NASCAR's Carl Edwards has agreed to do a Q&A series with SI.com this season. This week, we talked to him in between filming a commercial for Claritin's Clear To Drive program. He gave his take on his first four races, some advice on how to get started in racing, and let us in on some secrets to getting around Bristol.
Q: Let's talk about your last race at Atlanta. How did you feel about your third place finish? You came all the way from 29th, but it ended with you dropping from first to third on that final green-white-checkered restart.
A: Atlanta is probably one of my most successful tracks. As a driver and as a team, every time we go there, we feel like we can win. So in that respect, third was a little bit frustrating. But overall, for the points situation, the time of the season we're at, and the way our pit stops worked out, it was a great finish. I mean, that's probably the best we could have hoped for. Kurt Busch was extremely fast all day -- even if everything went perfectly it would have been a heck of a battle with him. So third was acceptable.
Q: Set us up for the final two laps of that race. You finally got out front in your final pit stop ... but you know Kurt Busch is so much faster (he led 234 of 325 laps), and he's sitting there ready to pounce on that restart. How do you hold him off knowing the speed difference you've had all race?
A: Well, the reason we were leading is because we took two tires [everyone else took four] -- so we still had 30 or 40 laps on the left sides. In a way, I was kind of a sitting duck for that finish. But I knew that if on the restart there was a caution or something, and the caution came out before we got through the first corner, I thought, Hey, I might have a chance to win this thing. I'd seen that happen with Jimmie Johnson a year and a half ago. And sometimes you get out front and get some good air. But I knew as soon as Busch got to the outside of me, he was going to pass by and just check out.
Still, I was happy that we put ourselves in a position where we could win. That was the best thing we could do. If I had it to do all over again, I might drive a little bit differently -- but I don't know if it would have helped. Wherever I went, Busch was going to go the other way, and he was going to be able to get by me because he had so much more grip right then.
Q: In terms of getting up to the front, you had a lot of problems on pit road. (At one point, Edwards had lost a total of 18 spots on six pit stops under yellow). A big reason for that was your pit stall selection. Can you explain how that works and why it hurt you?
A: Well, the pit stall selection, the first thing that put us in that spot was qualifying poorly. We picked pits 29th out of 43 [drivers], so we didn't have much to choose from. [Crew chief] Bob [Osborne] ended up picking that pit stall based on practice speeds, thinking that the No. 88 car might end up a lap down during the race [opening up the stall in front of Edwards for an easy exit during yellow flag stops]. But [the 88] ended up running a lot better than Bob thought he was going to run.
So what ended up happening was Jeff Gordon [who had the pit stall behind Carl] was in front of me [on the track] most of the day and came on pit road first. Of the three of us, Jeff Gordon was first, I was second, and Dale Jr. was third coming into the pits. So Gordon would pull into his pit stall, and with mine immediately in front of his, I had to go around his guys and everything. It's like trying to parallel park with no room -- but I would still have to park my car. And then Dale Jr. would come around me and do the same thing and park his car in front of me. That left me boxed in, and it ended up that I could never put myself in the pit box the right way so we could do a fast pit stop.
I even asked Bob at one point; I said, "Can we just stop at someone else's pit stall, can we pick another person on pit road that's maybe like a lap down that we could just do our pit stops from their stall? Because my guys were doing the best they could, I was doing the best I could, but I just couldn't make it work. Every time we pulled on pit road, I backed up 3-5 spots every time. It was really tough mentally because you keep having to make it up, make it up [on the track]; I think it's one of the hardest times I've had in the car in terms of trying to keep from getting frustrated.
Q: Does the crew need Bob Osborne to pump them up after that? I mean, the whole situation really wasn't their fault, either ...
A: Well, to get to the bottom of it, our pit crew ... we've worked really hard on the pit crew these last few years. Our pit stops have been something that we've really tried to make better. We had a great group of guys at the beginning of the season, and we've lost two of them right now to injury, so we've had guys trying to fill in and change tires. The rear tire changer and front tire carrier ... they're thrust into this position and expected to perform right off the bat while the other guys are trying to recover from injury.
That's been really tough ... so our mission right now is to make the pit crew better so this doesn't ... I mean, we don't want to lose a championship because of this stuff. At a place like Atlanta, you can make it up, but at Martinsville, you can't. This would take you right out of the race. So it's a really important time for us on our pit crew, and it could cost us a lot if we don't fix it.
Q: Now that you've had time to sit back and assess your season during the off week ... it's been a different type of season than last year for you (0 wins, only 1 top 5 in '09 versus 2 wins through the same four races in '08). You're still in a good spot (4th in points), but did you feel like you'd have a lot more momentum coming into this season after the way you won two of the last three races last November?
A: Yeah, I feel like we have a different expectation for ourselves. I do, and I know our team does. We've raced four races ... we've performed really well. Daytona was great, but we didn't get the finish we wanted. California, we missed it, and at Vegas we had the fastest car but the engine blew up with less than two laps to go. And then we had the pit stop problem at Atlanta.
So we don't have the two wins we had at this point last year, but I feel like we're in a better position to perform better through the whole year. I feel like we're better off ... and if you look at the points right now and you look at them last year, the way Jimmie started the year in 2008 -- it's not the start of the year where the championship is won. The way it goes down, it's the last 10 races ... so we just have to make sure we're performing really well then.
