NSCS Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona Media Day (Stenhouse/Keselowski/Blaney)

Ford Performance NSCS Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Daytona Media Day
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

RICKY STENHOUSE JR., No. 17 Fastenal Ford Fusion – WHAT KIND OF GAINS DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM HAS MADE THIS YEAR? “I hope good ones. Big gains is what we need. We definitely brought a faster Fastenal Ford down here than we had last year and I think that showed in qualifying. That being said it is still a speedway race and it doesn’t mean a ton but it does give you confidence that the work that they put into it this offseason has made a difference at least for Daytona. I do think going to Atlanta and going to Las Vegas and Phoenix and California will still be probably a truer test to the gains we have made but I do feel confident in the direction that we went last year towards the end of the year and the offseason. The guys all feel really confident about the choices that we have made with hiring and the management department in different areas and the changes we have made to the race cars and the things they are seeing. Us coming down here and having a good strong qualifying run sends a message back to the shop guys that are the ones doing the work and continuing to put the hours in that they are able to see the hard work on our speedway cars pay off. That is really neat for them and builds confidence in me. I know they are there working every day and long hours but it was cool to see that. We were probably the 26th fastest car in qualifying last year so to move up 20 spots is pretty solid. My guys, looking at the lap times and seeing where the 24 and the 88 and 20 were, they think by the time we get to Talladega we will have a really good shot at winning the pole with more changes they want to do to our speedway cars. We only have four speedway races a year so that is not everything but I think it sends a message back to the shop and builds some confidence that the things we are looking at and doing are in the right direction at least.”

IN THIS RACE PEOPLE WANT TO FOLLOW FAST CARS. HOW OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS DO YOU SHOW PEOPLE THAT COME RACE TIME YOU WILL BE A FAST CAR? “That is a very legitimate question that obviously cars that are fast by themselves generally still have a lot of speed drafting and that is a good thing. All of the teams and drivers are looking at qualifying and saying which cars are fast but to show them in the Duel, if you can get out there and lead of push a car to the lead, if you are behind a guy and running in a different lane and not in the lead yet or he is not in the lead, if you can push that car to the lead then I think that says a lot about how fast your car is. That shows those guys that run up front that you can run well up there. You have your really good speedway racers that are really good at staying out front so it is just a deal that we will have to get up in there and mix it up with them. I don’t think we have ever had a really good car to go up there and mix it up in the top five. We have had top-10 cars here and been able to hang around there and get top-10 finishes on these speedway races but I have never felt we had a really good car to go win. Hopefully our Fastenal Ford this weekend will be one of those cars.”

CAN YOU SHOW IT IN WEDNESDAY PRACTICE? “I have talked about it a lot with other drivers, you have drivers that if they pull out and go to the bottom, the whole line goes with them, Somebody that hasn’t won speedway races and haven’t been up in the mix of the top-five a lot, you don’t generally switch lanes and a lot of people go with you unless it is maybe some teammates behind you. That is where it gets tricky and I think Dale Jr. is a good speedway racer but it is also nice that when he pulls out everybody goes with him. That benefits him a lot. It helps the people that are following him because generally you are going to the front. If you can get behind and push some of those well respected speedway racers and then can get some confidence from them that you know what you are doing and pushing them at the right times and getting them to the front with a little bit of help, I think that is what helps make your speedway races easier. Right now over the past few speedway races that I have ran the last couple of years, you are looking in your mirror and deciding, ‘if I go to the bottom will this car go with me or slide up and fill the gap?’ So you spend all race back and forth thinking about that. We have shown our cars have speed by themselves and if we can show we can push some cars and maybe do a small drafting practice on Wednesday pushing people, show in the Duels, maybe Sunday they will have more confidence in me and the car and if we can put it in the right place, the right positions.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS BEING THE NEXT INNOVATION ON PIT ROAD? “I think the pit road guys have gotten so fast that I think the next thing will have to come in the jack man area. A lot of times the jack has to run around and is the last one that can go back around the car so a jack man that can get around the car faster to get the left side of the car up so the guys can get those tires back off and on is a key element now that the pit guns have gotten faster and the tire carriers have gotten faster. Ultimately I think right now we are still kind of waiting on the fuel so NASCAR kind of has you in a box on what you can do with your fuel tank to get fuel in quicker. I think you would have to get your fuel in quicker before you can see faster pit stops. I would say going to one lug nut for the whole tire like Formula One would speed it up a lot but you still have to get fuel in your race car and I think that is the hold up to really making it much faster.”

