One of the brightest stars in NASCAR — Carl Edwards — will be in the spotlight for the Kroger On Track for the Cure 250 on October 25th. With four top-five finishes at Memphis Motorsports Park, the 29-year-old Edwards is aiming for his first Bluff City backflip.
What are your memories of your first NASCAR race (the 2002 O'Reilly 200 at MMP)?
Just to get that opportunity was beyond huge for my career. It was an unbelievable moment. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to get me that ride. I remember the truck being so hot! In my mind, I had a vision for how the race would go, and it didn't include the heat. I couldn't believe how physically tough it was to drive a stock car. That was the first time I ever got a hotel room to myself.
You seem to thrive on the short (3/4-mile) track at Memphis Motorsports Park. What do you like about the track?
The track is just the right size. It's small, but you can still go really fast. And the asphalt is really rough; it wears the tires out, so you slide around and can really manhandle a car. It's forgiving. You can slide the car and not wreck the thing.
How do you prepare differently for a Nationwide Series race than you might for a Sprint Cup event?
The Cup races are extremely long, so they're a different kind of race. You're not in such a rush. In the Nationwide races, you have to be a little more aggressive from the beginning. And the competition's a little different. There are drivers in the Nationwide Series just getting their start. You end up with more lap traffic.
With all your success on the Sprint Cup, why do you continue to race in the Nationwide?
I just really like racing. I put everything I have into making a career out of this. On most weekends, I'm there [at the Nationwide venue] anyway, so why not race? It's fun. What else am I going to do on Saturdays?
Do you see differences between fans on the Cup circuit and the Nationwide Series?
There are die-hard fans on the Cup side who are fans not just of the action on the track, but of the drama off the track, the soap-opera stuff. Nationwide fans are often pure, local fans who just love the racing. At stand-alone events like in Memphis . . . it's more of a grassroots fan.
We often hear that the key to winning in NASCAR is "resources," which means money, right? How do you spend it?
It's not just money. The reason NASCAR is so competitive is that it has a great rule book, and everybody operates under these rules. The way you get an advantage — even a really small one — is to have great people, and a great flow of information. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have an engineer who can evaluate a database and then apply it to a race car, then you've got nothing. It's a people sport.
You're one of the most recognizable drivers in the country, in part because of your trademark backflip after winning a race. Do you thrive on the popularity, or are there times you'd prefer to blend into a crowd?
I've lived two completely different lives. The first couple of times I went to Memphis, I had to sweet-talk the person at the back gate to let me in, because I didn't have the money for the pit pass. Now, it's neat to be driving with such fan support. But I appreciate both experiences. I don't ever want to take it for granted.
You own your own record label [Back 40 Records]. If you had two hours to kill in Memphis, would we find you at Graceland or Beale Street?
I'd probably be at Beale Street. I was down there near Halloween one year, and I'm not really a party guy, but we went out to Beale Street one night. That's about the most fun I've ever had.