FORD FAST FACTS:
• Aric Almirola will be driving the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion this weekend, replacing Kasey Kahne.
• Travis Kvapil has the task of trying to qualify the No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford Fusion on speed today while David Gilliland and Tony Raines have guaranteed spots for Front Row Motorsports.
• The last Ford NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Martinsville came in 2002 with Kurt Busch (15 races ago).
• There are no current Ford drivers in this weekend’s field with a
NSCS victory at Martinsville.
• Richard Petty has the most race wins (15) as a driver at
Martinsville and the most victories as an owner (19).
Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards all held Q&A sessions Friday at Martinsville Speedway in advance of Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500. Transcripts of each interview are below.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF RUMORS THIS WEEK ABOUT RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS. IF RPM WERE TO GO AWAY, HOW WOULD IT CHANGE THE FORD EFFORT AND WHAT YOU GUYS ARE DOING? “Losing Kasey and Kenny Francis, Slugger and some of the other guys is gonna hurt to a certain point, but everybody is gonna have a different opinion on that. I usually get in trouble when I give my view on it, but I will just say that I don’t think bigger is always better. I think sometimes you can be smaller and really focus on going racing, instead of just being so huge and running around trying to manage the huge company. I think sometimes maybe from a driver’s perspective we could be more competitive.”
KASEY IS CLIMBING IN A NEW CAR THIS WEEKEND. YOU HAD TO DO THAT ONCE WHEN YOU SUBBED FOR BILL ELLIOTT. HOW TOUGH IS THAT? “It’s always different when you go and work with different people or people that you’re familiar with aren’t there anymore. It’s always a little bit different, but I don’t think it’s gonna be that big of a deal with these cars.”
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS THESE LAST FIVE RACES? “We haven’t had a win for a long time, so we certainly would like to get back to Victory Lane and get back to winning with the 17 and finish as high as we can in the points and be ready for next year.”
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK THIS WEEKEND? “So far we’ve started out pretty well. Our qualifying practice was decent. I think that we have a good shot at qualifying well and getting a good starting position. We’ve yet to see how we’re gonna run in race trim, but the last time we were here we ran pretty well. Matt Kenseth ran really well. I thought he had a chance to win the race, so we’re going off of our best car from the last race with some improvements, so hopefully we can have a good run.”
YOU STARTED YOUR CUP CAREER WITH 17 RACES LEFT IN THE SEASON. HOW HARD IS IT TO START IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEASON WITH A NEW TEAM? “For me, I can only speak from my experience, but we had to weigh whether or not I should just run the seven races to try and retain my rookie status, or if we should just go for it and try to build for the 2005 season. We decided that the more time we could get with me in the car, working with Bob and working with the guys, that that would be the best thing.
If you’re talking about right now, yeah, if you have to change teams right now, right now would probably be a difficult time to do it, but if you’re preparing for next season there’s no better time than as soon as you can start working together. With the way the season is structured, what’s gone on this week might turn out to be the best case for everyone involved performance-wise for next year. To be clear, I know nothing about the details of what’s going on. All I know is Kasey is in the 83 and he’s not in the 9. That’s truly the extent of what I know about the deal.” DAVID RAGAN AND DREW HAVE CLICKED ON THE 6 CAR. ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO FIGHT FOR HIM AFTER THE YEAR IS OVER? “Yeah, they’re great on the chart here. They beat us at Charlotte. They’ve really stepped it up. That’s great for David Ragan, but we’re gonna have to sit down at the end of the year and decide where Drew is gonna go. It’s really up to Drew, but I would take him in a heartbeat, but it depends upon his analysis of what’s going on with that team and what him and David determines the best. If it’s the best for Drew to stay there, then I guess he’ll stay there. But, yeah, I was a little nervous about that when we moved Drew that I wouldn’t get him back and I guess if I don’t, that’s a sign that the best case is happening.” DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR SIDE IS PLAYING CATCHUP IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES BECAUSE RESULTS WITH THE NEW CAR HAVE NOT BEEN AS GOOD AS YOUR OPPOSITION? “Yeah, definitely.
