After a week off to recharge their batteries, the drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series head into Atlanta Motor Speedway to race under the lights Sunday night.

It will mark the first time in the 50-year history of the track that an entire NASCAR race will be run at night, but it won't be the first time that the series has raced there with lights. In November of 1998, Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team put an exclamation point on their third NASCAR Cup Series championship with a win in the rain-delayed, rain-shortened season finale run well into the night. The win marked Gordon's 13th of the season, tying him with Richard Petty for most victories in one season in NASCAR's modern era (1972-present).

But as good as Gordon is there, the favorite this week has got to be the No. 99 of Carl Edwards. Also known as "Cousin Carl," Edwards is coming off of an unlikely Nationwide series win last weekend in Montreal, where he capitalized on a mistake by Marcos Ambrose on the last lap to take the checkered flag. The momentum of the win can only help him this weekend.

Edwards, who visited victory lane a whopping nine times last year, has yet to win in 2009. But he's come close, and Atlanta seems like the perfect spot for Edwards' 24-race win drought to end.

The Georgia 1.5-mile track is where Edwards got his first Cup win in 2005. When the series returned to the track that same year, Edwards followed up with another win, eventually finishing third overall in his first Chase.


Add to that the fact that Edwards dominated the race last year on the way to winning and you have a recipe for Edwards to finally capture a victory this year.

Topping off a special weekend for Edwards, his car will carry a special paint scheme honoring patients at the Aflac Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Cancer patient Jody Lawrence of Greensboro, Ga., drew the winning design and will be Edwards' guest at the track.

Another NASCAR fan, Jack Welch of Pearl, Miss., won the right as "Chief Lighting Officer" for Sunday night's Pep Boys Auto 500 in a track-sponsored contest. Welch will flip the switch to turn on the lights. Welch's contest entry was a wealth of lighting-themed puns, but Welch also took a lesson from Edwards about helping others.

Welch and his wife, Nancy, are regular attendees at the Pep Boys Auto 500, but when they discovered they couldn't make last fall's event, they donated their tickets to the Aflac Cancer Center after hearing of Edwards' efforts to help patients there.

"We already have tickets for this year's Pep Boys Auto 500, so we are going to donate the tickets to the Aflac Cancer Center again," Welch said.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at