Ford Performance NASCAR: Chicagoland Media Availability (Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., & Aric Almirola)

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Camping World 400 Media Availability — Ryan Blaney

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 BodyArmor Ford Mustang — YOU HAVE SOME COOL STUFF GOING ON WITH YOUR FOUNDATION THIS WEEKEND, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? “Yeah, it is Alzheimer’s awareness month and that is the main focus of our foundation. This weekend we have a pretty neat promotional deal where you could go online and donate to the Alzheimer’s Association and nominate a loved one to be on the decklid. I think we ended up getting over 100 names from people and I thought that was pretty neat. After the race tomorrow we are going to cut that decklid up and send those names out to the people who donated to put a name of a loved on on there. It was nice of BodyArmor to let us do that. It really means a lot. We are just trying to do all we can with this foundation that we just started. We went to Lehigh Valley Hopsital up in Pennsylvania earlier this week and we were able to talk to some of the doctors there about what they are doing. Any help we can provide will hopefully go a long way.”

BUBBA WAS TALKING ABOUT PLAYING MARIO KART THIS MORNING, DO YOU PLAY WITH HIM? “I don’t play it. Not like they do. They get serious about it. I don’t have that kind of cash flow to compete with them. They bet big money. I can’t do that. I haven’t gotten in on that.”


American Muscle

HOW WILL DAYTONA BE DIFFERENT WITH THE NEW PACKAGE? “It will be different for sure. You got a little bit of a taste of it at Talladega. Obviously they are different kind of race tracks a little bit in their own ways and I think teams will go to Daytona with a little different mindset of what they had at Talladega. I think we are going to, a little bit. Just trying to figure it out. I think it will be a good race. I thought Talladega was a pretty good race and I think it will get better as teams start to understand this package. It was a mixed bag at Talladega. Some teams had it dialed in better than others. Teams are smart, they will figure it out. It should be a good one. I have always enjoyed that race, the night race on that weekend. It is unfortunate that we won’t be back there next July. That is just the way the schedule goes. It should be a good one though, it is a race I look forward to every year.”

IS THIS THE TIME OF YEAR WHEN GUYS START RACING DIFFERENT? “I race like it is the last race of the year at every single race. From race one to race 38, I don’t really change the way I drive depending on what part of the year it is. That is just me personally. Other people might do something different. Sometimes maybe people will make a little bolder moves, I think especially teams with the strategy deal with drivers that are close to the cut-off line our outside of that line, to try to win the race and make a big move. That is kind of sometimes – I think you saw that a lot last week at Sonoma with the way the stages are. Some teams that were close to that cut-off line wanted stage points. That was their main thing. It was easy to get them there and have them for that cut-off if they are close to it. I think you will see more of that. More of people playing around with stage points and maybe sacrificing track position to try to win a stage or run top three or four in a stage and then reset again and try it all over again. I think you might see more of that. But we race hard all the time. There might be a few more bold moves toward the end if you are close to that cut-off and trying to win the race or things like that.”

HAS THE DAYTONA JULY RACE BEEN LIKE A HOLIDAY TRADITION FOR YOU? “Yeah, I think it is a pretty good tradition race. It marks pretty much the halfway point of the season on July 4th weekend. I wouldn’t really put July 4th as a holiday but it is a special weekend. Anytime you are back to Daytona it is a special weekend whether it is the 500 or the July race. Going there twice a year as a kid, I really enjoyed it. You realize the difference between the two. I think it is cool that you have both. Night racing there is really cool. Night racing anywhere is really neat but you get to a place like that and it makes it that much more special. I always liked having the Daytona race that weekend but at the end of the day it is just a weekend and just a race and you can move it to whatever date you want. As long as you are going there you know you are going to a very special race track. I always enjoy it being on the weekend of the 4th.”

I THINK THEY MIGHT SAY THAT IT ISN’T JUST ANOTHER RACE NEXT YEAR BECAUSE IT BECOMES THE CUT-OFF RACE FOR THE PLAYOFFS: “Yeah, that is really exciting to have a cut-off race right before the playoffs at a speedway. I hope I am in before I get to that race. I don’t want to have to throw a hail mary and put it up to fate there. It is going to make for a really good race and it will be exciting to watch. Teams that are just in or just outside the playoffs, that will be neat. I hope I am way in by that point.”

