Q&A with Carl Edwards and Paul Menard This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway, a place where Ford driver Carl Edwards swept both events last season. Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, is still looking for his first win of 2009, while Paul Menard gained three crucial spots after last weekend’s 25th-place finish at Martinsville to grab the 35th and final guaranteed spot for Sunday’s race. Both drivers spoke about the weekend ahead.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – ARE THERE PLACES COMING UP YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO AND PLACES YOU AREN’T? “I was really looking forward to going to Bristol. I thought, ‘Hey, we sat on the pole and won the thing last time,’ I thought we would be really good there. I think right now, though, with the way the sport is, everything is so close and everything is so tight that it’s hard to say how we’re gonna run at the next track we go to. I mean, Bob [Osborne, crew chief] could figure something out and we could run away with this thing on Sunday and win at Martinsville and then we could go to Texas and be terrible. It’s really tough to forecast where we’re gonna run well, but so far I think we’ve done a good job of making the most of our bad days. That was the best we could do [at Bristol]. I think I’ve learned a lot about how to drive for points. We’ve got to just hope and pray and work hard that for the last 10 races we’re good. That’s really what’s gonna matter. That’s it.”
ON PAPER, TEXAS APPEARS TO BE WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED. “Texas has historically been great. It’s just so strange to me. I watch what happens at these places like Atlanta. Look at how fast the 2 car was. I didn’t see that coming. I know they’ve been getting better at those mile-and-a-halfs, but they figured something out and they’re screaming fast. The 18 car was a lap down for most of the day, so who would have thought that’s how Atlanta would go? I think that’s what this sport is about right now, it’s leap-frogging the competition at the right time and having your stuff good in that chase. I know that’s kind of a big idea, but it’s hard to just say, ‘All right, we’re going back to Texas and we’re gonna haul the mail.’ You just don’t know.”
DOES THE WAY THIS SEASON HAS GONE SO FAR MAKE YOU APPRECIATE THE ROLL YOU WERE ON AT THE END OF LAST YEAR? “Oh, yeah. I think back to the end of last season and if our car was running at the end of the race, we were fighting for the win. I mean, we were right there. That’s really special. It’s such a precarious place because you’re right there at the pinnacle and you can slip off, so you’ve got to really hold onto that and understand why it’s that way. That’s why right now I don’t think we’re quite as good as we were right then, relative to the field, so we’ve got to make sure not to get any farther off track. We’ve got to get it back on the center. I don’t really feel like we’re bad. I think we’re better in points than we were last year, but the season is longer it seems like. There’s more that can happen quicker.”
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion -- WHAT WAS THE FEELING LIKE AT MARTINSVILLE BEFORE AND AFTER THE RAIN CAME? THAT SECURED A SPOT WITHOUT HAVING TO QUALIFY. “We really weren’t that good when we started off practice. The car was decent and I was trying to figure out how I needed to drive the car to go faster, and then we hit on something right at the end of practice and picked up about two-tenths, so that was good. Going into qualifying I would have been pretty confident that we could have qualified in the top 20 somewhere, so it was kind of bittersweet to see the rain come. I knew we were obviously locked in when the rain came, but, otherwise, I would have liked to have had a shot to improve our position because I know we could have. But at a place like Martinsville it doesn’t take much to graze the curb or drive it in a little too deep where you lose a tenth or two-tenths, and that one-tenth of a second goes a long ways when it comes to qualifying for races and getting a good starting spot. Overall, I was pretty happy to see it rain, really. I would have liked to have had a shot, but I wasn’t disappointed by any means.”
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IS IT WHEN YOU COME TO THE TRACK ON FRIDAY BATTLING FOR A TOP 35 SPOT? “Friday is a lot bigger deal now. I told my girlfriend not to bother going to Martinsville because I won’t be very much fun to be around, so she stayed at home and we wound up getting in the race. We’ll see how the points shake out at Texas, but I’m much more confident going into Texas and qualifying well. We’ve run tracks like that before. We did a tire test at Charlotte, which is very similar to Texas. Martinsville is its own animal. It’s not basically like anything we go to, whereas Texas we have some notes we can fall back on and we’ve run well at those types of tracks earlier this year at Vegas and, to some degree, Atlanta, so I’m much more confident going into Texas.”
YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY DRIVER WHO HAS HAD SOME BAD LUCK TO START THE SEASON. HOW DO YOU LOOK AT HOW YOUR FIRST SIX RACES HAVE UNFOLDED? “Going into Daytona, our plan was to finish the race and get points, and that didn’t work out. Then we went to California wanting to finish the race and get points and that didn’t work out, either. It was the same thing at Vegas. We had a really good car at Vegas and I think we easily could have been in the top 10 there at the end, and that was the most disgusted I’ve been in a race car in a long time – more at myself for putting us in a bad position to get knocked out like that. Atlanta and Bristol we kind of re-set and were a little more conservative and gained points, so Texas we’re gonna kind of have to do the same thing. We’re gonna have to know who we’re racing against and who we need to make up points on, but, at the same time, we have to be pretty conservative to make it to the end.”
WHAT’S THE MOOD LIKE AROUND YOUR TEAM? HOW DO YOU KEEP THEM UP? “We have to look at the past races where we’ve run well at and we’ve had fast cars. We haven’t had a slow car all year and these guys have been in the game a long time, so they know how racing is. It’s a frustrating sport to say the least and they all know that. It’s not hard to do when you’re working with a bunch of professionals to keep the spirits up. Everybody knows what job has to be done and they’re professionals at doing it.”