It took Carl Edwards almost two years to get back to Victory Lane. Once he got there — in each of last season’s final two races — he didn’t want the racing to end.
Until he got his first taste of family life.
Shortly after the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season ended, the 2008 Cup runner-up settled into the offseason at home in Columbia, Mo., with wife Kate and daughter Annie, who turns 11 months next week.
“Once I’m home I can relax,” Edwards said. “By the time Daytona rolls around I’m ready to go again. But this has been my best offseason so far.”
On Tuesday, another duty called — actor. It’s the second of six shoots that Edwards will have before racing resumes next month.
NASCAR points: A change for the better?
Edwards arrives at Hammerhead Studios in North Carolina just before 10 a.m. He changes into his Scotts uniform and is ready for makeup artist Lorrie Hobler to work her magic. Edwards humbly apologizes to Hobler for trimming his own hair — which hadn’t been cut since his brother buzzed it three months ago.
Before Edwards is completely coiffed, he turns the tables and inquires about the proposed points system that was floated Monday in which drivers will receive 43 points for a first-place finish, 42 for second, and so on, down to one point for finishing last. The debate on Sirius Radio piqued his curiosity on the way to the shoot.
As the conversation begins, one of Edwards’ representatives remarks that he would have won the 2008 Cup championship under the new system.
“I think (the rumored change is) a genius idea because the spread at the top will be about the same percentage of points and it will be way simpler,” Edwards says. “Now when I’m running 12th, when I’m trying to keep a guy behind me in points, I’ll know how many positions I have to pick up.
“For the fans, for the drivers, for everybody, we won’t have to wait until an hour after the race is over to see what the points are. That’s a really good idea.”
Many aspects of the points system need to be resolved before NASCAR chairman Brian France makes a final announcement during next week’s Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour.
“If it is truly one point for 43rd, it will put a huge emphasis on no engine failures," Edwards said. "If you have an engine failure you can’t get back on the racetrack. That’s one point vs. 43. That’s an unacceptable loss. That could probably change the way you do your motor program.”
Edwards shifts his attention back to the shoot. Knowing all too well that “the picture you take now sticks with you throughout the entire year,” he shaved his goatee prior to his sponsor commitments (doing it for his mother’s approval came a close second). After 30 minutes in makeup, he heads to the set, where photographer Walter Arce awaits.
Edwards first poses for 20 minutes with the No. 99 Scotts Ford (Aflac is his primary sponsor for the third consecutive season; he will run six Cup races in the Scotts car) before changing sets and shooting solo. Between takes, Edwards reminisces about his bike trip in Vietnam last month.
“I rode across the Mekong Delta,” Edwards recalled. “It was an enlightening experience to see how they perceive how the war unfolded. It’s a lot different than they teach us over here. I can say I have a new respect for our Vietnam veterans.”
The conversation then turns back to points. Not wanting to alter the points system simply for change’s sake (Edwards believes that would “devalue the rules”), he remains uncertain how bonus points for race victories should be factored into scoring.
“I think it’s so hard to decide what is best for the sport vs. what satisfies the critics of the sport,” Edwards said. “NASCAR is toeing a pretty narrow line there. They have to make it fair. I was listening to (the) radio this morning and so many callers were saying, ‘They have to do this so the drivers have more incentive.’ We have all the incentive in the world to win. That’s all we want to do. That’s what motivates us. People that are complaining don’t really understand exactly how hard we’re trying to win.
“If NASCAR said they were going to offer a million more points to win, I don’t think it would matter. I don‘t think we could race any harder. We’re there already. I truly believe NASCAR wants what’s best for the sport. I hope people recognize that. They want to make this simpler and more competitive. And if that’s their goal, then I’m 100 percent behind them.”
Edwards stops to admire Arce’s work. He’s stunned how white the uniform looks. Hobler moisturizes Edwards lips and he’s ready for Round 2.
Eyes toward the future
It is just before 11. Looking for inspiration to laugh, Edwards is reminded of his comment at the season finale last November. When sitting next to team owner Jack Roush, he described the pain of his nearly two-year-long losing streak “like a sharp stick in the eye.”
“Jack’s cool,“ Edwards admits. “He’s a very, very, very hard-core competitor. You can joke around with him and he does a good job of not taking things too seriously — not like I do. He’s a part of the team. He’s one of the guys.”
That bodes well for Roush, particularly when his marquee driver’s contract expires at the end of 2011. While not in a rush to expedite a new contract, Edwards hopes to keep negotiations out of the media — similar to the way he handled his 2008 contract.
“I was able to get things handled behind the scenes and it worked out really well,” Edwards said. “Right now I feel really good about everything. In my mind I don’t have a plan or an idea. I don’t know what’s available. I don’t know my options. We haven’t really started talking about it yet. We haven’t discussed any details.