YOU THREW OUT THE FIRST PITCH AT WRIGLEY THE OTHER DAY. WHAT WENT INTO THE KIMBREL POSE YOU DID AND WERE YOU NERVOUS? “Yeah, my Craig Kimbrel pose. The poste he has I think is neat. I am a fan of his> I think he is a good pitcher. There was a thought that he was going to start but he ended up closing. He pitched the ninth. I was happy he finally pitched. The field was never as loud as when he came on the field when he came in from the bullpen. That was pretty cool to see. I thought the fans would get a kick out of that. He was playing against his old team, Atlanta. That was neat. The first pitch thing, I have never done that before at a major league ballpark. I wasn’t really as nervous. I feel like I can throw a ball. I am hoping I can at least. If I can’t then I wouldn’t have said yes to it. I went third. The guy before me completely screwed it up so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’ It was just a matter of how hard I wanted to throw it. I toned it down. I just wanted to get it to the plate. It was good. That field has a lot of history. I am not a Cubs fan really but you have to respect the history of ballfields and things like that. It was a great game. It was a lot of fun. It was cool of NBC and NASCAR and BodyArmor for letting me do that.”

WHEN YOU ARE SO CLOSE TO THE TOP, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP WHILE ALSO UNDERSTAND THERE ARE A LOT OF TEAMS THAT HAVE MADE GAINS THROUGHOUT THE SEASON? WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE OF TRYING TO CATCH GIBBS WHILE KEEPING OTHERS AT BAY? “We have been lucky this year because the Penske group has been one of the top-two teams, us and Gibbs. I think they are just a little bit ahead of us right now. Things change every week, every single week teams can show speed and show up. There was a time when Hendrick was looking really strong. I think they are still strong looking at practice. I think they were fast in practice today. The Haas cars are looking strong here. You have to be on top of your game. We have been lucky that we worked so hard in the offseason to try to be up towards the top teams from the get-go. I think we have done that. We have been able to stay there. This sport is a big cycle of teams driving to the top and teams finding things and it goes round and round. It all goes back to hard work and dedication of wanting to stay up towards the top and not being happy with where you are if you are fast at the time. You are always looking forward. A lot of people talk about how the 2 has won a few races and the 22 has won a couple races and you think, ‘Alright we are good, we don’t need to do anything.’ but that is how teams catch up. YOu have to change things up and approach things and change for the better. You can never be satisfied with things. You have to keep working because you know your competition is working and you don’t want them to catch up. You already have a leg up on them and you want to find things here and there that can make more of a difference.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “I lost by 30 seconds last week but I still thought we made gains on them. The thing from last year, at that point in the season I felt like we were struggling to run top-five. We were kind of stuck. All three of our cars were stuck back in that eighth to 12th range. When you make a big gain on a weekend and don’t win the race, you may lose by a lot but run solid all day and get your cars better throughout the night, at that point we wouldn’t get better through a race. Everything we tried wasn’t working. It was a big thing to get progressively better throughout the night. That was encouraging for our group. You can maybe not win the race but you can find the positives in it and see that you got better here, or better here. You just keep adding on to those. You can get better and not dominate races. You kind of inch at it. It is so hard to make big gains now with the rules so tight. You try to find little things that will eventually add up and that can really rise up above the other teams.”

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Camping World 400 Media Availability — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang — “For us, there are tracks this year that we have ran better than we have in the past. I feel like all the mile-and-a-halfs are tracks we can look at to gain points as well. Obviously getting a win would be big at any race track but I feel like we have a better shot at Daytona and Bristol out of the ones that are left. We have been gaining points on mile-and-a-halfs as well. We look this weekend at Chicago and hopefully we can run similar to what we have at Kansas, Charlotte and Vegas and even Atlanta. I think we’ve got a lot of good race tracks in front of us.”

WHY DO YOU THINK DAYTONA IS ONE OF YOUR BETTER SHOTS? “Just our success in past races at Daytona. The laps we have led, the races we have won. Just being in contention just about every race that we have been there is always good confidence going in.”

