.m. Six hours later, he was back in the air, bound for Goodyear, Ariz., near Phoenix International Raceway, where he will race this weekend.

"I woke up this morning and got to spend time with my wife and daughter," said Edwards, a licensed pilot since age 16. He and wife Kate have a 1-year-old daughter, Anne, and are expecting a son this summer.

"My priorities in life are to be the best father and husband I can be, and then to be the best race-car driver I can be," he said.

Edwards, winner of the 2008 Cup race at Las Vegas, is the hottest driver in the Cup series. He won the last two races of 2010 and finished second to 20-year-old rookie sensation Trevor Bayne in Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500.

In only his second Cup race, Bayne drove for the legendary Wood Brothers team that last won the 500 in 1976.

"As a competitor, you only want to win, but it didn’t bother me that Trevor won," Edwards said. "I felt good this week. He inspired me."

The victory put Bayne in the NASCAR Winners Circle promotional program with Edwards and drivers for teams that finished in the top 10 in points last year. Those drivers are required to make appearances in three Cup markets this year to promote races.

Jeff Motley, speedway vice president of public relations, said he asked NASCAR for Edwards because of how well he deals with fans, sponsors and media. Edwards displayed his finesse and candor in a question-and-answer session with several of the speedway’s major sponsors during a luncheon at Joe’s in the Forum Shops.

After signing autographs and posing for pictures, the next stop was to provide media a spectacle to hype the Las Vegas race. Motley arranged for him to do something he would never do in a race: Edwards took a dive.

The driver hurled his body off the Stratosphere Tower secured by cables on the hotel’s SkyJump. He reached 45 mph during the 850-foot plummet.

"I’m giddy," he said after landing. "It felt risky enough. … That was fun."

Edwards lives by doing things that are just "risky enough" — like driving a race car, flying a jet or falling 850 feet.

He’s not done.

Edwards is eagerly counting the days until Thursday, and not because of Nationwide Series practice at the speedway.

"That morning I’m going to fly with the Thunderbirds," he said of the U.S. Air Force aerial team.

Naturally, he hopes to take the controls.

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