Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, brings a three point Chase standings lead into Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 over Tony Stewart. Edwards, who posted the second fastest lap time in the final Friday practice at Phoenix International Raceway, talked about racing at PIR and his slim Chase lead.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BEING IN PHOENIX, TWO TO GO AND THIS NEW RACE SURFACE HERE TODAY? “I have been a little nervous about coming here not knowing what the track is going to be like and how we are going to stack up but practice went really well and we are really fast. I am excited about it. We are fast in race trim and qualifying trim. The track is a little more forgiving then it was in testing. In testing I was a little nervous about it. We came here for the tire test and it was really treacherous those first couple days. The test with all the cars was a little better and now it is even better. I am looking forward to the Nationwide race because I think it will help me to get more time on the track and could possibly widen the groove more which will be good for Sunday.”
I still think there is a huge opportunity for this to be a very difficult race because passing might be extremely hard.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST YEAR HAPPENING AGAIN? “Las year was pretty good for me. History is behind us. What we are doing right now is going out here and performing the best we can and doing everything we can to extend this points lead. Tony has been unbelievable the last two weeks. Nobody can discount how strong they have been. There is a little bit of pride on our side, knowing that even as good as they have been with four wins in the Chase, we are still leading, beating them and will hold them to that level of performance. They are going to have to run that well to beat us. I have a lot more confidence after practice here. I think we are going to be pretty good.”
YOU WEREN’T VERY GOOD IN THE FIRST PRACTICE, BUT WERE IN THE SECOND PRACTICE. IS THERE SOMETHING GOING ON THERE? “We didn’t make a qualifying run the first practice. In race trim we were fast and qualifying trim we were fast. To me this is, from the driver’s seat, it feels like a brand new race track, a completely different track. It is not something that you come here and rely on your stats from previous Phoenix races and say that a guy is going to be good or another guy is going to be good. I think the track is that different”
YOU’VE BEEN GOOD AT THIS TRACK IN THE PAST, IS THAT NEUTRALIZED NOW BY THE TRACK? “It definitely does, yes. I don’t think any prior success or trouble here is going to mean anything once this race starts. Like I said, this is so different and the pavement drives differently, the layout is a little different, the setups are different. It is going to be its own race. That is why I was a little nervous to come here because you just don’t know how you are going to stack up after practice. I feel pretty good now. I still think there is a huge opportunity for this to be a very difficult race because passing might be extremely hard. If you don’t have the right strategy or have trouble on pit road or make a mistake and fall back in the pack it will be really tough to recover.”
YOU ARE A LITTLE MORE UPBEAT THAN YOU WERE SUNDAY NIGHT. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CONTROL YOUR DESTINY IN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP? “Yeah, I do. I feel that they have obviously had flashes of great speed and have won four races and we haven’t but the job that we have done I am very proud of. We don’t have trophies lined up but the recoveries we have made and consistency we have shown and the ability to come back from really tough days, I wouldn’t have been able to do it a year or two years ago. I am pretty proud of that. At the end of the day we are still leading the points. They have to overtake us and beat us. Sunday was not what we wanted. We definitely wanted to finish in front of Tony. After I left there and thought about it a little bit, I know what that feels like to win and have the guy you are chasing in points finish second. Jimmie Johnson did that to me in 2008 at Atlanta. Tony, he has to feel the same way and realize that we are going to be tough.”
DID HOW YOU RUN IN PRACTICE TODAY CHANGE THE MOMENTUM A LITTLE BIT? “I don’t know. I don’t want to say there is a shift in momentum because those guys really have been performing amazingly well. We will see what happens in this race but I am really happy. I feel like a weight is off my shoulders that practice went so well and we didn’t have a problem with handling and all the stuff we planned on doing worked out well. I think we are in a good spot.”
DENNY HAMLIN SAYS HE THINKS YOU ARE THE FAVORITE BECAUSE OF THE POINTS LEAD. IT SEEMS LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN PLAYING DEFENSE. DO YOU CHANGE THAT? DO YOU PLAY OFFENSE NOW? “First of all I am not going to tell you how I am going to drive. I am going to keep that close to my vest but I do have a pretty good plan. I know what we are going to go do and I feel pretty good about it. I do believe that barring some circumstance, which can happen in racing to anyone, I think if we run the way that we plan on running here for the next two weeks, I believe that if they want to beat us they are going to have to win a race or two. They are going to have to step it up like they have been.
