Ford Performance NASCAR: Harvick, Logano Keselowski and McDowell Playoff Media Day Plus Others Transcripts

KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang -- DO YOU FEEL THE WAY YOU AND YOUR TEAM HAVE GRINDED THROUGH THE REGULAR SEASON THAT IT’S MADE YOU STRONGER FOR THE PLAYOFFS?  “I feel good about our team.  I think our team has done a great job with the circumstances we’ve been presented with and I think the last four or five weeks our cars have run a lot better.  We’ve still got some work to do with some things on the balance side of the car to start these races, but, in the end, our team has done a great job and those numbers could have been a lot better if it weren’t for three or four ill-timed accidents at the end of a few of the races.  You obviously want to win, but some years just don’t go exactly how you want them to go and I think those are the years that you’ve got to dig down and do the things that our guys have done this year, so gotta be in it to win it and we’ve given ourselves a chance and see where it all falls in the end.”

HOW MUCH HAS THE DELTA VARIANT IMPACTED PRECAUTIONS YOU’RE TAKING?  AND ARE YOU COMFORTABLE SHARING IF YOU’VE BEEN VACCINATED OR NOT?  “I don’t really think any of that stuff is meant to be talked about on these types of situations, but I think as we’ve gone through the world over the last couple years I think we’ve changed with the world, and I think as you go through each week and you go through each different scenario you realize things that you should and shouldn’t do certain ways.  I think compared to last year at this time I think our family and the things that we’re doing look a lot different than what they were two years ago at this time, so I think anybody who tells you that things are back to normal or doing things the same that’s not us.  I think you have to be able to still live your life and we are doing that and trying to do it as safely as possible and be smart about the things that we do.”

DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU PUT ON A HANS DEVICE AND WHAT HAS IT MEANT TO THE SPORT?  “Our sport has done a great job in safety over the last 20 years.  Obviously, for me, I was on a different side of things with safety and the progression of it.  Being in the car that Earnhardt drove there was obviously a lot of things that went along with that and that progression came from that particular scenario with Dale and I think our sport took a stance at that particular time and said ‘we’ve got to do things differently.’  So the first thing that happened was the open-face helmet was outlawed.  The next year the HANS device came in and the head-and-neck restraints became mandatory.  The seats have changed a tremendous amount, so the HANS, for me, I used the Hutchens device in the beginning.  A HANS device is obviously a much better device and that has gone a long ways to the safety of our sport, so now it’s just a part of what you do, along with all the seats and head restraints and seat belts and walls and so many things have changed in such a great way through the years.  It’s been quite the progression.  It’s still something that NASCAR puts a really heavy emphasis on in making sure that they progress with the accidents and problems that they see and holding the safety equipment companies accountable to keep progressing and doing things better, so it’s been quite the progression for sure.”

DO YOU REMEMBER HOW THE HANS FELT WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED USING IT?  “At that particular time none of us wanted to use any of it.  They were forcing us to change, thank God.  It took a lot of time to get your car and your seats and everything comfortable because the way you sat in the seat the HANS device at that particular time didn’t have many options with the different angles of the device and the way that it sat on your shoulders.  Now there are still several different devices, but it’s pretty hard to beat the HANS device and now that the padding is sewn into the seat belts and you don’t have to wear big pads on the device itself, but it’s definitely the best head-and-neck restraint device that you can use.”

HOW DID IT GO PUTTING YOUR DAUGHTER IN A RACE CAR AND HOW IMPORTANT IS THE BALANCE BETWEEN RACING AND FAMILY?  “Doing this for 20 years you figure out the balance that you want when it’s time to get away, you know when it’s time to press, you know when it’s time to do things differently -- whatever the scenario is.  I think, for me, our racing life pretty much revolves around our normal life as well, so they kind of go hand-in-hand with my racing and Keelan’s racing and Piper is definitely in the driveway here making laps as Keelan did four or five years ago.  We’re a racing family.  That’s what we do and you kind of plan everything that you do around the race schedule.  Our kids are at school at home still.  I think that gives us a little more leeway with home schooling and the things that we do with them, so it’s interesting how life has changed over the last couple of years.  I think our life has migrated into something totally different than what we could have imagined it two years ago, but I would say it’s probably in a better spot than it was two years ago, so having all that right at home definitely makes managing the busy race life a lot easier because you have some flexibility of things and also understand what you like and don’t like.”

JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang -- IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WITH PAUL THE SAME IT WAS WITH TODD?  “Yeah, I think so.  Paul and I have been able to work together the last few years now and be able to kind of grow in this COVID environment, which has been a lot more challenging I think than any of us expected when we made the crew chief change -- without practice and limitation on seeing each other or not, all of those are evolving day by day, but I do feel like our ability to connect at this point and have some history from the notebook behind us and how to be better every week.  I feel like we’ve grown a lot and I feel ready to go.  I feel better this year than I did last year.”

WOULD A TALENTED iRACER GET A LOOK FROM TEAM OWNERS COMPARED TO A SHORT TRACK OR DIRT TRACK RACER?  “I don’t think so, in my opinion.  You’ve got to be in a real race car.  You can take some things from simulation racing, for sure.  I think it can make you a better driver in certain ways, but Cup racing is in a real race car and you have to be in the car at some point.  Maybe William Byron would have something different to say, but at some point he had to perform in real life and it’s a different feel and a different environment and different emotions you can imagine inside a real race car.  I think there are definitely areas to gain and grow from that, but I also think as a team looking to hire somebody they’re probably going to look more at what you do in a real race car.”

YOU HAVE A NEW SPOTTER NOW.  HOW HAS IT GONE THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS AND YOUR COMFORT LEVEL GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS?  “Paul and I were able to work together last year as well, so we have some experience together there, and Coleman Pressley and myself have been the best of friends since we were kids racing against each other, so the connection we have there away from the racetrack and on the racetrack actually came pretty seamless over the last couple of weeks to where I feel like we’ve been able to go over the races, go over restarts, go over choose rules, all that stuff and we went to probably two of the hardest racetracks to spot right off the bat at Michigan and Daytona.  It was kind of getting thrown to the wolves there, but I felt like we were able to adapt fairly quickly, so that change I think has gone smooth and is going to make our team stronger.”

HOW IMPORTANT HAS MENTAL HEALTH OPTIMIZATION BEEN FOR YOU?  “I think that’s the name of the game.  All of us have talent.  All of us are physically fit.  The difference is how you mentally engage with yourself, your team and how you handle the pressure that is the playoffs, and that’s different for everyone, and you have to find your own way.  Any advice I give or say doesn’t mean it’s the right way for you, it’s just what I’ve found that works for me.  The only way you kind of find it is to put yourself in those positions.  That’s the best part about experience.  That’s what experience means is that you’ve been put in those spots before and you know how to handle it.  You’ve become stronger because of it and that’s what makes the playoffs so exciting is that you either win or you become stronger.  There’s really no losing that’s there.  As an individual and as a team, you’re gonna be stronger because you’ve gone through a high-pressure moment.”

IS THERE ONE OR TWO RULES TO LIVE BY IN THE PLAYOFFS THAT HELP YOU GET THROUGH IT AND HOPEFULLY MAKE THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4?  “I think I just said one there, but I think the other thing is just understanding that every point is gonna matter, every detail is gonna matter.  Those things as you go through each race -- 10 weeks is a long time, it’s a long playoffs if you think about it.  You’re gonna have to go through some serious adversity.  At some point you’re gonna have to overcome something and that’s part of it.  I guess if you’re ready for it and you have that mindset that that’s gonna happen, and you can overcome that, those are probably the biggest things to have on your side.”

