Ford Drivers Ready For Restrictor Plate Racing
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, was involved in one of the most memorable accidents of 2009 when he and Brad Keselowski made contact coming to the checkered flag, sending Edwards into the fence. He spoke about last year’s incident and what he thinks the racing will be like this weekend.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – “We’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with my car. We went out there for practice and it’s something like an ignition wire is arcing, or we’ve got a bent driveshaft or something. It won’t ever clear out. It’s just shaking and I can’t get up to speed, so the guys are working on that. Fortunately, we’ve got two practice sessions, so that’s good.”
IS IT THE NEW ENGINE? “No, the engine is fine. There’s nothing in the filters. All of the valve springs are good. It seems to run fine on A and B boxes and A and B distributors. These things are so frustrating to try and diagnose something when everything looks fine but you know something is not right.”
IS YOUR PLANE HERE? “I was late to practice because we had some miscommunication on what we were doing. I’m sitting over there looking at the weather, thinking they’re still Nationwide qualifying, and I was late for practice. I didn’t get through the weather report, but I saw there’s 100 percent chance of severe storms. I’m fortunate. I’ve got my plane in a hangar, so as long as the hangar doesn’t blow down we’ll be alright.”
CAN YOU PUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT ACCIDENT LAST YEAR BEHIND YOU? “The best I can hope for is to be in the exact same situation again. Whether it’s Brad or somebody else to be pushing me, for us to be separated and just have a battle between me and one other guy. I don’t know how I would feel in that same situation. Nothing teaches you like a little pain and that wreck was painful for a number of reasons, so I’d say that it’ll be in my mind to make sure that I defend my car the best I can so that I have the best chance of winning. Blake Bobbitt is an amazing person. She got hurt in the grandstands. She’s here. Aflac actually reached out to her. She’s a policyholder and Aflac is doing a crew of courage. At four races they’re gonna bring someone that’s an Aflac policyholder that’s been through something and Blake is our guest this weekend. I think the thing that makes me able to kind of accept what happened there and not really think about it is how great Blake is and how understanding she is about the whole situation. I can only hope I’m in the same position and I can do a better job.”
HOW COULD YOU HAVE DEFENDED YOURSELF BETTER IN THAT SITUATION? “The only way I could have defended myself better in that situation is to either not block or wait long to block, wait until I was sure – instead of being on offense and trying to put my car where I wanted it – and giving Brad the opportunity, whether he meant to or not, but giving him the opportunity to stick his nose in there and get me turned. Maybe if I wouldn’t have blocked the first way and let him go on the outside, maybe we could have had a different race to the end, but those are split-second decisions. You’re looking at the checkered flag. I hoped for the best and I got the worst.”
THESE RACES ARE SO HARD TO WIN. DOES IT GNAW AT YOU THAT YOU DIDN’T WIN? “Yeah. These races are hard to win and I’ve replayed that race a lot and thought, ‘How could I have done a better job?’ But I think we showed right there – Brad and I – that if you work with someone and you work together, you can put yourself in a position to win. So I’m hoping I can find somebody to work with like that and we can make something happen.”
TWO CARS JUST RAN 198+ MPH. DO YOU EXPECT NASCAR TO TRY AND SLOW THINGS DOWN A BIT? “The speed is obviously high enough that you could have something bad happen, but at least we’ll have the option for two or three guys to hook up and get away from the pack. I mean, we’re probably gonna wreck anyway, so if you wreck with two or three guys, instead of 20 or 30, that’s better. That’s all you can say about it, but the other thing we have is the spoiler. We don’t know if a car turns around sideways now at 198, maybe it won’t fly off the ground and maybe we won’t have those spectacular wrecks. What I’m saying is it’s better that we can create our own destiny or choose our own destiny by pushing one another and making something happen, instead of just being stuck in a group.”
HOW LONG CAN YOU DO THAT AND PUSH EACH OTHER? “The back car will overheat, but at the end of the race there are gonna be as many guys that can get it figured out pushing each other. The last thing you think about is your engine blowing up. They’ll run for a llittle while pretty hot. They’ll run two or three laps real hot.”
BACK TO THE SEVERE WEATHER TOMORROW. IS IT DISAPPOINTING TO POSSIBLY HAVE TO RACE ON MONDAY AGAIN? “No, it’s fine. I’ll race Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – whatever day we want to race – and my guys feel the same way. We’ve got a fast Fastenal car over there. The big thing, I guess, is the severity of the weather. You can have 100,000 people here without a lot of shelter, so, hopefully, everyone is smart about that and, hopefully, we don’t have any trouble there.”
