2018 Media Tour - Tuesday Ford Quotes
Ford Performance NASCAR Notes and Quotes - Tuesday, January 23, 2018
KURT BUSCH, No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion -- YOU COME INTO THE YEAR AS THE REIGNING DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION. ANY ADDED PRESSURE? "I had some family members ask me that the last couple weeks. They asked if I feel less pressure. To me, I feel more pressure because I want to defend it properly. I want to go back to back. I want to bring it home again for Monster, Ford and everybody at Stewart-Haas. You give it that same attention to detail that you give Daytona every year. If you have won it or you haven't you still go after it hard."
WHAT MAKES THAT RACE SO HARD TO REPEAT? "I think the factors involved. Whether it is the manufacturers change from year to year, the engine combinations. This year it is a whole new ballgame with the no ride height rule. You will see cars with a whole different style of setup. That is what gets me all motivated to work as hard as I can because when there is something new you want to be on the cutting edge to be the first guy to do it."
IT SEEMS TOUGH TO REPEAT AS A CUP CHAMPION AS WELL. IN THIS SYSTEM, DO YOU THINK IT IS EASIER OR HARDER FOR A DRIVER TO REPEAT? "In the current system with the stage bonus points I feel like it is easier. I went to Daytona in July and we all had a nice media session down there and I said at the time, Truex has all these bonus points he is pretty much going to Homestead now. The way they were running at the 1.5 mile tracks -- I am not saying I predicted him to win in July but to your question, I think it will be easier to repeat with this bonus point system because the rich get richer with the stage wins."
WHAT ABOUT SPEEDS AT DAYTONA? YOU THINK THEY WILL BE UP CONSIDERABLY? "I haven't seen the sims or how it will play out as far as overall speed. Anytime you think you will go too fast they slap the smaller restrictor plate on you. There is always that range right around 200-205 mph."
WHAT ABOUT FORD LIFTING ITS GAME OVERALL THIS YEAR? DO YOU ANTICIPATE THINGS BEING BETTER? "I think having a year under our belt will help things. That newness stage is gone and those meetings have productivity and not people stepping on each others toes. I like it. I like the way it feels. Mark Rushbrook is now the director of Ford Performance with our group and there is an enthusiasm still there. We just needed to find a little more rear aero last year. This new system where they will be scanning the cars in tech inspection should help us close the gap."
IT IS NOT ABOUT JUST WAITING FOR THE MUSTANG NEXT YEAR? "I would love to have it right now. I would love to go with any new technology and the way that the rules are, I was surprised we had a 2018 Camry racing in 2017. That was a little bit of a surprise to start last year. With the Camaro this year, Ford will get its chance but that is all part of the game behind the scenes."
YOU SIGNED WITH SOME DIFFERENT AGENCIES IN THE OFF-SEASON, IS THAT TO PREPARE FOR LIFE AFTER RACING OR JUST A MATTER OF IT BEING THE RIGHT TIME TO DO IT NOW? "I feel like I have a lot more to do in racing. Whether it is the NASCAR level or sports cars. I have done some drag racing and some IndyCar. To me I am just trying to learn more about the whole product that happens with racing and that is to work with guys like Fox or NBC. This next week I will be out at SuperCross doing guest commentary in the booth and I will be out at the XGames as well with ESPN out in Aspen, Colorado. That is where Lou Oppenheim at ICM has helped me learn more about the TV side and what could be on the horizon. I don't know. I am just trying to move forward and learn all I can."
CAN WE ASSUME THIS MIGHT BE YOUR LAST YEAR? "No, I wouldn't assume that. There are many balls in the air but you have to be smart this day in age and you can't just have one plan because things change quickly. I like to have options and that is an option for me. It is that drive and desire to win races still for me. I want to win more. Last year was great with Daytona but we want to win more for Haas, Monster and Ford and everyone on the NASCAR side.
ANY WORK IN THE OFF-SEASON ON ENGINE, CHASSIS, ETC. THAT CAN HELP THE FORD GROUP? "There isn't a big new PR announcement or roll out of a new car but there is always development. There are always new things. I can't talk specifics about the engine but we have improved in the areas that Penske, Roush and us at SHR all demanded. Doug Yates listened to us and applied that. That is exciting news. For all the 1.5 mile and short track stuff. We believe we have the elite superspeedway engines right now. The aero side with the new Hawkeye scanning system in tech, that will be a whole new game that the teams have to learn and play within. We have hired four guys already just to try to help perfect that system for us at Stewart-Haas."
HOW DO YOU SEE PIT ROAD BEING DIFFERENT THIS YEAR WITH ONE LESS GUY? "I like the move. It will create a safer environment with one less guy per team out on pit road. What it does now is put more responsibility on the jack man and tire carrier. Yet it is just the evolution. We used to have seven guys on pit road and we thought taking tha tone gas catch man away was going to be bing but it didn't change the game much. Now we are down to five guys. Will it change it much, I don't think so. I have let the team do their practices and my first practice sequence will be tomorrow and the next day, driving the pit stop car with the guys. What I like to do is always change it up. The car doesn't stop in the same spot each time. I will come in there nosed-in, nosed-out and juke up a lot of our sequences so they can adapt."
HAVE YOU HAD CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF AND TEAM ABOUT STRATEGIES YOU MAY INCORPORATE DUE TO THE NEW PIT ROAD RULE? "There is the new pit road rule and also tires that continue to be limited as far as our quantity every weekend. I think we saw at the spring race at Richmond, guys were gluing up old scuffed tires which is a no-no and now you have more of a tire management sequence. I think it puts more variables on pit road by having less guys, fewer tires and the stages and when yellows come out and how many heat cycles are on your tires. I think that is what NASCAR wants. More variables to create more opportunities for guys."
HAVE YOUR PIT STOPS BEEN AS FAST WITH FIVE AS IT WAS WITH SIX? "I don't know the numbers yet. Tomorrow will be my first day really interacting with them and usually when the driver shows up everyone gets nervous or pumped up extra. We will see what the numbers show tomorrow."
HAVE YOU SPENT TIME WITH BILLY SCOTT IN THE OFF SEASON? "Yeah, lunch as many days as possible, texting each day, calls and just putting a strategy together. We will be out in Las Vegas next week doing the test together with Stewart-Haas and Ford."
"I like his ability to read all the crew members and also the infrastructure at Stewart-Haas Racing. A guy like Chad Johnston is a great crew chief. He is now with Kyle Larson and we saw the success they had last year. Chad was at SHR and didn't find the right system to fall under. I don't know how to really describe it other than Billy is a good team player, not that Chad Johnston isn't, but Billy can adapt to the things that are being thrown at him in all directions. I think he is very patient. It is going to be good to work with somebody fresh and energetic like himself and a whole new group of engineers on the 41."
