Well, you accomplished your goal of making the Chase, but it turned out to be a much closer call than you expected. Tell us about your night in Richmond (Carl finished 15th to make the Chase field by 85 points).
Yeah, it was. Late in the race, when I realized Kyle [Busch] and Brian [Vickers] were both running so well, I thought, Hey, we really got to stay on our A game here. Anything can happen. So it was a little closer call than I would have liked, but it ended up being a decent night.
We just didn't run as well as we wanted to, though. We really need to work on our cars [at short tracks], because we tried some stuff and it just didn't work.
What is it about Roush and short tracks this year? The whole organization has yet to score a top 5 finish in 15 starts at ovals less than one mile in length.
I don't know. We ran really well at Martinsville, and other than that we've struggled a little bit. We had a tough time at Bristol and both Richmond races, so we're trying some stuff at Loudon that I hope works. We've got to run well there.
Did you ever feel like the engine was going to blow? How difficult was it to focus with the thoughts of disaster running through your mind?
Yeah, it really got me worried. I was coming off of turn two, and I think the float level or something was high on the carburetor, so it might have been spilling fuel. Because the engine missed a couple of times, and I thought, Oh, not now. We cannot blow this engine. It ended up running fine, but it stumbled a bit.
I didn't lose it on the radio, but I was really stressing there for a minute. Because if we had trouble, it could have been really bad.
Now that you're in the Chase, can you explain how your strategy on the track changes as you try to go for your first championship?
Well, everyone's going to step it up a little bit. Because of that, some people will make mistakes, but other people will just run even better than they have been. And the guys who are really good at it, who have been in point battles like this before, they're not going to make mistakes at all. Mark Martin's not going to mess up. Jimmie Johnson's not going to mess up. Jeff Gordon's not going to mess up.
So, I have to go in and just be cautiously aggressive, make sure I don't leave anything on the table but not let a bad day get even worse [by making my own mistake.]
You've had so much time to reflect on last year's second-place point finish. What did you learn that you can take with you into the 2009 Chase for the Cup?
That Jimmie Johnson can be very, very, fast! But I also learned some things about myself, particularly my driving and how to pace myself a little bit. I also need to remember what's really important; I took some risks last year that were OK, but some that weren't. You just have to learn to balance that.
Looking ahead, what's the one track out of the 10 you have to face that you're the most worried about, and why.
Talladega's the one that I've learned all sorts of ways to have bad days at. I've been caught up in things and I've caused things, so I've just got to be smart there.
I know you've been asked this about 1,000 times, but how's the foot doing? Can you explain to us the types of adjustments you've made inside the car to aid your comfort level?
It's doing good. The first week, we worked really hard at the pedal geometry. Just making sure the pedal was really light. Last week, we were almost back to normal, and I think this week it'll be fine. In fact, I think this week will be a bit of a relief in a way if everything goes well because it's not a long race [only 300 laps] and it's on a pretty simple racetrack. There's not a lot of G load, either; so if I can make it through this week, I think I'll be in the clear.
Whenever you have that type of injury, you're going to have to listen to critics who claim you're at a significant disadvantage compared to the rest of the field. How important was it to prove them wrong with your drive from the rear of the field to the front to win the Nationwide race on Sept. 11?
Yeah, that was really cool, 'cause that was a really hard-fought race. To win it and to have my foot not be in any way a hindrance, that was huge. For me, it was big but I think for my guys it's even bigger. Because they've got to sit there and think it's causing a problem, and it's good to see that it's not.
In this type of situation, it's got to be nice to have a wife who's a doctor.
Yeah! It worked out great. She's the first person I called when I broke it, and she got me in right away to get an X-Ray and called some folks that she knew at the University of Missouri. They got me taken care of very quickly, which was a huge help.
You come into this postseason similar to teammate Greg Biffle last year in that you still haven't won a race this season. How can watching him overcome the obstacles last year help you in this year's approach to the title?
Yeah. Biffle started the Chase last year, came out of nowhere and was on fire. So any of the guys in the Chase can do that. You look at Kasey [Kahne] or Juan [Pablo Montoya] or some of the guys that have just been cruising along, but they've all been performing very, very well. I just feel like this Chase field and the way people have been running makes it really hard to pick a favorite. So it might as well be me! Hopefully we can go out and win it.
As usual, the Chase for the Championship coincides nicely with the start of the NFL season. And this year, an estimated 30 million to 35 million people will participate in a rapidly growing obsession along with it: fantasy football. Are you participating in a fantasy football league this year?
Yeah, my brother, my wife, everybody plays. But I don't.
Because I don't need something else to distract me right now. As long as I can go without getting into something, it's better for me because once I get into something then it just becomes -- I just care about it, and it becomes another distraction.
But I noticed this week, we were watching a game and my brother had his computer going and everything set up. He was full on into it, and said something along the lines of, "Fantasy football is the greatest thing on the planet, period." He was just amped up.
I don't think he has Adrian Peterson, though, so that could mean trouble for him.
You say you don't want anything to distract you, which is understandable. Do all the people close to you (friends, family, etc.) respect your need to focus at this time in the year?
Yeah, they all know. I've got the coolest group of people around me, so I'm very fortunate. I don't have anybody that adds stress -- everybody just helps me out.
I think more about and work harder at my job these 10 weeks than at any time all year. Angela and Randy [my PR assistants] and all the people at Roush, they help me the whole year to stay rested enough to prepare for this Chase, and now it's the time to just buckle down and go.
But when I'm at the gym, or when I'm traveling, wherever I go I'm thinking about the racecar right now.
"Hey Carl, I just broke my right foot, too! The doctor says I'll be laid up for the next eight weeks, but I want to try and stay in shape. Are there any exercises you can recommend you're doing specifically to keep fit without being able to walk?"-- Jamie Rickelson, Jackson, MS
Yeah. You can still go to the gym. Seems the more you work on the crutches, the crutches alone are a great workout. Swimming, if you can swim, that's great. I can't swim worth a ...
SI: You can't swim?
I can swim, but I can't keep it up enough to have a cardiovascular workout because of it. But swimming's good if you're into swimming.
I also went to the bicycle shop the other day, and I picked up this bike and it has three wheels.
SI: You mean a tricycle?
Well, yeah. I went to ride after that, and this group of tourists rode by me the other day on the trail, and one guy looks at me and goes, "You ride old lady bike."
I was like, well, at least I'm riding dude. [Laughs] So, that's been helping me a lot; I've really been doing almost the same amount of stuff. I thought I was going to be in bad shape, but that hasn't been the case.
So, that would be the advice. You can still go lift weights, you can swim, or you can get some sort of bike that you can't fall off of (AKA: Tricycle.)
I just can't believe that for someone so athletic, you're not that good a swimmer.
Well, I can swim. But if we were going to swim a mile, that would kill me ... because I have to stop and catch my breath too much.
I took this Scuba Theory class in college. I was thinking, Scuba Theory ... it's going to be easy, right? But it turns out the University of Missouri swim coach is nationally recognized. He's been there for 30 years or something ... and he's hardcore. So the first day, he says, "Everybody, in the pool. The only training in the United States that you'll receive for scuba that's better than this is the Navy SEAL curriculum. The only difference is we won't be shooting guns."
So he makes everybody line up, and he wants to see us swim. So I'm swimming across the pool, trying to blend in, making it look like I know what I'm doing. And all of a sudden I hear, "You! The blue shorts! Get out of the pool!"
So I get out, and he says, "We will not move on or do anything else until you learn how to swim." So I learned how I'm supposed to do it after that, but I'm just not good at it. I ended up dropping out of that class, by the way...
Take us through a lap at New Hampshire.
New Hampshire looks very simple, but it's a pretty technical racetrack. You drive into the first corner, and it has graduated banking in that turn. So the very bottom is really flat, but the second groove is just a little banked and you can manipulate the handling of the car by moving across that seam. It's a fast entry into the corner with hard braking, and you roll through it for a long time (it's a true oval, so you're making a 180 degree corner). You really feel what the car is doing so you can give feedback to your crew chief, then you get the throttle down as hard as you can going onto the back straightaway. Going into turn 3, there's some bumps, and you've got to be careful braking there not to axle hop -- I've wrecked there once doing that.
Once you get your car right, it's a great track.