IS THERE ANY TRANSLATION BETWEEN THE BOND BETWEEN DRIVER AND TEAM WHEN IT COMES TO SUCCESS ON PIT ROAD? “If you can’t get your car to stop in the same spot every time on pit road then your crew guys can’t start changing tires until they know where you are going to slide to a stop at. Once you are consistent at coming into the pit box a lot of times your front tire carrier can already be sitting down and they can judge where you are going to stop. That definitely helps the guys do their job better. Then obviously leaving the pit box as fast as you can and making sure you use all the timing lines as best you can and then run the speed limit all the way down pit road, just because your team does fast pit stops doesn’t mean you are going to gain spots because the driver has to get in the pit box as fast as he can and out of the pit box. We have had good pit stops and I have done a bad job and vice versa. You have to make sure you put everything together.”

IS IT ALMOST MANDATORY NOW THAT A PIT CREW MEMBER BE A FORMER ATHLETE? “I don’t think it has to be. We have guys on our cars that change tires really fast and carry tires that aren’t former athletes. I think it is kind of cool that some of those athletes already have the team aspect mentality of working out together and practicing together and I think it helps camaraderie.”

HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU GOING TO A MEMBER OF THE DRIVERS COUNCIL TO DISCUSS AN ISSUE? “I am comfortable going to them. I haven’t really had any concerns that were worth talking about but I think as we move forward, and this will be kind of the second year but really the first year really having a driver’s council, I think it will be used more and more. I think everybody is getting more comfortable with it and there will be things that you can bring up but really for me I don’t really have much to complain about. My focus is getting our cars better and running better. If there is an issue that comes up that I feel needs to change I will definitely bring it up to the driver’s council. I have a few in mind that I might bring up at some point and we will see if that goes good.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – YOU HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO HAVE SOME OPINIONS AND NOW YOU GET TO SHARE THOSE OPINIONS WITH THE DRIVERS COUNCIL. ARE YOU ENJOYING THAT EXPERIENCE? “A lot. I can say anything I want in there and not get fined. I am honored to be a part of it. I didn’t actively campaign to be a part of it yet somehow I got voted in. I am not sure what that means. It was kind of like my Sally Field moment. It is interesting.”

WERE YOU NERVOUS AT ALL THE FIRST TIME? “No, should I be?”

WOULD YOU SAY LESS OR MORE WITH THE DRIVERS THAN YOU WOULD IN THE NASCAR HAULER? “Way more because you aren’t outnumbered.”

WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY IN THAT ROLE? “It is my responsibility to make the sport better for everyone and I felt this responsibility before and a credit to NASCAR I never had an audience before that we have now from their side. It is nice that that format has been established.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID HE KNEW YOU AND DENNY HAMLIN BEFORE BUT GOING INTO THAT MEETING AND HEARING YOUR PASSION AND VIEWPOINTS HE GOT TO KNOW YOU ON A DIFFERENT LEVEL. “I don’t know if I can put myself in his shoes of what he felt before.”

DO YOU HAVE A NEWER OR BETTER APPRECIATION FOR THE DRIVERS IN THERE AND HOW THEY SEE THINGS? “I guess I never really formed an opinion to be quite honest to have anything new or different to think once I did have that opportunity. It is still one that is refreshing and positive to see for the entire sport.”

WHY WOULDN’T DRIVERS HAVE JUST TALKED ABOUT THIS STUFF MORE WITH EACH OTHER BEFORE? “Well drivers are all naturally very self-motivated and sometimes what is in the best interest of a driver is not what is in the best interest of the sport and that becomes a very delicate line to walk. Having the formats that are now available thanks to NASCAR have I think shed some of that. I don’t know what to say. I am just told to be a part of it but I feel like I am repeating myself.”

HAVE YOU HAD TO RENEGOTIATE YOUR CONTRACT WITH THE NEW CHARTER SYSTEM? “I would imagine every driver will have to renegotiate their contract.”

IS THAT A CONCERN FOR YOU? “I drive for Roger Penske and I trust he will do me right. What else can I do but trust? That is my only option.”

WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO KNOWN? “I think anyone would like to know before the terms of their employment changes but that is not the situation. I am aware of the fact that I am a race car driver and no matter what happens I am still going to be okay and I am not looking for anyone to feel bad for me. On the other side it is not ideal.”

IS IT A BIG DEAL THAT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE PURSES ARE? “I don’t know what I don’t know. It would be like if you guys were working right now and your employer just said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, you will get paid,’ and that is kind of where most every driver is.”