HAS IT BEEN GOOD TO GET AWAY AND DISTANCE YOURSELF IN THE OFFSEASON AND BE FRESH FOR DAYTONA? "It has been good and the weather is great down there. I came back a few days ago and I feel stuffy already. Jimmie Johnson goes to Colorado and does a lot of skiing and high altitude training. When I am down in Florida I love the weather and love to support my wife's polo team. It is great to be down there with her in the offseason because she gives so much to be on the road with our race season. FOr me, I work out twice as hard down there. I have one of those altitude masks that help raise the altitude level. At sea level the air is really good down there but as soon as you get the season started and go to Atlanta, that isn't too bad, but Vegas and Phoenix are high altitude and dry dirty air out west. That is why I like Florida and like to train down there."
IN WHAT WAYS IS BILLY SCOTT DIFFERENT FROM TONY GIBSON? "He has a fresh outlook on everything and if you question him on something, Gibson always had a quick answer. 'Nope, we aren't doing that.', 'Yep, that's right.' Billy likes to say, 'Let me think about that.' I like to get his wheels turning and he gets my wheels turning on a lot of topics. It is a fresh outlook on how to communicate."
WILL YOU BE MORE INVOLVED IN SETUP? "That is the fine line of falling in line to help the group or being like a young guy and just show up and drive. A lot of the kids these days just show up and drive, go to the sim, then show up and drive again. It is a fine line. I have asked guys like Ray Evernham on what he helped Jeff Gordon do in the latter part of his career and Jimmy Fennig, I always look up to him. We won a championship together and it is fun to bounce ideas off of him. Having this young Billy Scott in there is a fresh look and I am excited about what we will teach each other."
WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK DID YOU GET FROM THE LOGANO TV EPISODE? "Mainly fans. A guy at the airport asked when we were going to see that Pantera again. People really jumped into the car build. I loved doing it with Gas Monkey Garage because I respect the work they do but also wanted to show them a little about the racing side. We actually took that car to the wind tunnel. I had all these big ideas for Discovery Channel about teaching people about the wind tunnel and what we learn. But it turned more into a thrash build, get the car to the track and kick Joey Logano's rear end. And we did that. It has been fun."
"You also have good connections that help out. Marcus Smith helped me a ton with renting the track to the TV show so we could use the Roval and be one of the first cars on the Roval and promote the road course for Charlotte Motor Speedway."
DO YOU THINK GIBSON WILL ADVOCATE FOR YOU IN HIS NEW ROLE SINCE YOU DO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP? THERE HAS BEEN QUESTIONS AT TIMES ABOUT HOW EVENLY DISPERSED ALL THE INFORMATION IS AT SHR. "Yeah, I think the more years I have been there, the more friends, colleagues and depth in all areas. Taking somebody that was a drivers crew chief and blending him into the whole system will benefit everyone. Of course the 41, sentimentally to me, will benefit the most because Tony Gibson will have that look and keen eye toward our car."
HAVING WON DAYTONA LAST YEAR, HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING IN? "I think Doug Yates and his engines are the best superspeedway engines. Ford seems to have the least amount of drag which with that comes the least amount of downforce. That means we will run well at Daytona and Talladega. We swept the restrictor plate races last year and I don't see that changing right now.
AUSTIN DILLON SAID HE THINKS NASCAR IS GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE'S EFI DATA AVAILABLE TO OTHER TEAMS. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT? "That is brand new to me. I wouldn't think they would do that. Maybe it is brake trace, throttle trace. Something they might show for the television side. I don't think it will be exposed from the different teams. It will probably have a filter on it, made for TV, to look where the drivers are picking up the gas or getting on the brake. I may be behind the eight ball having been down in Florida."
HOW OFTEN DO YOU FIND YOURSELF THINKING ABOUT DAYTONA LAST YEAR AND WHAT HAPPENED? "It was an amazing win. The prestige, history and value of that race and just being part of it over the years was special. Now to go back there as the defending champion of the Daytona 500 gives me that much more motivation to do it again and make sure nobody shares in all the glory. It was a huge day. With Monster CEO's there and announcing the entitlement sponsorship and for us, getting back together for me with Ford. I couldn't have written more of a fairy tale type of race. Daytona, I think about it all the time. Once we get past that race and it is on to Atlanta and we don't win, 2017 Daytona 500 winner is done. We have to find other wins."
WITH YOUR CONTRACT SITUATION LAST YEAR, YOU WERE ADAMANT THAT YOU WERE GOOD, BUT WAS IT A RELIEF WHEN ALL OF THAT CAME TO FRUITION AND YOU WERE SIGNED? "Yeah. I had no worries that it was not going to happen. I think it shows that I was truthful through the whole process with everybody and giving the information when I needed to and helping everybody write the stories and keep up with the news. At the end of the day, there are so many parts and pieces to the sponsorship and NASCAR's entitlement sponsorsorship. We all agreed that we should do a one-year deal and look to revisit things once we get the season back underway."
THERE IS A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT MONSTER AND IF THEY WILL CONTINUE THEIR ENTITLEMENT ROLE WITH NASCAR. ANY INSIGHT ON WHAT YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN? "The deadline keeps getting pushed back. Whether it is more needs from ISC, SMI, NASCAR, Fox, NBC the independent tracks. For me on the inside, I know how Monster engages at the track and ultimately my car is to go out there and drive the 41, haul ass and win. That is my job. I do know a lot of the ins and outs of what is going on on the business side behind the scenes. The deadline that existed in December has been pushed to January-February. We will see what happens. Once that domino is put in place the others will fall in place. I feel good about all the different situations. Being part of the Monster brand has been a fun fraternity to be a part of over the years."
MATT DIBENEDETTO – No. 32 Ford Fusion – HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT TEAMS POSSIBLY LOOKING AT OTHER TEAMS' EFI DATA? "That's the first that I've heard of that. I'd be curious to find out because that could be a lot of interesting information being passed around or looked at."
IF THAT TURNED OUT TO BE THE CASE WOULD THAT HELP A TEAM LIKE YOURS? "There's ways that it would help. It wouldn't do much to make up for the obviously large lack of budget and aerodynamics and things like that, but any resource that you can have at this level, no matter what it is or how small, you have to be so perfect at everything at the Cup level that anything that we can get our hands on is gonna benefit us for sure. We would definitely be on it, for sure, if we could get any sort of access to data."
DO YOU HAVE MORE MOMENTUM COMING INTO THIS YEAR? "Yeah. Last year was cool. We didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the year because it all came together. We didn't start working until January, but starting off with a top 10 in the Daytona 500 and then getting another top 10 and finishing eighth in the Brickyard 400 and running well at a lot of race tracks, and some unconventional race tracks, like we ran well at places like Michigan and Charlotte and some odd ones that we didn't think we would excel at like we did, so going into this year I feel like we do have some good momentum and the same group of people working together, the same crew chief. So we need all those people and they all make a whole lot out of very little. It's great. We're a family team and we really have to stretch everything we have and we outperform people that are on monumentally higher budgets than we are and that makes us proud that we're able to do that because we have good people."
