Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion, is still looking for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Darlington Raceway. He came into the infield media center between Friday’s two practice sessions to chat with reporters.
HOW DO YOU LIKE DARLINGTON? “I really enjoy coming here. It’s an adventure every lap. It’s a really tough race track and it’s something as a driver at Darlington you have to sit there and mentally prepare even before practice. You have to think about how you’re gonna run the race track and remember all the places that could reach out and bite you. Our Ford is very fast. At the end of practice we put up the fourth-fastest time. It’s handling well and I’m excited for this race. This is one of the most fun races on the schedule for me and our team."
DOES LAST YEAR GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE FOR THIS YEAR’S RACE? “We’ve been waiting since that last restart a year ago to come back here. Everyone talks about this being one of the biggest races and, for me, it really is for our whole team. We would really like to win this race. The track has aged, I think, really well. I think the pavement is a little more forgiving right now, so you can slide the car around a little bit more. It’s more fun than it’s been the last couple of years, in my opinion, so I think it’s gonna be a heck of a race. It’s just a cool place to come race and I’m glad we’re here."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IT’S LIKE TRYING TO RACE AGAINST THE WALL HERE? “Driving around here, you want to drive as hard as you can, you want to get that last little inch right up by the fence, but if you catch the fence and go a little too far, it sucks the front of the car right into the fence and it’s really bad for the equipment. I’ve run into the wall a lot here and usually the car runs worse after you hit it, so I’m gonna try really hard not to hit the fence. Five hundred miles is so tough, it’s tough to put that 500-mile race in perspective before you get going because for some reason it just doesn’t feel like any other track. It feels like a Baja race or some adventure race because there’s so much that happens throughout the night and so many things that change, and people that hit the fence. You can be a lap down halfway through it and then dominate the second half and come back and win. You really are racing the track and it’s like every man for himself the first three-quarters of the race and then you start racing people at the end. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job of describing it, but it’s just a tough place. Every lap is different and so many things can change throughout the event that you have to really balance being aggressive, but cautious. And it’s a taxing race, mentally and physically. It’s a very tough race. As far as coming in and needing a win, you don’t want to come in here needing a win, but a good, solid run here does a lot for you. It boost confidence because it’s one of the toughest tracks on the schedule on the equipment, on the drivers, on the pit crews, on the crew chiefs. Our race last year we did everything right and then I underestimated Regan at the end, so I learned a lot and I think Bob learned a lot through that race. It’s just a really tough place. When you walk out of here, it’s like, ‘Whew, that was an event.’ In all of those respects it’s fun.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RACING NOW VERSUS THE OLD PAVEMENT HERE? “I think all the drivers really liked the old pavement. I think the new pavement, initially, took something away from the racing here, but I don’t know if it’s just me, I don’t know if other guys feel the same way, but I feel like this year compared to last year has been a big step forward. It seems like it’s aged a little bit. The Goodyear tires are falling off a little bit more. It’s not so white-knuckle, on the edge. The car can slide a little bit. You can mess up and kind of slide the car and gather it back up, so there’s a little bit of forgiveness there and I think all of that leads to better racings, so I’d say we’re 50 percent there or something like that. But I think every year we come back here it’s just gonna get better and better."
WITH THE PAVEMENT MORE WORN DO YOU THINK YOU’LL BE ABLE TO DO WHAT REGAN DID LAST YEAR AND NOT TAKE TIRES ON THE FINAL STOP? “I think we’ll see in this Nationwide race tonight if you in fact can stay out with 10 or 15 laps on your tires. I just don’t know. I’m telling you guys, you cannot discount how hard Regan drove those last couple of laps. I think he surprised everyone, including myself. His car was very fast and he did a heck of a job. I think all of us drivers hope that the tires will fall off a little bit more and the track will eat those tires up and then it becomes really a battle of the race cars and the drivers and not so much the pit strategy. But I would not take anything away from what Regan did. He hung on. He drove hard and he didn’t win that thing solely because he stayed, it was a great job on his part."