TONY STEWART SAID EARLIER THIS YEAR THAT HE WISHED BRIAN FRANCE WAS A PART OF THOSE DRIVE COUNCIL MEETINGS. DO YOU FEEL THERE NEEDS TO BE A NASCAR MANAGEMENT PERSON THERE? “I feel like this is a huge step in a positive direction and I wouldn’t let it get muddied by breaking down every single part of it. Of course it can get better but I feel it is such a positive step for the sport that I wouldn’t want it to get muddied down in that sense. I kind of would like to leave those thoughts to the format itself to individual or group conversations in private. It is an incredible start and I don’t think we should get lost on the other aspects.”

SO YOUR DAUGHTER KNOWS WHO YOU ARE. “Yeah, it is pretty amazing. She said, ‘dada’, on Valentine’s Day, on Sunday. She looked over and just started saying ‘dada’, it really made my day. It was really cool.”

DOES SHE SAY ANYTHING ELSE? “She says hey in the morning but there is an argument we are having as to whether it is a real word or not. She just wakes up in the morning and looks at you and says, ‘hey’, and that could mean anything.”

THE 48 CAR SLID THROUGH THE GRASS SATURDAY NIGHT AND THE GRASS REALLY TORE UP THE FRONT OF THAT CAR. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THAT? “Yeah, I am not real happy with that. Not just in the context of Jimmie but our cars are – and I have kind of beaten this drum and I feel like I am beating it again – the cars are turning into all aero and having aerodynamic grip to have any speed and in that sense they have become incredibly fragile and kind of turned a corner to being more similar to Indy Car. I am not a fan of that. I feel like stock car racing should be about contact and right now if you rub fenders with someone at a track above 100 mph you are going to lose about 10 to 20-percent of your cars performance which is more than enough to take away your ability to win a race. I don’t like that, whether it is splitter torn off in the grass or a wheel flair getting a nick in it, I think that is not healthy for stock car racing but it is the rules as they lie right now.”

HOW DO YOU LOOK AT TRYING TO DO AWAY WITH THAT ISSUE IN THE DRIVER COUNCIL? “The cars need to go to some sort of composite body that can be regulated and scanned to a high level degree to enforce the shapes and sizes and remove some of the extreme measures that are being taken to trim the cars out and find extra performance.”

HOW LIKELY OR REASONABLE OR FEASIBLE IS THAT? “Very feasible, I don’t know if very likely. I couldn’t answer that.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE DIGITAL DASH? THERE WERE SOME THAT HAVE EXPRESSED WHETHER IT WAS TRULY LIVE OR IF THERE WAS SOME SLIGHT DELAY. “I don’t know all the aspects of it. I know the aspects that directly affect me, which is what I see. I don’t know about the live aspects. I think it is certainly a step forward for the sport if it all comes to fruition. It sounds like from second hand conversations that it is starting to get there. My thoughts on it from a driver’s aspect is that it is not a game change but if it can be for the fans it is important.”

DO YOU TRUST IT THAT IT IS ACCURATE AND RELIABLE? “No, but I don’t trust anything here anymore. I didn’t have any issues with it but we are kind of week one, day one here in Daytona.”

YOU HAD A CRYPTIC TWEET LAST NIGHT, WHAT WAS THAT REFERRING TO? “I left it cryptic on purpose so I will leave it there.”

YOU AND DENNY SEEMED TO HAVE GOOD BATTLES THE OTHER NIGHT TRYING TO TAKE EACH OTHERS AIR OFF THE SIDE DRAFT TO GET OUT FRONT. THAT REQUIRES SOME LEVEL OF SKILL IN PLATE RACING. DOES THAT MEAN THAT WINNING A PLATE RACE IS NO LONGER THE CRAP SHOOT WE ONCE THOUGHT IT WAS A FEW YEARS AGO? “That is a very difficult question to answer because essentially what you are asking is what percentage of plate track success is the driver and what percentage is the car. That is what I get out of what you are saying. I can tell you that last year my car was not capable of performing the same moves it is this year. We have better cars this year on the plate tracks, or specifically I did during the Unlimited. That puts me in a position to make moves that wouldn’t have worked for me last year. In last year’s context I would have answered it was all car or situational. This year I would say I have enough speed to dictate on my own with moves that I make. I don’t know if there is one answer I can really give you to that. I don’t have a perfect answer. I feel like the backbone of any performance in this sport is having a great car. When you have a great car you can make those kind of moves. I had it, as did Denny last Saturday night. We saw the moves we made and I thought it was a thrilling race but I couldn’t have made those moves without as much speed in the car as we had.”

