Ford Performance NASCAR: Stenhouse and Tifft Charlotte Q&A Sessions

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Thursday, May 23, 2019
EVENT: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Media Availabilities

RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – THE LAST OF YEARS WE’VE BEEN ASKING YOU ABOUT HOW ROUSH IS GOING TO GET BETTER. DO YOU START TO GET IMPATIENT AFTER A WHILE? “Oh, I’ve been over it. Yeah. You always want it to be quicker. I think there are times that we’ve had really, really good runs and there are times that we’ve had quite the opposite, and I think that’s the frustrating part is when you go to one race track and you’re really good, and then you go back to another race track and can’t seem to find that same speed. I think we’re getting better at that, for sure. You always want it to be overnight, but when all the other cars and teams are trying to do the same thing and continue their path of progression, it makes that task difficult. I know it’s tough, but it’s nice to have runs like Kansas and being able to pass for the lead under green and not just restart up there and take the lead, so I think that gave everybody at our place a little bit of confidence that we’ve got a car that’s capable of doing that, we just have to put all the parts and pieces together to do that every week. Another thing that I took from that weekend is we were not very good on Friday and we changed everything in the car and made the same chassis, the same body car with different components underneath and made it fast for racing on Saturday, so that gave me a little bit more confidence that we are building the right things, we just have to make sure we put it all together every weekend.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE YOU’VE GONE THROUGH AND DONE EVERYTHING YOU CAN? “Yeah, I’m no engineer, but I do know that our guys at Roush Fenway work so hard and at some points you’re like, ‘Man, are we working on the right things?’ Because it’s not for the lack of effort put in. I mean, everybody is working really, really hard. We even have a segment of our debriefs on Monday to kind of go over and let at least us drivers know because that was one thing I wanted to know was, ‘Hey, what are we working on?’ So we have a whole section of our meetings that let us drivers know exactly what they’re working on and I think that’s been really beneficial to let us talk about the importance of some of those things that we’re working on and then also just to know that, ‘Hey, we’re working on it.’ Like I said, it’s not from a lack of effort. I think we have a lot more speed in our cars this year than what we’ve had, and that’s kind of the frustrating part is that on those days that we don’t have the speed or the weekends that we don’t have the speed it’s frustrating when you don’t have it. So we just have to get more consistent because we have speed in our cars and we haven’t had speed on the mile-and-a-halves in a long time and this year those are by far our better race tracks, so that’s been neat to see and we’ve had some issues. Heck, I ran into the back of the 18 on lap two at Bristol and I felt like that was the best car we had at Bristol in practice and I ruined that for us, and then you get caught in a wreck at Talladega and then we blew a right-front at Dover. We had three weeks in a row there that were pretty demoralizing, but we bounced back at Kansas and we kind of stepped on our feet at the All-Star Race, but so far this weekend I think we’ve brought a better car than what we had at the All-Star.”

HOW DO YOU AND NEWMAN PUSH YOURSELVES AND YOUR TEAMS TO GET BETTER? “I think the biggest thing with Newman, for me, is he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. I feel like he always gets good finishes out of his cars even if they’re not good and that’s something that I’ve always kind of struggled with. I’ve always tried to take a 15th-place car and make it an eighth-place car, and sometimes you just have to sit back and make small adjustments, keep your track position and get the best finish out of it that you can, and that’s something that I feel like I’m starting to learn from Ryan when it comes to actual driving things, but in team meetings and things like that with his schooling and background that he has I feel like he helps bridge that gap between him and I and our engineers and what we’re working on, so it’s been a really good start to the year as far as teammates go, and I kind of knew that going in – that I felt it was going to be beneficial, but I had never really worked with him before as far as teammates go, so our relationship outside of the car is really good.”