DO YOU FEEL STRESS ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE THUS FAR? DO YOU FEEL THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL? “I don’t feel stress. The runs we have had that have been good are a lot better than we have had in the past, definitely and mile-and-a-half race tracks. We had about three races in a row there where we had some tires issues and then we had that incident at Bristol that cost us a lot. All in all I feel like we have had better speed in our race cars at the race tracks that we have struggled at. There are still some race tracks like Pocono and Michigan that we still seem to be a little bit off of where we need to be.”

HAVING DAYTONA BE A PLAYOFF CUT-OFF RACE NEXT SEASON, YOU MAY BE ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE THAT REALLY LIKES THAT IDEA BASED ON YOUR PAST PERFORMANCE THERE: “It is funny, yeah it is a cut-off race next year but I don’t look at it any different than if we had Daytona the first two races of the year. You still push hard to win because a lot of people in the garage know that is an opportunity. For us that kind of feel like we don’t have opportunities at other race tracks, we are going to push hard no matter when that race is on the schedule. For some, we have that race and then you get done with that race in July and you kind of know, ‘alright, I have eight races to kind of figure out where I need to be.’ Those that are close on the cut-off are probably going to be real nervous.”

ARE WE AT THE POINT IN THE YEAR WHERE THE INTENSITY IS STARTING TO PICK UP AS WE APPROACH THE PLAYOFF CUT-OFF? “For us, we are 43-points or something out. We have seen races where we have gained 30-points in one race and also lost 30-points in one race. For us, we know that there are 10 races left and we don’t need any big home run races. We can chip away at it. Every race that goes by obviously the more points you have to make up in a shorter amount of time. For us, we are looking at the race tracks that we know we can look to take a chunk out of that. This weekend here, I feel like we could do something like Kansas where we get points in both stages and run up front and get a top-10 finish and we will be gaining those points that we need. For us, I think that is still taking it one week at a time and not panic yet but I think once we get through probably Kentucky we will kind of really know where we are at. I feel like Chicago, Daytona and Kentucky are really good tracks for us and we can kind of cut that deficit. If we can cut that deficit in those three races then it becomes about trying to be consistent and maintain it.”

“We look at Chicago and Kentucky as a place to gain points and Daytona as a place we can win. It is a different mindset going into those races. For us, yeah, we feel confident going to Daytona that we can get the job done and go out and get a win and then the points will not really matter at that point. That is our plan. We would like to be able to run well at Chicago, Kentucky and the rest of the races as well.”

YOU SEEM TO BE ON AN UPWARD PROGRESSION WITH THE ADDITION OF YOUR TEAMMATE RYAN NEWMAN. WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE SHOP AND PLACES IN REGARD TO RYAN? “Ryan is great. I feel like he has a lot of great insight. He has been in the sport for a long time and seen ups and downs at different teams and how different teams work through those things. He has a lot of great feedback. He and I talk quite often about what he feels in his car and what he feels like he needs and vice versa. One of the things is that he is able to – which I have noticed when he was with other teams – even though they might not be very good they are able to get good finishes. That is something that I need to tap into and make sure that we continue to do that same thing.”

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Camping World 400 Media Availability — Aric Almirola

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang — DOES THE TRACK SURFACE HERE REMIND YOU OF ATLANTA? “Yeah, I would say that. I would say Chicago is definitely one of the most worn out tracks that we go to. Atlanta I think is the oldest pavement of all the tracks and then Chicago follows closely behind. I think it is fun. It is fun to come to the tracks where the pavement is old and worn out and we can run all over the track. It gives you options as a driver and makes it challenging to find grip and get the car set up the way you need it to.”

IN FIRST PRACTICE, IT LOOKED A LITTLE CRAZY WITH CARS GROUPED TOGETHER ALL OVER THE PLACE: “With the package we have now you have to go out there and practice and put yourself in positions that you will find yourself in the race. Running by yourself doesn’t really tell you a lot other than what the raw speed of your car is. You really have to put yourself in traffic. At different points in the race you are going to find yourself in that position. It is important during practice to get a feel of what your car is going to do and how it is going to drive when you are in a pack of cars.”

