2018 Media Tour - Ford Notes - Wednesday
(CHARLOTTE, NC - JAN 24, 2018 - RIS) Here are the Ford driver quotes from this year's NASCAR Media Tour: DAVID RAGAN, No. 38 Ford Fusion -- HOW IS 2018 LOOKING FOR YOU? "Yeah, 2018 is looking on paper to be an exciting year for myself personally and for Front Row Motorsports. I never thought that I would be able to stay in the Monster Energy Cup Series for as long as I have. I am going to make my 400th start at Atlanta Motor Speedway, my hometown track, so I couldn't have scripted that any better. That is a neat accomplishment and one that kind of suck up on me. That is going to be pretty neat at Atlanta. From a race team perspective I feel like Front Row Motorsports has taken another step to being more competitive on the race track and off the race track. We have had some of our long term partners come back again and Ford has stepped up their program a little bit and committed to Front Row Motorsports as much as they ever have. It is a long hard process to turn from a startup team into a race winning team, which Front Row has won a couple races, to be a consistent contender for top-10 and top-15's. That is our next goal. We are up against Penske and Hendrick and RCR and Roush Fenway that have been around the sport for 25, 30, 35-years. Front Row has only been a full time team for nine seasons and I am embracing working with Bob Jenkins and our group to try to get better. I think what Furniture Row Motorsports did last year is kind of a shot in the arm to some of these smaller, newer teams in the last 10 years. As the tides continue to turn in our sport that over the next 10 years, I think Furniture Row, JTG, Front Row, Stewart-Haas Racing, some of the newer teams in our sport will take the place from some of these more established teams. I don't know how or when that is going to happen but our sport has always had that turnover every 20-25 years and I think in the next 10 years you are going to have some more turnover."
YOU MENTIONED THE FORD INVOLVEMENT, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? "What makes a good race team from the start of NASCAR's formation has been manufacturer support. You can't be a successful race team with sponsorship dollars as your only source of revenue. I think the Petty's and Wood Brothers and Junior Johnson, Bud Moore and some of these teams from the '60's, '70's and '80's, they will tell you that what established their teams as championship caliber teams was the manufacturer support. Extra revenue, engineering support to get you over that hump. For Ford to believe in Front Row Motorsports and to have an appreciation for what Bob Jenkins has done financially the last seven or eight years has been special. For us it means more engineering support. Some of it comes in cash and some of it comes in resources. More wind tunnel time, a closer relationship with our big brother, Roush Fenway Racing. They have a lot of tools that over the years we haven't had access to. That has opened up some of these tools and resources for us to use. Some of the tools Penske, SHR and Roush have been using. Some of the simulation tools and testing tools. Just the data and information that they have. We haven't been subject to that and now we are. That is another step in Front Row being a little better. Our engines should be more on par with what our Ford teammates have had in years past and I think that with that comes the extra pressure from the drivers and crew chiefs. We have to elevate our game a little bit to make something happen with the extra resources that we have."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR DAD'S INVOLVEMENT IN THIS SPORT LED YOU TO WANT TO PURSUE THIS AS A CAREER? "My dad's involvement in the sport really paved the road for me to make a career in motorsports. I wouldn't necessarily say just his driving part but my dad started 50 Cup races and some Grand National races and ARCA races. Have owned race tracks and race teams. They owned engine shops. He is an employee of Speedway Motorsports today. I think the relationships he made along the way and my family members made along the way helped a lot. We didn't have a huge checkbook and unlimited funds when I was young and trying to hone my skills and get established as a young kid that wants to race. The relationships my father and uncle made over the years helped me get that engine from someone or go test somewhere or get some free passes when we needed to bring a sponsor to a race. Relationships are important in any circle in this world we live in but I think they are very important in the motorsports world. I am glad my dad didn't burn any bridges, had a lot of good contacts and friends. That helped me a lot to get a few doors opened for me. I had to work hard to keep those doors open but without my father and uncle being involved in the sport in the 1980's it would have been hard for me to break into the sport."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO DRIVE ATLANTA? IS IT A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU? "It has a special place in my heart. I lived in one of the condos there in 1996 when they were resurfacing the racetrack. Every morning I would sit there at the glass and see the bulldozers and grading equipment tearing down the track and repaving it. I can remember when the track was ready to go and Jeff Bodine qualified like 197 mph and standing there watching that lap and thinking, 'Man, that is super fast.' Yeah, I raced my Legends car there as a kid in the 90's and early 2000's and my dad still works there and has an office there. I made a lot of laps there in my father's El Camino on a Saturday afternoon just riding around the race track before the security guards realized there was somebody on the track. I have had a little success there in all three series. I have been in contention for some wins and have a few top fives and top-10s but it would be really cool and special to win at Atlanta or to just have a really good day. A top-10 run would be special. Atlanta is a great race track. It is fast but it also is abrasive enough that the tires wear out and you can move around and pass if you have a good handling race car. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a cool track and I like going there."
WHERE WERE YOU IN LIFE WHEN YOUR FATHER WAS DRIVING ARCA AND HAD THAT BROKEN NECK? "I was probably an annoying little kid that he didn't want to have at the race track. They didn't have motorhome lots and playgrounds like they do today. I remember hanging around the race when my dad would be working on cars. They had their shop in Unadilla and my grandmother would watch us when my dad would go racing. It wasn't until I was probably seven or eight years old and he was just racing some local short track stuff when I really remember going with him to the race track. He broke his neck at Talladega in an ARCA race and he was able to recover and come back. He had to wear a halo for six or eight months but was able to come back and race again. That gives me motivation and drive that some of the challenges that my father went through and that I drive in a generation that I have a Hans device and carbon fiber seat that is custom molded to my body and I am very grateful to have a safe environment I can race in. Thanks to guys who some paid the ultimate sacrifice in the '80's and '90's to help develop the safety of our race cars."
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU FOR DAYTONA AND YOUR CHANCES THERE? "Yeah, I always tell people that I feel like we have as good a chance to win the Daytona 500 as anyone. We work extremely hard on our speedway cars and I have been grateful to drive some fast Fords over the years and the FR9 engine that Doug Yates and his camp provide for us is a great engine for the speedway races. We have a little different rules package with some springs and shocks and setup we can run at Daytona with a little different schedule and flow for the weekend. It will be a little different than normal so I am excited to hit the race track on Saturday and qualify and run the Duels. It will be a tough weekend and always challenging to win that race. Going into the weekend I feel as good as anytone should. It is our most important race of the year to get a good start to the season. I think it is a tone setter. You don't have to win the race to have a good Daytona 500. If you can get out of there with a top-10 or top-15 it puts you on the right path going to Atlanta and Vegas. It is hard to overcome a DNF to start the year."