DOES IT HELP BEING A FAMILY TEAM WHERE EVERYONE IS CONCENTRATED ON ONE EFFORT? "The good things are it is cool being a single-car team. They're solely focused – and it's not that you're selfish – but everyone has their focus solely on your car, your deal and how to improve the team and having such a small organization. If we need to implement a change or we find something that can make our race cars better, it's not like we have to go through a whole implement of four cars or a whole laundry list of people and get it all approves. It's like, 'Hey, this would be better. Should we do it?' 'Sure,' and boom, it's implemented. So those are some of the good things about a smaller team is communication doesn't really get lost. It's pretty easy when you only have 16 people in your whole organization."
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR 2018 AFTER BEING A SURPRISE TEAM IN 2017? "It's hard. I never know exactly where to set our goals other than just vaguely saying we want to overachieve and on a weekly basis outperform teams and people that we know are on a lot higher budgets than us. So we just kind of stack ourselves up like that. When we were racing last year we raced with the Front Row cars, the 95 car, if we could pass some RCR cars, whatever, those are all good days for us. In general, with no attrition, if we could run top 25s are solid, good days for us and points-wise, if we could finish in the top 30 that's great. All that if all overachieving. Everyone saw how much we were able to take a team and improve it over one season, just by putting some good people in place even with a small budget and showing what we could do."
ARCHIE FLIES UNDER THE RADAR AS FAR AS HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH THE TEAM. HOW INSTRUMENTAL IS HIS INVOLVEMENT? "Archie is a really smart guy. He's a businessman, so he does know how to make the most out of what we've got and operates smart. Everything is organized. We have a budget. We know exactly what we're working with and everything is laid out for the whole year. His son, Mason, is our general manager and he's a workaholic, so everyone has to really multi-task. Everyone carries a lot of hats at our team."
SOCIAL MEDIA IS BIG. DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY WITH THAT? "I honestly don't have any particular strategy, I just like to be myself and I like everything to be organic. We don't sit and strategize anything, I just like to be active and share my life, share our experience, share our team and share everything with the fans because that's what they want to see. I want to let them live through what I'm doing and see how much work it is and how hard we work to be trying to do this. I do have an ultimate goal of I want to fill those shoes and I want to be in position to win races in the near future and with a lot of some of these guys leaving this sport, I know with my personality and how I can engage with fans that I can make a big impact on the sport if I continue to climb the ladder."
THE SEASON IS LONG. IS THERE A TIME WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT AND REALIZE YOU MIGHT ONLY BE HALFWAY THROUGH? "You'll probably be surprised, but sometimes it blows by just because you're so busy all the time and it's a non-stop grind, so it actually kind of flies by and I'm like, 'Holy cow, we're already three-quarters of the way through the season. It felt like I just got with the team and we just started.' Even though it is a really long, grueling schedule, it goes by so fast just because you're so busy."
ANY CHANGE YOU WOULD MAKE TO THE SCHEDULE? "Maybe like a couple more breaks integrated in would be OK if I was picking or choosing, or honestly, I'm OK with the schedule but some of those two-day shows help us a lot because it gives us a little more prep time. We don't have all of the same resources and a lot of employees like the other teams do, so when we have those two-day shows it gives us an extra day at the shop and those are really beneficial to us. So maybe I would implement more of those."
WHAT DOES THE ALLIANCE WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS MEAN? WILL YOU WORK CLOSER WITH THEM? "No, there's no alliance it's just a partnership with them and the old 32 charter. Nothing that affects our team. We don't get anymore resources, technology, nothing out of it. It's a good partnership between them two and for the Wood Brothers to have a charter and everything secured up, but that's about all I know. But as far as our team it won't affect anything."
ALIGNING WITH JOE FALK BRINGS UP THE POSSIBILITY OF POTENTIALLY HAVING A TEAMMATE THIS YEAR. "Yeah, for sure. Honestly, I'll probably sound silly, but I haven't been able to pay enough attention to it because I've been so focused on getting prepared for the season. On all of that charter stuff it's crazy and interesting, but I'll let Archie and Mason handle all that stuff. I think as far as the stuff we'll have to work with our team and operations will be the exact same. I just want to make sure that's totally clear. I don't want people to think we're getting Penske equipment or something. We're not. We're the same exact operation as we were last year."
WOULD IT BE HELPFUL HAVING A SECOND CAR TO WORK WITH? "Not really. When you're short-staffed or people are already multi-tasking so much that when you put all that effort into your car that is usually best to keep your focus on that, but whatever decisions they make I'll support. If there are instances where that comes up, I'm sure they wouldn't do it for no reason. It would make sense one way or another, but I know we'll be focusing on trying to make the most we can out of that 32 car and make her go as quick as we can."
MATT CRAFTON – No. 88 Ford F-150 – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE MOVE TO FORD? "We're looking forward to working with Ford and they're what I started with in NASCAR. In my old Southwest Tour days in 1997 I started racing a Ford out west and that's all my dad has ever owned and raced, so it's very exciting for him because he always said whenever I first started racing another manufacturer, 'I don't know if I can root for you because I've only driven a Ford and you've only driven a Ford,' so I guess now I've got a new fan in my dad."
HOW MUCH CHANGEOVER IS THERE WITH THIS SWITCH? "We have to cut everything off from the windshield bed forward and put all the Ford noses on it and the Ford back half, so there's a lot going on and those guys are working a lot of hours right now to get this stuff done."
I HEARD 16 TRUCKS. "More than that. Well, we have four teams going to Daytona, so two per team, and we're doing the test tomorrow. So we have one done for that."
WHAT IS BEN GOING TO DRIVE? "We talked about putting him in my truck and running some laps. We couldn't find a booster seat so Ben could reach the pedals. I think they're all gonna be there to help out."
LIKE A REVOLVING DOOR IN ONE TRUCK TESTING? "Yeah, and all the crew chiefs are coming down and they're all gonna work together and just come up with ideas. The biggest thing is we put a new nose on and just finished this weekend. We haven't taken it to the wind tunnel yet. We have no idea what we've got, so it should be fun."
FORD IS GIVING YOU WIND TUNNEL HELP AND TECHNOLOGY, CORRECT? "Yeah, we're gonna get technology, wind tunnel and a lot of stuff that we've always had in the past. I'm looking forward to it, but right now it's all happened so late that to build a truck, to get it to the wind tunnel, to do all that is pretty much next to impossible."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR OTHER PLANS THAT ARE GOING TO PRECEED SPEEDWEEKS? "My dirt modified. That's my hobby. That's what I do for fun on the side. I love it. We're actually building cars in-house now. Elite Chassis moved into my shop. We're building chassis and putting them all together in my shop, but I'm gonna race Volusia and probably 10 other different races throughout the year in the dirt car and get ready for Eldora again."
