Ford Darlington Advance (Ragan and Almirola)

Ford Racing NSCS Notes & Quotes:
Bojangles’ Southern 500 Advance (Darlington Raceway)
Friday, May 10, 2013

David Ragan, driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Fusion, is still basking in the glow of last weekend’s dramatic NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway.  Ragan hosted a Q&A session at his team hauler to talk about his busy week and what lies ahead for he and his team.

DAVID RAGAN – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Fusion – HOW HAS THIS WEEK BEEN?  “This week has been exciting, it’s been fun, which is a good thing.  Darlington is one of my favorite tracks to come to.  This is one of my favorite stretched – Talladega, Darlington and two weeks in Charlotte with all of the races here in the Southeast – so it’s been a great week.  I really haven’t had time to celebrate.  I had a few other commitments on Tuesday and Wednesday – a lot of media stuff on Monday – but the next few weeks in Charlotte, preparing for the All-Star Race and certainly the Coca-Cola 600 we’ll have some time to spend with all the employees at the Front Row Motorsports shop and visit with some friends and family a little bit.”


American Muscle

WHAT HAS THE MOOD BEEN LIKE AT THE SHOP THIS WEEK?  “Our guys have definitely eaten well this week.  Sprint provided a breakfast one morning.  We bought the guys lunch.  The Roush Yates Engine shop bought them lunch one day, so they’ve had free food and good food all week, but it definitely helps the attitude out.  It’s such a different scene from a larger team to a smaller organization.  We’ve got 50-60 employees and other teams have 300-400, so every single one of our guys had something to do with that race car.  Every one of them touched it, worked on it, prepared it, set it up, painted it and loaded it up.  Everyone had a part in it, so I think everyone feels a little bit more gratified getting that win with a smaller program.  And a 1-2 finish.  It wasn’t like we won and the other two guys were 35th and 40th.  We were all competitive and a 1-2 finish for Gilliland and I was unreal.  That’s a big deal for a larger team, so it was certainly a big day for us on Sunday and we’ve enjoyed it, but we also realize that reality sets in pretty quick.  We’re here at Darlington.  It’s a tough race track.  You have to have a lot of respect for this place and we’re working hard trying to get our Ford to drive good so we can race good tomorrow night.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF BRAD KESELOWSKI’S APOLOGY?  “Brad called me Tuesday, I believe, whenever he sent the apology out.  I hadn’t reached out to him prior to that, but that shows Brad is a good champion and a good role model and gave me a little bit different outlook on what Brad’s deal was.  Brad certainly didn’t have all of his facts right when he spoke after the race and that didn’t really bother me, but it bothers some of your fans and family.  They see that like, ‘Man, why is he so upset?  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’  And it was good for Brad to go back.  I don’t know if he talked to NASCAR or talked to his spotter or his crew, but the technology is in place for us to look and understand every move that NASCAR does, so I knew what we had going on and I think there was just a miscommunication.  There were never any hard feelings toward Brad, but that was cool for him to do that.  He certainly didn’t have to.  That was something he did on his own and I’ve got a lot respect for him for that.”

HOW MUCH DOES THAT WIN GIVE A BOOST TO SPONSORS AND SHOW THAT WINS CAN HAPPEN FOR SMALLER TEAMS?  “I think the Gen-6 car has been a big equalizer.  If you look at the cold hard facts, the statistics every single week, the run logs, the average finishing position, you look at James Finch’s single-car team is up pretty high in points.  The Front Row Motorsports and Germain Racing’s of the world have made a small step forward.  I think the field is definitely narrow.  I think there have been more lead lap cars on the track.  Obviously, you look at our points and it’s a lot more than it was this time a year ago.  Everything is tighter and I think kudos go to NASCAR and everyone for making that happen.  Certainly every team is gonna learn at a different rate and we’ve got to keep working hard and looking for what the next speed thing is for the Gen-6 car, but I think the new car has proved it’s a better equalizer.  And then Daytona and Talladega are big equalizers with the draft.  You can’t do anything on your own.  You have to have help.  You have to have friends.  You have to have teammates.  We know that we’re not gonna have a chance to win 15 races this year, but it gives confidence to our guys that build our race cars, assemble our race cars, our pit crew members that go over the wall, they all work hard and they realize that everyone has a part in the race.  If we would have made a mistake on the restart.  If we would have had a pit road speeding penalty.  If a rear-end housing would have burned up, a lot of people would have sat back and said, ‘Man, that’s just bad luck for those guys.’  But not really because you create your own luck a lot of times and we did everything the way it should have been.  We put ourselves in position and we deserved that win as much as if Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards would have won that thing.”