CAN A DRIVER STILL GET UP ON THE WHEEL FOR THREE OR FOUR LAPS AND GET IT DONE OR ARE TIRES GETTING TO A POINT WHERE THEY’RE MORE OF A FACTOR? “I’m just not sure. How old was the old pavement? Thirteen or 14 years? This is the fourth year (for the new pavement). I think this year, to me, the first couple of years the tires didn’t fall off a lot, the cars didn’t wiggle much. This year, it feels like a pretty big step. If it continues at that rate of change, if the change continues the way it seems to be, I think it’s just gonna get better and better. In practice, we didn’t have huge falloff, but we started running 29.50s or .60s and it fell off about four-tenths or something like that, which is huge. I mean, four-tenths of a second a lap is pretty big over 10 laps. I don’t know if everybody is falling off that much, I think some guys are a little better than that, but as long as you can just get a few tenths or half-a-second, it turns into a pretty interesting race because a guy can take tires and charge up through the field. I don’t know if we’re quite there, but it’s getting close."
ARE YOUR GUYS FIRED UP ABOUT THE PIT CREW COMPETITION NEXT WEEK? “The Pit Crew Challenge is something neat for everybody. It’s cool for the drivers because we get to show up and watch our guys perform and the pressure is not on us, it’s on them. That’s neat to see everything kind of turned upside-down, at least for the drivers. The crew has pressure on them every week, but we get to stand back and watch these guys perform and see what they go through. I know my guys are always excited about it. They’ve been working really hard this year. We’ve had better and better pit stops. We started out having a couple of problems and the guys have really worked through it. There are huge bragging rights involved. It would be huge if they could win it and I know they’re all excited about it.”
HOW WAS YOUR ALL-STAR RACE WIN LAST YEAR AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW FORMAT THIS YEAR? “I don’t know. What is the new format? That’s a really good format change (20-20-20-20-10). That’s gonna make those first races really important because if you look at the way the racing is right now, if you start up front, you’ve got a huge advantage, so that’s a great way to address that issue. I think we started first or second in the last segment last time and that was a huge advantage for us. I don’t know if we would have been able to win if we started back in the pack, so that’s gonna put a premium on those first segments. I think you’ll see guys really, really battling it out. That’s a lot like a short track dirt race, where you go try to make the show. You’ve got to win your heat race just to get a spot at the front. That’s a neat way to pressure on everyone to, A, race hard. I’m really talking about this pretty ignorantly because I don’t know the whole format, but it seems like it would make us race pretty hard for the first segments and, if that’s the way it’s gonna be with the pit crews, it will put massive pressure on them so that will be good. It will make the whole event intense like that."
WHAT KIND OF KID WERE YOU GROWING UP? “I’m learning real quickly what kind of kid I was growing up through heredity (laughing)."
WHAT GAVE YOUR MOM ANGST? “I think pretty much everything I did gave my mom angst, but I think it’s neat to be able to come down here on Mother’s Day with all that NASCAR does with the NASCAR moms. I can surely say if it weren’t for my mom and her help financially, emotionally – sometimes she was out there in the garage helping me get a transmission out of my race car or something – that if it weren’t for her, there’s no way I’d be able to do what I do today. I’m very appreciative and it’s just like everyone says, the more I learn, the smarter she is so I have a lot of respect for her."
SOME TRACKS DON’T HAVE SOFT WALLS ALL THE WAY AROUND. WHY HAVEN’T YOU DRIVERS BEEN MORE PROACTIVE ABOUT WALKING THE TRACK AND GIVING ADVICE ON THOSE SORT OF ISSUES? “That’s because we don’t think like that. We think how we can win, we probably don’t think enough about how to be as safe as we could be. I saw that crash (Eric McClure at Talladega) live like everybody here and I cannot believe that he’s OK and he walked away. I don’t know what his injuries were, but to be able to walk away from something like that is a huge testament to everything that we’re doing. But, as always, if there are places – that’s one thing about race cars and wrecking is it seems like people always find a way to find the spot on the race track where the SAFER barrier isn’t there or you find a way to hit the wall that the HANS device doesn’t help you or the seat doesn’t help you. I think the more we can do to just look at those things and to address them the better, so maybe we should -- maybe we should address it more. We have those safety meetings each year and as best I can tell, NASCAR and everybody involved really looks at these tracks and tries as hard as they can to find all the spots people could hit, but Elliott Sadler’s wreck at Pocono showed us that there are spots where you can hit so hard. I think those are all things we can look at, so if that brings attention to it and lets us look at some things, then that’s good. But I guess the reason we don’t do it is because we just come into these weekends thinking about how to win, win, win. Honestly, I don’t look at the race track and say, ‘Where are all the places I could wreck here?’ I don’t think like that and maybe we should.”