YOU WEREN'T AT THE CHILI BOWL. "There just weren't enough seats available at that time. I wanted to. It's definitely on the bucket list. I had so much fun. I'm very, very critical of myself. I went there and I struggled the first practice. The second practice I thought I was like way better and Christopher Bell was so excited. That kid thought I was his kid out there and he came in and he was just ecstatic watching me. 'Are you having fun?' All he wanted to know all night was if I was having fun. He's like, 'I can't read you, Matt, because you don't change.' I told him it's because I'm starting to do better and want to do better. Then I think I was one spot from the transfer spot to make it to the main and we got checked up. Somebody got spinning and I got spun, which killed it and I had to go to the back. It was down to like nine laps to go and I was like 20th, and they were only transferring four, so I had a ways to go in that, but I really look forward to driving this Ford F-150 this year."
YOU COULD SEE YOURSELF TRYING TO RUN THE CHILI BOWL AT SOME POINT? "Absolutely. When somebody has a ride open, I'll definitely be there."
YOU WOULD BE THE OLDEST ROOKIE OTHER THAN SHATZ. "Exactly, without a doubt, and I'll have a blast doing it."
HOW DO YOU LIKE HAVING A MARCH RACE IN VEGAS? "I like it. Vegas is always a great place to go, a great place to hang out. I'm from out west, so a lot of friends and family go out there and get to hang out. That place is getting a lot of age on that asphalt, so we're getting to move around a lot more so that's some of the reason why I like going to some of the mile-and-a-halves and getting to move around, instead of being on the bottom all day long."
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY FROM THE SOUTHWEST TOUR DAYS IN A FORD? "Winning the Southwest Tour championship and just me and my dad working together. We used to literally build our own chassis and every component on that race car we did, so it was very sweet and now to see that we're back with Ford it's an awesome deal for me and my dad as well."
DID YOU ANTICIPATE A SITUATION LIKE THIS AS FAR AS COMING BACK TO FORD ONE DAY? "I had no idea, to be honest. It was definitely something that caught me off guard when they told me what we were doing. I was like, 'Wow, OK.' I'm very excited about it without a doubt just for the fact of that's what I started in. That's what I started my NASCAR career in and that's what my dad has done and raced all his life."
WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THIS SWITCH? "Last week."
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT IS FORD GIVING? "Ford is gonna give us a lot of support – the wind tunnel, engineering support. We're gonna get everything we've had in the past, and just being the only Ford team out there and for the most part are gonna be backed by them just like some of the other teams are."
COULD WE SEE YOU AT VEGAS ON THE DIRT TRACK? "You never know. It would be a lot of fun to do it."
BEING THE ELDER STATESMEN YOU ARE IN THE SPORT. WHAT ARE THE FIVE RACES ON YOUR BUCKET LIST YOU WOULD LIKE TO RACE OR ATTEND? "I'd rather race them than attend them. Do the Chili Bowl. That would definitely be one of them now that I drove one. I'd like to run a modified at Eldora. I'd like to have the big race out there. Do some off-road races. I'd like to do the Baja 1000 or Baja 500. I'm a big fan of that stuff, and I had knocked one off my list a few years back when I got to race the Daytona 500."
ANY LATE MODEL RACES? "I'm gonna probably go to Canada again this year. The Outlaw Late Model was up in Michigan at Kalamazoo. I don't have anything on the schedule for there, but I do run the super late model in Canada. I was just talking this week and it looks like I may get up there again to do maybe the 250 or the 150 at some point."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ENGINE SITUATION? "We're very excited to work with Ford and drive that F-150."
DO YOU FEEL THIS PUTS YOU IN AS GOOD A POSITION BEING THE LONE FORD TEAM? "I'm in a very, very good position to be able to win more championships without a doubt. We won two in the past and there's no reason why I can't stop at three, four, or five more. We have to be able to keep all the right people at ThorSport and I know we've got the right sponsor and all the right people right now to make it happen. I feel we can this year."
HOW LONG DO YOU SEE YOURSELF GOING WITH THORSPORT? "I know there was a guy who was a little bit older gentleman who was inducted in the Hall of Fame. His name is Ron Hornaday and he kicked our ass weekly and he was 50 years old, so I don't see myself quitting until then at least."
WHAT DID SEEING HORNADAY GET INDUCTED MEAN TO YOU? "It meant a lot. Ron is a great guy. He truly, truly is the best Truck Series driver I've ever raced against. The guy eats nails, so it was very, very cool to be able to race with him. He raced out west with my dad and I never got to race with him out west in the late models, but I'm very, very excited for him."
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE TRUCK SERIES? "I think what we need to do is go to some different places and not just have us racing all the same race tracks. It's great to race with the Cup Series, but, at the same time, we need to go to different places. We need more road courses. If you look in the Cup Series, what races did they sell out? The road courses. Our biggest turnout of the year was a road course. We need another road course, I feel. Maybe another dirt track. Take us to some short tracks and not just all the mile-and-a-halves. There are so many great short tracks that we used to race at. I know NASCAR is in a tough box with those people not having enough capacity in the stands to be able to – you have all the sanctioning fees and the tracks to be able to sell enough seats to be able to pay for those races and a lot of mile-and-a-halves do, so I would definitely like to see us go back to quite a few of these. ORP or IRP or whatever it is now, that's by far one of my favorite short tracks I've ever raced on and Irwindale is still open. That is my favorite race track I've ever raced on – short track. Just really, really cool short tracks. Milwaukee, Memphis, there are so many race tracks we could have a good time at and put on one heck of a show, and I guarantee you so many people would come because it's a new venue. They don't need to just keep going to the same track and people just get burned out. If you eat the same box of cereal every day you kind of get burned out on it. You throw a different box in there and everybody wants to try it."
WOULD YOU AGREE IT'S REDUNDANT NOW WITH TRUCK, XFINITY AND CUP RUNNING THE SAME TRACK EVERY WEEK? DOES IT WORK TO THE DETRIMENT OF THE TRUCK SERIES? "It might hurt them a little bit, but if you want to see the best race of the weekend you better go and watch the trucks. I think any true race fan is gonna say that. We always put on the best show, but I would say there's one car series I think there should be one Truck Series as well."
DO YOU THINK HAVING THE ENGINE SITUATION WILL ALLOW MORE TEAMS TO RUN TOWARD THE FRONT? "I just look forward to driving my Ford F-150 at Daytona."