"I have thought about that some a little bit and I think I have a pretty good track record on and off the race track. I would have liked to had more wins in the win column over the years. I feel like I missed a few opportunities when I had cars that could have contended for wins and maybe missed out on a few but I think that my attitude and maybe my track record off the race track - I try not to burn any bridges and try not to take for granted what I have. I feel like every year is a make or break year for me. I have never had the sense of everything being paid for me the next 12 months or year, even if I have a multi-year contract. I try to treat that as a race to race deal and there are a lot of young kids and veterans that are good race car drivers that deserve a ride but there are only 40 cars. I try to keep that in perspective and try not to take advantage of any situation and try not to get too comfortable, work hard for my sponsors and be a good employee for my team owner. At the end of the day I am a race car driver and have a boss like everyone else and that is my team owner and general manager. I try to work hard and do a good job for them."
"I feel like behind the wheel I stay focused over the weekend. I try to give good notes, work with the crew chief, make our race cars better and try not to be selfish. I try to help the team that I am working on. I am a driver and that is part of the pie. I am not the king or the emperor. I think some drivers in our sport feel like they are the king of their team. You know what? The crew chief and guys that mounts my seat and body hangers all play a part. I am an important part of the puzzle because I am the guy holding the steering wheel but I try to make our team stronger wherever I am racing. That is being a good teammate, being a good teammate on and off the race track. I take every race very serious and it is my job. I don't just show up and think that I am a hired race car driver to go race on Sunday and I don't have any obligations Monday through Saturday."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON LANDON CASSILL LEAVING THE TEAM? "At the end of the day there are more qualified drivers than there are seats. Matt Kenseth is a good friend of mine and he is as good a driver as anyone on the track. If I had a team, it would be hard to pick anyone over Matt Kenseth and he doesn't have a ride this year. I think Landon is a good talent. He is smart and has a good feel for what makes a race car go fast and I enjoyed having Landon as a teammate last year but at the end of the day there are a lot more qualified drivers than there are teams right now. I hate that but I have to look after my best interests and I can't dwell or worry on that. I know what I can do and my job description and what I have to do for my owner and sponsors and work hard to make that work."
MICHAEL MCDOWELL JOINS THE TEAM AND IS A MASTER AT WORKING WITH SMALL TEAMS. DO YOU THINK HE IS A PERFECT FIT? "He has done a good job taking that 95 team from a part time team to one that ran top-15 and top-20 pretty consistent last season. We raced with him a lot. He is a hard worker. He comes from a good mold. he has a different background than I do but he doesn't take anything for granted. He works extremely hard and is motivated to win races and to get to that top spot. I think that is something in our sport that you have to stay hungry. Even if you have all the talent in the world, if you aren't hungry and continuing to learn and understand the new technology and working with new crew chiefs and engineering staff you will fall behind pretty quick. You can't just rely on your God given talent to go out and run fast. You have to be everything, so Michael has a good work ethic and a good moral compass which I am proud to be his teammate and it will be fun for us to challenge each other this year."
ANY SUPERSTITIONS OR HABITS ON RACE DAY FOR YOU? "I don't have any interesting habits, I will say it like that. I am an old school guy. I go to bed early and try to eat a good breakfast and get my eight hours of sleep and don't go out drinking the night before a race. I don't eat unhealthy meals on Saturday night and I don't eat a bowl of Fruit Loops on Sunday morning. I try to kind of stick to that routine and mentally I try to prepare myself the same way going into every race. I review last years race, review weekend notes, look at what my teammates are doing. When you talk about making decisions on race day, you make a decision based on what type of knowledge you have in your head so I try to make sure I have knowledge fresh in my mind to make good decisions behind the wheel. I don't have any lucky underwear or set my alarm at a funny hour or anything like that. I do the things that have worked for a long time. I just try to keep it simple and get a good nights sleep and feel ready to go Sunday morning."
IT SEEMS EVERYONE IS LOOKING TOWARD FORD BRINGING THE MUSTANG CUP RACING NEXT YEAR. WITH TOYOTA HAVING THEIR NEW CAR LAST YEAR AND CHEVY THIS YEAR, COULD THIS BE KIND OF A LAME DUCK YEAR FOR FORD? "I think that could be a good excuse if the Fords don't perform but excuses don't get you much in the Cup Series. Ford Motor Company doesn't want an excuse. Mr. Edsel Ford doesn't want to hear an excuse. We have to go out and work. Sometimes the fastest car doesn't always win. Kevin Harvick beat those guys at Texas. That was the third race to the end of the year and a 1.5 mile, smooth track that is very important with aero and he spanked 'em. I think that we can all agree that the Toyota's will be, in my opinion, as good as they were last year. If the new NASCAR Hawkeye system patrols the bodies like we all anticipate I think it will bring them down a little bit. I think they had a lot of gray areas that NASCAR couldn't check consistently and they beat the system a little bit. I think Toyota will come back down to earth some and hopefully it will prevent the Chevrolet's from taking advantage of those gray areas. In this sport, we go through cycles. Every three or four years manufacturers develop a new engine, a new body style, and they are hot for a little while but it doesn't last forever. We part next to each other in the garage for 38 weekends a year and it is hard to keep an advantage that long. On paper our body is three years old and they have new bodies but we have to overcome some of those issues and be better. They will be screaming next year when our new car comes out and our engineers are going to do a good job and make that race car pretty sexy. Toyota and Chevrolet did their jobs and hopefully NASCAR does their job and controls some of that to keep the playing field even. I look back and encourage my guys to look at Texas with Harvick winning that race. That was just three races ago. And our cars will be better this year than they were last year."
DO YOU FEEL BALANCED FOR DAYTONA? "Yeah, it is a new rules package. Not aero but there is no rear[spring rule, no trackbar rule, no shock rule like we have had in years past. You will see the cars lower to the ground and travel lower and drive a little different. I think the speeds will be different because the cars will be lower. We can work on the balance some. It will be interesting with the cars being impounded Sunday after qualifying and before the race on Thursday. We will have to take a little bit of that in consideration because there are some things you can do for qualifying that make speed but the cars don't drive as good. It is usually a balance of having speed but handling good. We have seen in the past some guys that qualify on the front row can't run 500 miles because their cars are too slicked out and the guys that are going to win the race are going to be fast cars but you have to have a comfortable car. It will be interesting. That first practice on Saturday, the crew chiefs will have to make a conscious effort to have both. It doesn't make me nervous but excited to hit the track. Daytona and Talladega have had the same rules the last three or four years so I am glad we will have to work on our cars a little bit."