Charlotte was a huge struggle. I’m not sure when the last time was we raced that hard for 13th or wherever we finished, but that’s pretty frustrating. The reason I can have hope is that I believe our engine program will be better for next year, if we’re able to institute the FR9, to run it and develop it. That’s all I can hope for. I know how good our guys are. I feel very confident that my abilities to run those Nationwide cars and I feel like, yes, we are playing catch up.
If we can catch them, that would be great, but we’ve got to do it.
But I think the engine will be a big deal. I think if we can get a little help there, it’ll be good. If not, it’s gonna be a tough season and we’ll have to use everything we can, but there’s still a lot of time between now and then. A lot can happen.” HOW MUCH HAS RPM HELPED ROUSH FENWAY AND HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT THEY SURVIVE AS A TEAM? “Like I said, I don’t know the details of the relationship entirely. I don’t know exactly where all the money goes and things like that, but for me personally, for Bob and for our team, when we sit down in our competition meetings and are able to use things not only the drivers say but the crew chiefs and their strategies and things they’ve learned over the years, it’s been hugely helpful to me.
I feel like it’s a big help. I feel like if they were to go away or that relationship were to dissolve that it would be bad for our Aflac team’s performance. So I think we need to do everything we can from the performance side to keep them going. That is my opinion. That doesn’t take into account the business side of it.”
CARL EDWARDS CONTINUED – HAD YOU WORKED WITH AJ ALLMENDINGER BEFORE HE CAME TO RPM? “No, but my trainer, they worked with him a little bit, so I knew of AJ. I knew of his talent and then I worked with a guy who was like his team manager or something at one of the road courses we went to, so I was aware of him and had some knowledge of AJ. We see him running really well now and people that are close to him have been telling me for a couple years now how massively talented he is and if he figures this out how good he’s gonna be and it shows now.
He’s able to run up front all the time, but I didn’t work with him first-hand before this. There was a road course we went to, it’s like a guy who coached him or worked on his team helped me and I can’t remember if AJ and I talked or not, but I remember that gentleman helped me and I think it was when we went to Montreal for the first time.” HOW DO YOU RECONCILE WHAT JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO?
“It’s just pretty amazing. I guess there are a lot of other words for it, but it’s amazing. They’ve just been able to perform at a level, we’ve been at that level and have performed at that level before, but we haven’t been able to perform at that level for five years. To be able to constantly perform at that level is the thing that’s pretty spectacular to me. We’ve just got to go beat them. We’ve got to figure out how to do it better than them, but, right now they’re able to perform better on the race track better than anyone else over a long period of time. It’s pretty spectacular.” HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT THE SPORT NEEDS A DIFFERENT CHAMPION? “It’s a sport, so the best man wins. That’s how it goes. If Jimmie is the fastest and he wins, that’s okay. It’s a sport. What is the other option?
What do we do? We go out, we have the rules set, we all race under the same rules, we race at the race track and when it’s over, whoever wins, wins. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. People are always gonna resent a certain level of success. I respect Jimmie for what he’s done, more importantly I respect him as a person. He’s a decent guy to compete with. I really enjoy racing against him. Win, lose or draw he comes over and shakes your hand afterwards. You get beat by a guy like that because he did better than you that day, that’s just the way it is.” DO TEAMS RACE DIFFERENTLY NOW AS OPPOSED TO IN PREVIOUS YEARS WHEN IT WAS A SEASON-LONG POINT SYSTEM? “Yeah.
