At 36, Carl Edwards is maybe getting up there a little bit in age.
He’s not too old to be a stock-car driver; in fact, he’s probably in his prime as a competitor on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit.
But whenever Edwards wins – and he’s attempting to do so for the third consecutive week Sunday in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway – he marks it with a celebratory back flip off of his No. 19 Toyota.
That’s becoming a bit of a chore. One of these days, he worries his gymnastic contortion might end badly. It nearly did, he said, when he didn’t stick his landing correctly after winning at Bristol two weeks ago and then again at Richmond last week.
“Everybody has their day and this is the oldest I’ve been right now,” Edwards said with a laugh. “It’s easy to do the flip; it’s just hard to land right. I over-rotated at Bristol and I under-rotated a little at Richmond.
Carl Edwards has won the last two Cup races, at Bristol and Richmond. But he’s never won at Talladega.
“I’m aware that now I’m obligated to do it and I’ll get booed out of the place if I don’t. There’s people up there watching and not everyone is excited. Some of them watch and they’re like, ‘This is the one, this is the time,’ and they’ve got their camera. We’ll see.”
The Richmond flip was painful, too. As he walked from Victory Lane, he turned to Randy Fuller, who handles Edwards’ public relations.
“Randy, I think I hurt my foot,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ foot is OK for Sunday’s race. In addition to his two victories, Edwards has three other top-five finishes this season, including a fifth in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Twenty of Edwards’ 27 career victories have come at superspeedways, but he has never won at Daytona or Talladega, NASCAR’s fastest tracks that require restrictor plates.
It’s easy to do the flip; it’s just hard to land right.
But he hopes the mindset that comes with his all-but ensured berth in the Chase will help him Sunday at Talladega, where his career-best finish was a third in 2013.
He said he’s always learning at Talladega, where the “Big One” – a multi-car accident at Talladega that regularly occurs -- is always looming. Lesson No. 1, he said, is more complicated than it sounds:
“You can’t make stupid mistakes,” he said.
Edwards remembers a wreck one year when he was driving for driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Afterward, Team owner Jack Roush approached Edwards, who was sitting in the garage.
“Man, there’s just nothing I could do to miss the wreck,” Edwards recalled saying.
27 Career victories for Edwards
“You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it,” Roush replied.
“I went back and watched and I learned from that,” Edwards said. “You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention. We’re just going to go be aggressive the whole day and have that confidence to go up there and not worry about the outcome. I think you have to do that to get the win, that’s what it looks like.”
Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing has been the season’s dominant team, with five victories (Edwards, two; Kyle Busch, two; Denny Hamlin, one) in nine races. Edwards bumped Busch out of the way last week to win at Richmond, a move that the two drivers have yet to discuss. Edwards said he missed JGR’s weekly team meeting Tuesday because he was at a tire test in Indianapolis. He said Friday he expected to talk to Busch before Sunday’s race.
“This weekend will require us to talk together as a group and work well together and I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk,” Edwards said.
Then it will be time to race. If Edwards wins, he’ll perform another back flip. He’s athletic enough that he said he never practices the move.
Edwards remembers winning a race early in his career and hearing from rival driver Ken Schrader about the ensuing back flip.
“You can do all the back flips you want when you win,” Schrader said. “But when I win I’m going to sit on this tire with a piece of pizza and a beer.”
Said Edwards: “At that moment, that sounded a lot smarter than the back flip.”