IF YOU KEEP PLAYING DEFENSE THOUGH, DON’T YOU THINK YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME? “I think we are pretty good. I think you can look at that two ways. We haven’t won one race in the Chase and are leading the points. Those guys have won four and they are still behind us. I think it tells you a lot of things about our team. We feel that, heck we couldn’t be in a better position. The speed we have had in the cars and to still be leading the points over guys that have won races, and Tony has won four, that says a lot about our team. We have to go perform these last two races. This will come down to just a battle. I think it is going to be fun.”
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TONY? “Well it is getting worse every week that he keeps winning. No, I think it is good. I think Tony is a guy I have looked up to a lot. He has done a lot of the things as a race that racers all over the country can look up to. I’ve learned a lot about Tony over the last couple years and have come to respect him as a person. I would say we have a good competitive relationship. For us it is pretty neat to be holding off a two-time champ having the best Chase he has ever had. It is neat to be battling with him. If we can continue and hold him off and win this thing. If it truly comes down to the end like I believe it will, I truly believe it will come down to the last lap at Homestead, that is going to feel good that it is Tony. It will feel good that it is a guy that has that many achievements in the garage, in racing.”
TONY SAID YOU WERE A GOOD GUY TO BE IN A POINT RACE WITH. DOES THAT GO BACK TO THE WAY YOU RACE EACH OTHER? “I don’t know. I think we are both racers and it is just pretty neat you know. Like I said, it is just fun. I believe we do both respect each other and we have gone through times where we did not like each other and then we have gone dirt racing together and done the stuff at El Dora and that has been a lot of fun and now it would just mean a lot and does mean a lot that it is him we are battling. If we can go beat him during the best Chase he has ever had, as a two time champ, if we can beat him like that head-to-head there will be a lot of pride in that for us.”
DOES THAT MEAN YOU GO HANG OUT AND DRINK SCHLITZ WITH TONY? “I can go be his designated driver.”
YOU WERE SAYING YOU THINK IT WILL COME DOWN TO THE LAST LAP. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY A LITTLE BIT AND MAYBE GO FOR A WIN? “It’s a balance, it really is. Last week those last few laps, I was hanging it out and I think you could tell from Tony after the race I think he was spent. He had given it all he had. If we had had one more caution or another restart, that is the kind of racing that we all grew up and watched on TV and thought it would be cool to be in a race like that and the points battle and everything that goes with that. A couple people have reminded me this week to have fun with that and that I am in an amazing position. I have been trying to focus on that a little bit. It is pretty neat but I don’t know that we have to change anything. We have led the points, I have said this 100 times, we have led for 20-something weeks and we have done it the way we know how to do it and the way we can. We might have to step it up just a little bit these next two races but I don’t feel we are in a position where we have to change anything. I think we have to just go race as hard as we can.”
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT BEING ABLE TO RECOVER AND NOT BEING ABLE TO DO THAT A COUPLE YEARS AGO. WHAT HAS CHANGED? “We’ve had some really tough days the last couple of years and then this Chase we have had some bad ones. I think our relationships. Bob and I specifically and Jack and I, all those relationships are better now in that we understand one another better and are able to work through problems better. We don’t fall apart maybe the way we could or had before in the past. I think all that stuff makes us better and I think that starting about middle of the season last year we really turned a corner with performance and we’ve been on a run that has lasted longer than any other run we have had. I feel like we are on this run for the right reasons. I am really happy about the future and excited about the future. Not just these next couple races, I am really excited about next year and 2013 and all the things we have coming.”
HOW DID YOU BREAK DOWN IN THE PAST? “I’ve had my moments but we never really broke down, there are times like anyone in sports when you can make things worse. This year I feel like we made things better when things were bad. It is a big step. It is tough to do during the race in the heat of the moment. To have those relationships and be able to help one another is hard to explain but the way Bob is to me and the way Jack is to me and the way we work together is huge for our performance.”
WERE YOU TRYING TO MAKE A STATEMENT WITH YOUR PRACTICE TIMES TODAY AND DO YOU THINK NOT GOING OUT EARLY TOMORROW MIGHT HAVE BE AN ADVANTAGE? “We thought not going out early tomorrow might be an advantage but you never know. The thing with a new surface is that it might get some dust on it here and there is kind of a sweet spot that we hope we hit going out 13th. We think the first few cars will blow some dust off and we should be good. We could get a cloud or not get a cloud and then as far as the qualifying stuff I was just going as fast as I could go trying to figure out how the car will handle during qualifying. Like it or not, qualifying is going to be hugely important. If you can start up front and get a good pit stall it will benefit you all race.”
