Ford Performance NASCAR: Newman, Menard, Almirola and Custer Darlington Availabilities

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Friday, August 30, 2019
EVENT: Bojangles’ Southern 500, Darlington, SC. (Media Availabilities)

RYAN NEWMAN, No. 6 Oscar Mayer/Velveeta Ford Mustang – ANY CONCERN THAT YOU COULD BE WORN OUT FOR THE PLAYOFFS WITH AS HARD AS YOU’VE BEEN GOING THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS? “It all depends on what you’re prepared for. When do you show up to play? We’ve been showing up to play every race this year and I don’t see us getting softer by any means when the Playoffs start, no matter what our position is. My focus isn’t gonna change. My goals aren’t gonna change. What I can achieve will have changed, but still I’m trying to win. I see it as a good quiz before the ultimate test.”

CAN YOU PEAK FOR THE PLAYOFFS? “You try to. You can put the effort in teamwork-wise to try to, but you should be doing that the whole time, so what’s really the point? It’s just a play on words.”

American Muscle

THERE’S NOTHING THAT CHANGES FROM HOW YOU PREPARE ALL YEAR. “If you can peak at the Playoffs, you should have peaked back in Daytona.”

THERE WAS SOME ANGER ON SOCIAL MEDIA AFTER BRISTOL TOWARD YOU AND THE CONTACT WITH MATT DIBENEDETTO. DOES THAT BOTHER YOU? “No. I think Kyle Busch would tell you the best, there’s always gonna be haters. I did what I needed to do to be competitive. I haven’t seen any replays. I don’t know exactly how he hit me twice in two separate straightaways in the right rear going down the straightaway. If I pinched him or if he didn’t give himself enough room or what, but in the end there was nothing intentional by me. Fans can choose whatever they want, I mean there are thousands of fans that have come to Bristol to see crashes for years, so I’m sorry I let them down.”

YOU HAVEN’T TALKED TO MATT SINCE? “No, there’s no reason to.”

HE MENTIONED HE MIGHT TRY TO TALK TO YOU AND THOUGHT MAYBE YOU MOVED UP. “I don’t think I did. I even told somebody after the race, I said, ‘I don’t know what his deal was.’ I thought I was in the same spot with every car that was on the outside of me, and I didn’t hit any cars or any cars had hit me up until he came on the outside of me. Now, he did surprise me off of turn two the first time, but I thought I left him plenty of room.”

YOU’RE A HOOSIER. IS THE BRICKYARD THE RIGHT TRACK FOR NASCAR AND SHOULD IT CONTINUE TO HAVE A DATE? “There are thousands of race tracks that are right for NASCAR and there’s no doubt in my mind that they should have a date. It’s a very historical, prestigious race track venue, event, fan base, you name it. Geographically it makes sense. Historically it makes sense, but that’s not my decision. I’m fine with going to the Illinois State Fairgrounds and running on dirt. There’s a great fan base there, too.”

ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF RUNNING THE OVAL, THE ROAD COURSE OR IT DOESN”T MATTER TO YOU AT THE BRICKYARD? “If you’re gonna go to the Brickyard, you need to race the oval. I don’t feel like it’s the best racing that we have. What I did see was great racing when they took the drag duct package there in the XFINITY Series, the best racing I’d seen in Indianapolis in years, so I don’t know what it’s gonna be like when we go there with this package. It’s obviously yet to be seen, but I’ve always thought that we’ve struggled to put on great racing, not necessarily that it hasn’t been a good finish or a great race, but just in general great racing throughout the pack because the track is so fast and so flat and the grip is so high that it’s aerodynamically sensitive.”

DO YOU FIND DARLINGTON TO BE TOUGH? DOES IT FAVOR VETERAN DRIVERS? “It’s my favorite race track. I don’t see it as any different challenge my 19th year as it was my very first year. I love the race track. It’s a challenge to run next to the fence, to adapt to the grip, and race the race track. I think being a veteran I think you’ll see too as well on Sunday night when the checkered flag drops that somebody over 40 has probably won the race.”