The NCAA Tournament starts this weekend. Who are you rooting for this year to win it all, and if your favorite can't win -- who will? I know you went to college in Missouri ...
A: So this season I've followed Missouri basketball more than ever before. Some tickets were given to me, and I went to the MU -- KU game at MU -- the border war rivalry that's been there for 125 years. And that was the one where I think we were down by 14 at the half, and they came back and won it at the buzzer by two. And it was just ... the place went crazy. That was probably the coolest basketball game I've ever been to.
Now, my wife ... she's a huge basketball fan. [Tuesday], all she could talk about is how March is the greatest month of the year. So just by association, I've been watching a lot more, and it's been fun.
Now, Missouri ... they play Cornell in the first round, and my brother was saying Cornell scores 60% of its points in the 1st half and we score 60% of our points in the second half. It's a little bit different style ... but we rotate something like 13 guys on average, far more than the average team. I think that's what makes them so strong in the second half... so we'll see what happens in the tournament. I hope they do well; but so far, it's been a very successful season no matter how they do. Big 12 champions ... that's pretty cool. They don't have that banner hanging up yet ... but I think everyone in Columbia, Missouri, would agree that this has been way more than we could have expected. So, really the pressure's off those guys, and I hope they play like that. Just go out and have a good time, and do what they can do.
And if Missouri can't win ... North Carolina would be cool. Tyler Hansbrough's my wife's favorite basketball player by far, and I like how he plays.
"Carl, my kid is about 10 years old and he's been bugging me to start him in a racing series somewhere. He really wants to do it; but we've never been involved in racing. For a family that's never been actively involved at the ownership level, what's a good series to start in so we could all get some much-needed experience?" -- Joey Richards, Asheville, N.C.
A: It's really tough. The toughest thing about racing is by far coming up with the money to pay for it. So you can ruin any good time racing by spending too much money. You can make it a bad deal for your family and not much fun. So if you don't have any money, the best thing to race are radio controlled cars. Find an RC track around in your area. You can learn a lot about a car's setup, the dynamics of everything, right away.
If you have a little more money than that, run go-karts. Go-karts are great. They have a class for everyone. They have novice classes. Restricted classes. They keep it safe, and I think that's a great way if you want to learn how to oval race or road course race, go-karts are really good. I know that one thing to do is make sure whatever equipment you buy is the right equipment. It's better to buy the right stuff if it costs 20% more than if you buy the wrong stuff, have it be worth nothing, and then have to go end up buying the right stuff anyways. So go to a local go-kart race or an RC car track. Hang around, volunteer to help someone for a couple of months and you'll learn everything you need to know. And then you can go buy the stuff or buy something that someone else is already using. That's the best way to start.
And the other thing too is simulator-based racing. Online racing, you can learn a lot. It's just as tough as real racing.
(Looking for your chance to chat with Carl Edwards? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with what's bothering you, and you might just see your question pop up the next time!)
What's Hot And Not In Carl's World This Week
This Week's Topic: Movies
PUMPING IRON: I saw that movie Life is Beautiful. It's an old one, but it's definitely the best one I've seen recently.
LOSING STEAM: You know, I can't think of anything I've shut off halfway through. Nothing's been bad lately for me.
There're motorcycle burnouts ... and then there're motorcycle burnouts.
Take us around a lap at Bristol.
A: So, Bristol feels like a rollercoaster. You go into the corner, and there's a lot going on. It's not like a corner that you take in your regular car, where you turn and move to the right ... and you feel the centripetal force move you to the outside. You get a bigger sensation at Bristol of getting slammed down in the seat because the banking's just so steep. You go down in the corner and it jumps off the straightaway and then lands down the corner ... slams in there. There's more of a sensation, G Forces at Bristol than anywhere else. So you feel like you're on this ride, you're going down the straightaway and everything just gets straight. It slams in the corner and then your head's kind of all falling over on your neck and you just have to force your foot to step on the throttle. The car will just go so fast around the corner because of the banking and the drift that it has.
It's a real interesting track to drive. You know, it'll wear you out in about 10 minutes if you're tense. The first time I went there, man, I couldn't run 25 laps without my arms getting cramped up. It's just so, so tense.
Q: Is that why drivers lose their tempers so easily there?
A: Well, it's mentally fatiguing. It's really difficult to pass there. Even though they changed the track there where you run two- or three-wide, it's really difficult to pass. It's easy for a guy to frustrate you real badly, so you end up saying, 'Well, I'll just bump him a little bit.' And then if you wreck him, he's pissed ... and then he'll usually come back and try to wreck you, and then you're both pissed.
A lot of times after Bristol, you're so mad or people are mad at you or you're mad at other people ... you generally have to just walk away and just say, 'It'll be better next week.' Because that's what it is ... it can be a very frustrating track.
Q: One last question ... you and Kyle Busch got into it in the Bristol race last August, because Kyle wasn't happy with how you bumped him out of the way to take the lead -- and ultimately, the win. Do you think it's behind you both at this point?
I don't know. It doesn't matter ... that's racing. There's just certain guys that you establish, hey, this is how we're going to race with each other. And that's how you race ... and it's Bristol! You know what I mean. The fans come to see a hard race, and I thought we had a really good race. And I know he was frustrated, but it's probably one of the most exciting races I've ever been a part of. And I've been on the other side of it too, so I know how he feels.
But heck, this is a new day, a new race. And hopefully something more exciting will happen.