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Ford Fusion – HOW IS THE TRANSITION GOING? “Good. We have a lot of the same people as we did last year. There are really only a handful of people that are new. The people that are coming on have known everybody on the team a long time, they have worked together at another point. It will be seamless, which is what you want. I am excited for the transition and it should be pretty simple.”
ANDREA, YOUR ENGINEER, THERE AREN’T TOO MANY WOMEN WHO ARE RACE ENGINEERS. “Yeah, Andrea is great. I have worked with her for a long time at Team Penske. She was the engineer with Jeremy on the Xfinity car back in 2012 and 2013 and I believe 2014 as well. We are really lucky to have her as my engineer. She does a great job. She did an amazing job last year in her first year as a Cup engineer. I think she will keep getting better and better as years go on. We are really lucky to have her. She is one of the smartest individuals that I know and I think she will keep improving as she gets more experience.”
DO YOU EVER HAVE TIME TO HANG OUT IN THE SHOP WITH YOUR DAD? “Yeah, I do actually. I spend a lot of time with him at his race shop in the offseason when I am around. We just spent a full day decaling up his new Sprint Cars. I like to spend as much time as I can there. That is where I grew up racing my late models. Whatever I can do to spend time with him to help him with whatever he needs, I am there.”
SHOULD WE EXPECT GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT OR DO YOU FEEL THIS COULD BE A BREAKOUT SEASON? “Hopefully it is a breakout season, that is what you want. Obviously you want to keep getting better year after year and keep improving on the previous season. I think with experience we got a lot better last year and I hope to have a huge year. You sit back in the offseason and try to figure out what you can do better team wise or what drivers can do personal. Off the track to prepare for the weekend, everything. I think we did a lot of that in the offseason and hopefully we will make a jump to be dominating races and leading the most laps. That is what I think we can do this year to really take that next step forward.”
WAS THE ATTENTION AROUND YOUR NEW HAIRCUT SURPRISING? “Yeah. Honestly it was a lot more than I thought. It has kind of started to die down a little bit finally. It was a little bigger story than honestly I would like it to be. It surprised me. It is gone now and hopefully we can move on from that.”
DID YOU DONATE YOUR HAIR? “Yeah, I was looking at places to donate it. My cousin is a hairstylist in Moresville and she cut it off and said it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t use enough of it to make a full wig. That was unfortunate. I would have liked to donate it. I was kind of depressed when they told me it wasn’t enough to give to an organization.”
DO YOU LIKE DOING THE TV AND MOVIE STUFF LIKE TAKEN? “Yeah, the Taken thing up in Toronto for NBC was really cool. We were there for two days and we filmed all at night so we would film from 6 pm to 6 am for two days straight. It was maybe 15 degrees in Toronto and snowing and we were just in a little tent for like 12 hours waiting to film your deal. I wasn’t in it very long but I was out there the whole time. I like doing that stuff. I have always been fascinated and curious of that side – TV and movies. I compare it to NASCAR where until you see it first-hand you don’t know how much work goes on behind the scenes and how many people are involved to make one little scene of a movie. You don’t realize how many people are involved to put a race car on a track either. I think that is a cool thing we have in common with that industry. Hopefully I get more opportunities to do that in my spare time or offseason.”
“I don’t think it is hurtful if you can get on TV, whether it is the Taken deal or a voice in Cars or the Logan Lucky movie. I don’t think it is a bad thing at all. Especially if you enjoy doing it and it is something I enjoy doing it.”
THE COMMENTS KYLE BUSCH MADE YESTERDAY REGARDING NASCAR’S CHOICE IN MARKETING DIRECTION. WHAT NEEDS TO BE THE POINT YOU GET ACROSS TO POTENTIAL FANS? “I have been really fortunate to get a lot of great chances from NASCAR to go do things outside of motorsports. NBC and NASCAR were a bit part of doing the Taken thing and the Cars voice and Logan Lucky. That was all really from NASCAR. I have always been very open to do a lot of things that they want and it is not always stuff like that. You go do some markets where maybe you don’t think it will be a good market but you do it anyway because it helps the sport and helps yourself. It is a win-win for everybody. I feel like if some drivers were more willing to do these things they would get asked more to do it. The reason I get asked to do it a lot is because I say yes a lot because I think it is good for the sport and myself. I can tell you personally that he (Busch) doesn’t like doing a lot of stuff so that is why they don’t ask him to do a lot of stuff. That kind of made me upset how he bashed that part of it. To each his own. If he doesn’t want to do anything, so be it. I just think it is really important to have not only young drivers but all NASCAR drivers trying to be pushing to get to new demographics of the world to get interested in our sport. Whether it is young fans or new fans that don’t pay attention to it who aren’t young. That is everybody, not just young drivers that will make people appeal to the sport. I think everybody should be more open to helping the sport out because that is how it is going to survive. I am trying to do the best I can at it and a lot of other drivers are helping too, just trying to get more and more every day.”
HAVE YOU HAD A MOMENT WHEN THERE WAS SOME MAGIC CAPTURED WITH A YOUNG FAN OR ANY POTENTIAL FAN WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU EARNED A FAN FOR LIFE? “Yeah, when I won the fall Xfinity race at Dover. It was a neat thing. NBC makes you get out and talk on the front stretch which I think is really cool talking face to face with fans right after you take the checkered flag and your emotions are at the highest. I saw a young fan standing by the fence and I gave him the checkered flag through the fence. He and his mother came down to Victory Lane afterward which was really cool. I feel like those little things you can do to get face to face with fans and make a memory. That is the biggest thing to me, making a memory for them that lasts a lifetime. I feel like that was a pretty cool moment and I was fortunate to have that moment with him. Hopefully there are many more like that.”
HOW MUCH IS SOCIAL MEDIA INVOLVED IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFESTYLE AT OR AWAY FROM THE TRACK? “It depends. I go in spurts where I don’t look at it for a couple days and then sometimes I am on it all day. It just depends what mood I am in or how busy I am that day. At the track I try not to look at it too much. I try to focus on my job. Social media is helpful at the race track. You see updates and things like that. At moments it is a good thing but I go in spurts. It is a great tool and I use it a lot but sometimes I think a break from it now and then is a good thing as well and focus on your life and doing what you want to do. It is back and forth.”