WHY? “I don’t know. I’m not gonna tell you that. We’ll talk about that afterwards – because it takes experience to be successful here.”

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE DROP IN ATTENDANCE AND POPULARITY OF THE BRICKYARD? “I don’t know. I think the tire deal from ’08 was a huge black eye for that race track and our sport, but that race track in particular, and I think we’re still on the rebound of that, and I think you also saw that cycle go through with the Indianapolis 500, where the attendance went down and now it’s booming back. Will it happen in NASCAR? Good question.”

DID THE PLAYOFF SITUATION CROSS YOU MIND WHEN MATT DIBENEDETTO WAS TRYING TO PASS YOU AT BRISTOL, KNOWING IF HE WON IT WOULD TAKE AWAY A SPOT? “It didn’t cross my mind. I was racing to race hard. I thought I left him plenty of room and I think there was 50 laps still left in the race, which could have been three cautions, so I don’t think it really has any relevance.”

DOES HAVING DARLINGTON AND INDIANAPOLIS AS THE LAST TWO TRACKS IN THE REGULAR SEASON GIVE YOU A SENSE OF COMFORT WITH YOUR POINTS POSITION? “It gives me a percentage of confidence to know that I’m capable. That doesn’t mean that we are capable and that doesn’t mean that some other guy is not going to be victorious and take away a spot, so we just have to go out and do our job and do our business as usual and just do the best we possibly can, which we’ve done to this point and it’s got us in a Playoff position, so I know that we need to change to be better, but we also need to not change too much to be worse.”

YOU WANT TO STAY IN 15TH. “Without a doubt. We want to win. We want to lock ourselves in. We don’t want to worry about letting these other guys try to race their way in points-wise, but we’re just gonna go out and do the best job we possibly can. Yes, there’s lots of different ways to look at the math of it. Scott Graves did a great job making some stage points for us in the race at Bristol. That made our day better and you’ve got to look at those situations too. When it comes to a place like there where you only get so many sets of tires and you might need to stay out and maybe get a few points, give up a little track position later to get 20 percent of your potential points for the day.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE BATTLE THE FOUR OF YOU HAVE GOING FOR THE LAST TWO SPOTS? “I’ve been a part of that for years for some reason. I was fortunate to win two years ago and missed the deal last year, but, to me, it’s no different than any other race at any other point. I’m racing more than four, but there’s four or five – whatever the number is – I’m racing them all is my point, but there are four or five that have more influence on the progress of our season.”

WHY DO YOU DO WELL IN THOSE POSITIONS WHEN YOU REALLY NEED TO HAVE IT? “Just stubborn, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t enjoy being in that position, but I feel like I’ve won more than I’ve lost there as far as making it into the Playoffs.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang – WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT YOUR WIN AT DAYTONA A FEW YEARS AGO? “I remember going to Victory Lane there and it was raining and looking up into the grandstands and just thinking about being a kid and sitting in those grandstands and how life has a funny way of working out. It’s crazy to be able to look back on life for everybody, not must me, but when you look back on life and see how things and events happen in your life to get you to where you’re at, and so when I won at Daytona that was one of those moments to where I had an opportunity to sit there and reflect and it was really special.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE RACE ITSELF? “That was a crazy race. I remember heat in the car and I remember racing like it was the last lap for what seemed like forever. The rain just kept holding off and it we just kept continuing to race. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this could be the last lap. The rain is coming.’ Every lap was like that, so we were racing so hard, side drafting and everything to try and keep the lead, and then finally the rain came and it worked out.”

WHAT IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LIKE GOING TO INDY AND WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE TO KISS THE BRICKS? “That would be really cool. That’s a really cool place to race at, the Brickyard, so to have the opportunity to go there and have a shot to win would be great. But the first order of business is leaving here at Darlington with a comfortable enough points gap to feel safe about being locked in the Playoffs or feel really good about it, so that’ s our first order of business, and then that really allows us to be able to go to Indy with an opportunity to be kind of laid back and just chill out and go to Indy and have some fun.”