YOUR TEAMMATE JOEY LOGANO, SHOULD WE BELIEVE HIM WHEN HE SAYS HE WOULDN’T CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT LAST YEAR AND WE CAN DEFINE HIM THE WAY WE WANT? “I have never seen anything different. I feel he is genuine and authentic when he says that. Nobody wants to be thought of as a villain. We all want to be thought of as a hero. I think Joey is smart enough and been around long enough to know you have to be the villain in this sport before you can be the hero. Every driver that has had any measure of success in this sport it has been that way.”

THE TWO BIG PRIZES IN THIS SPORT ARE THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND THE DAYTONA 500. WHEN YOU HAVE ONE OF THOSE DOES IT AFFECT YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT NEEDING THE OTHER? “Absolutely. They feel like a tandem. I don’t want to just be the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, I want to be a Daytona 500 winner and multiple time Sprint Cup champion and I think about it a lot. This time of year more than others. Those races, those marquee races like Daytona, Darlington, Coke 600 and so forth have been elusive to me and that is not something that goes unnoticed.”

ISN’T THAT THE WAY YOU FELT BEFORE YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP THOUGH? “Absolutely but I think you feel more realistic about it once you’ve won a championship. As if you have earned the opportunity or should be there to get it.”

THE DRIVE THAT YOU RACE CAR DRIVERS HAVE TO KEEP PUSHING AT THIS LEVEL, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? “The fire burns hot for some and for others it goes hot and cold. I think my fire is still pretty hot. I feel I have a lot to prove in my life and career and the opportunity to do so. Not everybody feels that way and that is okay. It takes all kinds to make the world go round.”

LETS SAY YOU AREN’T THE LEADER COMING DOWN THE LAST FEW LAPS AND IT IS ONE OF THOSE SITUATIONS WHERE THE 1 CAR IS OUT FRONT AND HE IS BLOCKING BOTH LANES AND YOU ARE IN ONE OF THE LANES, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO IN THAT SITUATION BY YOURSELF OR DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PUSH? “You will never make a pass at the front of the pack without someone behind you that gives you some help. It just isn’t possible. The cars aren’t going to get a good enough run to do it.”

WHEN DID THAT START BEING THE CASE? “I feel like it has been that way now since the tandem drafting was eliminated. I think that is a pretty fair way to put it.”

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE IN THE DRIVER COUNCIL? “I didn’t know I was in it. I got a text because for some reason Dale Jr. is like a one man band with the council. I tell him he is the Secretary of State, the IT guy, the President, all of it. I got a text from Dale and I didn’t read it, I was doing something during the day and I noticed it was a group text and I was like whatever and rolled it off. So it was kind of buried. I had five or 10 messages or whatever and then I got a text from Joey and it popped up on my phone and I did a quick glance at it and it said, ‘holy (crap) you made it!’, and I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’ So I am reading this and I am trying to figure out what I made. I had no idea what context he was talking about. So I wrote him back, ‘Yeah, that is cool.’ Waiting for him to answer back and then I see the message from Dale saying I was nominated for the driver council, so yeah I had a total blonde moment. I wrote him back and there was like the awkward space of a minute or two for a little bit.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion – “It is really nice to be locked in. That is the main goal to be honest with you, to be locked in to the 500. It gives us a lot of relief going in to Thursday’s Duel races and we didn’t have that last year. We had to race our way in Thursday last year. It is nice to have a little security and be able to go run our race and not always worry about what could happen or stressing over anything. It is great they brought us a fast car. It is a credit to the Wood Brothers and Penske team and everyone back at the race shop. We don’t do much with it as drivers at this track it is all about what they do.”

WHAT KIND OF CARE HAVE YOU TAKEN TO MAKE SURE YOUR FIRST BIG CONTRACT IS A GOOD ONE AND WON’T TRIP YOU UP AT SOME POINT? “I have been really lucky to be surrounded by some really good people from the Penske side when I signed with them in 2012 and my agency who manages me, they do a fantastic job in taking care of me and I am very thankful for them. I am lucky to surround myself with good people that will always watch over that. As a kid when you sign your first contract like I did in 2012 you will kind of do anything just to get a chance. Now when you sign contracts now you maybe look at that a little bit but we are still trying to make it. As a younger driver there is always someone else waiting to take your place and you can’t get too greedy on the financial side. We kind of take what we can get but the Penske and Wood Brothers have always been very fair to me and always good to me so there are no issues when it comes to that.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE WHEN YOU HAVE THAT FIRST CONTRACT IN FRONT OF YOU AND IT IS THE GATEWAY TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GET AND MAYBE IT ISN’T WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE WORTH? “I think you are just thankful for the opportunity. When I signed with Penske I was 18 years old and had only had a couple Nationwide starts and I was happy and thankful to get a call from Mr. Penske for him to want me to drive for him. We had great people, I still had the same management team then as I do now and there were great people looking at it and making sure everything was where it should be and nothing outrageous. You are thankful but at the same time always have to look between the lines and make sure everything is in place. Penske would never do anything shady or anything like that. They always treat everyone fair.”

