NASCAR fans from Arizona and beyond converged on Phoenix International Raceway last week for a chance to purchase tickets to April’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 from the track’s newest sales interns – Nextel Cup stars Carl Edwards and Bobby Labonte. Along with working the ticket window, the drivers signed autographs and chatted congenially with the enthusiastic crowd. Frontstretch Senior Staff Writer Becca Gladden was on hand for the event and spoke with both drivers about a variety of topics.
Becca Gladden, Frontstretch: Carl, how do you think you’ll do as part of the PIR ticket sales team today?
Carl Edwards: I guess I’m an intern today, and if I do well selling tickets and dealing with the folks, they said I might be able to have a job [laughs]. I’m going to do my best. I think Kasey Kahne and JJ Yeley didn’t cut it last year, so Bobby and I will do a better job. It’s going to be a challenge. I’ve never been on that side of it and I’ve never really sold tickets, but I don’t think PIR has been having trouble selling tickets this year, so we should be good. The fans are pumped, I’m sure, so we’ll have fun with it.
Gladden: Are you looking forward to coming back to PIR in April for the first night race of the season?
Edwards: Yes, it’s a fun racetrack. I like it for all the reasons that everyone likes it – it’s great racing. But PIR is the first place I ever raced on pavement. In 2001, I brought a Silver Crown car out here. I drove it on a little trailer from Missouri by myself and got to race in that race. That was a huge moment in my career that I’ll never forget.
Phoenix is as good as it gets. If you haven’t seen a race out here, you’ve got to come see one. I’ve sat in the grandstands and watched races in Phoenix, so I think the fans are really going to enjoy it, and they’ve got a lot to look forward to. It’s one of the greatest tracks in the world right here in their backyard.
Gladden: Can you talk about that wild finish at the end of the Daytona 500?
Edwards: Our car was torn up a little bit at the end. I was running about 30th, so I had a front-row seat for that whole thing. It was crazy. I couldn’t believe Clint [Bowyer] was upside down, and I still don’t quite understand how Mark [Martin] ended up second. I thought he had it coming off turn 4. I’ve never been involved in a finish like that. It was pretty spectacular.
Gladden: What do you think about the controversy with NASCAR not throwing the caution?
Edwards: I think NASCAR did the best job they could do. They had to make a split-second call, whether or not safety was an issue. They did the best they could, and I think it would have been maybe more controversial if they’d have thrown it.
Gladden: What is your opinion about the changes NASCAR has made to the Chase this year, with 12 drivers instead of 10 and more points for winning races?
Edwards: I think it’s good. There won’t be any negative effects from it, but if someone should have a bad day now and again, you have two more spots to get in. That’s the only part of the points system that’s tough is if you have a bunch of bad days. Those extra two spots might help.
Gladden: Not making the Chase last season must have been a big disappointment after your success in 2005.
Edwards: 2006 was not the greatest year for our Office Depot team, but we had a lot of bad luck. I think that hopefully ’07 will be as good as I think it’s going to be. We’ve prepared very well, and I’ve got my crew chief back that we had all the success with in ’05. I really appreciate all the fan support and sticking behind us, and hopefully we’ll get a bunch of wins and fight for the championship.
Gladden: A lot of people are picking your team as an early favorite for the Busch Series title this year.
Edwards: It’s nice of them to pick us, but we’ve got to go win it. We’ve got to do the job. It’s tough. A lot of people were picking us for the Cup Series championship last year and it didn’t happen. You can’t rest – you’ve got to do the best job you can do. But it’s nice of them to say that.
Gladden: Any thoughts so far on the Car of Tomorrow?
Edwards: It’s growing on me. At first I was like, man, it’s crazy. But I think they look pretty neat and I think they should race pretty well. The safety innovations should be good, and I think they’ll put on a good show. It’s competition, and any time they change a variable – and there are a lot of variables changing with that car – it gives people an opportunity to either rise to the occasion or fail. I feel like we’ve got great engineers, and I’ll do whatever it takes to be proficient in that car.
Gladden: Do you get tired of being asked to do the backflip?
Edwards: The deal with the backflip is, anybody could do a backflip after they win a Nextel Cup Series race. I mean, you’re pumped! It’s simple, but it’s hard to do on command. People are like, ‘Let’s see you do a backflip,’ and I say, ‘I’ve gotta win something, I’ve gotta feel good.’ But it’s definitely a fun thing to do, and as long as the fans dig it, I’ll keep doing it. Sometimes people don’t think it’s the greatest idea, like my sponsors, but it’s just fun. If I think of something else to do, I’ll probably do that, but for now I like doing the backflip.
Gladden: Do you ever go back to your dad’s auto repair shop in Missouri where you used to work and think about how far you’ve come?
Edwards: I do enjoy going back to my dad’s shop and hanging out. It’s just crazy that I get to live this dream, do something that I never imagined I’d get to do. It’s a long way from pulling weeds and picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot.
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