HOW DIFFERENT WILL BRISTOL BE THIS TIME AROUND ON THE CONCRETE?  “I just don’t understand how they cleaned it up.  That’s incredible that they can do that.  I’m looking forward to seeing the track.  The concrete is what we’re used to.  The dirt was a whole new game, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve cleaned it up, but also how they’ve reapplied the PJ1, and what the affect of that is gonna be because you’re kind of resetting the racetrack quite a bit after you threw all that dirt on it, so we’ll be interested to see how that plays out.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT JUST TO HAVE A SOLID DAY AT DARLINGTON?  “I think it’s pretty important.  You bring up a solid point is we’ve had a few races that have been pretty tough on the finishing side, but if you look at the race as they’ve gone, they’ve been races where we can run in the top five in every single one of them.  The confidence and what we can bring to the racetrack is up pretty high.  I think the speed is there.  Our pit crew is there.  I feel like I’m firing on all eight as well.  We’ve just run into everything you can possibly imagine.  It’s just the craziest things have happened and it is what it is and that just happens sometimes.  Darlington would be great to just have a normal day, but a win would be even better and that’s still our goal.”

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang -- WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH ALEX?  “I’ve got a good relationship with Alex.  I feel like, not just because he’s from Arizona, but I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with him and appreciate his journey too of driving for underfunded teams and Tommy Baldwin and losing his ride last minute and then getting an opportunity to fill-in, so him being successful I felt like was a really neat story, but also an eye-opener to a lot of the owners that just because you’re driving a car that doesn’t run up front every weekend doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability, so I’ve always been a fan and pulling for him, and being from Arizona, I mean, if we count Tucson as part of Arizona (laughing).  He’s got a great opportunity this year with those Hendrick cars being so fast.  Obviously, he’s got two wins and a really good spot to contend for the championship this year, so that’s good for him.  He did run me off the road there at Sonoma for a top 10, so I won’t be getting him back in the near future here in the playoffs, but if you see him, you just let him know.”

WHO HAVE YOU SOUGHT OUT FOR PLAYOFF ADVICE AND WHAT HAS STUCK OUT?  “Even though we locked in, so to speak, early, there’s always that chance that there are more than 16 winners, so I didn’t really feel locked in.  I never really allowed myself to get super excited about that until two or three weeks ago when it was finally official that we’d be locked in.  As far as advice and things like that, it’s a little bit challenging because the drivers that are current right now aren’t gonna give you much advice, but I spent a little bit of time with Clint Bowyer last week at a Ford event, a Ford promotion that we were doing and talked about the playoffs and talked about Richmond coming up and just how he approached things, so everybody’s got a different style and a different philosophy.  I feel like for our team and where we’re at we sort of know what we have to do and how we have to do it, and so we kind of have our own approach to it.”

DO YOU FIND YOU’RE HAVING TO CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS AT ALL WITH THIS BEING YOUR FIRST TIME IN THE PLAYOFFS?  “Today has been fun and just talking about being in the playoffs and what it means.  It kind of makes you appreciate and just enjoy the process, but more than anything for me is I’ve just been pretty laser focused on what I need to do and what we need to do.  I haven’t really allowed myself to get too far ahead of where we’re at.  Right now, we have Darlington and Darlington is the most important race in my life, and after Darlington it’ll be Richmond, so I haven’t thought about a lot of those extra things.  I’m just trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we can for what’s in front of us, but at the same time, like I said, I’m extremely thankful to have the opportunity to race for a championship and to be a part of one of 16 drivers to do that in NASCAR.  But I’m also trying not to let myself overthink things too much.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO EAT AT IN THE PHOENIX AREA?  “Being from Phoenix and Glendale and having great Mexican restaurants, that’s probably the thing I miss most in North Carolina.  We don’t have the same quality or the same style of Mexican food, so I’m always loading up my crew guys and taking them to different places.  My favorite place, Pedro’s in Glendale, actually shut down in the last year or two, so, unfortunately, that ones not there anymore.  Macayo’s and POPO’S, those are places that we typically go to.  Carlos O’Briens is a place I went to growing up, so there are a lot of great restaurants that we try to hit.”

IS THERE ANY RELIGIOUS ANECDOTE OR LESSON THAT APPLIES TO YOUR SEASON?  “I think there’s always a story to the journey and something to take from it.  For me, it’s all just about perseverance and endurance and obviously being in this sport a really long time and not having success until this year -- a lot of losses, a lot of years where it’s been a grind and a struggle, so that’s probably the thing that resonates the most with me this year is just perseverance and endurance and then also just how it’s paid off.  It would have been very easy to give up several years ago and not see it through, but by staying faithful to what I feel like I was supposed to do and grinding through times that weren’t that fun, now I’m getting to enjoy something awesome and experience it.  It’s humbling, too.  I didn’t have to win the race to feel like I’ve accomplished something, but it has been a moment of joy to take it all in and appreciate it.”

HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE CHANGES THAT PHOENIX RACEWAY HAS UNDERGONE?  “It’s amazing how much has changed there.  I mean, I think I’ve been through three different track configurations and moving the start-finish line and now obviously with everything for the fans in the infield and the experience you can have.  The garages and the pavilions, I think it’s one of the cooler racetracks that fans can go to and really see the inner workings of the garage and the teams and just how it all functions.  It makes me proud to be from Phoenix and from the area and the race fans are extremely loyal and have been for a long time.  So many families and so many campers and motorhomes out there.  It truly is a family sport and to be able to have a facility that sort of matches the dedication of our fans is really cool.”

YOUR AVERAGE FINISH HAS BEEN OUTSIDE THE TOP 20 AT THE ROUND OF 16 TRACKS.  IS THERE ANYTHING TO GAIN OR LOSE?  DO YOU NEED LUCK ON YOUR SIDE TO GET TO THESE NEXT ROUNDS?  “Two things with that.  This is the best season that I’ve ever had and the best that we’ve performed as a race team, and so statistically it might not look that great but I think if you look back to this year at just our top finishes for me over my career have been this year at a lot of racetracks.  I feel like we have the speed and the momentum to surprise some people in the playoffs, but we’re also realistic of where we’re at.  I have to have three incredible races in order to advance in the next round and I know that, we know that, we’re not naive to it.  We know where we’re at as a race team and what we need to do, so we’ve got to hit home runs here the next three races and if we don’t, we won’t advance.  We all know that and we’re ready to see what happens.”

HOW MUCH OF A RESET ARE THE PLAYOFFS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM AFTER THE LAST NINE RACES?  “The last handful of races have not been fun.  It hasn’t been from a lack of performance.  We’ve actually had speed.  You go to the Indy road course, running in the top seven there and hit the curb and finish in the thirties.  You look at Michigan, where we ran in the top 12 or 13 all day and get tore up on that last restart and finished 20th.  It hasn’t been fun the last four or five weeks.  Daytona, a DNF with an engine failure, so the reset is nice.  It’s nice to reset the points.  It’s nice to be able to start 15th this weekend at Darlington and just kind of hit that reset.  You can’t always control the ebbs and flows of racing.  You look at those first five races and were crushing it, not just with the win but top 10, top 10, top 10, and then you hit this funk that we got into now where DNF, a crash, just things not always in your control.  So it is nice to hit that reset button and have a fresh outlook going to Darlington, and that’s how motorsports is.  The momentum can swing at any point.  We have to have the momentum swing our way the next three weeks and we know that.  We wish we were heading into the playoffs with a lot of momentum and not a DNF and all the things that  have, but the reality is that’s where we’re at and we can start fresh this weekend.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang -- DO YOU USE LAST YEAR AS MOTIVATION WHEN YOU WERE ONE PLACE SHORT OF THE TITLE OR LOOK AT THIS AS A NEW YEAR AND AND A NEW CHALLENGE? I wouldn’t say I really have either of those approaches.  I’m kind of going in and just trying to make the most of the opportunity we have with the speed and execution we have with our 2 team.  You can’t really think too much about last year.  It’s not particularly all that relevant to this year with different car rules and things of that nature, so I think my goal is just to make the most out of what we have.”


YOU SWITCHED SPOTTERS WITH JOEY A COUPLE WEEKS AGO.  HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CHEMISTRY WITH TJ MAJORS AS YOU ENTER THE PLAYOFFS?  “I think we’ve always worked very well together, TJ and I have, going back 12-13 years ago when we first started working together and the chemistry is outstanding and certainly I think that’s one of the strengths of our team.”


HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING BACK TO THE SOUTHERN 500 THIS WEEKEND?  “It’s a really tough, challenging racetrack and that’s what makes it so rewarding when you have success there.  Winning in 2018 was one of the highlights of my career.  Winning once is great and winning twice is even better, so hopefully we can do just that.”


CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BRISTOL BEING IN THE PLAYOFFS AS A CUTOFF RACE.  WILL THINGS GET WILDER THIS TIME AROUND?  “I think last year was a pretty compelling race.  It was in the same position last year, being that last race of a round and I think going back and re-watching it, it certainly led to some exciting moments for sure accordingly, so, yeah, absolutely.  I think it’s good for our sport.”


WHERE WERE YOU ON 911 AND HOW DID IT IMPACT YOU?  “I was 17.  I was a high school senior and it was a very interesting day to say the least, a sad day in a lot of ways.  It was one I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.  It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago.  When you first said that I said, ‘No, that’s wrong,’ but you’re right, it’s 20 years ago.  It’s been a whirlwind for sure since then with all the different things that are going on worldwide, but it was a tough day for sure.”


WHEN YOU SEE THE SUCCESS BLANEY IS HAVING DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR YOUR TEAM?  “No, it doesn’t particularly stand out to me.  I’m happy for him.  I think Ryan has done an excellent job of putting himself in good positions and then executing around that.  He’s certainly riding a wave of momentum that I think everyone should be proud of.  I’m happy for him, so I don’t know if it particularly impacts me at all.”


YOU SAID THE OTHER DAY YOU DIDN’T THINK A FORD COULD LEGITIMATELY WIN ON A 550 TRACK.  CAN YOU EXPAND ON THAT AND WHAT YOU THINK IS HOLDING THE FORDS BACK WITH THAT PACKAGE?  “We just haven’t shown the speed.  The combination of offseason rules enforcement changes and the parts freeze just kind of completely neutered us as a group and we just haven’t shown that speed all year long.  I think the closest we’ve been was probably Ryan Blaney at Atlanta, which was more kind of that long run speed and smooth driving than anything else.  He executed very very well, but outside of that I can’t recall a moment where I’ve seen the Fords be in a spot of dominance or a spot where they’ve controlled a race at a 550 track.”


WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP CHANCES SIT RIGHT NOW?  “I have no idea.  I’ve entered this playoff deal before having won two races entering it just like Blaney has and been knocked out in the second round.  I’ve entered it having won five races and gotten knocked out in the third round.  I’ve entered it before having zero speed and not feeling very good about it and made it all the way to the final four, so no one really knows.  I’ve got five or six years experience doing it and I don’t know, so with that in mind, you try not to think about it, to be quite honest.  I try to just go out there and make the most out of what I have and not allow any of those connotations to either build overconfidence or to pull me down.”


DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR TEAM IS CAPABLE OF A CHAMPIONSHIP GOING INTO DARLINGTON?  “I think there are aspects of the team that have historically shown some strengths, but it’s really irrelevant to what actually happens in the future in my mind, so I have no idea.  I know that I’m gonna do all that I can to execute it and to put ourselves in a position to make the most of whatever we have at the racetrack on any given day, but I can’t quantify that to say that we’re here or we’re there.  There’s just too many pieces outside of my control.”


HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK A GOOD START IS IN THE ROUND OF 16 TO HAVING A SUCCESSFUL PLAYOFF RUN?  “Outside of kind of getting to the Round of 12, the first round really is not super impactful in my mind.  It’s really the third round that I think is super important.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THE HIGH DOWNFORCE PACKAGE PUTS LESS EMPHASIS ON DRIVER SKILL AND MORE ON RANDOM LUCK?  “It’s hard to say.  There’s always been a balance of random luck in this sport.  That has been since the inception of motorsports versus talent and preparation.  Now, you can make arguments that those scales have shifted a little bit over the years, but it’s not as though it’s never been at play or part of our sport.  I do think that there are some arguments to be made that over time the driver has become less or more important depending on the racetrack and the position, so it’s another one of those things that I think is super hard to quantify, at least objectively.  There were different rules packages where I felt like the driver made a bigger difference and then there are things that come into play that have nothing to do with the rules.  Shoot, the weather or some kind of ambient track condition, so it’s hard to give a great answer to how big a difference a driver makes on any given weekend.”


DO YOU SEE RYAN AS POSSIBLY A NUMBER ONE GUY AT TEAM PENSKE NEXT SEASON?  “I hesitate to say anybody is a number one guy.  I think the results is what answers that.  If he goes out and continues to do what he’s doing, then his results will pretty much answer that question.  Right now, he’s won three races and Joey and I have won only one race, so he’s certainly making a good case for him being in a position of strength at Team Penske.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang -- WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOUR STRENGTHS ARE AS YOU LOOK AT THIS FIRST ROUND?  “I feel like our strengths are exactly that -- the 750 package.  That has been our strength this year.  We ran really good at Nashville with a new car built for the 750 package and then we went to Loudon after qualifying on the pole and running top five at Nashville, we went to Loudon and started 22nd, I believe, and drove all the way up to the lead and won the race.  So, I look at that 750 package as our best opportunity and we need to go into this first round and make the most of that.”


DO YOU THINK THE DRIVING COULD BECOME MORE AGGRESSIVE AT BRISTOL WITH THAT BEING AN ELIMINATION RACE?  “The playoffs always bring out the best in us.  The intensity level ratchets way up and every spot matters, every point matters during the stages and every finishing position matters, so I don’t think it can get any more aggressive.  It’s already really aggressive and it will continue to be that way.”

CAN YOU RESET YOUR MIND AND THROW OUT THE REGULAR SEASON WITH THIS PLAYOFF RESET?  NONE OF YOUR STRUGGLES MATTER ANYMORE.  DO YOU THINK THAT WAY?  “Absolutely.  The last 26 races no longer matter and now it’s about putting the best 10 weeks together that you possibly can.  I relate it a lot to pro sports and football in general.  You can be the wildcard team that squeaks into the playoffs and once the playoffs starts all that matters it the next week, winning the next week, and that’s how the playoffs are for us.  The last 26 races do not matter anymore and all that really matters right now is Darlington and after Darlington all that will matter is Richmond and so on and so forth.  So, yeah, we certainly are having that mentality.”


IS THERE ANYTHING TO BE LEARNED FROM BEING AT DARLINGTON AND RICHMOND EARLIER IN THE YEAR?  “No, the slate is not blank.  You certainly lean on your notebook, especially without practice and qualifying.  You certainly lean on your notebook, so that will be important to go back and read those races and look at the speed in our cars and those things, but also feel like we’ve made our cars better since then.  So, as I look forward to those races, I know that we’ll bring better race cars back than we had there earlier in the year.”


BRAD SAID HE FELT THE FORDS WERE NEUTERED WITH SOME OF THE CHANGES MADE OVER THE OFFSEASON IN REGARDS TO THE 550 PACKAGE.  HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FORD’S CHANCES ON THE 550 TRACKS GOING FORWARD?  “I would say that there’s some truth to that.  There’s some things about what we have with Ford that certainly has not been advantageous for us on the 550 racetracks, absolutely.  And the other manufacturers have seemed to find a lot of speed on those tracks with the rules package going into this season and with the parts freeze and lack of development for this year and lack of windtunnel time and all those things has certainly piled up against us, I would say.  The 500 tracks have been a daunting challenge for us this season, but I would say that there’s only three of them, if I’m correct, that’s in the playoffs -- Vegas, Kansas and Texas.  So while they are very important, every single race is important, we can still maximize our days.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THE HIGH DOWNFORCE PACKAGE PUTS LESS EMPHASIS ON DRIVER SKILL AND MORE ON RANDOM LUCK?  “I would say that to get to this level it takes a tremendous amount of talent and driver skill, and to win at this level takes a tremendous amount of talent and driver skill and team, so, yeah, I wouldn’t say that much of our sport really adds up to luck.  You certainly need things to go your way from time to time throughout the course of a race, make sure that you’re at the right place at the right time and not the wrong place at the wrong time, but it takes a great organization, a great team, a great driver and great pit crew.  It’s a total team effort.  I know the driver gets a lot of credit, but I wouldn’t discredit the fact that it is very much a team effort and you don’t really just fall into a win these days.  It is certainly by design and talent and making the right choices and having a good day.”


HOW MUCH OF YOUR TEAM’S GAME PLAN AT DARLINGTON IS TRYING TO GET STAGE POINTS EARLY ON BECAUSE EVERY POINT MATTERS AS YOU’RE WELL AWARE HAVING ADVANCED ONCE ON A TIEBREAKER?  “Yes, it’s of utmost importance.  We think about that, for sure.  You’ve got to score every point you can because I’m very aware that it can come down to the checkered flag at Bristol or the last race in the next rounds and you could be tied and it could go to your best finish or tiebreakers past that, so every point matters.  We’re all very aware of that and that’s why the playoffs are so exciting and so intense because you’re constantly battling and fighting for track position and stage points throughout the course of the race and then when it comes down to the end you’re fighting for every spot on the racetrack.”


WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S BIGGEST STRENGTHS GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS?  “I’ve talked about it a lot in the last couple of weeks, but I would say the 750 package.  Our short track program is really strong right now, and I feel like going into this first round of the playoffs that sets up well for us, so I would say we’ve got to play to our strengths and I would say that the 750 package is certainly where we’re excelling right now.”


IS IT A NEW MINDSET WHEN YOU RETURN TO BRISTOL WITH THE CONCRETE THIS TIME AS OPPOSED TO THE DIRT?  “Bristol on dirt does not correlate at all to Bristol when it’s its typical concrete self.  One thing that I am interested in is the fact that they completely had to wash the racetrack and I believe or I’ve heard they had to spray like a solution on there to get all of the clay and stuff off and pressure wash the racetrack, so it’ll be interesting to see how different the track maybe is just without the rubber that’s laid down in the pores of the concrete and if that changes anything, and then how they apply the PJ1 to the bottom groove.  That’s always a moving target for us on whether they apply it in a small strip or if they widen it out and make it to where it’s a whole car width wide.  It’s always changing the dynamic of how the cars run around the racetrack.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang -- YOU’RE ON THE COVER OF NASCAR IGNITION ‘21.  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?  “Yeah, it’s neat.  As a kid, I played a lot of the NASCAR games growing up and you always like to see who is on the cover, and it’s really cool for me to be included in that.  Hopefully people enjoy the game.  It’s been pretty neat to watch the gaming technology come along, so it’s pretty cool.  I’m the backmarker car on the cover, but, hey, I’m excited to be on it.”


WAS THERE ANY CONVERSATION ABOUT WHAT THE REST OF THE SEASON WOULD BE LIKE AFTER TODD ANNOUNCED HE WAS RETIRING AFTER THE SEASON?  “When Todd announced he was gonna move on and step away from the crew chief role, I couldn’t be upset with him.  He’s been part of racing for a long time and done some great things.  It’s been a pleasure to work with him since the beginning of last year, so my mindset went from, I said, ‘OK, let’s just make it a memorable end of your run.’  So, just trying to do well for him, trying to get him another championship.  That would be a heck of a way to go out for him, and at the same time trying to focus on this and then focus on the future for sure, but the main thought point right now is to get Todd to go out in a blaze of glory.  That’s what everyone wants and hopefully we can give that to me.  It’s been a good year so far.  We’ve done some pretty cool stuff and you just hope to keep it going and send him out with a bang.  That would be pretty neat.”


THERE WAS NO CONCERN ABOUT HIS MOTIVATION OR FOCUS TO END STRONG?  “No.  I mean, he’s not that kind of person.  He’s gonna be motivated and driven to do the same.  He wants to go out as a winner as well, so there was never a worry in my mind where like his mind was gonna be on different stuff or things like that.  I never had that worry at all.”


DOES IT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT GOING INTO THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR AND WHAT DO YOU THINK IS YOUR BIGGEST OBSTACLE?  “I think it’s been nice to finish out the regular season strong, especially with two wins back-to-back right before the start of the playoffs and get a lot of playoff points and be seeded second.  That’s something I haven’t really had in my other playoff attempts is really a lot of bonus points, and not a lot to really have in your back pocket in case you have a bad race or just kind of an extra cushion, so that stuff is nice to have, that’s for sure.  It really does help you out, but really the focus is the same, just trying to do our job the best we can, trying to perform just like we’ve been performing the past couple months here and you just try to keep that up.  It’s definitely a better position to be in on our side than where we have been in year’s past and you just hope to utilize it.”