WHEN DO YOU FEEL LIKE TEAMS BECOME DESPERATE? “Man, it has to be getting close. How many races until the playoffs? 10? Yeah, we are only 10 weeks away. Honestly, if you look back over the last 10 or 15 years, really where you are at in points at this part in the season, you move one or two spots either way, either forward or backwards from now until the start of the playoffs. It is really hard to make up a lot of ground. It is easy to lose ground if you have a couple bad weekends with a mechanical failure or wreck and you can lose a lot of points. By now, at this point in the season, the guys you are racing around in points are the same guys you are racing around on the race track so you don’t really gain a lot of points or lose a lot of points to them if you are running at the finish. It puts and emphasis on winning and continuing to elevate your program getting ready for the playoffs.”

WOULD YOU TAKE ISSUE WITH THE FACT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE ARE JUST TALKING ABOUT TRUEX AND KYLE BUSH AS THE TOP GUYS? “I think it is obvious when you just look at the results right? They have run really well. They have good speed in their cars and their cars are driving really good and they are making the most of their weekends. They are flawless on pit road and doing a good job with their cars on the race track and they are executing. They are doing the things they need to do to win races. I don’t think that is any different than anything we have seen in the past several years to be honest. They are the teams to beat right now but we have seen in the past that they can be beat. At this point you have to gear up and get ready for the playoffs and once the playoffs get here everybody takes it to another level. As the playoffs go on, once you get to Homestead it is back to a level playing field and you have to go get it done in that one race.”

IS IT KIND OF SHOCKING TO YOU THAT YOU HAVEN’T WON YET? “I think we are all a little surprised. That is the hard thing about our sport. It is very cyclical. Teams come and go. The teams that are on top today might not be on top tomorrow. Everybody just works so hard to chase whoever is on top. It is hard to be king of the mountain week after week, year after year. Last year was a phenomenal year for us at Stewart-Haas Racing and for me personally in my career. This year we just haven’t out-classed the field like we did last year. Last year we hands down out-classed the field. I went back and watched the Chicago race from last year on the flight here and it was crazy. At one point in the race we were running 1-2-3-4. We did that a lot last year where we had all four cars in the top-five or ran 1-2-3-4 a lot. Dover comes to mind. We ran 1-2-3-4 there. When you go back and look at those races, we actually gave those races away. We ran 1-2-3-4 for a lot of those races and none of our cars won those races. So when you look at the amount of wins, I think we had 14 wins as an organization last year, if you look at all of the race we probably should have had 18 to 20. It was just a phenomenal year for us. Honestly the guys are working harder now than they ever have. We are trying. It is not from lack of effort, I can promise you that. We are just trying to figure it all out and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

YOU CAN’T QUITE PUT YOUR FINGER ON IT OR DO YOU HAVE YOUR FINGER ON IT AND GETTING CLOSE TO SOLVING IT? “I feel like we are getting really close. There are still some question marks that we don’t have the answer to and some differing of opinions from track to track and week to week. That is the really challenging part about this package. We go to some race tracks like Michigan and it is really easy to run wide open so everyone works hard on making their cars go fast and trimming them out. Then you come to Chicago and there is a balancing act that you have to play. You can trim your car out and make it go fast but then there is less downforce in your car and the tires fall off and you don’t know how it is going to drive at lap 30 or 40. That is the balancing act the teams are going through. Us at Stewart-Haas Racing we are continuing to go through that and really pinpoint what we need at each individual specific track. It is not universal. One solution doesn’t fix all your problems.”

IT MUST GIVE YOU SOME CONFIDENCE THOUGH TO BE AS HIGH IN THE POINTS AS YOU ARE AND RUN AS WELL AS YOU DO: “Yeah, when I look at last year versus this year, we are a little higher in points and have had a little higher consistency finish than last year. As an organization though I feel like we are a little off from where we were last year. That makes me feel good about what we are doing inside the 10 team and just getting the most out of what we have. Last year I felt like being new to the organization and learning everything I felt like we were not making the most, especially for the first four or five months of the season. Then we got on track and were leading laps and running up front and challenging to win races and then we won and did really well in the playoffs. That second half of last season was really good for us. Going into this season our expectations have gotten higher and I feel like we are doing a better job but we still have more to get. There is still more growing pains and learning each other. Last year as an organization we showed up with fast race cars every week. This year has been a little hit and miss. Learning how to go through some of those tough times as a team has been something new for us.”


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