COULD THINGS HAVE GONE ANY MORE PERFECT FOR YOU IN THESE LAST FOUR OR FIVE YEARS? “I don’t think so. It has been a lot of fun. It has happened very fast to be honest with you. I remember back in the beginning of 2012 when we talked and there wasn’t a lot going on and we were doing some K&N stuff and late models and had a few Nationwide races lined up with Tommy Baldwin who my dad was driving for and there wasn’t much on the table and then we had a good run at Richmond and that is kind of what caught people’s eyes. I don’t think it could have gone better than what it has. To be driving for Mr. Penske for four years now and to be driving for Brad’s truck team and now the Wood Brothers. It is pretty amazing to be a part of and I am fortunate to be in the position I am with the opportunities I am given.”

A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK THE DAYS OF IMPRESSING SOMEONE WITH A GOOD RUN MAY BE GONE, BUT DO YOU FEEL THAT PERFORMANCE AT RICHMOND TURNED A LOT OF HEADS IN YOUR FAVOR THAT DAY? “It definitely did, for sure. That was probably the biggest turning point in getting us to where we are. We went there with a small team at Tommy Baldwin and bought an older car at RCR and had a good run. I wish I would have known then when I know now. That was probably the best car I’ve ever had at Richmond. I feel like it is still possible. Even now you see some great younger drivers coming up. Rico has a great truck ride and he is a great race car driver and there are a handful of others that I feel like can still turn heads without the financial backing. At least you hope that is what happens. But yeah I think Richmond was a big turning point for us.”

IS IT FUN RACING OR HAVE YOU EVER STOPPED AND THOUGHT THAT THIS IS A JOB? “No, it is fun every step of the way. Even if you have a bad day at the track it is always fun to me. It is easy to get caught up in some things and get frustrated with some stuff and wish something else was happening but you look back on it and you realize how fortunate you are to be in these positions and drive for some great teams and great owners and be with some great sponsors. It has always been fun to me and I have never thought of it as a job, it is really a privilege.”

IS THIS SCHEDULE WEIRD DOING A COUPLE LAPS SATURDAY AND SUNDAY AND NOW NOTHING FOR TWO DAYS? “It is weird and I am still trying to get used to that. Last year I had to do the same thing. You wait all off season and then I wasn’t part of the Unlimited so we didn’t do any race practice on Friday we just did five or six single car runs on Saturday and a little drafting right at the end with two other cars and then made two laps on Sunday and now we sit for a couple days and finally get on the race track Wednesday evening. It is weird ramping up because you think you are ready to go and everything is going to get going and then they make you sit for two days. That is kind of unsettling. At least we get on the race track and can saw we are locked in. That has made these last two days a lot easier knowing we are locked into the 500. Not only to myself but to the Wood Brothers and everyone on the team.”

WHEN YOU MADE THOSE DRAFTING RUNS WITH JOEY AND BRAD, DID THAT SHOW YOU THAT THOSE GUYS ARE GOING TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE SET UP? “Yeah it made me feel good to know they are always thinking about us. Penske does a great job of always thinking ahead and taking as many precautions as they can. You never know what could happen and they were definitely thinking ahead on that and it was a very smart call on that. It made me feel good and made the Wood Brothers also feel great to know we are really a part of that whole team with a really strong alliance with that team and knowing they will do most anything to help us out and that just makes you feel really good knowing you have a couple teams behind you that support you that much.”

WHAT WILL YOU DO TOMORROW IN PRACTICE? “Probably some drafting but not a whole lot. We never really did that last year on superspeedways. Maybe one run and came in. I am not sure the direct plan. I will talk to my crew chief tonight and get a game plan going of what the schedule is. We will probably do one or two runs with big packs but other than that we don’t want to really take a chance.”

IS THAT MORE TO SEE IF YOU CAN MOVE UP? “Yeah, it just shows how your car is handling, how your car will suck up to the back of another car and how it gets pushed. That is a big part of everything. That is the biggest thing we are seeing. It is so different here than at Talladega. You handle a lot differently here than at Talladega. This place is a lot more difficult than Talladega. It is a lot narrower and the track surface is pretty tough. They draft a lot different here. There is not a lot of room. That is one of the biggest things why we will probably draft more here than Talladega.”