HOW DO YOU APPROACH THESE LAST TWO WEEKS OF THE REGULAR SEASON? “We’ve had two rough weekends and went from having an almost 100-point cushion to now it’s like 64 points, so you can never just throw caution to the wind. If we have two more weekends like we just had, that could be devastating for us, so I don’t want to be in that situation. I want to have a good, solid weekend here at Darlington and if we can leave here in a similar situation to what we’ve entered with over a 60-point lead, I think that should lock us in and we should be able to go into Indy pretty comfortably and have fun. That’s what we’re really looking forward to. That last 10 weeks of the season is a grind and it’s very stressful, so if you can get one week to just kind of let loose and go have fun and enjoy it, and not be stressed out and anxious, it makes for a better start into the Playoffs just because everybody is relaxed and having fun at Indy, and then we can shift gears and turn the focus up going into Vegas like we did last year.”

HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT WHEN YOU GET TO INDY AND IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF THINGS ARE WORKING AGAINST YOU GUYS? “That’s part of it. I think racing at the Brickyard has so much nostalgia and is really, really special to have that opportunity to race there. For me, every time I go there to race I always think about the history. That yard of bricks, if they could speak, it would be pretty cool to sit down and have a conversation with, so, for me, that’s a special place. It’s hallowed ground for auto sports and to be able to race there is neat and significant, but it is a challenge. Man, is it a challenge, and it is very track position dependent and aerodynamically dependent, so it presents its challenges, but at the end of the day when you win there you get to write your name down in the record books with some greats.”

HAVE YOU EVER WANTED TO RACE THERE IN AN OPEN-WHEEL CAR? “No. I sit back and watch those guys on TV and I respect the hell out of them and think what they do is really cool driving those race cars at those speeds and going 240 miles an hour. That is spectacular, but I have zero interest. I just never have. I like open-wheel racing. My grandfather raced dirt sprint cars and I would go race dirt sprint cars in a heartbeat. I think those cars are cool and incredible and awesome, but Indy cars just for whatever reason has not been something I’ve aspired to do. I’ve always dreamed about NASCAR and I think it would be cool to drive one, but I’m not so sure I’d want to race one.”

NO CURIOSITY TO BE IN AN OPEN COCKPIT GOING 240 MILES INTO THE CORNER? “I think it would be fun to drive the car around the race track and run some laps. I think it would be quite the thrill to run 240 miles an hour and have all that downforce and just run wide-open around that place going that fast. It must be exhilarating, but I’ve had zero interest in racing those cars. I don’t know why other than it doesn’t interest me.”

HOW COOL WOULD IT BE TO GO 240 INTO THE CORNER AND KNOW IT WOULD STICK? “Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t with our cars. Our cars are too heavy and don’t make that amount of downforce, and we have way smaller tires, so we’ve got less rubber on the road, less downforce and a higher center of gravity and more weight. Physically, it’s about impossible.”

CAN YOU DESCRIBE TURNS ONE AND TWO HERE AT DARLINGTON? “I think that’s a challenge and that’s what makes Darlington special is that the race track is so challenging and so unique, but it’s just so challenging. You’ve got turn one and two that is a very odd, unique-shaped corner and you carry so much speed down the back straightaway because of that big wide sweeping corner in one and two, but then three and four, thanks to the pond that they wouldn’t give up the real estate for outside of the race track, it makes that a very tight, narrow corner, so you have to slow down and use the brakes and drive that corner completely different than the way you drive turn one and two. So, yeah, it’s what makes it Darlington, it makes it too tough to tame.”

HOW DOES TIRE WEAR AFFECT THE WAY YOU RUN THE TRACK? “Darlington has always been a challenging place to pass and I think with this rules package and stuff that’s not gonna be any different. It will still be a challenge. I think restarts will be interesting to see how we sort out getting through there. It used to be that there was a lot of give-and-take through turn one and two on the restarts and as the run would go on if you cut a guy a break on the restart and let him in line and five or six laps later you were breathing down his neck, he would pull over and let you go and there was a respect about racing at Darlington because of that, but now track position being so important it’ll be interesting to see what kind of give-and-take happens on these restarts.”

