Tom Bowles
Sunday August 9th, 2009

Carl Edwards has agreed to do a biweekly diary Q&A with SI.com this season. Here's the latest edition of Kickin' It With Carl.

SI.com: Certainly, Pocono didn't work out the way you wanted to. Talk about your struggles there en route to an 18th place finish.

Carl Edwards: Pocono was going really well, at first. There was one point where I thought we had a real good chance to win or run second to Denny [Hamlin]. But the double-file restarts ... that's the worst my car has performed in that situation yet. So, we had to go back and look at if there was something that was going on with our setups, something I was doing driving-wise, or our strategy. The end result was bad, though.

SI.com: If you had gotten up in clean air, would that have helped?

Edwards: Yes. The first restart, I thought, 'Hey I just need to get my act together. I'm just not doing my job here.' But by the third restart, I thought, 'Man, maybe there's something that we've got under the setup that just won't let it run well in a pack.'

After talking to the rest of my teammates and stuff, I feel like definitely our cars were much better in clean air. They had a lot of the same troubles. Matt [Kenseth] didn't. Matt was pretty good ... but the rest of my teammates were struggling a lot. So, that was something new for me; usually, I look at those restarts as an opportunity to gain spots. Instead, we lost a ton.

SI.com: Just six weeks ago, you were a second-place car capable of challenging for the win. What changed in such a short amount of time that threw you off?

Edwards: That's something I don't think a whole lot of people understand. Nothing changed except for the competition. Everyone, all their setups evolved. If you take the car that won at Pocono and you come back with the same car in six weeks, you might run fifth with it. It's just that people learn things. They get faster. They get better. It's an example of how tough the sport is.

SI.com: Ford hasn't had some of the same financial struggles as some of their counterparts in the series (Chevy and Dodge). Despite that, there have been several tracks this year where Fords have just been plain out to lunch compared to the rest of the field (none of them finished in the top 10 at Pocono). What is missing amongst the Fusion brand that the rest of the manufacturers don't have?

Edwards: My gut says nothing. Obviously, I'm really close to it, and I don't want there to be a problem. I really do believe we're fine though, we just ... if you look at the history of every team, almost every team you go through peaks and troughs, and that's what I've been telling people.

Look, I wish more than anything I had five wins this year and we were leading the points. We were good enough to do that last year, and I truly believe we're just in a trough of performance based on the way the sport goes. If you look at the beginning of the year, Roush actually started strong. Matt won the first two races, and then we had three cars to beat at Texas, and then we started to fade to mediocrity. Now, other than Chicago, I think we've really come back pretty well.

Looking ahead, I think when we go back to these places like Atlanta and California, we're going to find out where we stand. Right now, it's just this race to find the most grip and the most downforce. It just keeps evolving with this car, but it takes time to catch up. I really feel like we're closing the gap, though. There are times in the last couple of years where we had that edge, so we just have to ride it out, get it back, and then enjoy it when we have it.

But we can't self-destruct. We can't start fighting within the team and stuff like that.

SI.com: One thing that's been on the drawing board in terms of improvements is the new FR9 engine from Ford. Can you give us an update on when we might see you use it out on the race track?

Edwards: I think that it's going to be good. I've heard rumblings that we'll get to run that sometime before the year's over. Doug Yates says that he has very high hopes for it, and any momentum that we can get is going to be good.

You know, I've been in the sport for five years now, and I'm telling you, this year is 100 percent more competitive than five years ago when I started. It's tough. I look at some of the races, when I got done with the race -- Phoenix was one -- I don't remember where I finished, but I remember walking to my motorhome and thinking to myself, 'I can't remember the last time I raced that hard.' Almost all of the races have been like that.

Before, if you had a fast enough car, you could be comfortable to a certain degree and relax a little bit. Now, I don't ever see that happening again. Things are more competitive than ever.

SI.com: Besides the double-file restarts at Pocono, much of the race consisted of single-file racing. You've been such a big fan of the new car, but what's causing these types of problems at the bigger tracks: the car or the track itself?

Edwards: I have an opinion on how to solve the problem of the aero push and single-file racing at big tracks. I don't know if it's right, but I'll give it to you. Anytime you rely on downforce, you are inherently creating a situation where the car following other cars may have less downforce because of the disturbed air from the front car. The only way to get rid of the problem of having an aero push or not being able to close up to a guy's bumper on an intermediate track is to do everything you can to get rid of downforce. The rules have to be written so that the cars don't have it; then Goodyear, with a car with less downforce, could possibly make a tire that just has more mechanical grip. You'd be racing like we race at short tracks. You'd be racing the grip of the track and not the air going over the top of the car and under the car.

So, to me the direction NASCAR I feel like should go is less downforce. I do think NASCAR did a really, really smart thing with the new (Car of Tomorrow) by taking away a bunch of the parameters on the body that you can change. So now, all the teams have almost the same amount of downforce. That's a great first step. But now ... they need to start taking it away. If I don't have downforce to begin with, I can't possibly lose any when I come up behind a guy. So, I think that you'd see some very, very close racing at these tracks that you don't see now.

That car is a great thing. The looks of it have grown on me. The idea of it is perfect. The type of rules and setup that they have right now is what every short track racer in America dreams of: to be able to go to the track and know that you're coming with the same equipment as everyone else. That's what makes it more of a sport and less of a spectacle. So, that's good.