IS IT GUT-WRENCHING WITH A GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISH HERE? “I hadn’t even thought about that. We might wear out that three attempts at a green-white-checkered this week because when they drop the green with two laps to go, this track is wide and smooth and it’s just gonna be who pairs up, who pushes who, who gets in the clear and all people are gonna be looking for is a rear bumper to latch on to and that’s probably gonna lead to wrecks and probably gonna lead to total chaos, but the outcome of this race could be shaped after the advertised distance. You could have a lot happen after 500 miles is over.” HOW DOES RUNNING THE NEW ENGINE EFFECT YOU? “Obviously, that’s our hope and the thing we’ve got to lean on and hope that it’s as good as it can be. The more time we can get on it, the more we can learn about it, then the better off we’re gonna be in the long run. We need that engine to be as good as it can be.” HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING RUN IN NATIONWIDE? “It feels good to qualify second at Talladega with our Nationwide car. That’s an effort right there. We all know this race is about your car and your luck and you’ve got to have both. Right now, I feel like we have the car over there. There’s nothing worse than qualifying 25th or something here and everybody says, ‘Well, it’ll draft fine.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, it’ll keep up because of the draft, but it’s not a fast race car.’ So it’s fun to start a race and know you’ve got one of the fastest cars. That’s cool.”
THE COMPETITION WITH JIMMIE AND JEFF LAST WEEK HAS GOTTEN A LOT OF ATTENTION. DO YOU WANT TO BEAT YOUR TEAMMATES MORE THAN OTHER GUYS? “Yeah. All of our lives, who have we argued with the most and the worst? It’s our brothers and sisters. It’s just competition and once you get out there on the race track that shows. Teammates are some of the guys you want to compete with the most. I’d say Greg and Matt and I have had the hardest races and most fierce, intense competition of anybody that I’ve raced with and I think that’s just normal. It’s kind of a race within a race. You want to beat all of your teammates and you want to beat everybody else, but it’s just a competition. It doesn’t mean you don’t like each other or you don’t work together, but you always want to out-do the guy closest to you, I guess. Everybody in here knows if you can’t win, you want to beat everybody that’s in the same equipment as you. That’s just the competitive nature. To get beat by a guy and you don’t know what he’s got in his car, you can always in your mind say, ‘Yeah, he’s got a better engine or something.’ But if you get beat by a guy that’s got the same stuff as you it’s like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get on my horse here and get going.’”
IS BLAKE GOING TO BE HERE SUNDAY? “Blake’s gonna be here at the race with us and it’s pretty cool. Aflac is bringing her and taking care of her, so that will be fun to have her here. It means a lot for her to come to the race and enjoy it and be understanding about the whole situation. That kind of lets me be at peace with her getting hurt.”
WAS THAT ONE OF YOUR HARDEST HITS? “No, it wasn’t a hard hit at all because it kept going. That was not a hard hit.”
HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO THE KEVIN LEPAGE WRECK IN THE NATIONWIDE RACE? “That was a scarier wreck for me because I could see, I had about two-tenths of a second to see the car I was about to hit. The deal here, I was upside-down and backwards and I didn’t even know what was going on until it already happened. That was wild.”
DO YOU FEEL NASCAR IS TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS TO KEEPING THE CARS ON THE GROUND? “A year ago went down to Daytona and we sat in a room and I talked to everybody. They were nice enough to just lay it all out on the table. I told them my opinion and they told me exactly what they’re trying to do and the reasons why we do this. It just comes down to I have accepted that we are gonna race here. The fans like it. I’m not being forced to race here. I might as well just make the most of it and go race as hard as I can and hope for the best. It’s what we’re gonna do. Really, what are they gonna do? Take it off the schedule? You can’t do that, so we’re just gonna go and do the best we can. Once I got in my mind that way, it’s more fun to come here. I think if you come and you think, ‘Well, we can change this or we can do that,’ it doesn’t feel the same as just coming and saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna go race. Let’s go do this and make the best of it.’”
THE PRESSURE HAS RAMPED UP FOR THE YOUNGER GUYS. COLIN IS OUT OF THE 16 FOR SOME UNSPONSORED NATIONWIDE RACES AND JOHN WES TOWNLEY IS OUT FOR RCR. IS IT MORE A PERFORM OR GET OUT TYPE SITUATION? “It is. It seems extremely intense. I look guys like Colin and Ricky, those guys are great drivers. Colin has the truck experience, but, other than that, he has no stock car experience. He’s learning against the best drivers in the world and, yeah, the microscope is turned on. It’s tough.”
DO YOU FEEL FORTUNATE TO HAVE GOTTEN THROUGH THE WINDOW WHEN YOU DID? “Yeah, I felt like when I ran the truck series I made a lot of dumb mistakes and I got going just enough and we won a couple races and everything went. But it’s tough. I felt there were less eyes looking at me then than these guys have in the Nationwide Series here with big sponsors and Cup drivers you’re racing against every week.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, trailing leader Jimmie Johnson by 128 points. Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings going into this weekend’s Aaron’s 499. Both drivers visited the infield media center to talk about this weekend.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – WHAT DID YOU LEARN OUT THERE? “I learned that it’s gonna be a crazy race on Sunday. The closing rate is very, very fast. Two cars get hooked up and they really stream away from the field quickly. The way to explain it is it’s like being in the slow lane and guys are going 85 beside you. It’s gonna be challenging. I think the biggest challenge is gonna be when those two cars get pushing back in the pack and they get cut off. How are guys gonna slow down quick enough and it’s still very difficult to see in front of these cars. That spoiler is very wide on the car in front of you. You have no visibility around him, so it’s difficult to know what’s in front of him when you guys are hooked up and pushing.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY? “I don’t know if I learned anything. It’s different than what it was, but you just go out there and draft in a group. Practice is always a lot different than the race because you’ve got cars merging on the track and merging off the track and there are big speed differences. I did the test here, too, and got some laps with the spoiler. The spoiler, you can see over it a little bit better than you could the wing, but it is really wide so it is hard to see around people when you get those two cars hooked up and they’re running five miles an hour faster than the rest of the field, so that’s a little bit difficult or nerve-wracking if you’re the car behind pushing someone, but, other than that, everything seems alright.”