YOUR PAINT SCHEME COMMEMORATES ONE OF TONY’S CHAMPIONSHIPS. “Yeah, everybody loves it and I am so pumped about it. I think it’s such an awesome paint scheme and I’ve talked a lot about it this week, but it’s really special for me. I grew up watching Tony race in sprint cars and midgets on Thursday Night Thunder, and then I followed his career and watched him in NASCAR. Then I got the opportunity to go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive for them, and I actually drove a late model sponsored by Home Depot with the reverse of this paint scheme – it was black with white and orange. The paint scheme was exactly the same, just different colors, and so to come 15 years later and have the opportunity to drive one of my childhood heroes race cars and for him to be my boss and my friend it’s just really cool. It’s a cool story, but, for me, it has a special meaning just because it kind of brings my whole career together with where I aspired to get to, where I started in NASCAR, and where I’m at today.”

IS THIS THROWBACK WEEKEND STILL FUN? “I think it’s important. It’s fun, for sure, but I think it’s important. We have a lot of fans of our sport that recognize a lot of these paint schemes, so that is cool, but it’s also important for the new fan to be able to tell the story of where our sport has come from, and I think that’s one of the cool things about this Throwback Weekend is not only are we honoring a lot of the people from the past that have paved the way to get to where we’re at today, but on top of that we’re telling a story about where our sport once was and where we’re at today, so I think that’s really cool.”

PAUL MENARD, No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Mustang – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO RACE FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS AND CARRYING GLENN’S TRIBUTE SCHEME THIS WEEKEND? “Last year we honored Cale Yarborough and then obviously with the events in January this year it’s a no-brainer to honor Glenn and all that he’s done for the race team and the sport of NASCAR. I couldn’t be more proud. The car looks great to have this scheme with Motorcraft on board, our Glenn Wood hats, our throwback firesuit. It’s a good-looking race car that’s fast. It’s good.”

IS IT A SPECIAL FEELING BEING WITH A TEAM THAT IS A THROWBACK TEAM? “Yeah, and I think of the Wood Brothers as the ultimate throwback team. They work hard and do it with not a lot. The Wood Brothers shop is really small compared to most Cup teams. We get a lot of support from Team Penske, obviously, but they’ve stuck through it since 1950, which is obviously a long time for any business let alone a race team, so it’s the ultimate throwback team and I feel like every weekend is a throwback with them.”

YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT WINNING THE BRICKYARD? “A lot of memories. I met Leonard Wood. He came up and shook my hand the next week. It’s just a lot of great memories. I spent a lot of time as a kid at Indianapolis in the garage area learning about race cars, up in the stands watching it as a fan, and to actually win at Indianapolis is a dream come true.”

IT WAS A FUEL MILEAGE RACE. WHAT WERE THE LAST FEW LAPS LIKE? “It was a fuel mileage race. We had enough to get to the end, barely. I had to do a lot of saving. There was a handful of us that were up front saving. I know McMurray and I swapped the lead a few times trying to draft off each other and with three laps to go or something Slugger Labbe came on the radio and said that Jeff Gordon had fresh tires and he kept me up throughout the whole run where he was, but the last three laps he’s like, ‘It’s time to go. If we run out, we run out.’ He was calling out my lap time compared to Jeff’s and Jeff was a little bit quicker on newer tires, but it wasn’t that much faster. We did have a good car and enough fuel.”

ARE THOSE THE BEST LAPS YOU HAVE EVER DRIVEN? “Yeah, it’s all kind of a blur. When you’re leading at Indianapolis with a few laps to go and Jeff Gordon is driving up on you with fresher tires you have to be perfect, and I felt like we executed really well that day. We were really lucky that it was carbureted engines back then and when you part-throttle a carbureted engine the fuel doesn’t – with the EFI stuff it’s all compensated, but we were really close to burning up the engine. The pistons were all shot. I’ve got a piston out of the engine that they gave me and it looks like it’s been through hell and back, so we were just lucky to finish from an engine standpoint with the ECR engines.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THE TEAM’S PERFORMANCE TO THIS POINT? “Not where we want to be for sure. We’ve got two more opportunities to get in the Playoffs. We just had one practice here and I felt really good about where we’re at with our Ford speed-wise, drive ability-wise, and I think we do have a shot to run really well on Sunday night. We have two opportunities to get in the Playoffs, but we’re obviously looking week-to-week to improve from where we’re at.”