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 Ford Fusion -- DO YOU FEEL THIS IS A MAKE OR BREAK YEAR FOR YOU? "I have been doing this what, 12 years, and now it is make or break year? Every year is a make or break year. It doesn't matter if it is your first year or your third year or your 12th year. It is always that pressure and it is always on. Nobody puts that on. We are competitors. I have raced since I was five years old. I have always wanted to win. Once you get a taste of that, there is no going back from that. Last year, it was disappointing. My disappointment came from a lack of consistency. That has always been my m.o. and how I was always able to make playoffs if I did or compete for a championship if we did. It was through consistency and knocking on the door and not having bad runs. We were spraying it all over the place last year. We would have good runs and bad runs and I really look for Stewart-Haas to smooth those things out. That manufacturer change was the best thing, in my opinion, that they have done in a long time. You are going to have growing pains because you have to learn a whole new everything. From your database to the aero platform to all that stuff. To have that behind us, the winter, the off-season has been way easier. It was pretty chaotic last year. I think we have weathered that storm and we are ready."
YOU ARE FUN TO LISTEN TO ON THE RADIO. DO YOU EVER GO BACK AND LISTEN TO YOURSELF? "No, hell no. And people remind you all week long and there is a stupid show that comes on whatever day it is. I ought to get a damn trophy for it though. That is what makes me mad. If you are going to use me, at least pay me."
YOU TALKED ABOUT THE GROWING PAINS. DO YOU ATTRIBUTE MOST OF THE LACK OF CONSISTENCY FROM THE MANUFACTURER CHANGE LAST YEAR? "I think it did. Some of it was us. A new team and everything else. Looking back on last year, which I hate to do, it was a lot of new. It was constant catching up and learning and trying to get your cars back to the track with those enhancements, whatever it was. It was just a lot. It was very taxing on everybody at that shop. You saw it from the management to the army down on the floor. It was all hands on deck constantly. I am not saying it won't be there year but you would learn something and then it would be like, 'now we have to hurry up and get it to the track and how soon can that happen?' Then by that time something else had come along. It was very chaotic it seemed like."
DESPITE ALL THAT IT SEEMED LIKE YOU WERE HAVING MORE FUN LAST YEAR THAN YOU HAVE EVER HAD. "That is the fit factor. You are around people you enjoy. People I have raced with a long time. The comfort level is there. Racing alongside Kevin (Harvick) again and having him in competition meetings. Kurt was fun. Kurt is a hell of a driver. Nobody can question that. The crew chiefs. Everybody. It is a fun camp to be around. A competitive camp. That is why I look forward to it being even better this year, I really do. All those bumps in the road and growing pains won't be around this year."
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR NEW TEAMMATE ARIC ALMIROLA WILL BRING? "Of course he is a good dude and I think he is a great asset to our already great organization. I think he is a good guy. He really is. His family is awesome. They are always at the track and his kids are always running around. You can tell a lot about a guy by how his kids act. He has great kids. The racer in him, he has never had that opportunity. No knock on anything he has ever been in but this is his opportunity to shine in good equipment and I look for him to do so."
HOW DOES ARIC FEEL ABOUT MAKING THAT TRANSITION? "I am not Aric. You will have to ask him how he feels. But I am going to be driving the Daytona 500 coming up here soon and I am looking forward to having him as a teammate as well. Sorry, I can't help but being a smart ass."
WHAT DO YOU DO DIFFERENTLY GOING INTO THIS YEAR? "You just use all the things you learned last year. I am telling you, I wasn't lying, a lot of the bumps in the road last year really stemmed in my thought process looking back at it from a lot of chaotic times of trying to learn and evolve as a company. That isn't just one car. You have a lot of things that have to happen. If you learn something with that new body that you have never seen before or a new engine package you have never had before or new database. There was just so much new that you were constantly having to learn and all the while competing against people that were steady-Eddie same old for them. We are going to have to be better than we were last year. The competition is going to be better. Another manufacturer has stepped it up with aero and and new car and everything else. There are new tracks and the new tech procedures. I think it is going to be another step of what we saw last year, even worse at times. I think they have come up with a good name. The room of doom."
DO YOU FEEL MORE PRESSURE TO WIN THIS YEAR THAN IN YEARS PAST? "I felt a lot of pressure the first year. I thought Richard (Childress) was going to fire me the second race. I wrecked big time. There is always pressure in this sport. I think as long as it has been, it would be ultra special. I think it will mean more. I think you will respect it and embrace it more."
YOU GOT CLOSE A COUPLE TIMES. "We were spraying it all over the place. Good runs, good qualifying efforts sometimes, then two terrible ones, then run good again. It was like, 'What the hell is going on?' We were fast one week and not in the game the next week. You couldn't figure out a pattern. Didn't have that baseline where we could just unload each week and fine tune it from there. It was unload good one week and the next time off the truck it was in left field and struggled all week long with it."
"You have somebody getting in Jeff Gordon's car, somebody getting in Dale Jr.'s car. We have to figure out how to fill that void somehow and it can't always been the same guys that have been there. I get it. If they deserve it, push it now. If people are beating them -- there were drivers last year. Look at Matt Kenseth. He was outrunning them pretty much every week and not getting the limelight. Some of those things are bothersome at times. Did I deserve it? I wasn't running as good as I needed to. If I was running up front and should have been in the limelight I would have been barking back a little bit."
IF THERE IS ONE THING YOU COULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR CAR FROM LAST YEAR, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "Confetti. More confetti. That is what I would want to change about my ride from last year. Hey, it was a learning year man. I am telling you. There was a lot to overcome last year and you hate making excuses and talking about last year and everything. There is no excuses but there was a lot to overcome at SHR and I think the people there did a great job of handling all of it and making the most of it in a short amount of time. Things happened quick last year and the next thing you knew it was playoff time and it was over for us. It was trying to learn as much as we could to make that 4 car as fast as possible to win the championship. Things were happening at a rapid pace last year."
DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE TO GET BACK TO VICTORY LANE? "Yes. Same pressure I felt the first race from 12 years ago."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE SEASON JUST ENDED? "No. These kids change your life in an offseason. No more vacations and galavanting around. It is dad duty. I was home probably five weeks. I think the most I have every been home since I moved to North Carolina was maybe three weeks. It was like chomping at the bit. I had a friend call and say, 'Hey, you wanna go to Nashville?' and I said, 'Yeah, I am going to start walking now.' Just to do something you know? It is a ton of fun. The holidays are just way more meaningful and enjoyable. You are over it quick though. The entertaining and partying and eating, my God. You are over that by New Years. I didn't even make it to New Years. I wanted to go back to work. So, I enjoyed one last hurrah. We went to Aspen last weekend for my wife's birthday and had a ton of fun but I am so ready to go to Daytona and get started."
YOU NEVER WISHED THE SEASON WAS SHORTER? "Yes, every year about August. But every year in January I can't wait to get back to work."