I like to think that. I like to think, ‘Boy, I really won the championship in 2008,’ but I didn’t. I scored more points, but they didn’t make the chase format after the last race was completed. The chase format was the whole season, so you can’t really go back with hindsight and say, ‘Would it have worked out this other way,’ because we would have been racing under a different format. So, yes, I believe that teams race a little bit differently because they know what we’re doing here. It’s like boxing. If you know you’ve got 12 rounds, you might box a little bit differently the first few. I think that it’s hard to say that. As much as I’d like to say that, considering we all have the same rules and we all know what they are before the season starts, I don’t think that’s completely fair to say.
It’s an arguable point, I guess.” DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE LAST 10 RACES DIFFERENTLY? “I think if you’re good enough you can do that.
If you’re struggling, you’re just hanging on and running everything as hard as you can for the first 26, but I think there are teams that once they realize they’re fast enough at the beginning of the year, they might do some things that short-term might not be the best, but at the end they’re better. I think that is possible.” EVERY YEAR THE
48 DOES WAY BETTER IN THE CHASE THAN THE REGULAR SEASON. “That might be evidence of their superiority. Maybe they’re the only team that is capable to run well enough to be confidently in the chase and then change gears and be a little more aggressive at the end. I don’t know. I would say that if our cars were as fast as they were in 2008 every year, I would say that there would be some interesting things we could do strategically, we could afford to do some things that maybe we couldn’t do if we were just hanging on to make sure we’re in the chase. It’s all speculation, I don’t know what really goes on in their shop, but the proof is in the results there. They’re just able to do it.”
CARL EDWARDS CONTINUED – DO YOU SEE ANYTHING WITHIN ROUSH FENWAY’S SYSTEM THAT SHOULD BE CHANGED? “I’ve won 16 races at Roush and I have a ton of respect for Jack and Robbie and the way they do things, and I’ve never driven for anyone else, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. It is interesting to me that Jamie has had the level of success he’s had this season considering how much he struggled at Roush. I don’t know if that’s specific to Jamie and how he interacted with the people there, or the circumstances he was in, I don’t know.
But it is interesting and it’s almost shocking in a way how people can move in this sport and go somewhere different and perform completely differently. I don’t know what that is.” CHILDRESS MADE CHANGES WITH MANAGEMENT AND THINGS HAVE GOTTEN BETTER. “I know from my limited experience I have about four employees and it’s very difficult to manage that, so I don’t know how guys like Jack Roush or Richard Childress or Chip or any of those guys do it to begin with and then to do it well seems very difficult. But the other thing is I don’t know if that’s the difference between running really well or not. There was a stretch a couple weeks back 10-12 races where our 99 team scored more points than anybody in the sport. Right then I said, ‘Okay, we’re doing everything perfectly. We’re on top right now. We’re actually performing better than anyone else.’ That comes and goes and our management didn’t change. I just don’t know. That’s a tough part about the sport, but it’s spectacular what Jamie has been able to do this year and it definitely makes me look and my crew chief and everyone over at Roush look and say, ‘Hey, are we missing something?