ARE YOU FRUSTRATED THE POINTS HAVEN’T COME LIKE YOU THOUGHT THEY WOULD THIS YEAR? “Yeah. We’ve had some solid runs. We haven’t had anything special. We’ve only got like two top 10s, I think, haven’t led many laps. We’ve led some, but not many. Yeah, a little frustrated where we’re at, but I’m really proud of my team and I’ve got a really good group of guys that we have a lot of fun together and we’re all in it together trying to get better.”

HAVE YOU BEEN TRYING TO TAKE CHANCES TO MAKE THESE PLAYOFFS? “If we go back to June or early July we kind of switched up our mindset. The points situation had us 50-60 points out and figured we could get some stage points and kind of chip away, and we did. We got some stage points and things, but didn’t get the finishes that we needed. So now over the last month or so everything we do is not for stage points, but finishing position. Basically, right now the only was we can get in is to win the race, so throw caution to the wind and pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

WHY IS IT SO TOUGH HERE AT DARLINGTON? “It’s hard to reign in yourself. As a race car driver you put new tires on, you go through turn one and two and go down the backstretch and hear the engine singing a song at 9000 RPM. Twenty laps into a run you’re at 8500 RPM, the engine sounds totally different, you feel like you’re going really slow, so you try to make it up and you get in the fence. Knowing that your best lap at Darlington is probably gonna be your first lap, and it’s all downhill from there, that’s a good thing that a lot of kids probably don’t know.”

DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT? “Oh, it’s very difficult. It’s probably the hardest oval track just to get around that we go to. I love the track. Turn one and two is extremely, for lack of a better word, badass. You enter it low, go up by the wall wide-open through the center of the corner, try to get all you can to get a good exit off turn two and then three and four there’s zero grip down there. You just slide and it feels like you’re on loose gravel, just kind of sliding around, so you just pick your line and either get up by the wall or run the bottom – the middle is kind of no man’s land.”

COLE CUSTER, No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR CHANCES TOMORROW? “I’m really looking forward to this race. I think we can run good, it’s just I think we were fast all day. I think we worked on our long run speed and think I got it a little bit too comfortable for me on the last run, so I think we’ll try to get it back to where we need it to be and then from there I think we’ll be pretty good.”

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IT’S LIKE TO RUN HERE? “It’s so crazy because the tires wear out so fast. You’re just slipping and sliding around. You have to be so patient. That’s the biggest thing, but then you have to run up against the wall. It’s just balancing everything and you’re slipping and sliding around, so it’s one of the toughest tracks we go to.”

HOW DO YOU BALANCE PATIENCE WITH THIS BEING SHORT RACE? “It’s really tough, honestly. It’s trying to save your car where you still have something at the very end. When you run the top you don’t want to hit the wall too many times. It’s about patience but also being aggressive.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THESE LAST THREE RACES OF THE REGULAR SEASON? “I think we want to build up some consistency going into the Playoffs now. I think the last month has been a little bit rough for us, so I think building some consistency would be nice and then also if we can win a race that would be awesome too, but we want to build some consistency.”

HOW WILL IT BE TO HAVE DALE JR. BACK IN THE RACE? “Yeah, it’s cool to run against him. It’s really cool to say you’ve run against Dale Jr. before, so having him come back and everything I think it’s really cool and awesome for NASCAR and everything.”

HAVE YOU TALKED WITH JUNIOR IN THE PAST ABOUT ANY TIPS OR ADVICE? “A little bit, for sure. When I was driving that truck and everything he definitely gave me a few tips along the way and has definitely made me a little bit better driver.”

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