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT SPOTTERS? “I use one spotter. He spots the entire race through binoculars. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t want to know how he does it, but he does a pretty good job. He’s got the button down three-quarters of a lap – about all day. I don’t know how many batteries he goes through, but it’s a lot for them to do. I don’t think there’s really time to hand it off to another guy. It seems like a big race track, but they look through binoculars and it’s probably like that, I suppose (pointing to a TV across the media center).”
MATT KENSETH CONTINUED – IS THE NEW ENGINE SOMETHING THAT COULD HELP THE FORDS GET WINS AND NOT JUST BEING UP IN THE POINTS? “I think you want both. I think you want to win and be up in the points. That’s what your goal is because the higher you finish, the more points you get, so you’re always out there trying to win. We hope the new engine will be a little better, but if it was significantly better than our old engine, we’d probably be running it already. So they’re still developing it and trying to get that better. We ran them at the last few plate races, so I don’t think, in my opinion, that horsepower is the difference between us winning and losing right now – I really don’t. I think we just have to keep working on our cars. We’ve got to get our cars through the corner faster and we’ve got to figure out how to get the maximum amount of downforce we can get out of them and the maximum amount of grip we can get out of them – and I’m not talking about Talladega but everywhere else. That’s how you’re gonna win races. At a lot of the tracks we go to, you’re out of the gas for a long, long time and most of the time you always make up or lose time in the corners and not on the straightaway. I feel like our old engine runs pretty competitively. Everything can always be better, but I don’t think that’s really what’s holding us back.”
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – “I agree. A lot has been put into the new engine and a lot of focus. We’re not winning because our cars last year weren’t good enough. Our cars are getting close to being good enough this year and it doesn’t matter how much power you have. Like Matt said, if you don’t have the gas down, it’s not gonna go. So we’ve got to our cars where we can use the gas all the time and it’ll be better. The engine will make a small difference, but it’s rarely power that wins these races. It’s usually a guy whose car is stuck to the race track better.” DO YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO SHAKE THINGS UP AND TRY TO GET THE PERFORMANCE LEVEL UP? “It’s a bunch of small things. We changed a bunch of small things from last year and we’re a lot better, we’re a lot faster. We’re competing in that top 10 about every week. Both Matt and I at Texas were competing there and felt like we were close to winning. I agree, we need to keep working. There are different areas and things we don’t understand that we need to find. They’re just doing a better job than us, whether it’s engineering or being closer when they come to the race track on a setup, but I feel like we’re gaining. We’re making some big strides this year. We were really fast off the truck at Texas. I know some of our other guys weren’t, but I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re headed in the right direction.”
MATT KENSETH CONTINUED – ANY LOGISTICAL CHANGES FOR YOU GUYS WITH THE WEATHER TOMORROW? “I think we’re waiting to see what NASCAR is gonna do. I think there’s been some talk about sending the teams home if they call tomorrow off. I have no idea what’s going on, but once we find out, we’ll probably make plans from there.” NOTE: NASCAR and Talladega track officials said that Saturday’s schedule will proceed as normal.
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – HOW HAS JACK BEEN DURING THIS ROUGH PATCH? “I think everybody is the same. It hurts when we get on the airplane and go home every week that we haven’t won. We’re all trying as hard as we can and we feel like we’re getting closer and closer, but it keeps eluding us. I felt like I maybe had an opportunity at Texas and then got a flat tire under red. We’re gaining on it, but it’s certainly not like 2005 when we were winning every week.”
MATT KENSETH CONTINUED – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PICKING UP A COUPLE OF NATIONWIDE RACES? DO YOU ANTICIPATE RUNNING MORE THAN THAT? “I don’t know. Right now, it’s just gonna be those two races (Richmond and Darlington). We’ve been looking to run some races for awhile, all off-season they were looking for sponsors and trying to get some stuff done. Colin was committed to doing all the Con-way races that he has and we had a couple of races come open that they wanted me to run the car, so I’m looking forward to getting into that car. It would have been strange not running any Nationwide races this year. I think they’ve got a great team over there. I worked with Eddie Pardue last year and Greg worked with him for many years and he’s a good guy, so I’m looking forward to getting over there and running good. For those two races, they’re gonna leave the spotters how they are. Lorin is gonna spot for me and Mike’s gonna continue to spot for Ricky. He’s been helping him out a lot this year, so that’s gonna stay like it is.”