Texas Motor Speedway Media Day Transcripts – Part 1 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. & James Hinchcliffe)By Official Release
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY MEDIA DAY TRANSCRIPTS – PART 1
RICKY STENHOUSE JR.
Q: How has your decision to go back to the Nationwide Series for another year helped you?
A: I think it was huge. I definitely respect James (Buescher) for doing the same thing. You feel when it is right to move up and you feel when you need to learn more. For me, I felt like after 2011 – we had won two races, put a whole season together and won a championship – but looking back there was a lot of things that we needed to do better. As a driver, I felt like I had to do a lot to learn. After 2012 we won six races, we won another championship, I felt like we performed better week in and week out. I learned more about what I needed to do throughout the weekend and throughout the race. I had to learn more patience, things like that. I think James’ decision to stay back and go for another truck series title is huge. He didn’t get his first win in NASCAR until last year. It’s difficult to keep putting those together. I think it is a good decision for him and like I said, he is only 22 so he has a little while to go. I think I learned a lot in my second year in Nationwide and definitely going to make me more ready for Cup than if I would have come into it last year. That would have been really difficult.
Q: What is it like having to follow Matt Kenseth and having a major sponsor?
A: It’s good. The sponsor side of things have really taken off and Best Buy has really embraced me coming in being a rookie. Zest and Fifth Third Bank along with NOS and Valvoline are the primary sponsors for our races this year so far. They have been very engaged and we have been doing a lot of things. So the sponsorship side of things has been really fun and neat to work with. The competition side, as you saw, winning at Phoenix – Carl (Edwards) kind of has the No. 17 guys in Jimmy Fennig and we felt like that was the best situation for us. Carl needed to get back to winning form and I told him whatever is the best way to do that we needed it for our company, we needed it for our sport. He is a great ambassador for our sport. To get him back to winning with Matt’s old crew is great and I love the guys that we got. They are really excited and they are guys that I knew for a long time. When I was in ARCA in 2008, I would go hang out around Carl’s car when he was running the Sprint Cup races. So I knew all those guys. Those were guys that were with him for a long time. They believed in what I could do and they were excited to come work with me. On the competition side of things, we still have a lot to learn as a team. We are learning but this past weekend at Phoenix I needed to do some things different in practice that we are trying to learn each and every week. We are off to a good start and definitely have something we can build on throughout the season.
Q: What kind of things are different that you are talking about in practice?
A: I would run my Nationwide car and get it setup in practice and I knew how it was going to be in the race. The way we put it on a scale of 1 to 10, I wanted my car a 2 or 3 type and struggle to turn a bit but in the race I knew it was going to be pretty good. I don’t know what that is what I’m looking for right now in the Cup car so it will be good in the race. It’s a thing that I’m working on for myself. I learned a lot from this weekend. Going into Las Vegas this weekend we are going to be a lot better than we were this weekend in the race because I learned a lot, my guys learned a lot about my feedback. I would say Phoenix was our first race, Daytona doesn’t really count on feedback as far as how the car is handling because it handles fairly well at Daytona. This was our first weekend of really working together as a team in making adjustments to the race car throughout the race and practice. Those are the things I think I learned this weekend to try and get our car a little bit better in practice.
Q: What are your thoughts on the NRA sponsoring the race and the timing of the announcement?
A: I think it is great. The NRA is our core fan base. We all have guns and us racers love to go out and shoot. It’s part of who we are. Any time you have a sponsor that embraces their market and who their core customers are, it’s great for us. I was able to win the NRA race in Atlanta and those guys were great to work with. They take their stuff seriously. They are concerned with the tragedies that we’ve had throughout the country. I think they do a great job at working from their side to help things as well. I think it’s a great partnership here at Texas.
Q: Danica took a hell of a hit yesterday. Do you even know what is going on during a race and what is your thought process?
