"He races like it was a chess game," Mark Arute, who operates Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, said of Christopher. "He doesn't make any rash moves on the track. He takes his time, he knows his competitor's moves and anticipates what they'll do."

Christopher doesn't believe in conceding he may have only a Third-Place car some night and not be able to win a race.

"I never go out there saying I will win," he said. "But the only time I have a Third-Place car is when the checker falls and I'm in Third Place. Up until then, I'm trying to get around the car in front of me for Second."

Arute said Christopher "looks two or three cars ahead of his and has his moves planned out before he gets there so he's always progressing through the field."

Arute figures Christopher has an advantage over some of the competitors in that he races all year long in just about anything that has wheels.

Christopher had 20 races in before the end of Daytona Speedweeks and figured he would race in as many as 100 features before the season is over.

"He's tested in USAC Sprint Cars and in an Indy Racing League car," Arute said, "so he has a good feel for what different cars do on the track. It lets him turn a lot of laps."

The track uses a full invert based on winnings, so Christopher usually finds himself digging his way through the field.

"I always figure I'll start at least in 15th spot," Christopher said. "I don't even bother looking."

"It suits his driving style," said Arute. "He's a much better chaser than a leader. He's the kind of guy who is much more likely to pass for the win on the last lap than get out front and dominate an entire race."

Know The Track Ed Kosiski remembers what it was like growing up the son of a racing father.

"We'd go to a track, and even if we won, he'd tell us what we did wrong," he said. "He was always looking for a way to make us better."

Kosiski won the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series championship in 1998, adding the title to more than a dozen track and regional championships he has on Midwestern clay ovals.

If he has a secret, he said, it is his knowledge of the clay and being able to predict how it will change by the time his race group hits the oval.

"It's hard to explain without standing next to the track," he said. "The clay changes color as it gets raced on, and you have to adjust the car to accommodate the change."

Kosiski said he watches the races before his to see where cars are working best, whether or not there is a "cushion" of clay to give the cars a place to run their outside tires, and where on the track the surface has been "raced out."

"And once the race is underway," he added, "a driver has to change his style, because on a dirt track the surface can change almost lap to lap. How you drove at the beginning of the race isn't going to work at the end of it."

That ability to change with the surface comes with lap after lap of practice.

"There's no substitute for seat time," he said.

His dad also insisted that while Ed was learning, he begin at the back of the field.

"He figured you couldn't run out front until you learned to get there," he said. "So we learned to keep our focus on the car in front of us and not worry about the ones behind us."

His team arrives at the track with the same basic setup almost everywhere they go.