This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stays home to run in what is basically the backyard for most teams on the circuit — Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at CMS is the longest race of the season. Roush Fenway Racing drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle participated in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference earlier this week to discuss the upcoming race. Edwards heads into the weekend second in the championship point standings behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Biffle is 13th in points. Here’s a transcript of the teleconference:
Q. Greg, what makes the Coca-Cola 500 so challenging to win?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, certainly the timeframe that you go through for a 600-mile race and how much the track changes, the temperature changes, all those things create a huge factor. The start time ends a little bit into the evening.
Charlotte has been one of the more temperature-sensitive racetracks we race on. Literally five or ten degrees temperature swing in the track will create a lot different speed. That’s the one thing that’s really challenging.
Normally a guy that’s fast in the beginning won’t be the fastest car at the end of the night. That tends to be probably the most challenging for the crews and the drivers.
Q. Carl, how do you prepare differently for the 600-mile race than one of a much shorter distance?
CARL EDWARDS: Specifically I don’t prepare a lot differently physically. But mentally I think all of us have to prepare a little bit for the extra distance. It is a grueling event. If the temperatures are high the whole weekend, everyone starts the event hot and worn out already.
So 600 miles, you can look at it and say it’s only 20% longer than the other race we run at Charlotte, the 500 miler, but there’s something about that last 100 miles that makes it a lot more mentally tough.
I think also from the mechanical side of everything, the engine department has to make sure that everything is going to last. You worry about hubs and drive plates, transmissions, all those things that wear out. An extra 100 miles is a long ways, especially with how hard we’re pushing these cars. Last week we saw how tough this track can be. Mentally and mechanically it’s a tough race.
Q. Greg, if not for a couple of races here, your points situation would be drastically different. Are you okay where you are right now heading into the middle part of the season? Where do you assess yourself?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, certainly it was disappointing at Richmond. We had a shock failure. Then getting caught up in the wreck in Talladega. You can never predict what’s going to happen at Talladega, for sure.
Darlington, we finished 13th. Wasn’t the run we were really looking for, but wasn’t that bad. At least that felt like we were getting back on track.
It is disappointing ’cause we were up in fourth in points, had a little cushion to work with so if we did have some kind of issue, it wouldn’t drop us down so much.
But it’s a long season. I hate using the same old analogies, but we still have time to claw our way back up in there. If we get a good couple finishes in a row, a couple top fives, win one of these races, I certainly think we’re going to be right back in the hunt.
We need to continue to get our cars better is where we’re really working. We feel we’re a little bit behind the competition, not far. But getting competitive and winning a couple of these races, points will take care of themselves.
Q. Carl, you won the pole for Saturday, but didn’t lead a lap. No Roush cars led a lap. Curious where you think your program is at, especially at the intermediate tracks.
CARL EDWARDS: It’s not where it needs to be, where we want it to be. Everybody in the shop is working as hard as we’ve can. Trust me, we’ve sat down and had some meetings where we’ve had tough conversations about what we need to do to be better, what we can do. Greg, Ricky and I have talked about things we can contribute to help speed up the development of our cars.
But we also talk a little about the good things we’ve got going on. We had a super fast start to the race at Kansas. Ricky was the fastest car at the end of the race. If we were going back to Kansas tomorrow – trying to add perspective here, it’s not all doom and gloom – if I could pick one car out of the field at Kansas, I would pick Ricky’s car. They were super fast, but strategy didn’t work out.
That’s a bright spot we had. The other one was that we were all so fast in qualifying for the All-Star Race. I know Greg thought he was really fast. My car was amazing. At the start of the race up there in clean air, we were pretty good. We are just a little bit off.
The one that makes us all nervous was Darlington because we all thought we were going to run really well there. I’m not saying this because he’s on the phone, but there’s no better driver at Darlington than Greg Biffle. I feel like I’m pretty good at Darlington. We struggled there. That’s one that really made us nervous.
We feel like Atlanta, Homestead, those places drive a lot like Darlington where the tires fall off. That’s what we’re working on right now. The good thing is we have a lot of time leading up to the Chase and that’s where we feel we really need to peak.
Q. Are you focusing on upcoming tests on those types of tracks?
CARL EDWARDS: We will be, yeah. We have two things we have to work on. The things that are good, we’re fast, in qualifying we’re fast when the track is fast. We’re really good at the restrictor plate tracks right now.
My 99 car was really fast at Richmond. So we don’t feel like we have a ton of work to do there. We can lean on what our 99 car did. But we still have to work on our Loudon and Martinsville flat, shorter track stuff.
We’re going to try to focus on our weaknesses so we can be as good as we can be in the Chase. We plan on having all three cars in the Chase. If we can have a little bit of good luck all around, we’ve got a really good shot at being pretty good in the Chase.
Q. Greg and Carl, a lot of fans of this building have stopped me today and they seem besides themselves about the possibility the October race could down the road be moving from Charlotte. Sort of the cradle of the sport. Your thoughts because you’ve had success at this track, and the possibility of a race going away from here. Vegas is Vegas, but this is the cradle of the sport, especially in North Carolina.
GREG BIFFLE: I highly doubt whether we see that race move to a different location. There’s a lot of people that come to that race. Let’s face it, it’s a business decision a lot of times. You make business decisions on the amount of people or fans or people you can attract to a particular race.
If your race is well-attended, I don’t see any reason for moving it. Obviously, if we’re running all the races, we’re not going to be going out and doing all the stuff to try to change our cars.
