In Carl Edwards' final diary with SI.com, he looks back on the 2009 season and talks about the biggest fix the No. 99 team has to make to be competitive in 2010. We also find out the one race he wishes he had back, and his reaction to NASCAR's plan to "loosen up" the rules. Plus, we'll take a sneak peek at who'll be doing an SI diary for us this season! Here's a hint: he hates Denny Hamlin ...
You've had some time to digest your 2009 season. What's the one word that comes to mind when you try to describe it, and why?
Motivating. Because I realize now that I was reminded by last season how fleeting success is in this sport for everyone but Jimmie Johnson. I'm more excited about going into this season than I have been for a long time. I feel like our team has something to go out there and prove -- not to anyone in particular, but to ourselves and our fans, our sponsors that we can compete for this championship, and that we deserve to be up there at the end of the year on top of the point standings.
I didn't want last season to be over. I felt like someone learning something new. You don't want to stop until you get it right, and I felt like we were working really hard, and we were kind of getting closer and it was over. But I've been really anticipating the beginning of the season to see if we can continue that.
You've got a reputation as one of the most optimistic guys out there. I know the results weren't what you expected, but what are some of the positives you can take out of 2009?
Well, I was reminded and convinced how important every small aspect of the team is. In 2008 and other times, we had a bad pit stop or poor qualifying effort, but it wasn't something that kept us down for the whole race. I realized last year those things are hugely important. My pit stops, my qualifying, my restarts, all these things that I didn't really worry too much about because once we got to racing, I could make those things up. I couldn't always do that in 2009, and that's some of the stuff we worked on this offseason.
Will you be the type of driver who puts that rough year behind you easily, or will you still be thinking about it until you win?
Well, it always feels good to win and break through and get it out of the way. We had that long, long losing streak after the 2005 season. It went through 2006 and most of 2007, and it felt real, real good to get back to Victory Lane. So I think yeah, it's always in the back of your mind to the extent that it's satisfying when you win.
I was watching Tom Brady speak the other day, and he said it best: "Being able to move on, go to the next week, and put whatever happens behind you, that's mental toughness. And you have to have that mental toughness. You can't dwell on things. You have to just move on."
It was cool to hear him say that. The guy's hugely successful, and I listen to people like that.
If there's one race you could take back and change from last year, what would it be?
The first Martinsville race. I was racing real hard with David Reutimann, we got together, and I cut my left rear tire. It ruined our day (Carl finished 26th). I think that was the best shot I had at winning the Martinsville race in the 10 times I've been there. That race would have meant a lot to me.
What's the biggest thing as a team you've worked on during the offseason to prepare yourself for the coming year?
My pit crew. It's as important as any change we make to the cars, any engineering stuff we're doing. That pit crew plays a pivotal role in your race result every week, and we've made some changes there that I think are going to be very, very good. I'm real excited about that.
Do you get involved in pit crew practices during the offseason?
Yeah. I went the other day to watch the guys, and I drove the pit practice car. I couldn't get the thing into gear before they got around to the left side, that's how quick they were. I'm going to have to step up my game in the car. I was shocked at how fast they could get from the right side of the car to the left side and have it up in the air, taking the wheels off. It's the fastest I've ever seen it, sitting in a race car.
Jimmie Johnson was named AP Male Athlete of the Year. How big an impact do you think that had for the sport, and how do you frame his achievements compared to some of the all-time greats?
I can tell you from firsthand experience that he does a very, very good job and deserves any awards that are bestowed upon him for how good he is and how hard he works. On top of that -- and this is not kissing his butt -- he is just a good competitor. Unlike a lot of people that I compete against, he truly enjoys the competition -- not just the winning. He enjoys a good race, and it's really fun to race against someone like that.
Ford almost doubled the number of cars they'll be supporting in 2010. How do you think that'll help your program overall?
It's a big help. I believe in Ford as a company. They make the best cars on the road, and that's why they're doing as well as they are. They've done this alone, not receiving assistance from the taxpayers -- and I think not enough people realize that. Not enough people appreciate that, because they didn't have to go that way. But they took the risk and did it. So for them to devote more resources to our sport and to NASCAR, I hope the fans appreciate that. I do -- and I think it's going to help us.
Brian France claimed at the media tour that NASCAR will "loosen up" the rules for 2010. What's your take on that?
I think the fans want to see that passion, and if NASCAR wants to keep their hands off and let it be what it is, that's fine with me. I think it's better when penalties aren't incurred. Obviously, certain things . . . like, I got mad at Tony Stewart and I spun him out on pit road one time. I got a penalty, and I probably should have. That was poor decision-making on my part. But if a guy wrecks me on the track and I wreck him back, that's kind of fair, you know? It may not be right, but how am I going to stand my ground?
What was the coolest thing you did this offseason? Any plans to travel before the start of the season?
Rub my wife's belly. [Carl's wife Kate is pregnant.] That's the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. We took our bikes to Costa Rica. That was an adventure. Six guys, and we had fun. We rented a van down there, drove all over, went to a volcano, rode our bikes, did everything. We had a good time.
I had a flat tire on the van 20 miles down a dirt road on this volcano, in the rain, and then we had a flat tire on the airplane coming back, and stopped in the Cayman Islands. If you're going to have a flat tire on your plane, Cayman Islands is the place to be stuck, that's for sure.
What were your New Year's resolutions for 2010?
Well, I've got some racing resolutions. I can't share those because they're going to inspire my performance. But those are good. As for the others, I guess it's the same thing I try to do all the time. Number one is be a good husband and a good dad this year. Those will be the number one priorities for me.
Thanks so much for doing the diary with us in 2009. We really appreciate it. Any advice for your replacement, Brad Keselowski?
Just stay the heck out of my way! No, let the fans know what you're thinking. That's one of the greatest things about this sport, that our fans have unprecedented access to us as drivers. So, I hope he has as much fun doing the diary as I did.