WITH THIS BEING A NEW SURFACE, DO YOU THINK THE POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT THIS COULD BE A SEPARATION RACE? “If it is anything like last week we will be side by side and nose to tail the whole thing. That is what I said after the race last weekend. I think that is a possibility. I believe the way we have both run at the mile-and-a-halves that we could be going to Homestead with like a two or three point spread at Homestead. I believe the chance for separation of us in points is a lot greater. Anything can happen at Homestead still, five to go and some guys take tires and some don’t or something like that, but I think this track is probably the one that will separate us if it is going to happen.”
TONY DIDN’T APPEAR TO WORK ON QUALIFYING IN THE SECOND PRACTICE AND WAS 36TH. DO YOU THINK HE IS BETTER THAN THAT INDICATES? “I haven’t looked at the sheets yet. I am sure he is better. If he didn’t make a qualifying run then you can’t compare the two. You can’t compare guys that run qualifying laps versus non qualifiers. I haven’t had a change to look at them yet. I did run around him a little in the first practice, nose to tail because of the points, but he pulled off pretty early so I don’t know.”
I am telling you, there is something to me that I feel this thing is not going to be over until the last lap.
WITH THE DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS, IS IT YOUR FEELING WHOEVER IS ON THE OUTSIDE WILL HAVE TO JUMP RIGHT BACK INTO LINE? “I don’t know. That is going to be the million dollar question there. I don’t know which line will be better. I think running the Nationwide race will help me figure that out. Everyone will get to see it. There are two ways to look at it. The guy on the outside can keep momentum on that first corner and might have an advantage down the back straightaway but as it stands right now if you get out of that groove, there is about a lane and a half, if you get out of that it is real dirty and slippery. We saw a couple of the Nationwide guys hit the fence up there in three. I wrecked up there. I didn’t wreck but got up there and brushed the fence in testing. I don’t know that the guy on the outside will be in a good position into turn three. I think it will be tough. Truly this Nationwide race you just don’t know. People could start working in that second or third groove and if it works it will be a great race on Sunday.”
YOU MENTIONED A FEW WEEKS BACK THAT EVEN IF YOU WENT TO HOMESTEAD TRAILING YOU WOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE. LETS SAY YOU END UP TRAILING BY A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF POINTS. HOW MANY WOULD YOU BE COMFORTABLE WITH? “I am not going to be comfortable until it is done and we have won. That is the only time you get to say great, that went well. There is a certain amount of confidence for us just going to Homestead for that race. That has been a unbelievable track for us. If Martinsville were the last race I would feel differently about it. Because it is Homestead and our record there, unless we are mathematically out of it I will go there with confidence to Homestead.”
LET’S SAY YOU WERE LIKE 10 POINTS BEHIND. “If I were 10 points behind then Tony’s run at Texas would make me think he will probably run pretty well at Homestead but I still feel we can lead the most laps, win the race and it would only take a little trouble or a little lack of speed on their part for us to beat them still. I have seen a lot of points battles and been part of a few and seen a lot of thing happen in the sport. I am telling you, there is something to me that I feel this thing is not going to be over until the last lap. I just have a feeling about this one for some reason.”
ARE YOU NERVOUS? “I am not nervous. I maybe should be but I am not. I am pretty excited about the opportunity I have here. I have been doing this long enough now. Last year is a good example. I sat back and thought about what I would not give to be going into these last two races with a shot at winning the thing. To be able to go out there and perform and do what we do. That is the neatest part. The last restart at Homestead, neck and neck, tied and if its best man win, then the hair might be standing up on my neck. Right now I am looking at this like this is pretty neat to be a part of and it is fun.”
WHAT KIND OF OTHER CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES HAVE YOU HAD IN YOUR CAREER THAT STAND OUT? “In 1999 we won the championship in our B Modified division and that was a good one. It didn’t come down to the last race. We dominated it and it went pretty well. The next year we put a four-barrel on the car and had a really good battle for the championship there at the same race track and that was a huge step for me. I learned a lot about points racing and a lot about myself. From there I won the Baby Grand Championship one time there in 2002 that was pretty neat. I would say the ones that stick with me the most are the ones here at the Cup level. In 2005, we talked about that last week; I thought that was normal to go to Homestead with a shot at the championship. It was no big deal. I was cruising along and looking back I would have done some things differently. 2008 was such an amazing year and for us to have lost the championship I learned a lot from that one. Even last year just watching those three guys battle the last couple weeks and wishing I was there I learned some things and made some notes watching that as well. The short version is that I have paid real close attention to these championship battles and tried to learn everything I can and am glad to be here with an opportunity to do this.”