REGAN SMITH PULLED OFF A SURPRISE HERE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO.  CAN YOU DO THAT THIS WEEKEND?  “It’s fun to sit back and daydream about going to Victory Lane here at Darlington, but that’s not a realistic expectation for us.  Our expectations are finishing on the lead lap, a top-15 or top-20 finish would be a great day, but, again, a perfect storm could happen.  I believe the year Regan won, he stayed out with a little different pit strategy at the end and he put himself in position.  At the end of these races there’s always five or six guys that can win given the opportunity, so you never know.  We may put ourselves in position.  We may play some strategy at the end.  I’m not gonna say it couldn’t happen because it certainly can, but we want a top-15, top-20 and keep gaining some momentum.  We want to take some small steps.  We’re not trying to jump over the whole pond just yet.”

DAVID RAGAN CONTINUED — WHAT DOES REALITY TELL YOU ABOUT MAKING THE CHASE AS A WILD CARD?  CAN YOU CLIMB INTO THE TOP 20?  “We can’t make the wild card on our own.  We have to have some help from people around us.  You have to have some help from guys like Tony Stewart or an issue like Denny Hamlin has had.  You see the 42 struggling with a lot of bad luck.  I don’t think we can just outrace these guys for a top-20 finish.  Now, we’re sitting 25th-26th in points right now.  A few more good runs on our behalf and a few more bad runs on their behalf and we’re gonna be right there.  I don’t think one win is gonna make it.  That year we won a race in 2011 we were 14th or 15th in points and the guys that were 11th and 12th, I think, made the Chase, so I think you’ve got to have two wins or you’ve got to be up there in the top 13 or 14 in points, but you never know.  Crazy things do happen.  Some of these larger teams they underachieve sometimes and sometimes the smaller teams overachieve, and you’ve got to be prepared for anything.  But that’s not something I’m gonna hold my crew and my owner and my guys to.”

WERE YOU SURPRISED AT WHAT BRAD TWEETED AFTER THE RACE?  “I wasn’t really surprised by the tweets afterward because Brad is known to speak his mind, whether he’s right or wrong or he knows the whole story or half the story.  I think that’s ultimately what it was.  Brad’s a smart guy.  He’s the champion.  He comes from a family of racers.  He knows the rules, I just don’t think he understood what was going on.  Maybe his team didn’t relay the message to him right, but it didn’t bother me any.  I think some of our fans, maybe some of the Ford Racing fans or our Farm Rich fans were upset or mad, but once Brad saw what was going on, it was pretty cool that he took the time out of his schedule to give me a call and make an apology.  He certainly didn’t have to do that, but by the time you get back and you look at everything, like I said, Brad is a smart guy.  He knows the difference between right and wrong and it’s good that he admitted it.  A lot of guys wouldn’t have admitted their mistake and they would have went on.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE WALKING THROUGH THE GARAGE THIS WEEK?  “When you win on the larger teams it’s expected.  When we won our Nationwide race or two and our race in the 6 car, it’s kind of expected.  You walk around and everyone looks at you and they’re happy for you, but they think, ‘Yeah, you should have won that race.  You should have won two or three more.’  But when you win for a smaller team, and certainly a 1-2 finish.  I think that’s added a lot of extra kind remarks and neat things that have been associated with this win – that 1-2 finish was pretty sweet and I think the unexpected does happen sometimes and I think a lot of people were genuinely happy that a smaller team that worked hard and had a good attitude about things prevailed.  It’s been a good testament to this Gen-6 car how it’s evened the playing field some and I can only look forward to what the next six months brings.”

DAVID RAGAN CONTINUED — YOU HAVE A LOCAL SPONSOR TOO, WHICH IS NICE.  “Yeah, a lot of great stories.  Farm Rich was a one-race deal at Talladega.  They work with our team owner with some of their business entities together.  That was a great thing.  They’re excited.  Their Facebook page and website page crashed after the race with all the traffic there, so that was cool.  The Peanut Patch Boiled Peanuts – Margaret Holmes’ group – they’ve meant a lot to the Front Row Motorsports team.  They stepped up and sponsored us several races last year.  It’s kind of their one-year anniversary here at Darlington – a local company.  I grew up in Georgia eating boiled peanuts my whole life, so it was fun to give these guys something to cheer for.  They were certainly genuinely excited for our whole program.”