A: I’ve taken those big hits in race cars before and her and I have talked about it. You can flip down the racetrack and still feel like you are going to be okay. The only thing that really concerns us is probably fires in the race car. Coming around the corner and seeing all the sheet metal and the foam from the door pad, I knew it was a pretty hard hit. I felt like they would have told me if she would have been hurt. I feel like NASCAR has done a really good job, especially with this Gen 6 car, at making them safe. I really wasn’t too worried. Like I’ve been telling people from the start of this, when we are on the racetrack we are focused on what we are doing. It was no different from yesterday. I didn’t once ask how she was doing. I was focused on my racecar. I was focused under that caution talking to my crew chief how to make my race car better. Like the media has been asking, ‘How is it going to affect your on-track performance?’ It’s not going to. Her side or my side.
Q: It’s only been two races but how would you rate the Gen 6 car?
A: So far so good. Obviously the appearance – people love it, drivers love it. There are things I feel like we need to work on. We can’t see out the back of them really well with the big spoiler. People said it was tough to pass at Phoenix but I felt like if we would have had our race car a little better we could have passed more. We just didn’t have our race car where it needed to be. So far so good. I think there are things that we are going to look at as a sport as far as speedway racing goes. If you have a great speedway race, NASCAR is still working on things to make it better because our team is sitting there trying to find the next best thing. I think every speedway race we are always looking at changing it up a little bit for the next one just to make it better each and every time. This was the first time out with it at Daytona and I think we learned a lot and going to make it better by Talladega. I think the first two races went over really well. It’s cool to get the superspeedway, short track and mile-and-a-half the first three races in a row. NASCAR can look at what they need to work on, we as a team can look at what we need to work on to make cars better. I think it’s going to be a great start to the season so far. The excitement level is there. The fans are excited. They are showing up to the racetrack. They are tuning in. It’s a great time right now.
Q: How important will this race be with it being the first 1.5-mile oval on the schedule?
A: I would say it kind of sets the precedence. I feel like other than the Daytona 500 because most of our races are the mile-and-a-half race tracks. Like coming here to Texas, I think Las Vegas kind of sets the tone of what the racing is going to be like. I think it can get better than Las Vegas as far as coming to a track like Texas where it does wear out the tires more than Las Vegas. I think it is going to be a true test to how they really race and what kind of action we are going to see. If it’s not what NASCAR wants you can believe they will make some changes. That is the one good thing I like about our sport is NASCAR is not scared to make a change in the middle of the season or the middle of a weekend if they need to. They really care about the fans perspective and that is essentially why we are in the Gen 6 car is because the fans wanted more identity. They listened and I’m definitely glad to be a part of it.
Q: How is your team focusing on Bristol and the changes with the Gen 6 car?
A: Bristol for me is difficult. I’ve ran a Nationwide car there and obviously it’s a difficult track to get around, especially in the Cup car with all the horsepower. There is no place you can go that is like Bristol. You’ve got to wait until you get there. We have carbon fiber hoods, we have carbon fiber deck lids. I think that’s like what you said, the beating and banging that you are going to have to worry about how the car is going to hold up. It’s going to be interesting to see. I think the one we are looking at is Darlington. Obviously everybody ends up hitting the wall at some point. We were actually talking about that in the trailer this weekend. I think the right side of the car holds up fairly well. I hit it on the first lap at Phoenix and there were no tire rubs and I hit it pretty hard. I think the cars are durable enough to do some beating and banging.
Q: Do you have to take the success you had in the Nationwide Series and start over?
A: I think you can take some confidence away from it. I’ve learned the race tracks. I know where to go and I think that is one think that is beneficial coming into this year, I’ve ran three years on these race tracks and with some of these Cup guys. I think you can learn a lot from racing with those guys and how they are going to race. Those are the things that I have learned. To take what I did in the Nationwide car and say, ‘Hey it worked here at Phoenix or Texas doing this.’ That’s not going to apply. When you have 220 extra horsepower it seems to make things more difficult. The actual success we’ve had I think I can bring my confidence over but it’s definitely starting over.
