Ford Drivers Talk Atlanta Motor Speedway
FORD FAST FACTS — ATLANTA
· The Ford “FR9” engine returns this weekend and will be under the hood of Bill Elliott’s No. 21 Motorcraft Fusion. That will be the only Ford to sport the new engine on Sunday.
· The Wood Brothers are running the “FR9” in every race they attend in 2010.
· There are 13 Ford entered and guaranteed starting spots for Sunday (Roush Fenway (4), Richard Petty Motorsports (4), Front Row Motorsports (3), Latitude 43 Motorsports (1) and Wood Brothers Racing (1).
· The Wood Brothers have won more races at Atlanta Motor Speedway than any other team (12).
· Ford has 30 all-time NSCS wins at Atlanta, which is the third-winningest track on the circuit for the manufacturers. The only two tracks Ford has more wins at are Bristol (33) and Michigan (31).
· Carl Edwards won his first series race at Atlanta in 2005 and has three overall at the track.
· The winningest Ford driver at Atlanta is Bill Elliott with five, including sweeps in 1985 and ‘92.
· Kasey Kahne is the only other active Ford driver who has won at AMS, winning in 2006 and ‘09.
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, have both started the season with three straight Top 10 finishes. Kenseth sits fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings while Biffle is sixth. Both drivers held separate Q&A sessions on Friday before practice.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – “Competition-wise, I’m glad to be back in Atlanta. This has been a great race track for us, although we’ve had a few obstacles the last couple times we’ve been here. One we got in an accident and that was not good, but we’ve always run very well here. We feel like we’ve gained on it over the winter and our cars seem to be running better at California and Vegas and, hopefully, we continue our top 10 runs here this weekend.”
A FEW YEARS AGO YOU SAID AT THIS RACE THAT YOUR THIRD PLACE FINISH WAS THE WORST DAY OF YOUR LIFE. HAVE THINGS CHANGED AT ALL FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE? “It has some, but we are just racers to the bone. It’s just bred into us that you want to win and you want to try hard to do the best you can and win races. There’s a great third-place finish and there’s a worst-day-of-your-life third-place finish. The one is when you led the whole day like Jeff Gordon did and didn’t win, and then there’s the other one where you’ve been running 10th all day and you end up finishing third or fourth. Certainly, there are two sides to that coin, but we try hard every week and it’s important for us to get top-five finishes and run for the title and when they slip away they hurt. I’ve had a few worst days since that day here in Atlanta. Kansas last year was tough when Tony beat us and we took four tires, but that’s what racing is about. That’s why there are fans in the grandstands and that’s why there are all these people here, because it’s exciting and it’s never easy and we struggle a lot of the time.”
DOES IT STILL HURT? “That particular race, no, but when you come and you run and you come that close, ask Jeff Gordon. It stung last week when he had that good of a car and ran up front for that period of time and then missed it by that much. It hurts when you come that close and it always will. Like I said, there are always different circumstances. If Jeff Gordon would have run 15th all day, and then he got up there and duked it out and didn’t win, it’s like, ‘Aw, we came close. It was a good day for us.’ But when you lead every single lap and have the best car all day, and then lose by that much, that’s what stings more than anything is thinking you had it the whole time. When it shows up at the pay window for the trophy and the points and it’s not your ticket anymore, that’s what stings.”
THERE ARE THREE RFR CARS IN THE TOP 10 BUT THERE’S NOT A LOT OF TALK ABOUT YOUR GROUP. WHO IS PULLING FOR GREG BIFFLE OR ARE YOU JUST UNDER THE RADAR GETTING THE JOB DONE? “It’s always been like that a little bit, but I don’t really want to be under the radar anymore. We want to be talked about at the front of the field. We were third in points last week and got a 10th-place finish and fell back some, but we feel like we’re here to stay in the top 10 and we just hope they talk about us and we make enough noise on the race track that they continue to recognize us and talk about us.”
WHAT ABOUT HAVING THE SPOILER BACK ON THE CAR SOON? “I’m really looking forward to the spoiler back on the race car. I had the opportunity to test it at Texas, along with Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers, and I think we all had the same feeling that the car turned a little bit better on corner exit. The car had a little bit more front grip, it seemed like, than the wing. Now, we’ll just have to wait and see when we get around a big group of cars, and that test will be coming at Charlotte the end of this month. I think we’re all looking forward to that to see how the cars react around a bunch of other cars, but what I think you’re gonna see is better racing on the race track. That’s what I think. The racing is pretty good from where I’ve been sitting these first two downforce race tracks. It looks pretty exciting to me, or at least it has been from my vantage point, so if we improve on that at all, it’s gonna be a really exciting year.”