If Jamie is able to go run this well with some different circumstances, maybe there’s room for improvement with our team.’ I think we just have to talk to Jamie about that, if he’d tell me. I don’t know if he would (smiling).” HOW IMPORTANT IS TO YOU TO POSSIBLY WIN THE LAST RACE AT GATEWAY? “Gateway would be spectacular to win tomorrow. The races that we’ve won there have all been really special to me. The one in the spring was a little more exciting than I would have liked, but it was special nonetheless. To be able to win the last race, like I said last week, I’m still in denial. I don’t think that will be the last race there. I hope we can work something out and run there again because it’s close to home. That track has provided some really, really great racing. In the Truck Series and the Nationwide Series it’s been, I think, one of the most exciting tracks we go to. Whatever is going on with trying to get fans there it’s not working, so hopefully someone can come in there and understand how to fix that and maybe in the future we’ll race there again. But that will be a bittersweet race tomorrow no matter how it turns out.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – HOW WAS PRACTICE AND WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE WEEKEND? “The first practice went remarkably well. I don’t know what happened, but I think we finished up near to the top 10 or the top 5. I’ve either figured something out or the track is being good to me, or we’ve got our car a little bit better than it’s been in the past. All kidding aside, it seems like it’s decent for the first part of it. Hopefully, we can qualify up there and then tomorrow work on trying to get it to run like that on long runs. That’s going to be the important part, so I feel pretty good about it so far, and I’m looking forward to Sunday.” HOW MUCH HAS ROUSH FENWAY BENEFITTED FROM THE RPM RELATIONSHIP? “I think that we’ve benefitted greatly from the relationship. I would have to say we’ve probably benefitted a little bit more from the relationship than they have. That may not be a true statement. We’ve gotten our cars better and more competitive because of some technology that they had, but I think we’ve been able to help them on parts and pieces and producing their cars and manufacturing and all those, so I think it’s been a two-way street, but we’ve benefitted speed-wise, which competitiveness-wise we’ve got a greater benefit out of that part of it. They’ve probably got a greater benefit out of having more durable pieces and not having stuff breaking on the race track.
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED – “It’s important for them to survive because the relationship between our company and their company, they can bring information to the table that we can learn at the race track, and it helps us, I think, to be able to manufacture parts and pieces for them, similar to what Hendrick does for other people, and Gibbs, so I think it’s important they survive, and for Ford. We’re the only Ford team – the two of us – so I think it’s important we keep their presence in the sport.” DID ALL THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES FALL INTO PLACE FOR DENNY TO WIN THIS RACE IN THE SPRING? COULD THAT HAPPEN AGAIN? “Well, I think a little of both. I think tires are important here. Tires are worth a lot of speed, but you’ve got to be able to pass. When the cars are side-by-side it makes it difficult to pass here, so there were some unique circumstances with bumping and banging and the cars got slowed up, he got some lane choices there that worked for him. Can it be done? Certainly. There will be guys that do it again this year. I tend to like to have tires on it and to have grip, so you can really go, but track position is nice as well, so you’ve got to juggle between one another on track position or tires.” WHAT DO YOU DO WITH 15 TO GO? “Fifteen to go I’m probably thinking about two, and a lot of it depends on how many laps I have on my tires. Do I have 140 laps on my tires or 125, or do I have 60 or less? That makes a big impact as well. The other thing is when was the last caution? There’s so much that goes into it. Let’s say there was a caution 10 laps earlier, or 15 laps earlier and everybody stayed out.
Well, from 12th on back everyone stopped for tires. Now we went another 12 laps and the caution comes out again. If we pit, 12th on back are staying out because they got tires 15 laps ago, so now you’re gonna start eighth with cars that have pretty good tires. If you stay out, you’ve got eight cars behind you that you might be able to stay in front of that the new tires are stuck behind, so there are so many scenarios that can happen and that’s what a crew chief has to determine – all those scenarios and what if, what if, what if.” HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CHASE SCENARIO RIGHT NOW? “It’s frustrating that you work all season and it gets down to you pitted and the caution came out and trapped you, and then it comes down to we had the engine too lean and we blew up. Therefore, we’re out of the hunt and we’ve got to wait until next year to make another go at the title.
First, we’ve got to make the Chase and then we’ve got to perform again. That’s a lot to think about and a lot to look towards. As far as the championship goes, the reality is that if you’re not in it, I don’t really care. If I can’t win it, then it really doesn’t affect me. If Jimmie wins it again or Denny wins it or Kevin Harvick or Tony, it’s not gonna impact me that much. I’m just gonna compete and try to do the best I can and see where I can get to in the points and just see what happens.” YOU’VE HAD TWO TOP-10 FINISHES AT TALLADEGA IN THE LAST THREE RACES. HAS SOME STRATEGY WORKED FOR YOU OR IS IT LUCK? “I think both. Stay out of the wreck and stay out of the wreck. That’s gotten us top-10 finishes. We’ve got good cars. We almost won the Daytona 500. We’ve been right there restrictor plate racing, it’s just a matter of some you get through and some you don’t.
