NASCAR Media Conference
October 29, 2013
TRACEY JUDD: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's first of two NASCAR teleconferences, and we are joined by Carl Edwards, who is the driver of the No.99 AFLAC Ford for Roush‑Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Carl, 10th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standing, has two wins and nine top‑5 finishes this season.
We really appreciate you joining us today and taking a look ahead at this weekend. You are the all‑time winner at Texas Motor Speedway with three career victories there, and as we near the end of this season, how do you feel about returning to a track where you've had such great success?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, thanks for having me on here. I appreciate it. There couldn't be a better track for us to go to. I really enjoy racing at Texas. We had a great test there the other day, got to hang out with Eddie Gossage, a lot of folks I hadn't seen for a while. It's a fast racetrack. It's aged a little bit, so it has some character, and you can drive the car into the corner really aggressively, slide it around a lot, and that makes it really fun to drive.
And when you have success at Texas, the folks there really make it special in that everything is a lot of fun. From winning the pole to winning the race, it's a really great place to race.
Q. Right away I'm going ask you, heading off in a different direction, I guess you and Matt weren't really close as teammates, but kind of given the season he's had so far and the time you guys did spend together, is he a kind of guy that you pull for a little bit, like if you and Greg can't win?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, well, first of all, Matt and I, we obviously didn't get along really well at one point, but to me he's one of the guys I'm closest with in the garage. I really think a lot of Matt, and once I understood him and I assume he understood me a little better, I think that we were as good a teammates as I've ever had. I think a lot of Matt, and I think he was a huge asset to our team.
It is interesting to watch him in this championship battle, and there are times where I still feel like‑‑ it's hard for me to think of him as not my teammate because of how much time we spent under the same roof. So yeah, to me, as much as I hate to see him do well at another organization ‑ I wish he was doing it here ‑ I think it's good to see him have the success because he definitely works hard and has given his life to racing.
Q. Maybe this is oversimplifying it a little bit, but isn't the spot he's in essentially the one you passed up a year earlier? Do you kind of do the facepalm thing?
CARL EDWARDS: No, that's a lot of assumption from the media perspective. I mean, if you go by everything that was written, I had already signed up with‑‑ signed contracts with that team and stuff (laughing). I think that's presumptuous on a couple of levels, no offense to you personally, but I think that that idea is that way.
And at the end of the day, I drive the No.99 Fastenal Ford for Jack Roush, and I do that because I want to, and yes, just like a lot of guys in the garage, I had opportunities at multiple times in my career and I've chosen the one that I wanted to be a part of. Really that's not something that I think about too much at all.
Q. Every time I see the 99 on the TV screen, I think, there's a guy that's one point removed from having past champion in front of his name. Two years later, can you sort of reflect on just how difficult it is to win a championship and what all pieces have to fall together to put you in that position?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, it is very difficult to win a championship. That is my No.1 goal. That's my mission. I mean, that's what I want to do in this sport. We've been very close. We've tied for second in 2005, actually did really well in 2008, but Jimmie Johnson got us, and then that battle with Tony was really‑‑ that was unlike anything I've ever been a part of. And other than winning or not winning, other than that, it was the most fun thing I've been a part of in my career as a race car driver.
It changed my outlook on every little point. I think a lot of people in the garage, people point to that season and that Chase and say, man, every single point matters. You always know that and everyone says it, but that really galvanized it.
That was a battle that I hope I'm in a number of battles like that in the future. That week I still remember that week after Phoenix going to Homestead. It was more than exciting. It was just perfect. It was a lot of fun. So hopefully I can be a part of that again.
Q. That being said, can you just comment on the just inevitability of Jimmie year after year after year after year being part of something that is so difficult?
CARL EDWARDS: That's a great way to describe Jimmie Johnson is inevitable. Or I guess his performance. But yeah, they're amazing. That's one of the things that I think is going to make this championship this year for whoever wins it, I think it's going to make it very special because you're going to have to beat Jimmie Johnson. If it's Matt Kenseth or Jeff Gordon or Kevin Harvick or even somebody further back ‑ I know we're still mathematically able ‑ that's what you want. That's what I would want. I would want to beat a guy like Jimmie and I'd want to beat him and Chad and those guys when they're on their game.