“I do things a lot differently than a lot of people. Every driver wants to do the best they can and treat people right — do the right thing. I have had an amazing, amazing career at Roush. We’ve won 18 races in the Cup series, 29 races in the Nationwide Series and there are Truck wins. I just want to win championships. That’s what I want to do. That’s my mission.”
Edwards witnessed a dramatic transition at Roush Fenway Racing in 2010. From a nine-win season in 2008 to a winless 2009 and 0-for-2010 before the final two wins, Edwards understands racing’s roller coaster. He also knows that to win championships he must have consistency.
At the end of 2007, Roush moved former team owner and crew chief Robbie Reiser to the general manager’s position. Edwards calls the move “one of the greatest things that could have happened at Roush.“
“The engineering staff and the people we’ve had have been very, very good since I’ve been here,” Edwards said. “But the way that Robbie has structured things and the way that Jack has kind of let Robbie handle it is the best thing that good have happened.
“The way we finished last year, it feels more like the way we’re going to run on a regular basis. I hope we don’t have this up and down like we’ve been in the past. About halfway through the year, I was pretty frustrated just like everyone else, but by the end of the year our performance level was higher and higher.”
After some final stand-ups sporting Wiley X sunglasses, Edwards returns to the larger set to reel off a series of corporate videos for Scotts. Edwards, one of the most marketable racers in NASCAR, recites his lines like a pro, pleasing his sponsors.
A Nationwide audience
At 11:50, Edwards is shuffled off to an audio room to cut liners for various radio spots. Between takes, his Roush representative, Randy Fuller, informs Edwards, “The Late Late Show wants to have you back on when we go out West.”
With a public service announcement for the Columbia Meals on Wheels in the can, Edwards returns to the studio for additional corporate video shoots. Just before lunch, the shoot is interrupted by the Aflac duck’s arrival. Edwards takes a final shot with all the Scotts representatives before lunch. Not surprisingly, edible representatives of Subway, another of Edwards’ sponsors, await in the break room.
Between bites, Edwards says he “honestly didn’t know” NASCAR’s final plans for the Nationwide Series before it was leaked that drivers would have to elect which series championship to contend for in 2011. For the past six seasons, Edwards has performed double duty in the Cup and Nationwide series, never finishing worse than third in Nationwide. While he hoped to be grandfathered in as eligible for both titles again, Edwards says, “We’ll plan accordingly.”
“We’ll start the season with the intent of running 100 percent of the schedule and see how it goes,” Edwards said of the Nationwide Series. “I committed to do it, but it would be a lot more fun to run for both championships. I really wish Brad (Keselowski) and I could go at it again. But I’ll support whatever the team decides to do.”
While most drivers would prefer a respite from practicing and qualifying in Sonoma, Calif., before flying to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and then heading back to the West Coast — within a span of 24 hours — Edwards said he “wouldn’t trade the win at Elkhart Lake for anything."
“I felt like I was better prepared at Sonoma,” Edwards said. “Rather than go back and forth between cars, it allowed me to concentrate on my program with Bob (Osborne, his Cup crew chief). And the win at Elkhart Lake helped my confidence when I returned to Sonoma.”
Not ducking responsibilities
The spotlight now switches to Aflac, whose car replaces Scotts for the shoot. Now in a black fire suit, Edwards begins the process all over again. However, working with a duck is quite different then pushing around a grass seed spreader — one of the props in his Scotts shoot.
Edwards tackles video, then moves to the smaller set with the duck. Today, three trainers assist with posing Edwards’ feathered friend.
Edwards moves to a third set where a stand-in actor interviews the driver. In the final product, the Aflac duck will be superimposed into her place. Edwards plays along and goads the “duck” for having more Facebook friends than does he.
Edwards returns to the points proposal. With two Chase-qualifying formats floating around — 10 drivers selected on points plus the two remaining drivers with the most race wins, or the top eight drivers in terms of race wins along with the top four remaining drivers in terms of points — the debate continues.
“I think race wins and championships are two different things,” Edwards said. “I don’t think you want a champion just based on their wins. You can have a guy run second in every race of the season — that is the best performance in a season in the history of the sport. Then you have a guy that wins one race and wins the championship? That guy should be the (champion) over a guy that’s run second 36 times? That‘s not auto racing. The difficulty in auto racing is running well all the time and that‘s what the champions have done in our sport.
“The reason the Chase is better for the sport is it gives everybody that shot in the arm. With 10 races to go, the sponsors are excited, the fans are excited and the drivers are excited. And that’s good. You still have a 10-race average that you either win or lose by. If you start eliminating people based on their performance in one race, you have the chance of really crowning someone unfairly — say, if someone gets taken out — I don’t think that’s a risk that the integrity of the sport should take."
It’s a wrap
By 4:30, Edwards has knocked out half of his New Year sponsorship responsibilitles. Edwards heads for the Concord Airport where he will fly his plane home to Missouri. With Daytona testing kicking off Thursday and a new season revving up in three weeks, family time is a luxury Edwards must savor while he can.