I like restrictor plate racing, but I don’t like being in the wreck.
Hopefully, we have another top 10 run coming up. I’m looking forward to it and maybe the tides will change if the 48 wrecks and Mulhern will have something to write about when he’s 60 points behind (laughing).” IF YOU WERE JEFF GORDON AND 156 POINTS OUT OF THE LEAD, DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE OUT OF IT? “No, he’s not out of it because if those three wreck at Talladega, where is he at? That’s very possible. Now, ask me that question after Talladega and I’ll tell you whether I think he’s out of it or not, but at 150 points, he’s not out of it. The thing you’ve got to remember at Talladega is about every car finishes, so we’re coming to the white and those guys wreck, they get 36th place. It’s not like you’re gonna get 21st. You spin out on the white flag and you’re in the gutter. Now, if they all run in the top 15 or top 10 at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, yeah, he’s out of it. But next week is gonna determine how far. He’s got to gain points next week on at least two of those guys that are furthest ahead of him.”
GREG BIFFLE CONTINUED — SO THAT IS THE WILD CARD RACE? “I think so, and here. You could have your brakes go out. You could burn a gear up. Normally, we don’t really see engine issues here. If you get spun out here or you get involved in something, normally you can keep going, so it’s not so much of a wild card, but I think next week clearly is because we know there are wrecks at those race tracks and it’s just the bingo machine of who is going to be in it.”
AT SOME POINT THOUGH DON’T YOU HAVE TO BEAT THE 48 AND NOT BANK ON A WILD CARD ? “Yes. There’s no doubt he has to beat him. His question was, ‘Is he out of it?’ And I would say no. He’s not gonna be in front of him after Talladega. Let’s say Jeff Gordon finishes in the top five and Jimmie gets involved in a wreck and he’s in the high 30s, they’re gonna be real close. Now, yes, Jeff Gordon will have to outperform Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix, Texas and Homestead – not every race – but he’s gonna have to perform at the level of him. Now maybe Jeff Gordon feels like they can’t perform at that level. Maybe that’s possible. I would say my odds here of performing with the 48, the 11 and the 24 are less than the other three race tracks. The other three race tracks I feel like I can beat them, and Jeff Gordon has to feel like he can beat him here and maybe one or two of those other race tracks.
I’m speculating on what his thought process would be.” KASEY KAHNE IS TAKING SOME CRITICISM FOR NOT GETTING BACK IN THE CAR LAST WEEK. KYLE BUSCH WAS SIMILARLY CRITICIZED IN 2007 AT TEXAS. IT USED TO BE DRIVERS HAD TO BE RESTRAINED FROM GETTING BACK IN THEIR CAR AFTER A WRECK. HAVE THINGS CHANGED THAT MUCH? “In my eyes, no, because I’m gonna have to be physically restrained not to get back in that car. I will have tears in my eyes if I can’t drive it. That’s all there is to it. That’s what they pay me to do. I take pride in that, to do my best whatever it is. I’ll admit I’m not the best driver at Martinsville, but when I go out on the race track I give it 110 percent whether I’m running 28th or fifth or wherever I’m at – I give it 100 percent all the time and I’ll never quit on my guys or myself until I can’t do it anymore. I find it ironic that Kyle was driving for Rick Hendrick when he decided not to get back in the race car and that’s who Kasey is going to drive for. I don’t know. It’s weird. I don’t know all the circumstances around it, but I didn’t know he was sick before the race or during or whatever. I wasn’t in Kasey’s shoes, so I can’t criticize whether he was physically able to get back in or not. That’s Kasey’s call, but I would be there too. I would be scratching and clawing. There are times I don’t want to go back out, but when I’m asked to go back out on the track, I do the best I can do.”