Known as one of the most athletic drivers in NASCAR, Carl Edwards walks around the Sprint Cup Series garage area with his head held high. He is in the midst of his second year with Joe Gibbs Racing, earning four triumphs through his first 50 races with the team.
Edwards, 36, is also synonymous for his trademark backflips after each victory. In 2016, he’s made the flip twice, nailing the landing at Bristol Motor Speedway and the following weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
After leaving Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards’ home since 2003, he has settled in at JGR. The family atmosphere within the Toyota camp has him sitting fourth in the standings with 653 laps led through 14 races, more than his final season at RFR and first season with Gibbs combined.
We spoke with Edwards at Pocono Raceway, discussing his season, his evolving relationship with crew chief Dave Rogers, settling in with the organization, why he doesn’t join Twitter and more.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch.com: How would you evaluate your season thus far?
Carl Edwards: I’d say our season has been going really well. I couldn’t be with a better team. My crew chief Dave (Rogers) and I are working well together. We have two wins, and all of JGR is doing really well.
Wolkin: What have you enjoyed most about being at Joe Gibbs Racing now that you’ve settled in with the team?
Edwards: The communication between the teams and the help my teammates have given me is amazing. The bright spot for me so far has been Dave Rogers. That relationship has really been great.
Wolkin: Last season, you led 376 laps for the entire year. You’re already up to 653 laps led (before Pocono) this season. What’s the biggest difference with your team?
Edwards: It’s a true team effort. I believe that overall, our JGR Toyotas are better. I feel that I’ve settled in and like I said before – that Dave Rogers and I are working well together. The whole team is clicking.
Wolkin: How much of a difference is Dave making for the team compared to last year?
Edwards: Everyone is different, and you never know how things are going to go. From day one with Dave, it was just one of those fortunate circumstances where we get along, communicate the same way. It’s like I told somebody – we don’t get along with everyone, but we get along with each other. It works well.
Wolkin: What’s the chemistry like between you guys?
Edwards: I have one brother, and the way him and I communicate, Dave reminds me a lot of my brother. We’re very straight forward with each other, very honest and nothing is off the table. We’re pulling in the same direction, so I feel like Dave has my back and I got his back.
Wolkin: You’re 11 spots higher in the points this year entering Pocono. Were you ever worried you wouldn’t see the same results your teammates were having?
Edwards: Yeah, last year was a struggle. We started this (No.) 19 team from scratch, and I tried a little bit too hard and made some mistakes. When the year turned for us when you look at the stats, it was that Coca-Cola 600 win. Darian (Grubb, crew chief in 2015) rolled the dice and he got us that win. It kind of set us up moving forward. I felt like after that, we could calm down a little bit and go racing. I thought if it didn’t rain at Phoenix, we would’ve had a shot at winning the championship, which is really cool for sure. But definitely, the first half of last season was a struggle.
Wolkin: Toyota has been quite strong to start the year. What have you noticed with the cars that has improved your performance?
Edwards: There’s not one thing. TRD’s (Toyota Racing Development) engines are great. The cars are great. The work between the teams is great. I used to feel like in this sport, if you can find one thing, you can go use it to dominate. But now, it’s not like that. It’s a full package.
Wolkin: So how do you guys keep up with the competition?
Edwards: The hardest part is to stay on top. In my career, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in performance, and I’m aware that this could all go away quickly. One thing that I see here that’s outstanding is this team will not stay down. JGR – no matter what – they keep working. If there’s a problem, they solve it.
Wolkin: What do you feel like you can improve on for the rest of the season?
Edwards: We can always improve. I can improve on my restarts. I can work harder on communicating what the car is going to need for the race. Last week [at Charlotte], I made two pit road mistakes that were just stupid. Those kinds of things are ones you can always improve on.
Wolkin: With the new aero package coming at Michigan and Kentucky, what are your expectations for those events? Do you feel like it’ll help you?
Edwards: I’m really excited about the new package. I don’t know if it’ll help me particularly, but I think it just makes the racing better, and I think that is good for the sport.