DOES THIS WEEK MEAN MORE BECAUSE IT’S THEIR LOCAL TRACK?  “Absolutely, and a local sponsor can capture some more of those special moments.  They can connect with the local market and local media better than what a national sponsor could.  I think it’s a feel-good story – a company like McCall Farms Peanut Patch Boiled Peanuts, they’re in it for the right reasons – for the fans, for their employess to have a good time and to market their product.  It was special to know that we have more than just a sponsor-driver relationship.  They’re friends of ours and that made it extra special.”

 

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion, comes to Darlington Raceway this weekend with four straight top-10 finishes to his credit.  He spoke about why his team has been so consistent and what he’s hoping for this weekend at Darlington.

ARIC ALMIROLA – No. 43 Smithfield Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR START AND COMING HERE TO DARLINGTON?  “It’s been a really great beginning to our season.  We got a little bit of a hiccup at Bristol and had a flat tire and got behind and fell all the way to 22nd in points, so that makes being eighth in points right now even that much more of a big deal for us because it’s not like we’ve fallen into this.  It’s not a fluke.  We’ve actually battled back from 22nd in points up to eighth, so I’m really proud of Todd Parrott and all the guys on this 43 team.  They’ve been giving me really fast cars each and every week and we’re on a little bit of a run here the last few weeks.  We’ve got four top 10s in a row, so I’m really proud of my guys.  I’m really proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports.  We’re not as surprised as everybody else is.  We feel like at the end of last year we were running really strong and we were a little disappointed at Homestead came because we didn’t want the season to end because we were running so well.  The beginning of this season has kind of picked up where we left off last year and I’m really proud of that.”

HOW MUCH DID THE POLE AT CHARLOTTE LAST YEAR PLAY INTO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?  “A small part.  It was a big deal for us to qualify on the pole there.  It was a really special weekend to do it – on Memorial Day Weekend with U.S. Air Force on the car – so that was a really big deal and I think at the time somebody said it was like 30 or 40 years since the 43 car had been on the pole at Charlotte, so that was cool to have Richard Petty there.  We celebrated a little bit that night and then it was over.  We went into the race and we ran average in the race.  I think we finished 15th or 16th, so that was just a small part of our season, but the biggest part of where I feel our success has come so far this year was starting at Chicago last year when I started working with Todd Parrott at the beginning of the Chase.  Those 10 races really changed everything for me.  You guys wrote about it every week.  I was the guy that was the odd man out.  Somebody else was gonna take my seat.  Everybody that was considered available was gonna take my ride, and then I started working with Todd Parrott and we started running really well.  We ran in the top 10 several times and that Kansas race really sticks out for me.  We led a lot of laps and probably had the car to beat and got a flat tire, but I think those last 10 races really sparked a lot of momentum with me personally and our race team, and that carried through the off-season and right to the beginning of this year.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED — IS THE TEAM SURPRISED HOW FAST YOU’VE DEVELOPED THE GEN-6 CAR?  “Yeah.  We certainly weren’t really sure what to expect at the beginning of this year.  We didn’t do a lot of off-season testing.  The very first test we did at Charlotte in December we didn’t even have a proper car done.  It was basically a showcar with one of those composite bodies on it.  Until the beginning of January, we didn’t have an actual Gen-6 car in our race shop, so that was big for us to get going.  The Charlotte test was the first real test for us in January.  We went there and were the quickest car there, so we really just hit it off right from the get-go right at the Charlotte test.  We had a lot of speed in our car and ended the test the quickest car there, so, like I said, I’m not overly surprised at how well we’ve run this year just because right when we started the season at the January test in Charlotte  we had a lot of speed.  Then it was just about executing the races and doing all the things we needed to do to be competitive on a race weekend.”