HAVE YOU TALKED WITH BUBBA NOW THAT HE IS IN THAT PETTY RIDE FULL TIME? “Yeah. His first start in that car was at Pocono when I won the race. That was really cool. I am happy for him to get an opportunity like that. Honestly I was really upset to see him sit out the second half of that year after the Xfinity ride let go. He had a few starts with Petty when Aric was hurt and he did a great job in it and I am happy they made that work for this year. I know they worked hard on it in the offseason and he kept me updated throughout it. I am happy for him. I think he will do a great job in it. It is a fresh start for that team too, being a partner with RCR and a new manufacturer and new driver. I think that will really benefit that team well. I am looking forward to racing with him on Sundays. He knows the history behind the Petty name. It is almost like when I was driving for the Wood Brothers. He understands it and wants to learn more about it. I think that is a good fit. A really good fit for him. He appreciates racing and the history and Richard Petty. I wish them the best for sure.”
YOU SAY YES TO A LOT OF STUFF, DON’T YOU EVER WANT TO JUST TAKE A DAY AND LAY ON THE COUCH AND JUST REST? “Yeah, there are resting days for sure but you have to think of the end game. I would rather make other people happy than myself. If I have to sacrifice time, it is just time. It really doesn’t mean much to me personally. I would rather do something meaningful to the sport than to go sit on my couch. I don’t feel like I am doing anything then and feel I could be more useful somewhere else. I say no every now and then. The only times I say no really is when I have my job to do. If it will interfere with things like that. If it is just me, I try to take personal days too but that is for vacation. Very rarely do I say no to things just to sit on my couch. I can do that at night and I can do that when I retire. I want to do as much as I can right now to make it work and make other people happy and make this thing the best it can.”
YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE PENSKE FAMILY QUITE AWHILE BUT THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME YOU ARE TRULY IN A HOUSE CAR AT THE CUP LEVEL. WHAT IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR COMPARED TO THE LAST COUPLE YEARS? WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO? “I think just bringing back the 12 car to the Penske group is really special. The car hasn’t been around in a long time. I remember growing up watching Ryan Newman drive it and loving that car. Hopefully we can have the success he had in it and more. I have been lucky to drive for some great teams over the years with the Wood Brothers and now to drive a Cup car full time for Roger Penske is a dream of mine. Those are two of the most historic teams and names in the sport. I have been lucky enough to drive for both of them now and it will mean the world to me. There is really no pressure. You just want to go out and do the best you can, whether it is driving or the team doing the best they can as far as working hard and getting the cars to the track every week. If we can do that, that is enough. Our success on the race track is just a bonus.”
WHAT KIND OF LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM ROGER ALREADY? “A lot. We don’t get to see him every day. He travels the world and is working more than he ever has I feel like. It is unreal the drive that he has. The advice is always – I think the best advice might be a little cliché but it is meaningful when he comes on your radio before the race and says that it is a long race. He is a patience guy. He is a very patient individual. You have to be with the stuff he does. Before most races, when he is there, he reminds us to be patient. You hear that a lot but coming from him is different. You make sure you do that. I think that is cool advice. Even though it is very simple you definitely take it to heart.”
YOU INITIATED THE DEAL AT TEXAS MOTORSPEEDWAY TO TAKE A LUNCH BREAK WITH THE FANS. DO YOU THINK MORE OF THAT WILL COME FROM YOU? “Yeah, I like to do that stuff. It was out of the blue. I was on Twitter that day and a fan asked if there would be concessions in the stands for the test and they said no. I was like, ‘Well, I will go hang out.’ I don’t do anything for lunch. We debrief for like 15 minutes or so and then have like 45 minutes to hangout and eat. Texas actually jumped in and told me the day before I went up there the first day that they wanted to bring pizzas and come film it. I was just going to initially go up there and hang out and they jumped in and wanted to help out. Eddie (Gossage) is really great like that. That was neat. I want to do more of that stuff. Spontaneous. You don’t really schedule it. Just a day or two in advance and hang out with a small group of fans. I think that is what fans want. Appearances are great but I think if you can get done with the day, done with practice, things like that, you can go hang out and eat some food with fans and talk about where they are from, what they like about the sport. I think that is really neat. I hope to do more of that.”
DO YOU RIDE AROUND IN YOUR GOLF CART VISITING FANS ON THE INFIELD STILL? “I do drive around a lot on the infield or go outside. It is just something I like to do. We get done with our days pretty early. On Saturday we are done at like 3. We debrief and have a pre-race meeting that night usually but I like to drive around and meet fans or go to concerts that tracks are putting on. I think those are great. They need to do more of that stuff. I like driving around and meeting people.”
WHAT IS THE MOST OUT OF THE BOX THING YOU HAVE SAID YES TO FOR NASCAR? “I went on some E! network show called Watch What Happens Live. That was strange for me. It wasn’t in my wheelhouse and I was a little uncomfortable. There are a lot of small market things you do that you go out for a day and you fly back and forth just to go to a new station or something. If you don’t think it is important for you, it is important for them. It is important for that area to have you and promote the sport.”
WHAT WAS IT THAT CAUSED YOU TO ADOPT THIS PHILOSPHY WHEN IT COMES TO BEING SO HOSPITABLE WITH THE FANS? “I don’t really know if I can pinpoint an exact moment. I think growing up at the race track helped a little bit. My dad was always very open to fans and I appreciated that about him. Even when I was a little kid and noticed it, he was always very welcoming to fans. I think he taught me growing up that we are not around, NASCAR doesn’t exist without the fans. Anything we can do to show appreciation I feel like is part of our job to do that. Whenever we can show them a good time or an experience unlike they expected is something that really sticks with people for life. No sport would be around without fans. I think NASCAR does a great job of giving fans access to racetracks and meeting drivers but there is always more you can do. You are never maxed out on your potential to make somebody’s day. I try to venture into that world. As you get older, you care about them more and you understand the sport more and what it takes for them to get to a race track and rbing their family and you appreciate that more and more. I think that is why I have done more of that stuff the last year or two.”
DID YOU PICK UP SOME OF THAT FROM SHARON SPEEDWAY. IT ISN’T EASY TO PROMOTE RACE TRACKS THESE DAYS. “Yeah, my dad owns a dirt track up in Ohio and they do all sorts of things to try to help get fans. That track is tough because there are like four within like a 100-mile radius. So it is hard to get a fan to come to your race track. I think that is something they did there when I was growing up – I don’t make it out there much now racing every weekend – they really integrated the fans into things and had great entertainment and gave them tons of access and the fans appreciate that when they can feel a part of the family. I feel like I took a little of that from what they did at Sharon Speedway and try to apply that today.”