That’s the way I perceive it. I’m an entrepreneur, business type of guy. I see the grandstands fairly full when it comes to our two Charlotte races, a lot of attendance. I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Frankly, we’ll race wherever the race is at. I like both of the racetracks. I would like to see it stay in Charlotte. If it goes to Vegas, then I suppose we have to race there.
CARL EDWARDS: Well, I agree with everything Greg said. At the end of the day, we’re racecar drivers. I have a lot of respect for the folks at NASCAR and the track owners and operators and the TV partners. I have a lot of faith they’ll put together the best package for the fans.
Our job is to drive the racecar as fast as we can. Wherever we race, I’m going to go there to win. I know Greg is going to do the same. As long as we’re giving the fans the product, a good race, one that they can go to and enjoy in person, it’s fun for everyone, then that’s what we need to be doing.
Q. Greg and Carl, wins are so difficult at this level. Is there a best way to handle any frustration out of not winning? You don’t win most of the time. Do you learn from each other how to handle that?
GREG BIFFLE: We all know as race car drivers there’s good days and bad days, there’s good months and bad months, good years and bad years. Just because things aren’t going your way, the only thing you can do is do your best, try as hard as you can, focus, give it 100% effort. When you walk away, you know you did your best.
If your best isn’t good enough, then it’s just plain and simply not good enough. The minute you start to not give it 100% or try as hard as you can, that’s when you’re not going to be successful anymore basically. That’s the way I look at it.
I’ve been in a year and a half where I didn’t win a race. I’ve been in a year where I’ve won five. I’m thinking, there’s no reason why I’m not going to win that week. I felt that confident because our cars were that good.
These drivers, Carl included, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, we’re all capable of winning every single week, provided the car is exactly perfect, right, the pit stops are great, and we have track position. We all know that.
That’s the thing I do keep in mind every week, is that provided that opportunity, we’re going to win. So it’s up to us to try and create that opportunity every week. Sometimes you can’t do it. Sometimes you can. Sometimes you do it and you screw it up.
But you just got to keep going after it.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, the hardest part is when things aren’t going your way. I think what Greg said is exactly right. It’s very difficult when you transition from a very successful year to one that’s not so successful. We’ve all gone through that. I’ve gone through it pretty publicly a couple of times.
At that time, to me, that’s when you have to be the toughest, that’s when you have to have the most persistence and believe in yourself the most.
If you start to fall apart when things don’t go perfectly, it snowballs into really a pretty bad situation quickly. You have to do just what Greg said: you have to lay it all on the line and when the race is over, you have to be able to walk away and say I gave it my best and that’s what I got.
Q. Do you learn from each other how to handle that?
CARL EDWARDS: Just listening to Greg describe how he does it, that helps me. You could see it in the racecar. I was following Greg last week in the All-Star Race. He’s driving through the corner 204 miles an hour sideways, and we were running 10th or 12th. I thought, This is the All-Star Race. If he gets to 9th, it doesn’t matter. But that’s just how Greg drives. I see that a lot on the racetrack.
It’s motivating to know all these guys, every one of us, we’re very competitive, persistent. Like you said, when the day comes, when everything works your way, if you give it 100%, you’ll get that victory.
Q. Greg and Carl, there’s a sad story last week with Dick Trickle. If either one of you knew him, had been in touch with him lately? If you did know him, if you could give us some thoughts.
GREG BIFFLE: I didn’t know him that well. I’d met him probably several times, talked with him. He seemed like a great guy, did a lot for the sport, a lot for short-track racing.
I hadn’t talked to him in probably a few years, hadn’t seen him. I don’t think I’d seen him. But it just makes you feel bad or sad that he couldn’t find some help wherever he needed to. If he was in pain, whatever the case might have been, you feel like you wish you could have been there to do something.
Q. Carl, did you know Dick?
CARL EDWARDS: I did not know Mr. Trickle. The first time I ever saw him, I was 16 years old. I was working on Kenny Schrader’s ARCA team in the garage at Michigan. It felt like it was 140 degrees outside. It was really, really hot. They sent me on an errand. I was walking through the Cup garage. I was really hot.
I look over and here is this gray-haired man standing in a black fire suit with a cigarette in his hand out in the sun leaning on the garage. I think he had a cup of coffee in the other hand. I thought right then, ‘That must be the toughest human being on earth.’
After seeing that, I’ve always had a ton of respect for Dick Trickle. Then learning about his legendary short-track races, his career, how hard he worked, how helpful he was to everyone.
I can only say for a man like that, for him to end his life that way, he must have been dealing with some really tough things.
We hope his family is doing well. I have a feeling, from what I heard about it, he wouldn’t want us even spending this much time talking about it. He’d be more worried about the folks out in Oklahoma and the folks that are struggling to get what they need in their lives. Hopefully we honored him last week with the pole position and his name on the car and we hope that his family is doing well.
Q. Carl and Greg, because of the new speed at most of the tracks, do you ever see NASCAR sitting down and saying they’re going to put a limit on how fast the cars can go at all of the tracks? Gentlemen, no car can exceed this speed at any of the tracks. Do you see that coming in the near future?
GREG BIFFLE: I think that’s kind of an unsaid rule right now. Ironically enough, we have driver and owner meetings with NASCAR. Some of those things are addressed at that time.
I think everybody’s pretty comfortable with the speeds. Now, one thing that is ironic is that the qualifying and the practice speeds are up, but it seems like the race lap speeds where most of the accidents occur are about the same, really close to the same, as they were. Even though we’re seeing some record speeds, that’s qualifying and whatnot.
Certainly there’s a limit to the speed that these cars can go. It’s almost track specific on really an actual speed, as well.
CARL EDWARDS: I think Greg answered it pretty well.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR