Ford Performance NASCAR: Harvick Qualifies Fifth To Lead Ford in Charlotte Cup Qualifying

KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang -- “Today was a good day.  We qualified well.  Our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang had good speed and I think probably should have been wide-open in three and four, but I gave it just a little bit of lift and that’s on me. -- HOW PLEASED ARE YOU WITH THAT?  “It’s nice to practice.  Our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang got a bunch of laps in yesterday to try and hone in on exactly where we want the balance for the race and what we think we need in our car.  To come out and qualify good is a testament to the whole team.  Everybody is working hard.  I know it’s not exactly where we want to be as far as performance, but I feel like we’re getting better.  We did better at Kansas and we’ll just keep plugging away.”

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang -- HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE FANS AND PEOPLE IN THE GARAGE AND QUALIFYING TODAY?  “It’s definitely nice and good timing too for Memorial Day Weekend because I feel like our sport does a really nice job of celebrating the ones that we’ve lost and the reason why we’re able to be out here and do this.  It’s definitely a nice weekend to start getting more and more back to normal, being able to see fans back in the garage, the stands obviously and even the infield.  It’s neat.  I’m glad to see it.  I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to practice more in the future.  I know we don’t have a whole lot planned for this season as we go forward, but as we keep working towards next season and getting back to the point where we can get our practice and qualifying in it will be greatly appreciated.”

YOU HAVE TOP 10 FINISHES IN THE 600 EACH OF THE LAST TWO YEARS.  WHAT’S THE SECRET?  “I don’t have a good answer for you.  I think when we come to the 600 it’s about maintaining throughout 400 laps.  It’s about survival.  It’s about not using up equipment early on, so try and be smart about it.  You’ve got to be aggressive, especially with these restarts and everything as crazy as they are right now, but this race, being as long as it is, you really need to pace it to a certain extent and make sure that you have a clean car to race to the end.  I think we’ve done a good job of that.  We’ve had good calls from the top of the box to put us in good situations, and been able to start moving around the track and try and plan more for the night than the day.  It was nice to have a practice at night yesterday.  I feel like we typically don’t get to practice in the conditions we’re going to race.  Unfortunately, it’s 20 degrees hotter than it will be for the race, but, still, it was nice to be a lot closer.”

LOOKING BACK TO LAST WEEK.  THE GENERAL CONSENSUS WAS IT WAS TOO WET.  WHAT DID YOU THINK?  “Yeah, that’s accurate.  The way I see it, I shouldn’t speak for all the drivers, but in my eyes I didn’t see anybody complaining about racing in wet conditions or a damp racetrack or being slick or undriveable.  That’s not really the issue.  It really comes down to vision.  Once it gets wet enough to where we don’t have vision, that’s where it becomes dangerous and so I think somewhere in the midpoint of that race, I don’t know exactly when it was when it took a second, the rain let up, it was a little bit more of a drizzle, they Air Titaned off the long straightaway that was getting such a bad roost and that made it manageable for a good period of time and then once it started to rain heavy again once you can’t see it’s just flat-out dangerous.  I think the call, ultimately, even though I wanted to go longer and we would have been better off if it would have kept going from a finishing position, the call was right.  I mean, it was the worst it had been the entire race there right at the end when they brought us down pit road.”

DO YOU FEEL SAFE FOR THE PLAYOFFS EVEN THOUGH GUYS LIKE HARVICK AND HAMLIN HAVEN’T WON YET?  “No, I definitely don’t feel safe.  It’s too early to feel like you’re locked in on a points situation, for sure.  The points are too close.  There’s a lot of winners.  The guys that haven’t won yet, a lot of the ones you’d expect to get those wins are ahead of us in points still, so I don’t feel like that’s something that’s going to just very quickly knock us out, but it’s more of the surprises that I think will get us.  So, we need to get a win and I think that would -- even that is not going to completely make me feel warm and fuzzy inside and feel like we’re locked in, but it would be a huge step in the right direction so that we can feel much better about it as we head into the last dozen races getting ready for the cutoff.”

IS THIS SEASON PLAYOFFS OR BUST?  “No, not necessarily.  The playoffs are such a huge part of what we do and points racing has become way more involved now that there is this playoff format.  I personally don’t like points racing and so I don’t really care for -- it shouldn’t be like that -- but for everything that goes into making the playoffs it shortens your regular season, it makes you make decisions rarely on the side of caution at times, I feel like.  I like racing when you go win a race you’re maximizing your points situation so you go give it your all and that’s how you build points up, so with that, yeah, the points are a huge deal, but I think we need to race every race like we’re going to try and win and with that the points will fall as they will.  The playoffs are important and we need to work on getting in there and we are right now.  We’ve done a good job with that, so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, but it’s not an all or nothing situation I don’t believe.”

RYAN NEWMAN, No. 6 Kohler Generators Ford Mustang -- WE HEAR BRAD IS GOING TO THE 6 CAR NEXT YEAR, SO WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO NEXT YEAR?  “I don’t know anything.  I’ve not been told anything to know, and I’m just doing my thing.  My goal is to continue with the 6 car and focus there and try to get our Roush Fenway Ford in victory lane and have a shot and chance to be in the playoffs and then prove we’re capable of more than people think we are.”

DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION WHETHER YOU WANT TO CONTINUE RACING?  “I think that’s everybody’s decision routinely and obviously there’s a lot of transition next year, so I don’t think I’m the only  person you could ask that question to.”

DO YOU WANT TO CONTINUE RACING?  “I want to continue racing, yeah.  I love what I do.  There’s no doubt that I’m very passionate about the sport, the people, the cars in many ways.  I’ve got more experience and tenure to have I guess a more sound opinion about it, so I like having that and it’s not because I think people will listen to me just because I think being an engineer and having a background the way I do that it makes sense.”

SOME PEOPLE WOULD SAY YOU’VE BEEN AROUND 20 YEARS.  IT’S A GREAT CAREER, SO WHY KEEP GOING?  “Yeah, and no doubt it is and it has been, but the reality is I still haven’t accomplished what I want to accomplish and I don’t know that I ever will.  I could have Mark Martin syndrome, but, in the end, he was around for a long time and he’d be a good person to ask was if he did it right, if he retired right, if he’s happy, if he’s satisfied with his career.”

I DON’T KNOW IF THERE IS A RIGHT WAY OR A WRONG WAY.  “There never is.  In this case I don’t think there is.”

DOES IT FEEL MORE LIKE IT DID A COUPLE YEARS AGO AT THE TRACK?  “It’s just nice to actually qualify the way we used to qualify and have people around in the form of fans.  I’m happy that it is more like that in the grand scheme of things for lots of reasons.  It’s Charlotte.  It’s home.  It’s beautiful weather and we’ve got the opportunity to go out and do what we do and have some fun.”

HOW CAN THIS SUMMER STRETCH REALLY TEST A TEAM WITH HOW UNIQUE THE TRACKS WILL BE?  “It seems no matter what series or what kind of race car you’re in the summer stretch is always something that’s talked about and it’s important here because of the way our season is structured.  It’s a big part of what happens right before the playoffs, so you’ve learned as a team, maybe you’re new, you’re together, you’ve got a new crew chief or whatever, but you’ve got a chance to expand upon what you’ve had and now that’s even more important because we get to a few tracks that we actually get to practice, so just even yesterday in the 50 minutes I felt like I was a race car driver all over again because, to me, a race car driver has input -- not to say that I didn’t -- but getting a chance to practice and experience and feel and make adjustments that we wouldn’t normally do.  All of our development with our cars has been on simulation, simulators, computers, subjective feedback from the drivers on what we need, but when I feel it and it can prove it, then it’s so much nicer.”

HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO CHANGE YOUR MINDSET FROM WEEK TO WEEK WHERE SOME WEEKS YOU PRACTICE AND SOME WEEKS YOU JUST GET IN THE CAR AND GO?  IT MUST BE WEIRD TO SWITCH THAT ON AND OFF.  “It is, but it is what it is.  It’s like traffic on the interstate.  You can be cruising along and all of a sudden you need to stop and you have to adjust.  Sometimes you have to bail out and plan accordingly and that’s just the way it works now.  There’s a lot more and different variables than we ever used to have and that’s OK, but sometimes it’s not OK.”

THAT BEING SAID, ABOUT LAST WEEK THE COMMENTS FROM HARVICK.  DOES HE SPEAK FOR YOU?  “I said after the race, to me, it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done sitting in the cockpit of a car, going as fast as I was without being able to see.  I’ve had cars that are on fire, tires blown, things like that, and felt like I still had some control, but you don’t have control when you lose that sense of vision.  That was my biggest problem with everything that happened.  NASCAR was boxed in, no doubt.  Started off sequence on rain tires versus slicks.  We got to a point where they didn’t know how good we couldn’t see and I mean that with every word that I said -- how good we couldn’t see -- and it was dangerous.  It was dangerous in many ways and I feel like we got completely lucky and I’m happy that we got lucky, but we damn sure better make sure we adjust to it and make sure that we don’t put ourselves in that situation again.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang -- HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE SOME NORMALCY?  “Yeah, it’s nice to be at the racetrack and have some normalcy, but it’s frustrating at the same time to just be off the way we have been.  We’re struggling right now to make sense of it all, so just really struggling for grip and can’t figure out what we need in our race cars to go fast and make them drive good.”

MATT DIBENEDETTO, No. 21 Menards/Masterforce Tools Ford Mustang -- ARE YOU GOING TO BE PART OF TEAM PENSKE OR THE WOOD BROTHERS NEXT YEAR?   “I hope so.  I don’t know.  I haven’t heard anything to be honest with you.  I’ve just been pretty much focused on our performance of our 21 and trying to win and keep improving our team, so that’s been the main focus.  But to answer everyone’s questions, because I’ve gotten it a lot, there’s been no discussions, no word to me yet, but, obviously, yeah, I would hope so.  I love being in the Ford camp.  I love driving for the Wood Brothers.  It’s a dream come true and we have our alliance with Team Penske, which is awesome and they’re a great group, so I hope the opportunity comes about.  Everyone knows me.  I’m an open book, so I’ll let everybody know whenever I know something.”

IS THERE A TIME WHERE YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE TO START TALKING TO OTHER PEOPLE?  “In my contract the date is, I believe it’s September 1 that I would have to have an answer by of ‘hey, we want you or are interest in you or explore other options.’  That would be my best answer of that.  Hopefully, I would obviously like to know sooner and hopefully get an opportunity.  There are lots of rumors flying around.  I really don’t know anything more than any of you guys or anyone on social media.  I literally know not a thing more than anyone else, so I’m pretty much just speculating like everybody else and taking my best guess at it.”

IT’S SAFE TO ASSUME THAT WHETHER IT’S THE 2 OR THE 21 TO STAY IN THE PENSKE CAMP WOULD BE PREFERABLE?  “Yeah, absolutely.  Yeah, definitely.  It will be interesting with the new car coming out.  I think we still have areas that we need improvement as a team and keep on digging, so, yeah, I love being a part of the Ford Camp.  If I can continue on, to answer your question, and continue to be a part of our fold that the Penske -- Cindric is driving the 21 car next year is the announced plan and such, so, yeah, if I could stay in that Penske fold and the Ford camp that’s obviously home and that’s my family that I’m lucky to be a part of, so I’d like to extend that relationship and hopefully it works out.”

ARE YOU GLAD TO SEE PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?  “Yeah, it’s great.  It’s good to have it back, good to get some time working with the team to work on this.  Like I was talking about, we do have some weaknesses and things I haven’t really been satisfied with with our race cars at certain places and the feel that I need, but we haven’t been able to work on them because we’ve never had practice.  So, it was nice to be like, ‘Hey, let’s go through a few changes I’ve been wanting to do for only a year-and-a-half.’”

SO IT WOULDN’T BREAK YOUR HEART TO ADD SOME PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING THE REST OF THIS YEAR?  “I would be OK with it because, like I said, there’s just a lot of things I’ve been dying to try to get that feel of the car like I need at certain places where we’ve been lacking, but we don’t have the opportunity to work on them without practice, so I definitely feel like we could be much further improved as a program if we did have the opportunity to practice more often, so I’m looking forward to that moving forward and if we do that some at some of these places and then obviously next year getting back to normal I feel that’s a strength of mine is knowing the feel I need in the car.”

ANTHONY ALFREDO, No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang -- WHAT MAKES THIS RACE SO DIFFERENT FROM 500 MILE RACES?  “I think just the expectations and the energy of the fans and the hype around the event, just because it’s so notorious, such a big event.  I’ve been coming here as a fan for many years, so it’s pretty surreal and a blessing to be competing in it now, so I’m ready to take on all 600 miles.  We focused on our race run speed over our qualifying speed.  That’s one lap versus 600 miles tomorrow.  It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish, so I’m looking forward to it.”

CAN ANYTHING FROM TODD’S EFFORT IN THE TRUCKS TRANSFER TO YOU?  “We’ll see.  He did well last night and hopefully we can find a little bit of that.  I know some of the truck stuff is different with the engine package and some of the aero and all that stuff, so it’s a little bit different, but it’s definitely a lot of positive energy throughout Front Row Motorsports ever since Michael won the 500 and now Todd won a truck race, so hopefully our 38 Cup team can get one or something soon.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING.  WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THIS ALL THE TIME?  “It’s just so different.  For me as a rookie, it’s definitely harder to not have any practice or any qualifying.  It just hurts our starting position and our laps.  You kind of have to unload with something pretty competitive because you can only make such minor adjustments in the race, so it’s definitely been nice to have it back.  I know the fans love.  The drivers love it and I don’t think we ever have to go back to as much practice as there used to be, but I think this one one-hour session kind of thing works pretty well.  It’s just nice for me to get in a rhythm.  This was my first time qualifying a Cup car on an intermediate so far, so that was pretty weird as well considering we’re almost halfway through the season.”

LOTS OF CHAOS LAST WEEK.  WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT RACING IN THE RAIN? “It was definitely not possible towards the end of that, but I think it was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed it and I believe if we come up with some solutions like better wipers, better defrosters, just little things that we could work on we can race in those conditions -- maybe not as extreme as when the race actually was red flagged, but I think with the current equipment we have we could definitely race when it was damp and it wasn’t raining like after that red flag in the middle of the race.  But I think we could race in actual rain conditions if we just work on a couple things because I certainly enjoyed it.”

CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 Ford Mustang -- WHAT MAKES THE CUP AND NXS CARS DIFFERENT?  “Throttle time for sure.  Out there in qualifying it’s pretty easy wide-open the whole time in the Cup car than the XFINITY car.  Even in qualifying we’re all the way out of the gas for quite a while and on the brake and everything else.  The biggest thing is downforce.  They’re definitely slipping and sliding around a lot more than the XFINiTY car, so it’s been hard on the XFINITY side just getting back used to it even only sitting out five or six months, so it’s been a little bit of a challenge on that side to get up to speed where I’d like to be, but we’ve got 300 miles to figure it out, so we’ll see how it goes.”

WILL 300 MILES TODAY BE ANY INDICATOR OF HOW THE CAR WILL HANDLE TOMORROW?  “No, I don’t think so.  You might be able to maybe see where the PJ1 is going, but it’s 600 miles and you’re gonna figure it out anyway.  Maybe you’ll kind of see where the track is changing a little bit and green flag pit stops -- everything is so different on the XFINITY side, so it’s hard to really compare and take away anything, but anytime you can have seat time, whether it’s in a truck, XFINITY car or Cup car it’s gonna help.”

HOW DIFFERENT IS IT GETTING ON AND OFF PIT ROAD IN THE TWO SERIES?  “It’s definitely the same principal, but it’s just totally different.  The XFINITY side a lot of the time there were just 12-15 guys you were pitting with,  In our situation last year I always had an opening in or an opening out.  Now, you’re pitting with thirty-something guys.  You’re coming around somebody or pitting behind somebody.  It’s just a lot harder to really capitlize on pit road, and then the green flag pit stops I think last year I maybe only did 12 or 13 of them.  This year, we’ve done 12 or 13 in a matter of like three races, so just getting those reps.  All those things take time to get used to.  It’s like second-nature to these guys who have been in the Cup Series for a while now and for me it’s still fairly new.  As I continue to get reps I feel like I’m getting better and better at that.”