SO HOW DO YOU MENTALLY PUSH YOURSELF FROM AUGUST TO THE END OF THE YEAR EACH SEASON? "Breathe. You just do. Once the season starts the sport happens so fast that you are so over the week prior. Monday morning it is focusing on the next week. Sometimes even before then. I have known several times guys that when you walk into the hauler during practice at Daytona and you are talking about the next race. Is is like, hey, pretty big race going on here you know. I promise you that you will walk in and engineers will be focusing on Atlanta during the Daytona 500 because there is a lot of downtime and you have what you've got. The bullets are in the chamber and ready to be fired. You are worried about the next bullet for Atlanta."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF AS A DRIVER THESE LAST TWO YEARS? "Every year you learn from the people you are around and the organization you are with and manufacturer you are with. I have enjoyed all of it. I have enjoyed every manufacturer and organization I have been with. Maybe not everyone, but for the most part I really have embraced and learned a lot from every place I have ever been. The last two years, yeah, that is the struggle. You get in a new environment and so excited to get on a race track but it doesn't change. The competition is still out there. Your victory lane speech is not written until it happens. Nothing is set in stone no matter where you are at. It is all about people. It doesn't matter if you are with the best organization out there, if you aren't surrounded with the right people to get the most out of you so that you can get the most out of them then it is not going to happen. It doesn't matter what organization it is. We had dominant cars last year and some of them didn't win."
YOU SAID EARLIER YOU CAN TELL ALOT ABOUT A GUY BY THE WAY HIS KIDS ACT. "Yeah, I apologize. I have failed miserably. No, my kid surprises me. He is way more mild mannered and calm and chill than I have ever been. There are other kids you see running around and it is like, 'Yep, that is exactly what I thought he would act like.'
WILL YOUR FAMILY BE WITH YOU MORE AT THE RACES, LESS AT THE RACES? "I think, just learning from my peers. Until they get old enough where they are in school and things, that is what takes over. As long as they are young, yeah, that is your support group. It has always been that way. Everybody needs a support group. This sport is so challenging and so competitive. The ups and downs are so challenging. It is literally a roller coaster. You go from those highs and can't experience a more gratifying feeling and then this sport will slam you with something bad and there is nothing more crushing. To have that support group, a wife and kids or even my parents and brothers are always at the race track. A good support group, family or friends, have always been important to me."
THERE ARE A LOT OF DALE JUNIOR FANS OUT THERE MAYBE LOOKING FOR A NEW DRIVER TO FOLLOW. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM TO CONVINCE THEM TO GET BEHIND YOU? "Well, we have to see how Bowman does I guess. If he fails, I am coming for them. I will give him a month and then I will start my campaign."
YOU HAVE INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF THE CUP CAR. WHAT ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH AND WHAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO. "Kind of the same old thing. Lucas Oil Late Model series. That is fun in the offseason for me, having that and being at the shop. I was polishing the side of the hauler yesterday. All the tires came for speedweeks. There is literally a semi-load of tires to be mounted. They are going tested in Brunswick for the first race of the year. Penske was there with a shop guy and going though all that stuff. That is ultra competitive and it has really become even more so as the engineering and everything has crept in just like this sport. That is my fun. That is what I do for fun. That is what I enjoy. I am at the shop and I enjoy that during the week, working on those cars. It is no different than the Cup Series. You have new stuff and got the pit box done and the new hot rods are sitting there and the engines, just put one in and blew some smoke yesterday in the five-ball. That is what it is all about. When you are a racer, you can't get away from it. If it is the offseason and there is a hot-rod sitting there you are going to be working on it."
DO YOU HATE YOU CAN'T BE MORE INVOLVED? "No, they do a great job. My drivers with the chassis we run, I am very proud of our dirt program and enjoy it and love the partnerships we have. A lot of those things have been with me a long time. I really enjoy it."
QUESTION INAUDIBLE: "You don't appreciate it because it comes easy. Your cars are fast, you are leading laps and winning races. When you get back there you are going to appreciate it. The bad times are what make you appreciate the good times. The good times are easy to overlook. When you struggle and you work hard to get back and appreciate those good times, that is when you really embrace it and realize just how good it is."
MICHAEL MCDOWELL – No. 34 Ford Fusion – "To be here another year and to run full-time is not something that I take for granted because it's something you have to fight for every year, so I'm thankful for the opportunity that Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports has given to me and I'm excited about the potential of the race team. There are a lot of great things happening at Front Row right now, so I feel like my timing is good and timing is super-important in this sport as you know, so everything is lining up really well."
DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN BRING UP THE LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE WITH FRONT ROW? "Yeah, absolutely. I feel like Front Row has a foundation already. They've been in this sport and have won races, and what I hope to bring and hope to continue to do is to do it week in and week out, much like we saw last year when we got into a stride. To be able to run top 20 every weekend and really challenge for those spots every weekend is really tough to do. We know it's a daunting task for a small team, but I believe everything is there. The partnerships are there. The alliance with Roush. The partnership with Ford Performance and their increased support is gonna make a huge difference, so I really feel like we can elevate it. Like I said, timing is critical and I feel like the timing is really good."
WILL IT BE NICE TO BE IN A FORD AT DAYTONA WITH THE RESTRICTOR PLATE SUCCESS THEY HAVE HAD? "Yeah, absolutely. This, for sure, is the best piece I'll sit in or have sat in for the Daytona 500 – not just because it's got a Roush Yates powerhouse underneath it, but just the fact that the Fords are so strong at the plate races. Roush has worked really hard on making sure that we can be the same as them at the superspeedways, so that we can operate like a four-car team, and then we really feel like we're gonna have an opportunity to challenge for a win there."
HOW QUICK DID THIS OPPORTUNITY COME ABOUT? WAS THERE DOUBT? "It wasn't quick at all and, yes, there was absolute doubt. It was a process for me to really, it was a good process to evaluate what I wanted to do for myself and for my family. I've been in this sport 10 years, but, really, last year was the first time I ran full-time, and I haven't made it. I haven't arrived even though I've been here 10 years, so I'm not in a position where I can evaluate like, 'Do I want to race? Do I not want to race?' I had to figure out how I was gonna make a living for my family and I was hoping that would be in racing, but wasn't sure of it. But it was a fun time to evaluate what I wanted to do and what I was passionate about and this is what I' m passionate about, so I'm thankful for the opportunity to be able to live that out, but I didn't have any real conversations with this team until after they let Landon know that he wasn't coming back. I sort of found out about it the same way everybody else did and that's when we started having conversations, but we didn't get anything done until when you saw the announcement. There was a lot of time unknown and uncertainty, but I knew that his was where I wanted to be. I'm not just saying that because this is where my opportunity was. There were a few other opportunities, but I drove for Bob a few years back at Watkins Glen in the 35 car and just built a relationship with him over the years and we've stayed close. I sort of always felt like if the timing was ever right that him and I would work well together and we have a lot of common areas of our lives and things that are important to us, so we had a friendship away from a driver-owner relationship at the race track. To see it all come together is really neat."