Q: Do you get some confidence from seeing a guy like Brad Keselowski and knowing that it can happen in a hurry?
A: He was a champion in the Nationwide Series I think three years before he was a Cup champion. It’s all about the best team. It’s not about the best tire changers or the best crew chief. You have to have a team that works really well together and have the same goals and believing in each other. That’s what we had on the Nationwide side. I do feel like we had the best team in Nationwide, but we had a team that got along and hung out together. They really worked well together and that is what we are working on the Cup side making sure that everybody is on the same page and really working hard. That’s what Brad and those guys had with Paul Wolfe coming over and really making that team gel. That is very important. You have to have that aspect of things before you have success like that and I think we are starting that now.
Q: Does the move to the Gen 6 car free you up to where you can bring more engineering to the car?
A: The different body styles is a start. There for a while – I guess they called it the Gen 5 now or whatever it was – every car was the same. I think having the different bodies was definitely a step in the right direction and giving the team some more play time. Engineering things and coming up with new ideas from other manufactures. I think it is a step in the right direction. When the team guys have a little bit bigger room to play with – my engineers work seven days a week. They were at the track yesterday and in the shop today and working hard. They are excited to look for new things.
Q: Have you given any thought that slowing down the Cup cars may make for better racing?
A: I don’t know. They (fans) like speed. When we can come to Texas and you are over 200 miles per hour in Turn 3 fans love that because they can’t go out and run 200 miles per hour. That’s one thing that makes our sport appealing, you can’t just go do it. I don’t know if it would create better racing or not. I’m not an expert on that stuff. I just get in it and drive. I think better handling race cars definitely help because when you feel comfortable in your race car you feel more comfortable in putting it into places that you wouldn’t most certainly if it didn’t handle every well. The bigger spoiler on these things have more downforce so we feel more comfortable running around and maybe putting it on the outside or on the inside of somebody. I think that is going to make better racing, at least that is what we are hoping.
Q: Are there any concerns with the new body style that one manufacture may have an advantage over the other?
A: You look at Daytona and you feel like the Chevrolets were pretty strong, the Toyotas were pretty strong, the Fords struggled a little bit but Phoenix I felt everything was pretty close. Each body is maybe a little better here. I hope a little better at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. But they all are very similar. When NASCAR started this whole process they gave their teams certain numbers. Each manufacturer builds their cars to these numbers and NASCAR tweaks them here or there so that it is pretty similar for everyone. The one cool thing that we have at Ford is the 3D grill. That is one of the cool aspects of our car. The actual body lines. We don’t have decals to make our car look like the street car. It pretty much is the street car. Ford has done a great job with that. As we go hopefully the other manufacturers jump on board to make it as realistic as possible.
Q: How much is there on the drivers to challenge themselves and not ride around single file?
A: You get down to Daytona in July and things are going to be stepped up a little more. Hopefully at Talladega it will be as well. You saw it work with Jimmie Johnson. You get some guys committed to running the bottom it could work at Daytona. The driver were cautious in wanting to finish the race with a race car in hand because – Kevin Harvick finished 42nd in the race and started the year off with one point – none of us wanted to do that. None of us wanted to be in that position. Some of us drivers can take responsibility for it being single file there at Daytona because you did see at the end Jimmie and those guys made the bottom work pretty well. I don’t know what you are going to do to change that.
Q: With your broadcast stuff are you staying focused on racing?