WILL YOU BE AT MY DOOR WITH A CLIPBOARD FOR THE 2010 CENSUS SINCE IT’S ON YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND? “If you don’t send your form back, I’m gonna be at your doorstep (joking). You kind of take it for granted that some of the things that go on in this country that for every one percent of people that don’t send the form back costs the taxpayers $85 million because somebody has to go knock on that door and get that form with the clipboard and ask the questions. It’s really amazing when you start thinking about the stats about how important this form is to send back. They’re trying to build awareness. They’re trying to say, ‘Hey everybody, don’t forget about the census form. Send it back this year and let’s save the taxpayers money.’ This is how all the different places get funding for schools and taxes and all kinds of things. I learned a lot about it with them being on the race car and it’s an important deal.”
WHAT KIND OF RACE PENALTY WOULD BE ASSESSED IF YOU DON’T SEND IT BACK? “A stop-and-go penalty under green if you don’t send it back.”
LOOKING AT MARTINSVILLE IN A FEW WEEKS, HOW TOUGH IS THAT TRACK ON EQUIPMENT? “I don’t know if that track is tough on equipment, but it’s tough on me. Everybody knows that hasn’t been the best race track for myself. We look forward to being better and better everytime we go there. It’s a short track, it’s slow speed and I’ve finally been good enough on the brakes that we’ve been able to finish all the races there lately. We just need to improve performance-wise. I know we’re doing a little bit of testing coming up at Little Rock to try and get ready for Martinsville, so I’m looking forward to the spring race there – that we run better than we have. I think I’ve got a 12th and a top 10 there as a career best, so we would like to at least match that.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING TO LITTLE ROCK AND WHAT YOU CAN LEARN THERE? “Really, the only thing you can learn there is if your car turns better or worse. You’ll put a bump stop on it and go out and warm up – go with a baseline setup – change this spring, change that spring, change the truck arms, and see how the car drives different. You’re comparing one run to the other, not necessarily ‘is this gonna be better at Martinsville.’ So you’re just simply comparing whether it’s gonna be better at that particular race track and hope that it all transfers over to the other race track. You could put this bump stop on and say, ‘Oh, that’s way better,’ and go to Martinsville and actually the other one was better at this particular surface, so we try to get trends. It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a big difference between this and this. That’s something we’ll try at the race track, at Martinsville. There’s really no difference between this and this, so we’re not gonna bother with it when we get there.’ We try and find trends in car – this car reacted this way – and just try to narrow our list down so when we show up at Martinsville we can kind of execute what we learned at Little Rock – what affected the car one direction or the other and see if it affects the car at Martinsville the same way and try to improve on our overall speed. That’s all you can do, and kind of get your mind setup for short track racing. You can kind of get that Martinsville layout in your head.”
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – “Competition-wise it sounds like the weather is going to be good all weekend so we will make a couple race runs and see where our balance is and work on qualifying.”
THE IMPROVEMENT SINCE THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE, IS THERE A SENSE THAT NOW THAT YOU HAVE DONE IT THAT YOU DIDN’T REALIZE WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT WOULD MAKE? “Yeah, we are only a couple weeks in so I am not sure it has really changed the performance aspect very much. The cars had a lot of work done on them over the winter, so hopefully they are better. I think after this race and more so after Bristol you will have a better snapshot of where we are at. I think it has been a really good start for us. Last week, I probably could have done a little bit better, gotten us a little better finish if I wouldn’t have gotten behind on that one green flag pit stop, but overall I have been really happy with how the team has been working and how things have been running.”
WHEN WILL TODD’S FIRST CAR ARRIVE AT THE TRACK? “He has had a lot to do with the cars the last couple of weeks. The way things are done with this car and at Roush with the way our organization is set up, you don’t really build your own cars the way you used to. Certainly he has been working the last couple of weeks to try adding his own little finishing touches to it and make things better.”
DO YOU SEE TODD AS AN OLD-SCHOOL CREW CHIEF OR A MIX OF OLD AND SOME OF THE ENGINEERING TOSSED IN? “I don’t know yet. He is very up on everything. Probably more so than I expected with not having done a full time crew chief thing last year. He is up on everything we have going on in engineering and body and everything that goes on at Roush. He has a lot of really good ideas and he and Chip seem to be working really well together, and he has a lot of things to add and different ideas which is nice. It gives us a long list of things to look at and try to improve on.”
COMING INTO A WEEKEND OFF IS IT MUCH OF A WEEKEND FOR YOU NEXT WEEKEND? “A lot of times you look forward to a weekend off. If you could arrange the schedule the way you want, you would probably put it more in the summer. I am looking forward to it. It has only been four weeks but we can catch our breath and get back to the shop and look at what we have done well and what we need to improve on. We will get a glimpse of what we have going on heading into Bristol and Martinsville, so I am looking forward to it.”