DID THAT HELP GETTING THIS OPPORTUNITY? "I think it always helps because the bottom line is when you're doing this in a sport you want to do it with people you want to do it with. It's a grueling sport. It's high stress and high intensity and I believe that relationally it does matter, but performance drives this sport and we all know that, so that was where I was in a better spot than I had ever been in is coming off 2017 that was my best performance yet, and doing that consistently I think allowed me the opportunity to be a real contender for the job at Front Row. The timing of it was perfect."
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU HAD A TEAMMATE THE ENTIRE SEASON? "I haven't had a teammate in a long, long time. I can't remember the last time I was running a regular schedule, not even full-time, and had a teammate. Probably 2008 when I drove for Michael Waltrip Racing and Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann were my teammates that year. We didn't have anything to look at. It's gonna be a huge advantage for me. I've kind of been on an island by myself for these last four or five years that we've had data. You can look at it, but who are you comparing to? So to be able to have somebody with the experience that David (Ragan) has and the caliber of a driver that he is, and the fact that he's worked with a lot of great teams recently – when he filled in for Kyle and filled in for Brian Vickers – he was with organizations that were at the top of their game at the time, so he knows what that takes and what that looks like, so I think that's a lot of value that he brings and I'm looking forward to working with him."
YOU AND K-LOVE HAVE HAD A RELATIONSHIP THROUGH THE YEARS. "I'm very thankful for how much they believe in me and continue to support my career and what I'm doing on the race track. To me, it's just neat to have them come from one team to another with me and to stay with me and to continue to build it. A lot of that comes from not competitive success that we have. That's not what the K-LOVE partnership is driven off of, it's driving fans to K-LOVE and hearing Christian radio for the first time and having a relationship with Jesus is what it's all about for them. We've seen a lot of crazy stories and time and time again people that had no idea what K-LOVE was and tuned in it changed their life and restored their marriage and their families. It's crazy to think that a car going around a race track could have that kind of impact and it's just really God working through the tools that K-LOVE has and the platform that He's given me and I'm very thankful that that continues."
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS THIS YEAR? "The increased alliance with Roush and then Ford Performance investing in the program and the team and really helping the partnership there is an expectation for us to really step up this year, and I think that everything is in place to do that. It's a lot of work and a lot of unknowns. We haven't got to the race track yet. We don't know what we need to work on, but I felt like David finished the year last year very strong with solid runs and was building some good momentum and carrying that into the off-season and I feel like we've done a good job of preparing for this year, so that's not to avoid your question. I want to run top 20 every weekend, but the reason I'm here and the reason I keep working at this is I want to win a race and that's what we're all trying to do. We're all trying to win a race."
WHAT RACE IS YOUR BEST CHANCE TO DO THAT? "The first one right out of the gate."
WHAT'S BEEN HARDER – GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR OR KEEPING IT THERE IN THIS SPORT? "I think it's been way harder to stay in this sport. I got in at a unique time where teams were still hiring development drivers and manufacturers were still investing in development drivers, so I sort of caught that last year of that commitment that they had to the sport. So I was very fortunate to get into a Cup ride when I did. To stay in one has definitely been the challenge, for sure."
WHY DO YOU ENJOY WHAT YOU DO? "I enjoy what I do because there's a mission and a passion behind what I do. It's not just driving around in circles. I feel like God has given me this platform and this opportunity and it's continued to partner people around me that are like-minded, so that's what drives it. What drives it is knowing that it's bigger than NASCAR, it's bigger than the Daytona 500. There's more to life than going around in circles."
TREVOR BAYNE – No. 6 Ford Fusion – "I'm looking forward to this season with our Fords. I thought Kevin Harvick and his team did a great job making it to the final round last year with a Ford. It can be done and hopefully we can do that."
HOW DO YOU FEEL PHYSICALLY? "It has had zero implication on my racing. I don't really think about it unless an interview and somebody asks about it. My fitness is great. I feel good in the car. I never have really any issues at all, so it's not ever anything on my mind."
ARE THEY CHANGING YOUR DIAGNOSIS NOW? "They're really not sure. They never really were. It was just always back and forth – Lyme's and that – so it's not something I really ever really even think about any more and doesn't have any impact on me, so I'm thankful for that."
WHICH GENERATION OF DRIVERS DO YOU IDENTIFY? "I don't know (laughing). That's a good question. I feel like I'm young, but then I feel old when I look around sometimes. I've always kind of been the young guy. I guess if you ask Jeff Gordon he might still think of himself as a young guy because that's what he was when he came in. It's kind of weird. I feel like I'm in the middle – myself and I think about Ricky kind of came in about the same time as I did, he came in a little bit before – and I came in right around the Austin Dillon time, but, really, I kind of guess it would be Joey Logano, Austin Dillion and myself are kind of around the same age and then you have Ricky a little bit older and then Larson and those guys are younger. So our group is really small. You've got a big group of young guys now and you've got a big group of older veteran guys, so, to me, those two guys are the closest in age and kind of relate to their deal."
WHAT ARE THE FIVE RACES YOU'D RATHER RACE OR ATTEND BEFORE YOU CALL IT QUITS? "To race, really to win, I've got to race at every race track I've wanted to race in NASCAR. As far as races on a bucket list to win, the Brickyard last year was the one that got away. We obviously had a strong shot at that with 10 to go and the caution came out, and then to get wrecked on the last restart broke my heart, so the Brickyard. Bristol is my home track, so I would love to win there. Homestead is my favorite race track to drive on and now that it's the season finale, that's a big one, and then you think about the Coke 600. I would say those, plus another Daytona 500 would be the top five."
ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF NASCAR? "No, I'll just go with NASCAR."
IS THIS A MUST-WIN SEASON FOR YOU AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN? "Last year, we went into the season with a lot of changes and we had a lot of goals on the board to try to make the Playoffs. I think where we fell short were Playoff points. It wasn't necessarily that we had to win, but if we were able to accumulate more Playoff points you can make it. So we kind of look and say, 'You've got to get at least five Playoff points per race if you're gonna be a Chase contender without a win.' That was a lot more than kind of what we anticipated, so that's where we fell short. The way you get those is by running in the top 10 and by being faster and more competitive. We know that's kind of a thing where you get them if you're running good and you don't if you're not, so you've got to run good to get them. We're gonna work hard at that. Obviously, a win would be great early in the season. If we could go to Daytona like Kurt Busch did last year and his next 25 races he got a lot more sleep knowing that he was in the Playoffs. If you can win early, it makes your season a lot less stressful and you can work on things."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY THE SPORT IS BEING MARKETING TOWARD MAYBE THE YOUNGER DRIVERS? "I'm the middle child. The young one is the baby and the old one gets all the attention, so I'm not really sure anymore. I was a young guy at one point getting that attention, so I think it's fun when you're a young guy coming in, and I don't necessarily want all that attention. I just want to do my job well and win races and be fast and get attention for that, not because there's media hype or because of my age. I want to be the guy that's competitive and obviously we haven't done that like I want to in the last couple seasons, so I'm working as hard as I can. If I could be known as the guy that worked harder than anybody, kind of like a Peyton Manning, those guys that work hard, they're team players, that's the kind of person I want to be in this sport. So if there's any kind of competitive advantage I can find, whether it's in fitness or race preparation or post-race notes, whatever it can be as a driver, even if it's working better with my team and communicating better, I want to do those things and be smarter, work harder. That's what I want to do as a driver and be known for that and not just an age thing."