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HOW HAS THE SPONSORSHIP LANDSCAPE CHANGED IN DIRT RACING? “I think we’re attracting, I feel like, more and more partners with better brand awareness. I think Kasey (Kahne) and Tony (Stewart) have always kind of had that, but then I think you look across the board and a lot of teams are doing really well at bringing in those partners. Dirt racing is growing like crazy I think all across the board, not just sprint car racing. I think social media has a lot to do with that. I do think that being able to watch it online, I can watch my car every single night and for somebody like Nos Energy Drink that’s huge. So many people watch that can’t get to the races every weekend and the crowds are growing. We’re getting standing room only at just about every race track you go to, and all of those things help – no different than Cup racing. It’s still difficult. You still don’t cover your whole budget, but it’s definitely going in the right direction.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE MAKING THEIR FIRST COKE 600 START? “Don’t do what I did. My first Cup start was in the 600. I hit the wall on lap nine. We qualified ninth, hit the wall I think two more times after that and ended up the way everything worked out we ended up finishing 11th. We had a really fast car, but you’ve just got to be patient. I think this race I’ve been good during the day and struggled at night, and then I’ve had cars where you kind of stayed the same throughout the whole night. I do think that with this package you’re gonna have a lot of comers and goers when the temperature changes, the sun goes down. I think we saw a little bit of that in the All-Star Race. I felt like my car during the day in practice was driving really good and had OK speed, but once it cooled off everybody else’s car started driving better and the ones with more speed prevailed, so we struggled when the sun went down, and so we brought a different package here, a little bit versus the ideas that we had going into the All-Star Race, so, to me, don’t flip out too early.”

DOES THIS RACE GET EASIER FOR YOU OVER THE YEARS? “It wasn’t hard to begin with. I mean, it’s just more laps and running. I put a ton of training in anyway, but even when I didn’t put a ton of training in I felt prepared. Hydration is key. That’s one thing, and I feel like everybody in the garage is a lot smarter than they used to be when it comes to hydration. That’s the key.”

DO YOU GET INVOLVED WITH WHAT YOU WANT GOODYEAR TO DO WITH TIRES? DO YOU MEET WITH THEM? “I don’t. I know some teams do. I think we’ve voiced opinions and I feel like they might not listen. They do what they feel like they need to do to cover themselves from having too many blown tires and things like that, so I can’t really blame them for that. To me, when we were going the low downforce package I wish we would have got less downforce and even softer tires, so that we had tire fall off and really good at direction. We’ve obviously steered totally away from that and now that our corner speeds are so high you have to have a tire that’s hard enough to withstand that, so I’m actually surprised we haven’t had many tire issues this year, so I feel like Goodyear definitely did a good job building a durable tire. It’s hard. We’d still like it to lose grip and lose speed throughout the run, but I know that’s difficult to do.”

MATT TIFFT, No. 36 Surface Sunscreen/Tunity Ford Mustang – WHAT WAS THE GOODYEAR MEETING LIKE? “I thought it was good. It was constructive. I think it was a chance for some of the veteran drivers in there to really just voice what they’ve experienced over the years. This is such a new package for everybody that we’re all trying to make the racing as good as we can, so a big component of that is the four things that touch the ground. I thought it was good. It was just trying to give direction to how we get the best tire to give the most amount of fall off and create the most amount of passing for those races.”

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT THE TIRE? “I think that a lot of it was covered in the meeting of different ideas. There’s no one way to do it. You’ve got two very different packages with the 550 horsepower package and the 750 package. Here, we’re not always using the limit of the tire, so maybe getting a bit more grip in to try to be able to overcome some of the aero issues that you are going to face, but that being said I think we see our best races have been the last few weeks during these night time, cool races, so just making sure we can keep that going in the daytime, hot and slick races, too.”

DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING? “I think it was more of just a good open conversation to learn what Goodyear’s goals are and what the drivers want to see. Ultimately, we’re all in this boat together.”

THEY’VE DONE THAT BEFORE. “That was my first experience with it, so being a rookie I’m just kind of being a part of it.”

DID YOU SPEAK? “Not on any particular issue, but it’s just definitely cool to see the different opinions, but I think we all have the same thing in mind that we want to be able to create moments where we can have more passing. That’s what the fans want to see, it’s what the metrics show is that when we have a good race it’s because there’s a lot of passing. So how do you make sure you have that every single week because, otherwise, you get single-file and it’s boring, and nobody wants that.”

ARE YOU PLEASED WITH HOW THINGS ARE GOING THIS YEAR? “I think there’s definitely room for improvement on myself and the team side. Front Row as a whole, we’ve been together most of the time, whether it’s on the same straightaway or our practice speeds today we were all three lumped together and I think we’d like to see our speed pick up a little bit and be better week to week. That being said, we’ve had a couple good runs. The last points race at Kansas we were 21st and that’s a good weekend for us, but, overall, we’ve just got to be better at consistency and closing our gap to our Roush alliance partners in there. That’s where we’ve got to close that gap in there. I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the first portion of the season, but at the same time Front Row as a whole has been learning a lot. We know we’re behind the eight ball of where we should be right now.”