WE ALL KNOW FORD WAS LACKING IN THE 1.5 MILE PROGRAM LAST YEAR. DO YOU KNOW OF ANY SPECIFIC INSTANCE WHERE PENSKE HAD ADDRESSED AN ISSUE TO GET BETTER THERE? “Well, it has been addressed for sure. I will be honest; we weren’t as competitive as we would have liked to have been. Especially in the playoffs. We had moments where we were fast but we didn’t have consistency in the playoffs. There were a couple other cars that were great in the playoffs. Brad got to the Championship 4 but obviously you want to improve every time. They have been hard at work in the offseason. Even though we don’t have a new car coming out we have to work that much harder. The mindset hasn’t changed in the shop. We are always looking for ways to improve our cars, whether mechanical or aero. Yeah, there was a push maybe from other years where maybe we were more strong and you don’t feel like you have to lay catch-up a much but honestly we have a little catch-up to make on the 78 and other cars that were so dominant last year. I think they are the best group in the business at figuring out how to do things – the group we have at Penske – and I have no doubt in my mind that we will be successful this year.”
PAUL MENARD, No. 21 Ford Fusion – HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THE LIST OF DRIVERS THAT HAVE DRIVEN THE 21? “Yeah, it is long. It hit me pretty hard probably three weeks ago when Eddie and Len were on this group text thing and they sent me a picture of the show car they had just finished with my name above the door. That was like, ‘Okay, it is happening.’ It was really cool. I am really looking forward to running the 21 car, and to start at Daytona of all places. Just super excited and can’t wait to get on the track in that car. It is a long list of names, names that are historic and a huge part of the sport. It is really special.”
IS THERE A SHORT VERSION OF HOW THIS ALL CAME ABOUT? “No, not really. It just all worked out. Blaney was a Penske guy. Blaney needed to get back to Penske. That kind of left the Woods without anybody and we were looking for something a little different from where we were at and it all worked out.”
YOU’VE SEEN WHAT THIS CAR CAN DO BASED ON LAST YEAR WITH RYAN. IT IS A POWERFUL CAR. “Yeah, it makes me excited. Working with Greg Erwin again – I worked with him a little when I practiced and qualified Robby Gordon’s car 10 years ago. I have known Greg a long time and I get to work with him and kind of build, not a new team but there are some new faces there. It is going to take a little bit to work out a few bugs like we do in any new situation. These first few races will be pretty important to open up communication and be totally honest with each other and push each other and learn each other. So when the summer rolls around we are ready to contend for top-10, top-five’s and wins.”
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS AT ALL? “No, not at all.”
YOUR FAMILY HAS A REALLY STRONG APPRECIATION OF RACING WITH YOUR FATHER AND WHAT YOU BOTH HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE SPORT. DOES THAT KIND OF GIVE YOU MORE OF A COMFORT LEVEL GOING INTO AN ICONIC CAR LIKE THE 21 AND WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS? “Ever since I was a little kid I loved history and I love racing, so I love racing history. When I was a little kid I could memorize every Indy 500 winner from 1911 through like 1995 or whenever I stopped doing that. I have always loved history and the Woods are the most historic racing group. When I think of the Wood Brothers I think of my family history, they are different. Totally different. Our racing heritage started in the late ‘70’s and theirs is 1950. I don’t think there is even a comparison. Nonetheless, to have the two groups together is pretty exciting. I know my dad is super excited. He is a racing historian as well and he is super excited for all this. More importantly, we just want to go out and compete and contend for that 100th win.”
DO YOU LIKE HAVING A SITUATION WHERE IT IS A ONE CAR TEAM AND ALL THE ATTENTION IS ON YOU? “Yeah, it is different. I have never really been part of a one-car team. When I was at Yates it was kind of a one-car team with Bobby Labonte on the 96 car. It is going to be different for sure. We have a relationship with Penske and will share some information. I will have some kind-of teammates to look at data and stuff. When I go to the race shop, it is a one car team but when I go to the race track we have friends.”
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO GIVE THE WOOD BROTHERS THEIR 100TH WIN? “If you look at their history and their list of drivers that have driven for them, everybody has given them wins but nobody has given them their 100th win. That would be remarkable.”
WHAT ABOUT FOR YOU TO GET BACK TO VICTORY LANE? “I am not getting any younger and I would like to win some more races. This is a great opportunity to do that. It has been a few years since I won one at the Cup level and I am ready to get back at it.”
DAYTONA IS YOUR 400TH CAREER START. DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD BE DOING THIS FOR SO LONG? “I just found out that Daytona is number 400. I haven’t even thought about it honestly. It is a lot of damn races tough, I will tell you that.”
OTHER THAN THE BRICKYARD WIN, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF? “The other wins I guess. I have a few on the Xfinity side and those are pretty cool.”
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO HAVE THAT YATES HORSEPOWER THIS YEAR? “The Fords have been super strong at Daytona and Talladega with Ricky winning a couple and Brad winning one. The Fords have been really good at plate tracks. I am supposed to go up to the shop next week and get a walkthrough. Going from a Chevrolet to a Ford there are some different things with switches and how they reset the power and stuff that a driver needs to know in a situation for troubleshooting scenarios during a race. There is stuff like that that I have to learn. We will do a test next week in Las Vegas and go through a lot of that stuff. The power they have at plate tracks and any track really, and the heritage they have at Ford Performance. They have been around a long time with a great heritage and they are all in through many different series. Talking to the Ford Performance people at Homestead last fall, they are all in. They are hard-nosed racers and want to go get it done.”
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO MAKE A PERSONAL TWITTER ACCOUNT? “That is never going to happen. I would retire before that happens.”
SAME THING WITH FACEBOOK? INSTAGRAM? “Yeah, there is so much cool stuff in this world that you can go do and see. I don’t think you have to be on your phone to do that.”
YOU HAVE PEOPLE THAT COULD DO THAT FOR YOU THOUGH RIGHT? “Well, then it wouldn’t be true then. Wouldn’t be genuine.”
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE ON RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS? “It is an opportunity anytime you go to a plate race, it opens the window for a lot of people to compete for a win versus an intermediate track. As far as comfort, you are never really comfortable riding along at 200 mph, three-wide. That is not a very comfortable situation but you have to tell yourself to relax and just kind of settle in, log some laps. It is just different. I am no less comfortable or any more comfortable on intermediate versus plate tracks. It is just a different set of circumstances.”
WHEN YOU ANSWER TO THE SPONSOR, YOU ANSWER TO YOURSELF AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS I WOULD ASSUME. CRAFTON HAS TO ANSWER TO THOSE SAME PEOPLE BUT IF YOU WERE GOING TO HIRE THE NEXT DRIVER TO DRIVE A MENARDS CAR, NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF CAR IT WOULD BE, WHAT WOULD YOU EXPECT OUT OF THEM AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM ON HOW TO REPRESENT A BRAND AS ICONIC AS THE MENARDS BRAND HAS BECOME? “I guess it is all speculative so we will cross that bridge when we get there. We have Ryan Blaney running some Menards races this year. We will see. I will put him under my wing and we will see how it goes.”