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion, moved up 10 spots in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings last week after a ninth-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kahne, who moved from 33rd to 23rd, spoke to the media outside his team hauler before practice on Friday.
KASEY KAHNE – No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion – DO YOU FEEL BETTER THAN YOU DID THIS TIME LAST WEEK? “Yeah, I feel pretty good. I really feel pretty similar, other than we finished the race. The car felt really similar last week to what it did at California after we worked on it the first 100 laps. We got it feeling pretty balanced and had some things that I’ve been talking with Kenny and Keith about throughout the week to keep trying to work on and make better, but we’ve had five cars that could have run in the top 10 so far this year, so it’s good.”
IT MUST HAVE BEEN NICE TO SEE THAT +10 NEXT TO YOUR NAME AS FAR AS POSITIONS YOU GAINED IN THE STANDINGS. “Yeah, you don’t like being in the thirties, so it helps out to make some gains. Hopefully, we can do it again this week and add another solid finish and make some more gains.”
DID YOU GET ANY REACTION FROM ROUSH FENWAY WHEN YOU SAID LAST WEEK, ‘WE KNOW IT’S GONNA GET BETTER BUT RIGHT NOW WE’RE NOT BETTER OFF AS A TEAM AS WE WERE A YEAR AGO?’ “I said we had a better engine than we did a year ago, so that would mean we were better off than we were a year ago. I said as far as the cars go they’re not any better. The handling isn’t any better than what we had the year before, but the engine is better so we’re in a better situation and we’re in a better spot. We’ll just keep working on it. We have a lot of great people who keep working on it and we’re gonna be better than we’ve ever been. Nobody said a word to me. I think they understand what I was saying.”
WERE YOU WATCHING BRAD SWEET UP THERE? “Yeah, I was watching him and he was actually running really good. They changed that team around a little bit with Trip Bruce and Trip has some of his guys working on it, and he looked really good. I was happy to see that.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SEE ONE OF YOUR GUYS OUT THERE WHEN THEY’RE NOT IN YOUR EQUIPMENT? “It’s kind of exciting for me. I always try to watch him when they’re in our equipment also, and it’s fun to watch and kind of fun to watch him progress. He’s a talented kid, so it’s kind of neat to see him out there and just see what he thinks of Atlanta and what he thinks of a truck. It’s a pretty crazy track, so it’s cool.”
YOU SAID ATLANTA IS LIKE A DIRT TRACK. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT? “For some reason, the first time I was here making laps I just really felt like I was at Eldora as far as any track that I had ever been to and the way things compared there with the wall – you can run from the bottom to the top and you’re not sideways here like you are there, but you definitely feel like you’re out of the race track like you are there, and I’ve always kind of thought of it as similar to Eldora.”
IS THERE A SPECIFIC STYLE OF DRIVER THAT THE SPLITTER HELPS? “I don’t know. It seems like it could definitely help and hurt different styles of driving. I felt like it took me a little while to figure out what I was looking for with it. It makes them really precise. I think with the old valance you could be an eighth of an inch off in either direction and not really feel it, but with these if you’re an eighth of an inch off, I think you can definitely feel it – maybe even less than that. You can feel it pretty easily, so I feel like the splitter is a much more precise front-end to our Ford Fusion than it used to be.”
WHAT ABOUT THE WING AND THE SPOILER? “I haven’t got to mess that yet. I’m looking forward to messing with it shortly, but I think a stock car should have a spoiler on it, so I think it’ll be good. It will be back to how stock cars are.”
HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE IN THE RACING ARE WE GOING TO SEE? “From what I’ve heard and just picked up on from talking to Biffle and talking to some of the engineers with what they see in it, I feel like you might see better racing in the corners – through the center of the corner – because you’re gonna have a little bit more grip. That may also not be true. I haven’t driven it, so I won’t really know until I drive it, but just listening it may create a little bit better side-by-side racing.”