DO YOU TAKE ANY PERSONAL SATISFACTION THAT YOU’RE STILL HERE AND RUNNING WELL?  “Absolutely.  This sport is such a funny sport.  You look across the garage and the ups and downs of this sport will drive you crazy.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Tony Stewart is probably one of the best race car drivers out there and you look at his season, and if you just purely go on stats you’d be like, ‘Oh man, who is gonna take his job?’  But it’s just our sport.  It’s tough and you’ve got to have everything clicking on all eight cylinders.  Right now, we have that.  I’ve had that since I’ve joined up with this whole team and Todd Parrott and all of his guys.  I’m just excited to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports.  I was glad that they believed in me and kept me in the car because, at times, deservedly so I didn’t deserve it.  I was running 25th every week.  It wouldn’t have been a shock had they said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do something different,’ but they believed in me.  They put me with Todd Parrott.  Todd believed in me and right off the bat we ran really strong and competed, and that was really the turning point for me.  I started getting confidence back and then once our team had the confidence and the momentum and I have confidence, everything has been really good.”

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU HAVE WITH TODD PARROTT TO MAKE THINGS CLICK?  “First and foremost right from the get-go he just treated me like a friend.  He didn’t treat me like a boss.  He didn’t treat me like a veteran crew chief and I was a rookie driver.  He just treated me like a friend and we worked on it together.  That was our mentality going into it was we’re gonna do this together.  We’re gonna prove people wrong together.  That was our mentality and it’s been a big breath of fresh air for me because that was the first crew chief I’ve ever had that when I told him something was wrong with the car he went to work on it and tried to fix it and didn’t try to fix my driving.  He didn’t tell me I was driving in the corner too hard.  He didn’t tell me I needed to arc out more.  He didn’t tell me I need to back my corner up or why am I doing X-Y-Z out on the race track.  He just went to work on the race car and didn’t try to fix my driving.  He tried to fix the car to make it handle like I wanted it to and that’s the first time I had that in a really long time, so that was a big deal for me and just my confidence, that he wasn’t gonna question me as a race car driver.  He was just gonna try to do everything in his power to give me what I wanted.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED — YOU AREN’T FUNDED AS WELL AS ROUSH AND PENSKE, SO DOES WHAT FRONT ROW DID LAST WEEK GIVE YOU INSPIRATION THAT YOU CAN DO WELL AND WIN?  “Yeah, it’s no secret that we’re not a top funded team.  You guys know that and it’s not a big secret.  We don’t have the money and financial resources and even the parts and pieces side of the resources like the top tier teams do, but that’s what makes running so good so satisfying because we do it with great people.  That’s what I see out of Richard Petty Motorsports and out of this 43 team especially.  In this sport you can have all of the best parts and pieces in the world, but if you don’t have the right people to put them together, you’re still gonna struggle.  We don’t have all of the absolute best parts and pieces that we could possibly get, but we have great people and that makes up for a lot of it.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO GO FROM BEING THE GUY WHO WAS GOING TO REPLACED TO THE GUY SITTING UP HERE ON THE PODIUM GETTING ALL THIS ATTENTION?  “It’s different.  I’m not used to it, for sure, but it feels good.  I just want to keep it going.  That’s the biggest thing is when you get in a spot like this it almost adds more pressure to you, not that I feel like I have any pressure, but you just want to keep it going.  You don’t want it to stop.  You don’t want to ever go back to the lows.  I don’t want to go back to the lows I had of last year, where it was a great day for us when we ran in the top 20 because we were on average we’d run 25th.  That was no fun.  I was getting on the airplane on Thursday afternoons not even looking forward to going to race and I should be because it’s what I love to do.  I probably have one of the coolest jobs in the world.  I should have been stoked to get on the airplane every week, but I wasn’t and now I am.  Now, every single week I can’t wait to get to the airplane and go to the race track.  I don’t care what race track we’re going to I’m just excited to go to the race track.”

WHAT DO FANS ASK ABOUT YOU NOW THAT YOU’RE IN THE TOP 10?  “I usually get the old, ‘How is it to drive for Richard Petty?’  That’s the common question regardless of how we run.  I think a lot of people have a lot in connection with that 43 car, especially the long-time fans of NASCAR that have been watching Richard Petty win a lot of race in that 43 car.  The big thing for me is I want to get that 43 car back to Victory Lane bad.  It’s been 13 or 14 years since it’s been to Victory Lane and I’d like nothing more than to be the guy to get that done and get the 43 back to Victory Lane.”


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