YOU SEE IT FROM THE BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE THOUGH, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS? “I don’t know. I am not the best with doing the interviews and I am definitely not on social media and all that stuff and a lot of these kids are. What I feel like I am good at is the behind the scenes stuff. I have been in business my whole life and understand how the business side of things work and a lot of these kids don’t. I am kind of the opposite side of some of these kids. There is a blend there for sure, somewhere, we just have to figure it out.”
“Let’s just use Ryan as an example. We can take Ryan through a Menards store or a distribution center or some manufacturing area but at that point it is just a tour. You have to be involved in the whole aspect of it to really truly appreciate how big everything is and how many people. It is a huge operation that has so many moving parts. You can’t appreciate that on a one-day tour. I have lived it. I have been there my whole life. I understand how all that works. It is a big dynamic and Ryan will represent us well this year in the races that I am not in.”
HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE WOOD BROTHERS MUSEUM IN STUART? “No, I haven’t yet but it is definitely on my to-do list. We are definitely going to do that.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Ford Fusion – ARE THE PENSKE GAMES GOING TO BE PART OF THE 2018 SEASON? “Yes, in fact I filmed it yesterday. All day. For about 10 hours. We are trying to have some fun. I was telling another group earlier that sometimes we have been accused at Penske of putting the F.U. in fun. This year we are trying a little harder.”
IF YOU COULD BE A NASCAR OFFICIAL FOR A DAY AND CHANGE SOMETHING, WHAT WOULD IT BE? “If I could be a NASCAR official for a day, what would I change? Well, I would never want to be a NASCAR official. As much as we rag on them, that looks like one of the worst jobs ever. It does not look like any fun at all. If I was sentenced to that position, I would say that I would change – I only get one thing? There is a lot of trouble I could get into with this one. Before I answer this, has anybody said anything more controversial today than Kyle and Kevin did yesterday? No? Damn. You all need something to get some clicks. See, there are two levels of trouble I can get in. The trouble I can get in with NASCAR and the trouble I can get in with my wife. One is going to cost me a lot financially and the other is going to cost me a lot more financially.”
“If I could make one change it would be that the leader of the sport is at the race track every weekend. That would be my change.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT KYLE MAY HAVE SAID SOMETHING CONTROVERSIAL AND I WANT YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT. YOU HAVE TWO YOUNGER TEAMMATES. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON NASCAR’S MARKETING PUSH WITH THE YOUNG DRIVERS? “I am not a marketing whiz and I will say that first off. Beyond that, marketing is a form of promotion which there is no coincidence that the word promotion in jobs is the same word but with a slightly different meaning. I have always kind of held the same belief, whether it is in this motorsports circle, marketing circle, or outside in business that we should be promoting people based on their skills. Nothing else. Not any of the other forms of whether it is race, diversity, age, whatever. It should always be based on skill. With respect to that, as long as people are being promoted based on skill and have earned that, I am cool with it.”
DO YOU BELIEVE THE NEW HAWKEYE INSPECTION SYSTEM WILL EVEN THE PLAYING FIELD FOR THE FORDS? “Yes, if the new Hawkeye system is put in place and implemented for 2018 fully, not partially, fully, it would certainly level the playing field for Ford by enforcing the rules.”
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS YOUR ROLE IN PROMOTING THE SPORT? IS THAT PART OF YOUR JOB? “I think it is a part of my job. If you think of it metaphorically, I have a very good lifestyle and am very privileged. It is not lost on me. I am eating the fruits off a tree produced by generations before me. By Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and the list goes on. I am living off of what they have created in this sport that is so successful. In return for that, there is a question I think that isn’t just for me and not just for race car drivers but for all of us on what we are leaving behind for the next generation. The reality is that what I do today to promote the sport most likely makes very little difference in this time span and this era. I am not saying it makes no difference, but very little difference. What we all do to promote our sport makes a huge difference for decades beyond that and I believe that. The role that I feel responsible for is the same role that I would feel responsible for if I wasn’t a race car driver and that is to make sure I haven’t done something to the sport to damage it for future generations. I am trying the best I know how. Dale and Richard and all those guys left a hell of a legacy that I am not so sure any of us will be able to fulfil for the next generation. But I do feel an obligation to replant the seeds to grow the next orchard that the next generation will eat off of.”
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR FREE TIME NOW THAT YOU AREN’T OPERATING A TRUCK TEAM? “Well, I am trying to raise a daughter. That is fun. She is getting to the age where even though she loves mom a lot, she is moving about more and I want to be more involved in her life than what I was able to do before. Hopefully I will be able to do that. I have some other outside interests that I am pursuing too that I am not ready to make any announcements on. That will fill some of my time as well.”
DO YOU THINK THAT EVERYONE IS AS ON BOARD WITH THAT BIG PICTURE VIEW OF GROWING THE SPORT? “No. There are definitely not enough on board and it is not a predominant line of thinking. Credit to those that are actively engaged in doing it because I think it is great that they are but I absolutely wish there were more that cared about the future generations opportunities in this sport. I think a number of them feel there is not a lot they can do. That a lot of this sports success and failure is out of their hands. So I can understand that too.”
HOW WILL YOU HAVE TO ADJUST FOR THE NEW PIT STOP RULES? “I think adjusting for one less crew member is certainly going to be a challenge. I am so thankful that change coincided with Team Penske picking up another race team and those people that were displaced we were able to keep. The last thing I wanted to see was people lose their job. I would say that is the first way they are handling that new rule, that we were able to place those people in our company. Beyond that, I don’t think it is going to be that big of a change. The pit stops are going to be a little slower, probably about a second or so. I would expect that to affect the strategy. No more so than the pit gun rule which will slow down the pit stops probably another one or two seconds. Between the two changes I think you will see us where last year a good pit stop was something in the 10-second range, a good pit stop this coming year will probably be in the 12-second range.”
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR NASCAR TO OPERATE WITHOUT A TITLE SPONSOR IF NEED BE? “I think it is very possible to operate without a title sponsor and a lot of times I think the sport would be better off without one. That is just my personal opinion. I think that of course that revenue stream is great and sometimes those partners put us in a position of strength with being able to leverage outside opportunities that maybe the sport wouldn’t have gotten on its own. Other times they are a bit of a liability. I think we saw that with some of the telecommunications lawsuits over the last decade and other lawsuits going on right now. With respect to that, I think it is a bit of a neutral position for me.”