It is amazing what they're able to do. I think everyone in the garage looks up to them. I know they do, and I believe that‑‑ people talk about championship rivalries, and someone put it really well the other day: They said the best rivalry that's gone on in the best decade has been the field versus Jimmie Johnson. That's where we're at right now. Those guys are really good.
Q. If you wouldn't mind reflecting back on Matt just for a minute here, are you surprised at all at not his success but his level of success this year with a new team, new crew chief, seven wins? Does that take you aback or no?
CARL EDWARDS: I'm not surprised by it, and that's because I've seen how much Matt pours into his driving, and over the years I've seen how fierce of a competitor he is. I mean, he's a relatively quiet guy, and he's pretty understated, but man, he really, really drives the wheels off a race car from the start of the race weekend until the checkered flag falls. If you look at the organization, the Gibbs guys, they've been statistically very good the last few years, so it just seems like everything worked out, and him and his crew chief and everyone are working well together, and a couple of those races this year they did have some really good luck. They had some bad luck, too, but it appears to be one of those years where a great driver, a great team and great luck are all coming together, and they're making the most of it.
I can tell you one thing: Matt won't make mistakes. He will not lose the championship. He'll be one of the strongest parts of that team in my opinion.
Q. Do you see any difference in his driving style? Is he more of a bulldog this year because it seems like he has the car every week to win?
CARL EDWARDS: I haven't noticed any difference in his driving style. It just appears that whatever they're doing‑‑ I don't talk to him about any technical stuff anymore, but it just appears from the outside that whatever they're doing suits the way he drives. I mean, I don't want to take too much liberty in my analysis or anything, but I see Matt as a guy who's got it figured out. In my opinion I don't think he's learned new tricks or changed his driving style. In my opinion he appears to be applying the same work ethic and effort that he always has, and it's just working better this year.
Q. Looking at Texas coming up this weekend, the series races on a bunch of mile‑and‑a‑half racetracks throughout the year, but what is it about that track in particular that maybe makes it difficult or something that you wouldn't face at another mile‑and‑a‑half track? What are you concerned about going there that you wouldn't be say going to Atlanta or Vegas or somewhere like that?
CARL EDWARDS: I think the thing that makes Texas different is the track itself. I think the surface of the racetrack, and it's becoming a rarity or it's becoming rare to have a surface like that. It's a lot like Darlington used to be, a lot like Atlanta is now where the surface is worn out, bumpy, multiple grooves, takes a lot of rubber. It's going to change throughout the race. The sun is going to go down. That makes it a really neat race, and it makes it different. It makes it really hard, and it makes it hard in that you've got to make the car perfect at the end. You don't really have any time to waste in that; you've got to do it during pit stops, on the fly. I mean, it's a long race. It's a tough one. It's tough on everything, the engines and the tires and the cars and the drivers and the crews and everything.
To me it feels a little bit more old school. There's going to be a lot of people moving forward and a lot of people falling back throughout the day and the night, and I think it's going to be‑‑ I think that's fun. I like that part of racing where it's dynamic, the whole event.
Q. Presently Cup drivers spend all season wanting that Chase spot, but if their team doesn't bring multiple wins along with it, moving up in the Chase seems even more difficult than making it. How does that difficulty play on you and your team?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, to me, I've only been doing this for, I believe, nine years, eight or nine years now, at the Cup level, and it's two or three times as difficult to run well on a regular basis right now than it was when I started in 2004 and 2005. Number one, making the Chase is very, very difficult, and any bad luck along the way can put you in a really precarious spot and cause a lot of stress leading into Richmond. And then once you make the Chase, there's no time to breathe. The very next week you go and you race, and it appears at times that all the Chase drivers are in the top‑‑ the top 10 spots can be literally all Chase racers, so you've got to run at an extremely high level to have a shot at winning the championship.
So yeah, there's the bottleneck you have to get through to make the Chase, and then once it starts, somehow everybody is able to grab another gear and step it up another notch, and it gets really tough.
Q. And a correlation to that, over time do you think that perhaps the careers of NASCAR drivers might be shortened a bit because of this difficulty?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't know that the careers will be shortened, but I guarantee you the fitness level will go up because you've got to stay fit, you've got to stay sharp. There is really no time to rest, and not just for the drivers but for everyone. If you took a time lapse photo of the people walking in the gate at each event and ran it through the year, you'll see it wears everyone down. It's a long season. Even you guys, the media. You guys know how it is. It's a long season. It's tough on everyone, and when you add to that the increased level of competition, you're right, it is tougher now to do year in and year out than it used to be, and that's why guys like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, those guys that are able to perform at such a high level year after year, it's pretty spectacular.