WILL WE SEE SOME TEAMS RISE AND FALL A BIT WHEN THIS CHANGE HAPPENS? “I think it’ll definitely change things. I think the teams that are working on it right now and preparing for the spoiler will definitely be in better shape. Not nearly as big as when we had the COT. We didn’t hardly work on it until it was time to race it, and other teams did and they started off a lot better than we did. That was just the way our company went about it. It’s not going to be anything that drastic, but I think it will do something. I think there could be a few spots in either direction if you’re working on it or if you’re not.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ATLANTA MEMORY AS A FAN AND AS A COMPETITOR? “Carl and Jimmie, their finish here was pretty awesome in 2005, but my first win in ’06 here was my favorite memory as far as what we’ve done and how well we’ve raced here. Harvick winning here in the 29 in the white car, that was a big day here. I think there have been a lot of really close finishes here, a lot of great finishes and great races.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, has three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, including the first of his career, at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He spoke about his success at the 1.5-mile track and what he expects this weekend before qualifying started on Friday afternoon.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – “First of all, it’s really cool of Scotts and Aflac to let us come back with this retro paint scheme. Five years ago was a career-changing weekend for me. I got my first win in the Nationwide Series and we got our first win in the Cup Series, and it’s really neat to walk back in the garage and see that Scotts Ford Fusion sitting there. I was just telling Dick Berggren that a lot has changed in five years. I’ve had a lot of really great things happen in my life and in my career, so that’s fun. Right now, as a team we ran really well for a period of the race last week, so I felt we’ve got that little glimmer of hope that we’re turning things around, and there isn’t a better place that we could come than Atlanta to keep trying some things and hopefully have a good run to build our confidence and possibly get back to Victory Lane. The car was pretty good in practice.”
WERE YOU DODGING DUCKS OUT THERE? “On the back of the car it says ‘Making a Beautiful World,’ and I did my part by dodging this bird. When you’re going 160 miles an hour and you’re about to hit a bird, they freak out. The bird went this way and I went that way and I missed him, so I felt like I did my part today.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SEVERITY OF THE BUMPS ON THE TRACK? “As we go on – and I’ve only been doing this for five or six years – but it seems like the tracks get more perfect and more perfect and it makes me appreciate this track more and more. This is my favorite oval to race on. Darlington used to be my favorite one, but this is my favorite one now. I’m sure eventually they’ll repave it and it won’t be as much fun, but, for now, those bumps are great. It gives it some character. It lets you drive the car and kind of pitch the car around them, or drive around them, and it makes it challenging. For me, I grew up racing on tracks – like a lot of these guys – that were just terrible. They had holes and lights out – stuff that gave them character – and I think it’s really neat. I like the track the way it is now. I hope they never repave it.”
YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE TIRES HERE? “We did the tire test here and I think the tires are great. If it holds up, it’ll be good. Like the question about the pavement, you can drive the cars sideways here a little bit. You can lean on the tire and you can make some things happen. They seem to have pretty good grip in qualifying trim. I didn’t run any race trim, so we’ll see tomorrow morning how they last on a long run, but they were good during the test. I think they’re better and easier to drive than the tire we used to have here.”
THOUGHTS ON BRISTOL ADDING THE SAFER BARRIER. “Bristol will be a lot of fun and Martinsville will be a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of success at Bristol. I like racing there. They’ve paved it and made it to where you could go the same speed anywhere on the track and it makes for some really tough racing and you don’t really have to bump people out of the way to get by them. Sometimes we still do, but I think that will be fun. I don’t think that will make much of a difference (the addition of more SAFER barriers). I think that, if anything, it’ll make it a little tougher, which, I could tell by the release they put out there that that’s what they want. It sounds like they’d put a jump on the back straightaway if they could, which is fine by me if they want to try that, but it’ll be good. Those will be fun races.”
IS IT STILL A CASE WHERE THE OUTSIDE LANE HAS AN EDGE ON A LAST LAP PASS COMING OFF TURN FOUR SIDE-BY-SIDE? “It depends on the grip and where your car is fast. The inside guy gets a little sideforce or rear downforce taken away sometimes, so you can kind of pinch that guy down and make him have to lift. I think on the last lap people will be fighting for the top, but anything can happen. This is a really neat race track, especially when it comes down to the last lap or two. You have a lot of options here as a driver. You can drive down all the way on the apron. You can really slide the car in the corner. You can do some really neat things. It’s like a big dirt track. It gives you a lot of options, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you see something entirely different if it comes down to it this year. It just depends. It’s a cool track.”
HOW CLOSE IS ROUSH FENWAY TO A BREAKTHROUGH THIS SEASON? “Well, we might be in the top 10, but we’re not running as well as we need to be running. The good thing is though, about 75 laps in at Vegas I thought, ‘Alright, this is it. We’ve got a car that can win here.’ And then we kind of messed it up and didn’t run so well at the end. I think the Childress guys running as well as they are, that definitely gives me hope that, ‘Hey, if those guys can figure it out, we can figure it out.’ We can compete with these guys, we just have to keep working. There is still a little bit of time and I think we’re closer than we were, so we’ll find out here and Texas – these next few mile-and-a-half races are gonna be the ones that really tell us where we stand. Vegas, like I said, it gave me a little hope because we ran better there than I’d say in about a year and that’s pretty big.”