Wolkin: What do you what to see in the package for next year?
Edwards: I just like the direction NASCAR is going. I feel like right now, the racing is good as it’s ever been, and it’s only going to get better with the more downforce they take away. They know that and they’re working on it. I applaud them for making these changes.
Wolkin: It’s the first time in a few years that you’re considered a weekly threat for the win. How much more fun are you having out there?
Edwards: It’s a lot more fun to race out front than it is for 15th. In some ways, it’s actually easier. But it can change in any instance, so I’m just enjoying it and having fun. I like racing for these wins, and I just hope it keeps going.
Wolkin: What have you learned from your teammates since you joined JGR, with Kyle winning the title and Matt and Denny having their fair share of success?
Edwards: Oh man. I’m so grateful for my teammates. We have a very unique situation, where all of us are fast every week. We don’t bicker very much between the group. We basically are all pulling in the same direction. From a distance, I always looked at Kyle and Denny and thought they were good. I didn’t know how good they are. They are so good. Being able to lean on them for information is huge.
Wolkin: How closely do the teams work together?
Edwards: Pretty close. I feel like we work as well together as anyone ever could, and I hope it continues.
Edwards: It means a lot. It’s an honor to have any racecar driver ask for your advice. Everybody in this sport is so good and everyone is a champion at some level. They don’t ask me for very much. Daniel will call me every once in a while and we’ll talk, and that means a lot.
Wolkin: Do you feel like the retirement age is starting to get lower in NASCAR over the past few years?
Edwards: I don’t know. Drivers have it easy. I fly around in my Cessna and show up. Drivers are the last ones to show up and first ones to leave after the race. I feel like for the guys, it’s a real grind. I have a lot of respect for these guys and how much they do this.
Wolkin: You haven’t competed in the XFINITY Series since 2012, when you won at Watkins Glen. What made you stop doing double duty?
Edwards: What really stopped that for me was my battle with Tony Stewart in 2011. Here I was in the middle of the greatest battle I’ve been in of my career. I was having so much fun. I wanted to win that championship. I noticed I was getting done with Happy Hour in the Cup car, talking with Bob Osborne, my crew chief, for maybe five minutes and then rushing off to the XFINITY car. I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m diminishing my opportunity to win this Cup championship.’ I did it for seven years full-time, almost 500 races straight. I felt like I got everything out of it that I could.
Wolkin: Do you want to go back to the XFINITY Series any time soon?
Edwards: I’d like to win a Cup championship and then go run all the XFINITY Series races that are the fun ones for me. The road courses, maybe if they go back to Gateway, I’d like to run there. The XFINITY stuff is a lot of fun. I just don’t want to take away from this Cup program right now. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Wolkin: Do you miss running in the XFINITY Series?
Edwards: I do. I had a lot of fun racing there. The travel was really fun. We did cross country stuff. From here [Pocono], we’d go to Iowa and that stuff was fun. That stuff was great. Jack Roush and I spent many nights in his airplane, and it was pretty fun.
Wolkin: You see Kyle and Denny going down to the XFINITY Series and dominating races. What are your thoughts on that?
Edwards: Lately, I feel like the XFINITY races have been pretty good. The Charlotte race was spectacular. That was really fun to watch. I think it’s a balance. Anyone that fields an XFINITY car can tell you that it’s a balance between having the Cup guys drive and giving opportunities to the young guys.
Wolkin: The majority of NASCAR drivers are on Twitter, with you being one of the few exceptions. Why don’t you join Twitter?
Edwards: For me, I think that when I go home from here, I have a lot of other interests and things going on. In some ways, if I’m constantly involved and focused on specifically opinions and these things that aren’t going to make me faster, it feels like I’d spend too much time on it.
Put it this way: When Brad (Keselowski) first went on the scene with Twitter, my brother he said, ‘You have to check this out. This is really cool.’ I took his phone and I was immersed in it. I handed him his phone, and an hour had passed. I was like there’s so much stuff going on. If I get involved in this, it’s all I’ll do every week. I just try to stay out of it. I do my own thing.
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