A: What is so cool about our sport is there is so much more to it than driving the race cars and getting to interact with the fans. Winning that fan award last year was very surprising to be honest. It was really cool. It was an honor because the whole reason we get to go racing is because of fans. That’s why we do what we do. As much as drivers like to think that the show is for them, it’s not. We do not do this whole thing just so 25 guys can go tool around in race cars. We do it for a reason. To be acknowledged by them was very cool. TV work is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing. I’ve had some opportunities that I’ve had no business getting in the TV side of things and I’ve really enjoyed it. This new association with SPEED is going to be a lot of fun. But at the end of the day we know number one is driving a race car. The number one goal is to improve on last year. I think we are in a good position to do that being back with Andretti Autosport and the GoDaddy car. That’s what we are going to do. If anything external is starting to interfere with that it’s a real quick fix because that is absolutely the number one priority.
Q: What does it mean for you to come back with the same group to St. Petersburg?
A: I don’t know yet. I’m really looking forward to showing up to St. Pete and being like, ‘Hey, you were here last year.’ Unfortunately the one member of the crew that we did lose was my race engineer, which is the most important relationship on a race team. The fortunate part is that the guy we got to fill that role was my race engineer in 2011. That personal relationship is already there. Craig didn’t run our car last year so I can’t reference, ‘Hey, remember back last year in Texas when we made this change.’ Because Craig wasn’t there for that. We’ve done as much as we can to get him up to speed on what we accomplished last year, what we did right and wrong. I think we are going to be a stronger unit as a result. I’m looking forward to the opportunity really being able to work with the same group of people and just build on what we did last season.
Q: What is it like driving for Michael Andretti?
A: First, driving for Andretti Autosport is a huge honor. The team has an incredible pedigree and with that name behind it there is definitely some weight that comes with it. Michael is different in everyday life than he is in front of a camera or at a race track. When I first heard of the team forming well before I was involved, I would have never assumed how much of a hands on roll he really took. He moved to Indianapolis, he left everywhere else. He wanted to be at the shop almost every day. We wanted to be a hands-on boss. He is very much a part of the decision making process. He is an incredible business man. It is funny, you can see the meticulous preparation he would have done as a racing driver translates to how he runs his race team. He really is a lot more animated and fired up in certain ways when he is away from the race track and not in front of the camera. It has been great to get to know him better and I have been genuinely impressed as he is as a boss.
Q: How motivated are you to get that Indy 500 pole after missing it by such a small amount?
A: A pole at the Indianapolis 500, so many things have to go right. It’s the perfect everything. It’s so hard to put yourself in that position; the team; the car; the weather; the clouds; the wind; where you drew in line. It’s really hard to be in that position again to go for pole. We are obviously going to do our best but we I definitely ruined the missed opportunity. You never know if you are going to be in that position again. It’s such a difficult thing. It’s not just, ‘You had a quick car last year, just make it 0.002 seconds quicker and you will be fine.’ It’s not that simple. I’m looking forward to Indy qualifying a little bit more. I’m a little more nervous about it – more pressure, more expectation for it. Hopefully you don’t let anyone down.
Q: What makes the Firestone 550 more challenging because it is a night race?
A: It looks a little bit faster at night. Though the speedway itself is very lit, everything in your long-distance and peripheral vision is still dark. It narrows your vision up in a sense. It makes the speeds feel even great inside the car. When we start to when we finish, the conditions change quite a bit because the sun is almost just setting. The track cools down a lot. The air cools down a lot which changes a lot. It’s more exciting to see the sparks coming off the cars and everything. I think it’s a great show. I love racing here. I love racing at night, especially here in Texas.
Q: With the ratings going up for the IndyCar Series last year, how important is it to have the Firestone 550 in primetime?
A: It’s huge. To be primetime on network is just massive for us. To do it here as well. This race was known as one of the ones you wanted to watch because of the pack racing was scary. It was exciting. It was absolute seat of your pants racing the entire time. We completely threw that out and we have done a complete 180 in terms of the actual racing. The quality of the product is just as good. It’s a completely different kind of racing but it is just as exciting. The drivers are working harder. You still have a lot of passing, a lot less side-to-side in a pack. But a lot more passing, ebb and flow, cars falling off over a stint. I think this race is a perfect one to showcase in primetime on national television.