HOW DO YOU MENTALLY COMBAT YOUR SITUATION NOW IN TERMS OF EXPECTATIONS? “It’s a totally different deal. You have to be realistic about who you’re racing and what the performance level of the team is and you just try to push that ceiling each week to see where you can get it, but you know you’re gonna be racing guys. We’re around the 43 a lot. We’re gonna be racing against him. The 13, we kind of use those guys as benchmarks – the JTG cars – so you can kind of use that as a benchmark and I think they’ve been slightly better than us this year and that’s where we need to be able to get to. On our good days we’re able to run with some of the third or fourth cars of Hendrick or RCR or whatever, but you certainly want to be there a little bit more consistently and I feel like we’ve just been a little bit off of even the JTG and the Richard Petty car with Bubba there a little bit too much. I feel like the goal for us is to be able to close that gap and run with the 13 and guys like that, that have been established in the low twenties.”

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF AS A DRIVER IN THIS TRANSITION TO CUP? “I think it’s actually been the most fun part for me because we actually have data over here, so you’re actually learning what you’re doing off of SMT and going back and looking at MoTech files and your green flag pit stops and rolling times and all that kind of stuff. You can create yourself to be a much better driver through the Cup process, so I think sitting here today at the end of May I’d say I’m a much better driver than I was at the end of my XFINITY season last year just because between Ford Performance’s access that they give us in the simulator and the things we do within our team, you become a better driver and then with that, for me, I’ve been able to close the gap to where I’ve been able to come up closer to where Michael and David are. Of course, they’re veterans and they have more experience, but I feel like I’ve been able to close that gap some and now our competition meetings are all three of us kind of working together of how we need to get our cars better because I’ve been able to work on myself to get to a closer level of where they were with their experience.”

HOW HAVE YOU WORKED ON YOURSELF TO RUN 600 MILES ON SUNDAY FOR THE FIRST TIME? “I work out a lot with Blake Koch, so he’s been a trainer of mine for the last year, and it’s definitely been a question of, ‘OK, how do you get ready for this?’ And I think a lot of the planning has just been asking other drivers what they do and what they do for hydration schedules. They say to start hydrating a day earlier than what you normally would, especially with how hot it is, but the thing I keep hearing is people are wanting a snack during the middle of this race, so I’ll try to figure out a protein bar or something like that in the middle of the race to keep you going because it is so long, but the one good thing about it is that as the night goes it does get cooler, so you just have to fight through those first 300 miles and then get that little break, that little snack or whatever and kind of reset. The hard part for us is you have to be so good in the daytime to have a race at the end. If you’re too many laps down at that point, you don’t have a shot and you’re just kind of riding. You just want to make sure you’re not in that boat and you can take off how you need to performance-wise.”

YOU’VE HAD A COUPLE OF 500 MILE RACES SO FAR THIS YEAR, BUT IS THERE ANY WAY TO EXPECT WHAT THIS ADDITIONAL 100 MILES WILL FEEL LIKE? “You just have to kind of go one stage at a time, really. That’s been the biggest thing, for me — learning the whole Cup deal from the beginning of the year. In XFINITY you’re like, ‘OK, when is halfway?’ Because you know you have to go at that point. Over here everybody is so aggressive, and you have to play the lap game for where we are, that you’ve got to make sure you’re on the lead lap or just one lap down at the end of that second stage becomes such a huge deal. If you’re one lap down at the end of stage two, more than likely you’re gonna get a top 25 finish, so you just kind of play that game. But I think the same thing applies here. You just have to be able to go as hard as you can at the beginning of those stages and those restarts are so important that you focus on that and the good thing is once you’re kind of done with the job you have to do there, then you’re on the next segment of the race and you do it again. So that’s the easiest thing is just trying to focus on the short term of where you’re at. We haven’t had too much tire fall off this year, so you haven’t really had to manage that on the big tracks. On the short tracks you have, but for a place like here you’ll have to be pretty aggressive and go as much as you can.”

DOES 600 MILES FEEL DAUNTING WITHOUT EVER HAVING DONE IT BEFORE? “It sounds it. I know a couple of years ago I was in the XFINITY race the day before and I think I went out to dinner and did some patio furniture shopping and did some other things and the race was still going on, so it’s a different deal and it is daunting. Shoot, 600 miles is a long time, but at the same time you just try not to get wrapped up too much into that. It’s just like the first 500 miler for the Daytona 500 that I did. You go and you go and you don’t stop until they tell you to. I think the most difficult one for me was Bristol, just because of the pace and the 500 laps there, but it’s still 400 laps around Charlotte Motor Speedwway and that’s no joke either.”

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