WHAT DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE THIS WAVE OF MOMENTUM?  “It’s great.  Momentum and confidence are something that we have right now in the 12 group because obviously, the last couple of weekends it really helps get that rolling.  It’s good for everybody, not only for the driver but for the team as well when they have a lot of confidence in themselves and their abilities and you can believe that you can do it and make a strong run at the championship.  That’s part of the game.  You’ve got to believe you can do it and this team does believe in themselves and they have every right to.  They’re a great group of guys.  It’s been a pleasure to work with them, but it’s nice to end the regular season strong and have a good year.  Three wins on the year and you hope to keep that going throughout the playoffs and keep transferring and try to make it to Phoenix and have a shot at a championship.  So, it has been a fun year and it has been nice to end the regular season out this way and start off Darlington here this weekend with a bunch of momentum and our heads held high and we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”


DO YOU STILL USE iRACING AT ALL AND HAVE YOU USED IT AS A SERIOUS FORM TO TRAIN FOR UPCOMING TRACKS?  “The iRacing piece was something for all of us to do last year a lot obviously when we were shut down, and then we did some of it this year with that.  Me personally, I’m not a big iRacing guy.  We utilize the Ford simulator in Concord a lot.  That’s something that we go to a good bit, especially going to new racetracks especially, go to road courses.  We did Darlington this week just because there’s that new patch in one and two, not patch new racetrack through one and two to kind of get prepared for that and get and idea.  So, that’s the most sim I’ll do is the Ford simulator because I feel like it’s a great tool to use, but the iRacing side was fun to do, but it’s not something I really do often.”


ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT ANY SPECIFIC TRACK THIS FIRST ROUND?  “RIchmond is not a place we’ve run spectacular at in the past, but something I really have my mind on is Richmond and Darlington.  Earlier this year we ran the best we’ve ever run.  We ran top five at Darlington most of the day and ended up eighth and at Richmond we ran top five in the first stage and kind of got away from the handling and ended up running 11th and having just a good solid day there, so the confidence for me is having a couple good races there earlier this year.  Once you do have a solid race at a track you might not have had good runs at before, it gives you the mindset of, ‘OK, I haven’t run great here in the past, but we had a good race.  Let’s work on that.’  Now I kind of have an idea of what I need to feel in the car, how I need to drive the racetrack, and what I need to work on throughout the race to try to stay up there and be competitive.  That’s a great notebook we have from earlier this year at both of those racetracks and I’m looking forward to getting back there to build off of that because I think we can run as good there as anywhere else.  It was just a matter of time and you hope to utilize what you learned previously and apply it.”


DO YOU SENSE ANY SORT OF RAMP UP IN HOW THE PLAYOFF DRIVERS GO ABOUT THINGS?  IS IT MORE SERIOUS AND MORE INTENSE?  DOES THAT CHANGE DURING THE PLAYOFFS?  “Yeah, I think so.  Everyone wants to say that you try to keep the same intensity and mindset the whole year.  Why just wait until the playoffs to kind of be in that mode, but I feel like even subconsciously it might change a little bit even if you don’t know it.  It’s playoff time.  There is more intense things going on just because you know what you’re racing for right now and everyone wants to get it.  Yeah, I feel like it does change.  It is a lot more intense racing, I feel like, at some points for sure, so, yeah, it’s just different mindsets for not only the drivers but the teams as well to really perform under these type of situations.  This is what everyone wants.  Everyone wants to perform well under the pressure scenarios and when it comes down to the playoffs and championship time that’s when people rise to the occasion.  So, yeah, I think that does ramp up and it’s something I think I can obviously see and it’s something I’m a part of as well and our group is doing that same thing.  It ramps up, that’s for sure.”


Ron Fleshman

RIS NASCAR Editor.  Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.

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Volume 2021, Issue 8, Posted 11:21 PM, 09.02.2021