Q. This goes back to the question you were just addressing, but if I recall without looking at the charts, third or fourth race into the Chase you're in the garage, 35th place if I recall correctly. Can you just talk about the mood that night, just how that impacts you when you fought so hard and suddenly in one instant you basically have lost all chance of doing what you've worked for all year?
CARL EDWARDS: I'm sorry, I have to admit they left me a computer here in this room with the internet on it, and I started reading an article and I missed the first part. Dover, is that the race you're talking about?
Q. Wherever it was, I think it was the third or fourth race, you had some kind of an issue and you ended up in the garage. Can you address the emotions, the mood of that moment when everything you worked for is gone in maybe 30 seconds?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't know who it was that labeled all the steps that you go through until you reach acceptance, but I know the first one is denial. It was Freud or someone. So yeah, you go through all that. I was out there running at Dover, and we knew going into the Chase, we had not been a dominant team. We had gutted it out and fought and scratched to be at the top of the heap and led the points after Richmond. We had two wins, but we knew that we were going to have to really be consistent and not make any mistakes in the Chase. The first couple races didn't go very well, and we went to Dover. But we were hanging on. We were in contention.
And when that wheel came loose, I knew we had a problem, it was‑‑ I mean, my heart sank, and everybody on the crew, the crew chief, everyone, everybody knew that that was going to be really hard to recover from. And it has been. No one else‑‑ if you look at the guys in front of us, all nine guys in front of us, there aren't very many mistakes in that group, and at this level right now at this point in the sport, you can't have those kind of mistakes.
So yeah, I mean, if we can go out and win the next three races and a lot of guys have a lot of bad luck, then we might be able to earn some of that back, but it's really tough, and those moments are‑‑ it takes a lot to be able to keep your head up and just keep moving forward because they are very disappointing.
Q. I wanted to ask you, with your experience in the Chase and the championship runs, can you talk about the ebb and flow from week to week what that is like on a driver and a team? I kind of think about just this past weekend where I think the expectation a lot of people had was that Jimmie would extend (inaudible) because of his history at the track compared to Matt at Martinsville, yet Matt comes out tied with him as the points leader, based on the tiebreaker. How does that impact a driver, a team, or what is that experience like from week to week and the ups and downs of the Chase, especially this late in the Chase?
CARL EDWARDS: It's very interesting, I know for me when I've been in those championship battles, the time really slows down. In those positions myself, I've been very conscious of each week and the different issues that you have to face at each track, and so for instance, when you head to Talladega and you're leading the points, you're very focused on not having issues. You're very focused on not making mistakes and getting caught up in a wreck. Then you go to a place like Martinsville, and you're ultra‑focused on qualifying and track position and getting to the bottom line on the restarts.
So to me the pressure crescendos; everything is rising the whole time from start to finish. But when you get down to these last few races, it really becomes very‑‑ all that stuff becomes very pointed each day; each problem is a big deal, and there's nothing else you think about. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, those guys, they are going to Texas and they're going to know every single thing about their car. They're going to have a plan for everything, and they're really not going to have much time for anything else in their lives, and it's really a fun way to go racing because you're so focused and there's so much on the line. It's really exciting as a driver.
Q. So how is that fun with all that pressure?
CARL EDWARDS: Oh, well, none of us would be here or be doing this if we didn't like that situation. To me that's as good as it gets. I'll never forget that. I didn't expect it to be that much fun, and then in 2011, that week leading up to Homestead, I was driving along in my truck, I don't know where I was coming from, but I was headed home from running an errand or something, and I was just going through that race in my mind and thinking about it and thinking about all the things I needed to work on and think of, and I mean, it's just fun. It's what you dream of when you're a young kid and you're hanging out at your local dirt track and watching people race. You just dream of being in that position and having a shot at it, and that's what it's about.
For me I didn't expect it to be that much fun, but I really did enjoy it.
TRACEY JUDD: Thanks a lot, Carl. We appreciate your time, and we wish you the best of luck this weekend in Texas.
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