DO YOU FEEL THE SEASON IS TOO LONG? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WOULD CHANGE? “There are a lot of things I would like to see different with the schedule and I think Kevin (Harvick) to his credit addressed a lot of them yesterday and did a good job with that. Yeah, I do feel like honestly we should race more under a shorter time span. If we raced twice in a week in the summer months especially when the weather is great and kids are out of school, it would be a great opportunity. You have that MLB All-Star break where there is essentially a week without any activity that I think is a tremendous miss for us not capitalizing on that week of sports basically being dormant. On the flip side of that, there is no reason in my mind for us to compete so frequently with the NFL in the fall months. I would like to see our schedule condensed time wise, even if it meant we ran more races. I think that would be very healthy for us.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE SPORT? “There are some bright spots and some dark spots too. I think we would be arrogant to not think there aren’t some spots that could use some work. The sport isn’t going away tomorrow. I think I told Bob Pockrass over here a few months ago that we are still on the airplane, we just might not be sitting in first class seats. But we are still on the airplane and that is great. I am grateful for that.”
TO WHAT EXTENT DID YOUR DAD INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION TO PURSUE NASCAR AS A JOB? “My dad and uncle were the two biggest influences in my decision to be in racing and be a race car driver. I am so thankful that I had them in the early days of my career to teach me the ins and outs of what matters, what doesn’t matter. Without them I just couldn’t be here. They taught me the work ethic and the savvy of how to make things work. I don’t think I would be here without them.”
AT HOMESTEAD YOU SAID THAT 2018 COULD BE A LONG YEAR FOR FORD. HAS ANYTHING CHANGED YOUR MIND ON THAT BETWEEN THEN AND NOW? “I think the biggest thing to me is seeing what happens with the Hawkeye system. That will be the determining factor on what manufacturer is successful this year. If the Hawkeye system comes in working fully I think we will see a very level playing field in 2018 and we are capable of winning.”
“It is inherent to the designs of the cars that some things weren’t able to be policed before that were designed into other cars that, with this system, it will eliminate it.”
WHAT HAS FORD DONE, SINCE YOU GUYS ARE RUNNING THE SAME BODY THIS YEAR, TO TRY TO CATCH UP TO CHEVY AND TOYOTA? “I think going back to what I was just saying. I think everyone at Ford is fully endorsing the Hawkeye system to fully and properly police the cars aerodynamic capabilities. That will level the cars to the submittal process. Basically when the cars are submitted to NASCAR they have to all have the same performance criteria but there has not been a system to enforce that that is what you actually race. To fully enforce that is what you actually race. The Hawkeye system is intended to fully enforce that.”
GOING BACK TO YOUR COMMENT EARLIER, BRIAN FRANCE HAS SAID THAT HE DOESN’T FEEL HE NEEDS TO BE AT THE TRACK BECAUSE HIS LEIUTENANTS HANDLE THE STUFF AT THE RACES. WHY DO YOU FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT FOR HIM TO BE AT THE TRACK? “It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface. This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week. With some respect, I would say that it is impossible for the sport to be managed with someone being here every week because of the travel situations being what they are and different things that come up. I completely understand that. But to some extent you have to be here.”
LAST TIME WE SAW TEAM PENSKE FIELD THREE CARS, AT TIMES ONE CAR OR ANOTHER WOULDN’T BE QUITE UP TO SNUFF. DO YOU FEEL LIKE TEAM PENSKE IS BEST EQUIPPED NOW TO FIELD A THIRD CUP CAR? “I think Team Penske is better equipped now than ever before to have three Cup cars. Is it perfect? Probably not. There is probably nobody at Team Penske that would deny there won’t always possibly be better ways. From a management and culture level there is quite a stark contrast form the three-car team in 2018 to the three-car team in 2010 which was the last time.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Ford Fusion – HOW IS THE EXPANSION AT TEAM PENSKE GOING? “We are not going to grow without being ready and having the right mix of people to do that and everything in the right place. Right drivers, right sponsors, right crew. It all has to be in the right place for Roger to do what he is doing right now. I think adding Blaney as a third team I think will be a great decision. I think Paul in the 21 will be a good addition to our team as well with the alliance we have with the Wood Brothers. As close as well all work together I look at that as a teammate anyway because we work so close together. I think a lot of good things will come from that.”
YOU DROVE THE ROVAL IN A MUSTANG THE OTHER DAY. WHAT WAS GOING ON OUT THERE? YOU WERE TAKING SOME PRETTY HOT LAPS. “They asked me if I wanted to go out there for the media day and I said, ‘Sure, you have a Ford for me to drive?’ and that Mustang showed up and I jumped in it. It was that simple. I talked to them on Friday night and then we did that on Monday afternoon. It happened that quick.”
DID YOU GAIN ANY EXPERIENCE THAT MIGHT HELP YOU? “I was trying to figure out how many bad habits I was picking up by driving that car. That was no joke the easiest car to drive in my life. It had traction control and anti-lock brakes and it gained more grip the harder I ran it. It was crazy. So different from how our stock cars drive. That Mustang was amazing. I got to make some laps on the track and there will be so many changes to the track that it probably won’t be very valuable at all. I really wanted to drive something too. It has been awhile for me. We didn’t do any offseason testing so I am going nuts. Driving anything is good for me at this point.”
YOU ARE A DAD NOW. HOW HAS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE? “It is a game changer. I tell you what. It is something else. It is awesome. It is so crazy to be able to hold a child in your hands and know that is your son. It is crazy. Just to think what he is going to be some day and all the stories that we are going to have and to be able to share in what his life is going to be. There is no telling what it is going to be. Whatever he wants it to be. All that opportunity that sits right in your hands is amazing. It is super cool. Super challenging. There is a lot of hard stuff that goes along with it too, believe me. But it is all worth it. It is really neat. I am excited to see what the next stages are going to be. We are at the stage where he can’t even really hold his head up. To see how he changes as a person will be really cool.”