HOW WILL THINGS CHANGE NOW THAT EVERYONE IS AWARE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAYOFF POINTS? "Just what we said, the Playoff points and the stage points are both crucial. You've got to get those stage points if you're gonna make it without a win and Playoff points, man, they just carry through like Martin. We all know it's important and it's tough to get them. It was not from a lack of trying, so we're all gonna be pushing for every point that you can get."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS TEAM IS ON AN UPWARD SWING? "I do. Last year, we came in here kind of with a lot of big changes on our team with structural changes, with personnel changes. This year, it's more about refinement. We have those big parts in places and now it's how do you fill in the gaps, how do you put that mortar in there to seal all of those bricks together and make it cohesive and make it last for the whole season. We fired off really good. We were running top 12 or so every weekend. If we could have carried that through the whole season, we would have considered that a success. We did dip a little bit in the summer, but we were able to come back at the end and have some strong races like Martinsville, so we just are still working at putting together a whole season, but I feel like we're gonna be able to do that this season with the goals we have in place and the structure we have in place and just really refining those things."
CAN YOU GO BACK AND TALK ABOUT THAT BRICKYARD RACE AND HOW CLOSE YOU CAME TO WINNING? "We got the lead there at the end off of fuel strategy and that's something I feel like Matt and I do really well as a group and as a whole organization. I feel like we've worked hard at that and it's something we've been in position every fuel mileage race to take advantage of it. Man, they haven't played out. There were two races last year. Actually, the second Michigan we had a shot to win. Noboby even knew we could make it on fuel. No broadcasters, nobody knew because we had been saving for so long. Had it stayed green we had a shot. Indy, obviously, we had a strong shot to win that one. That was probably some of the most heartbreak I've experienced in my career, but all you can do is your best and sometimes things happen and not in your control, but I would have loved to have sealed that one off."
WHAT WOULD ANOTHER WIN MEAN FOR YOU NOW? "If we could win a race early on in the season and just seal your fate for the Playoffs takes a lot of that pressure off the guys that you have in the mid-summer. I think it helps your potential in the Playoffs versus that grind, grind, grind, gotta get every point to make it. You can do things. You can try fuel strategy. You can try pit strategy. You can work on the cars and work on different development for later in the season. That's what the best teams do, they win early and develop things and they come out strong in the Playoffs and that's what we've got to do."
WHAT KIND OF TRANSITION WAS IT TO LOSE A GUY LIKE BIFFLE WITH HIS EXPERIENCE? "We actually felt really cohesive last year. I thought Ricky and I worked well together. I thought it was actually probably better with two teams. The whole shop worked so well together last year, so I actually, obviously Biffle and those guys brought a lot to the table and Matt and Carl and having them early in my career, but now Ricky and I have got to step up like we did last year and keep trying to be those guys that are the leaders of our organization like Greg used to be."
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF ROUSH BROUGHT IN A YOUNG DRIVER AND YOU BECAME THE MENTOR? "That's kind of what Ricky and I try to do with the young drivers we have there. They're obviously running four young drivers with Ryan Reed and Ty Majeski already in the Roush program and then the other two coming over to fill out the 60 car. That's kind of our role now already to start pouring into those guys."
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO IMPROVE ON IN 2018? "The thing to remember is that points are a byproduct. You don't get points because you're thinking about points, you get points because you're running fast and you're finishing well – Playoff points in particular. Everybody is trying to win a stage. Everybody is trying to win the race. Everybody is trying to get in the top 10. The one thing that I see for us, that we're working on to try to improve that other than just having fast race cars, is qualifying. That was kind of the hole in our structure, especially on the 6 car last year. We fired off qualifying last year really good the first half of the season and we kind of faded the last half and it was harder to get to the front early on in stages when people were maybe doing pit strategy and you could capitalize and get a top 10. So we've got to improve our short run speed, our qualifying to be able to get up to the front and get that track position early in the race and capitalize on stage points, but Playoff points were huge last year when you watched that play out. Everybody knew it, but I don't think we knew to the extent that it would be. When you have a dominant car like Truex, where he racked up on so many, it really showed its head."
YOU RUN WELL AT BRISTOL. WHY? "Bristol has been great for Roush the last few years. Last year, I think we finished top 10 in both races and that was strong for us. It's probably one of our strongest tracks. It's home for me. It's fun. You get to run right up next to the wall. There's something about vertical load in our cars just makes them run well. For whatever reason, the flatter the track the worse we struggle. The more banked and more vertical load we have the better we run, so we've been trying to figure that out for years and still trying to figure it out, but Bristol has been great to us."
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Ford Fusion
HOW HAS THIS TRANSITION BEEN FOR YOU TO STEWART-HAAS? "Honestly it has been easy. The transition to Stewart-Haas Racing has been really easy. They have so many talented people that they just make the transition easy. Everybody from the marketing and PR side to the personnel on the shop floor and the guys on the team. It has been great. That transition has been fun. It has been easy, fun, all of the above. I have just been really looking forward to getting to the race track to go race. We go all off season and work on all the little things. Changing teams is a big undertaking. I would say that the most challenging thing has been learning 380 employees names and faces. That is one of the most challenging things. Besides that, just all the little things like getting your seat right and going and trying to work with a new team and new pedals and new seat and seat insert. All those things. Making sure I am comfortable when the season starts inside the race car."
DID YOU ALREADY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP OR FRIENDSHIP WITH KEVIN, KURT OR CLINT BEFORE THIS? "Obviously we see each other every week at the race track and there is that peer relationship, acquaintance relationship. I am the kind of guy that for the most part am pretty easy to get along with. I don't create a lot of turmoil or animosity. I have never had negative interactions with any of those guys but to call them friends or have a great relationship with them, no. But that is coming. I plan that by a few races into the season have a great relationship with those guys. i want to help. I want to be a part of the team and contribute to Stewart-Haas Racing and help put banners up inside the shop. I want to help them. I want to be a contributing factor to the race team. I am a firm believer that high tide raises all ships. If I can go and do my part and do my job and contribute, then hopefully we will all run better together."
WHAT DID YOU D
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.