CAN YOU WORK ON THAT IN THE SIM?  “I think it has to be real life.  You can go on the sim and all these things, but you can’t simulate actually on pit road in the sim and then even coming to green.  There’s a certain fear factor in real life of if you over cook it or miss it.  In the sim, there’s no penalty for missing it or trying to get in way deep, so I think it’s all real life stuff.  You only get reps doing it in real life.  The sim is great for trying to get experience, but it’s not the same.”

COLE CUSTER, No. 41 Feeding America/Wow Wow Ford Mustang -- HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FINALLY GET TO QUALIFY WITH THIS TEAM ON AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK?  “It’s nice just to kind of have a baseline for some kind of standpoint.  We haven’t really been able to try things how we want to and figure out what our real issues are, so being able to come here and really figure out what makes a difference and what doesn’t when we make changes on the car was huge.  We try to make it so we can race better.  We didn’t have all the speed.  We didn’t plan on having all the speed, but hopefully we can just have a good handling car for the 600.  It’s a really long race, so you’ve just got to be there at the end.”

IS THIS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SHR TO TURN THINGS AROUND?  “Yeah, I think it’s just something you have to try things in the car to see if they’re better or worse and we haven’t really had the time to do that.  It definitely helped getting us steered in a little bit of the right direction.  We still want more practice.  I’ll say that.  It wasn’t enough of what we want, but it was definitely good to have that little bit of time to see what made the difference.”

THERE’S STILL A FEW RACES LEFT IN THE REGULAR SEASON.  DO YOU FEEL THERE’S ENOUGH TIME TO CLIMB AND GET IN THE PLAYOFF HUNT?  “With how COTA went it really set us back there, so we’re gonna probably have to try to win a race or have something big happen.  There’s a lot of stage points up for grabs here, though.  There are four stages, so I think it’s just a matter of we’ve got to work as hard as we can to find the little things that can make us better and then we have to execute how we need to.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE CAR AT COTA AND THE SAFETY TRUCK CAME UP TO YOU?  “I didn’t talk to them, so I don’t know.  They might have just been coming close to the car and everything.  They might have saw me, but it’s definitely nerve-racking.  Even if we can’t see, the drivers can manage it in some standpoint.  Last week was probably too extreme, but, especially when there are safety workers out there and stuff like that.  That’s probably the thing we have to look out for the most and drivers getting out of the car.  When you can’t see people like that, it can lead to some bad things happening, so that’s probably the thing we have to look at most when we’re racing in that low of a visibility.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN THE FIRE STARTS?  ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT GETTING OUT OF THE CAR AS FAST AS YOU CAN OR ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT OTHER CARS BEHIND YOU?  “For me, once I unbuckled by belts I was like, ‘I kind of regret this,’ because you kind of realize people are still driving by you and they might not see you, but at the same time there was a bunch of fire coming through the firewall.  It was the most fire I’ve ever seen in a cockpit in my time that I’ve been racing, so the instinct is you’ve got to get out, but if I did it again I probably would have stayed in a little longer, but you’d rather not be put in that situation also.  So, it’s just a matter of we just have to balance when we can race in the rain and when we can’t just from a visibility standpoint of you could run safety workers over or bad things can happen.”

IT WAS A HEAVY IMPACT.  HOW DID YOU FEEL AFTERWARDS?  “I didn’t feel anything.  When you see somebody about 50 miles an hour slower in front of you, you’re thinking of the worst and, honestly, it didn’t hurt that much.  I was really surprised, so it’s really a testament to everybody at SHR and everybody at NASCAR and, still, it’s cool that they have the in-car cameras for everybody in the Cup Series because you can kind of look at your wreck and see what you can still make better by your safety equipment.  I think it’s definitely good and they’re moving in the right direction of that it’s just balancing when we race in the rain and when we don’t.”

ANYTHING YOU CAN CHANGE OR MAKE BETTER AFTER THAT ACCIDENT?  “Little things, just with the helmet and the belts and stuff like that, but nothing -- all my stuff from Simpson and everything from Hendrick seats and everything from SHR did really great, so it’s just a matter of fine-tuning it.”

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 5, Posted 2:06 PM, 05.29.2021