SI.com: When do you think you'll know when it's time for you to retire?

Edwards: I don't know. I was around Mark Martin when he retired and then came back, and I got a different view of it after seeing what Mark went through. Because things change. People all the time knock athletes for retiring and then coming back, but no one knows what's around the corner. I think for me personally, it would be very, very hard to just walk away and not race. Even on my worst days, when I'm the most frustrated with things, I still can't imagine not wanting to go race, you know. So, I don't know how you decide. I look at a guy like Rusty Wallace, and I don't know how he walked away. And I might be wrong, but when I see Rusty on the track, I feel like I can see it in his eyes that he wants to jump in a race car.

I think it's too bad that people try to pigeonhole athletes and get them to commit 100 percent one way or the other, because it's just totally impossible for someone who really loves the sport. I know for me, that would be very difficult. Right now, I can't imagine walking away from racing and not racing again, even if it's cutting back to part-time. I still want to race; and if I'm going to race 15 races, why not race the other 21 or 22 races and go run for a championship?

ADVICE QUESTION OF THE WEEK

"Hey Carl, I read about your bike trip from Columbia to St. Louis and I was really impressed. I'm trying to start training for a 150-mile bike ride to help multiple sclerosis patients in the Fall, but I've never been really much of a rider. How did you start training for something like that, and are there any exercises you can recommend to get me in shape to do the ride in the Fall?" -- Jan Richter, Auburn, N.Y

Edwards: What I would recommend is going to your local bike shop and just asking someone there, do I have the right equipment?

Make sure you get the right equipment, your bike is safe, and that your bike is set up ergonomically for your body size. So that would be the first thing, to make sure you're riding in a way that's not going to cause any injury.

And then, number two, you need to consult with someone who's a professional. Or go on a website: my trainer, he works for Carmichael Training Systems and he's got a website called trainright.com. You can get tips on how to train, how to fill up your endurance, stay hydrated to be safe on the road, and stay on the right schedule and frequency for riding. There's a lot of places you can get information, but I would start with the bike shop, trainright.com, and go from there. The other thing is if you see someone who's riding, talk to them and you'll probably get some good advice and someone to go ride with at the same time.

Have an advice question for Carl? Email Tom at tbowles81@yahoo.com, or use the SI mailbag and you can be featured in the next edition!

CARL'S YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

This is called Did You Know? ... I got this in an email, it's an interesting sequence of statistics and facts you might not otherwise know about.

WATKINS GLEN PREVIEW

SI.com: Take us around a lap at Watkins Glen.

Edwards: Turn 1 at Watkins Glen, the entry into Turn 1 is downhill. It's bumpy, and it gives you the best opportunity to make a mistake. You can try to stop the car going downhill, but it's really easy to get the car real yawed out. If you do that, you're going off the end of the race track. So you make a right-hand turn after turn 1, and if you want, you can drive over the curb on exit and actually use the pavement on the outside of the race track. But whatever you do, you want to get a good run off that corner and then you head into the S's. The S's are such a really good place to gain ground on folks ... but it's also a place you can lose ground easily. You have to be so fast, so precise through those S's; there's some elevation change, and then there's some banking change to them. Visually, it's a difficult set of corners because you can't see too far ahead, and there's some curbing and some things that change a lot.

Once you make it through that section, you get to the highest speed part of the track -- the back straightaway. That leads into a really heavy braking zone, and into what they call the bus stop, which is just a short chicane. And that's a really interesting place. You go through there pretty fast, and there's not a lot of room for error. You can certainly get a lot of passing done right there on entry; but you can also suffer, because if you get in there and screw up, you'll end up right in the sand trap. My first lap of testing there, I ended up in that sand trap, so I'm very familiar with how it can bite you. Next, there's almost a 180-degree right-hander. It's a pretty neat corner, an oval corner a lot like maybe a New Hampshire or something like that -- but it's facing the opposite direction than you'd usually see on an oval. I think it's fun, but for me and the other oval racers it's a tough corner. You're entering it sliding and doing all the things you do on an oval, but doing it to the right.

That corner comes out to a medium-length straightaway with a hard left and a hard right back to the finish line. Those corners are fairly straightforward, fairly simple. And the trick here is to thread the needle and to make a good, solid run through those corners. Not a lot of action happens there. So, a lap around the Glen is a lot of different types of corners, a lot of different braking zones, and some technical spots in the S's. It's a fun race track.

SI.com: How do you set someone up to pass there?

Edwards: It just depends on the person you're following. I have yet to win a race there, but I got real close a couple of years ago. Following Tony [Stewart], when he won I was running second to him, and what I had to try and do to beat him is just watch and try to pick a spot where he would make a mistake or a spot where he was slow. But he just never gave me the opportunity. As a driver, at that track that's all you can do is sit there, look for a weakness in a guy, and then try to exploit it.

CARL'S COOL HANGOUT: The Best Place To Go By The Track

Edwards: What's pretty unique is the glass museum in Corning, a special type of science museum. I went there last year, and it was really cool. We showed up late, and they let us in on a discount because it was going to close in 20 minutes. They had all sorts of stuff there. They had these streams of water that they shined light through, and you know if you shoot a stream of water in the air it makes it arc, like a parabolic curve. So they shot a light through it, and a light comes out of the stream at the angles of the water. There was plenty of cool stuff like that there.

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