YOU ARE IN A UNIQUE POSITION OF HAVING BEEN AROUND ALSO IN YOUR 20’s. YOUR TOUGHTS ON NASCAR’S MARKETING PUSH AND THE DIRECTION IT IS GOING WITH THE YOUNG DRIVERS. “Here is how I look at that. NASCAR has to promote youth in our sport. They have to show that there is new, young talent coming into our sport. There are a lot of greats that have retired and will be retiring in the next few years and we need to replace them with big names. NASCAR understands that and I understand that. I get that. I don’t think it is just a big push on young drivers. Yes, is there? Yes, there should be. But there is also a push on the current drivers that have been here and accomplished a lot already. I know that because you can turn on a football game that has a ton of people watching it and they are promoting the Daytona 500 and who is on it? It isn’t William Byron and these guys that are just coming in. It is Harvick and me and Kyle Busch and Brad, Denny Hamlin – it is guys that have been here a long time. They are still getting that love or whatever you want to call it. That publicity. It is important for our sport to realize that we need to keep the eyes on the drivers that are winning and making sure that we show that the talent and what they have accomplished in our sport. We also need to show the growth and youth coming into our sport. I think as a competitor and as somebody that wants to see our sport grow, which is important for all of us, drivers, teams, media, all of us to keep our jobs, we better see our sport grow. I think this is important. NASCAR sees that. I get it. Selfishly we all want the spotlight on us all the time. You want the spotlight on your sponsor and what you have done. You want to get the credit when you win races. You will get that. If you win the races they are going to have to talk about you. I think also, there is a big story right now with young drivers coming in and that is great. I don’t really know where I fit into it baceuse I am about the same age as them but I have been here for 10 years. It is kind of weird.”
DO YOU FEEL SLIGHTED IN A WAY? YOU SHOULD BE ONE OF THOSE YOUNG DRIVERS RIGHT? “I don’t know where to put me. I don’t know. My job is to win races. That all will take care of itself, as long as I do my job on the race track and I like that I am in a unique spot and I am okay in not being included in the young group and I am okay not being included with the guys that have been here forever. It puts me in a different spot. A lot of times being different is the best way to get better.”
YOUR TEAM HAD A LOT OF DISSAPOINTMENT LAST SEASON. HOW DO YOU RALLY AND COME BACK THIS YEAR? “Last year was a trying year. I don’t want to say struggle. I am not sure that is the right word for it. We learned a lot. The biggest thing we learned was to be able to be a little more open minded about things. We started to be open minded at the end of the season. We probably waited a little too long. When you find something that works for you and you are able to keep evolving off of that foundation that you built that works and you keep building off of something and then the rules change and things change and then all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore, it is really hard to just knock over what you built and start all over. It is very challenging to get yourself to think that openly. As a driver, I have had to change. Todd (Gordon) has had to change. The way we set up our cars has had to change. But you have to to be able to get back up front. I think that is what happens a lot of times in sports. You see some of these great teams go out there and win a championship and then they next year you are like, ‘What happened to these guys?’ The sport changes. It evolves and you have to evolve with it and we are a little late to the game. If you look at the last five or six races we started running in the top-five more often and I think with the new Hawkeye system and the gains we have made in the offseason – well, you never know until the season starts, but I have enough confidence and I am believing the stories my team is telling me that we are going to be really good this year. I honestly do believe that. I think we will go out there and redeem ourselves. There is a little extra motivation there. Ready to get back out there. We know we are a championship team. Nothing has changed from two years ago when we almost won the championship. It is the same group. Nothing has changed. We know we can still do that. Let’s go. Is Daytona here yet?”
MOTIVATION MUST BE AT AN ALL TIME HIGH FOR YOU GUYS? “Yeah, we never want to have that feeling again. That sucks. Not being in the playoffs is no fun. I think after going through that and living that horror film, you don’t want to do that again. There is plenty of motivation to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
WHAT DO YOU DO ON RACE DAY TO GET YOUR MIND IN THE RIGHT PLACE? “I think everyone probably has their own routine. I don’t think it is just race day. You can have your little routine on race day but the prep starts way before that. For me to have confidence I need to be prepared. When I don’t know what is coming at me I have no confidence because I have no idea what the battle is ahead of me. When I have done my homework during the week I feel really confident when I come to the race track. I feel like we are ready to attack. When I feel like I didn’t do enough work or there is something ahead of me that I don’t know what it is, then I am not as confident. As long as I feel prepared I don’t really have to do anything weird or some weird superstitious thing like wear the same underwear every time. That doesn’t help you win, preparation helps you win.”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY HOMEWORK? “Watching tapes, communicating with my team, going over notes. The typical stuff. Keeping in shape, that type of stuff that keeps you mentally prepared. That is pretty much what my job is. As a leader you try to keep making sure your team has the same attitude that you’ve got. Attitudes are contagious. You have to make sure that you are pumped up and ready or else nobody else is going to be.”
YOUR OPITION OF THE LIGHTS AT MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY? “Yeah, well, I think everyone can agree the first race under the lights was eventful. Can we all agree on that? So that was a good thing? Yeah, we will go with good. It was pretty exciting after the race. I haven’t seen that many fans stay around after a race for so long in my career. That was pretty cool to see. I think lights at Martinsville, thumbs up.”
YOU DROVE THE MUSTANG GT4 ON THE ROVAL, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? “Yeah, I did get to drive it the other day. Got to make a couple laps in the Mustang and see what the track was like. Where some improvements could be made. I think the great thing about what they are doing there at the speedway is they are open minded. They are open to listening to driver opinions and where they can be better. From a safety and racing standpoint. They know this has to be right. They know there is a risk to this thing. You have one opportunity for a first impression. This will be the first impression on the Roval and we need to make sure it is 100%. As a competitor in the sport and someone invested in the sport I want to make sure it is right because I want to see our sport grow. You have to be able to make laps and to put my two cents in was important. Hopefully they take that along with the two-cents that plenty of other drivers and teams and whoever else is out there will put in to make the best possible race track to put on the best possible race for the fans.”
DID YOU SEE THE TRIALS OF LAST YEAR COMING? “No. I didn’t see that coming at all. After you almost win the championship and win a bunch of races the last four years before that. You think making the playoffs is kind of a given. That is kind of the way I thought. 16 drivers, I thought that was a given. I would say it blindsided every one of us. We didn’t think the penalty at Richmond was a big deal. We thought we would go win more races. No big deal. Then it was one thing after another and before we knew it our back was against the wall. We almost won the second Richmond. We came in second. Figures. It is a feeling we never want to have again. We did not see that coming at all.”
WHAT STEPS HAVE YOU TAKEN IN THE OFF SEASON TO HIT THE GROUND RUNNING THIS YEAR? “A lot of work over the offseason. There is only so much work you can do. Unfortunately, we can’t go testing every week like we want to or like we would. Testing is at the simulator these days. Spending time with each other, talking about races, talking about certain items on the car where we can be better to prepare for the first five or six races. Thinking about where we struggled last year and where we can be better in each department. We go from there. It is the same thing we would have done if we won the championship last year. It just seems like there is a little extra motivation this year because you don’t want to live it again.”
WHAT WERE YOU MISSING LAST YEAR? “Speed. Ra
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.