Crew Chief Change Highlights Q&A Sessions At New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The Race to the Chase officially begins this weekend as New Hampshire Motor Speedway marks the start of the final 10-race run for those trying to lock down a spot in the top 12 for the season-ending championship battle. Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are all currently in the top 12 and each of them conducted Q&A sessions to discuss the latest issues in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BEING ASSIGNED TO THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON FITNESS? “It’s an honor. We had a really good time there and got to hang out with some kids and do some physical activity, but, for me, it’s a big honor to be a part of something like that. The First Lady has made it a very high priority for them to help our kids in this country, especially in public schools, to make sure they’re eating well and getting enough physical activity. It’s good to be a part of that.”
THIS IS A BIG WEEKEND AT LOUDON. “It’s a big weekend for us at Roush Fenway. We’d love to get a win here with the Red Sox just down the road and John Henry and all the folks at Fenway Group. It’s amazing the Red Sox fans in this area. We were flying in and on the air traffic control radio I heard two different people ask about the score of the game – the pilots – and you don’t hear that a lot. So there are very passionate fans and it would mean a lot to win here for them, and, really for our whole team. We’ve got some stuff we’re gonna try this week and I’m excited about that. We need to turn this thing around and start running better and this would be a good place to do it.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT GATEWAY IN A FEW WEEKS? “Gateway is cool. I started racing for Mike Mittler in NASCAR in the Truck Series and I’ve been there in a bunch of capacities. I’ve always dreamed about going there and running well, and to go there now as a previous winner is cool. The funniest speeding ticket I ever got was right there in front of the race track with my picture on the billboard. We were doing something in St. Louis and a buddy of mine and me got pulled over and I got a speeding ticket right there. The cop thought it was pretty funny, too. It’s just wild. I had to have my buddy come and pick me up with a tow rope with my piece of junk car that broke down when I was leaving that race track seven or eight years ago, but also got to leave with the trophy a couple of times, so that’s really special. I love going there and I’m glad we’re able to go race there. It’s cool.”
WHAT IS THE BRIDGE LIKE FOR NATIONWIDE DRIVERS WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THIS NEW CAR COMES ALONG? WILL THAT MAKE THE TRANSITION EASIER FOR SOME YOUNGER DRIVERS? “Anytime you change something in this sport and anytime something is different or a big change, like that car, I think it gives guys with less experience more equal footing because I don’t have any experience racing that car and the other Cup guys don’t, either. It gives them a chance to maybe show their talent, instead of their experience level.”
THIS IS THE 20 TH ANNIVERSARY OF DAYS OF THUNDER. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT IT? “That makes me feel old. It was neat. For me at that time my dad raced at the local dirt track and I worked on his race car, and it was cool to see Tom Cruise doing a movie about car racing. I really remember that scene with the Sweet and Low, or whatever those sugar packets were, but I was just figuring out girls at that time, or trying to figure them out, so it was cool that they did a movie about racing. It’s not the most physically accurate movie, but it was neat.”
KEVIN HARVICK SAID EARLIER THAT YOU CAN JUST ASSUME EVERYBODY IS MAD AT SOMEBODY. WHAT DO YOU OWE THE FIERY TEMPERS TO THIS YEAR? “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I guess knowing that there’s not going to be any repercussions, knowing you can go out there and settle your scores the way you want to settle them – that probably goes to it a little bit. It is pretty amazing. Last week seemed a little rougher to me than what I’ve seen before there at that race track, but what goes around comes around. The guys who drive like that end up getting driven that way themselves. That’s the way it goes.”
HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THIS TOUGH STRETCH? “I’m trying to cope with our situation the best I can, but we have got to be better. That’s the bottom line. Everybody is working really hard, and, like I said before, you’re very foolish if you can’t just stay focused and keep working. If you start pointing fingers and being mad and freaking out, that only digs you further into that hole. The reason we’re not running well is very simple – there’s something about our cars that we’re not doing right to make them as fast as the other cars. So it’s not that people aren’t trying. You can’t be mad at a race car, at least I don’t think I can be, so I think that’s the key is to just keep focus. I’m very frustrated. I want to run better. That run at Road America, I’m glad I had that run because that felt really good to just go out there and have the fastest car and dominate a race like that. It reminded me of how easy it can be and I think that’s important, so I’m really glad I’m running the Nationwide Series just for that one simple race. That changed my perspective going to Sonoma. When I was sitting back there struggling to run 12 th at Sonoma, it reminded me that I can do this. It’s not that hard, we just have to keep working. So I guess that’s the way I deal with it.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE FURTHER BEHIND IN CUP NOW OR JUST MAINTAINING? “I think right now we’re just maintaining, which is a feat in itself. To not get further behind while you’re trying to catch up, I think we’re figuring things out at about the same pace as the rest of the field, we’re just a little behind them. At some point we have to leapfrog and figure out how to make that jump, but we’re not falling further behind.”
IS THE NATIONWIDE CAR GOING TO DRIVE MORE LIKE THE CUP CAR NOW? “I haven’t driven the Nationwide car enough, but the one I drove at Daytona drove like our Cup cars with less rear spoiler, which I think is really good. The looser the car is better, so I think it’s gonna be pretty neat. Michigan will be the true test because that’s a really high-speed track – the aero stuff will matter and you’ll be on and off the throttle, so that will be the true test. But our test at Daytona was loose, loose. I think it’s gonna be wild at Daytona, but it’ll be really good once we get to race it on a regular track.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THE POINT FIGHT ON THE SPRINT CUP SIDE FROM 8 TH to 14 TH ? “I haven’t been looking at it too much, but I know it’s close. I don’t know who is there, but as a driver I’ve been trying to build ourselves a cushion. We had a relatively good run going at Sonoma and got taken out there at the end and that hurt us pretty bad, so I’ve just got to go do the very best I can because you can go into Richmond and just blow an engine on the first lap. You better have about 150 points on 13 th to guarantee your spot, so that’s the way I’m working on it. But everytime I pull into the garage there’s a different group of guys around me, so I know it’s close. There are a lot of guys fighting for that spot. I think I can safely say that this is gonna be one of the toughest years to make that chase that we’ve had.”
WHY DO YOU SAY THAT? “I say that because it just seems like we’ve got a lot of guys that are running about the same speed, so it just comes down to strategy and luck – more than I’ve seen. Maybe it’s just because I’m in the middle of it, but it sure seems tough.”
JACK MENTIONED THE TROUBLE WITH SIMULATIONS. HAVE YOU NOTICED ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THAT AREA? “We’re still working towards it. I think there is some stuff that’s gonna take a little bit of time. That’s one of the frustrations is that if we develop something that’s gonna be good in six months, that’s not quick enough. So we’ve been working really hard – Jack and everybody – to try and speed up the whole process and go through the things that may or may not work quickly, so that we can move on. Even if somebody dropped off the perfect simulation package right here on this table today and said, ‘This is it,’ you still have to use it enough to be comfortable with it and develop it and that takes time. It’s just work. Everybody is working and we’ve got to turn it around. We’ve got to do better and I know we can. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Jimmy Fennig was named crew chief of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion on Tuesday by owner Jack Roush. Fennig, along with Roush and driver Matt Kenseth, spoke about the change today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
JIMMY FENNIG, Crew Chief – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING BACK WITH MATT? “Jack made the decision on Tuesday that he wanted to pair me up with Matt and, of course, Matt and I worked together on a Nationwide car a few years ago. I think we’ve got a good relationship, so we’ll see what happens but I’m looking forward to being with him again.” IS THERE ANYTHING YOU’VE SEEN OR IDENTIFIED FROM YOUR R&D POSITION AS AN AREA YOU CAN IMPROVE AS CREW CHIEF? “I don’t know. The team is solid. I thought Todd Parrott and Cully Barraclough and everybody did a good job, but maybe the direction I was heading in R&D will help turn things around. We might try some of that stuff with Matt and see how it goes, but everybody is working hard and now we’ve just got to do all we can to make sure we get in the chase and then contend for a championship.” WERE YOU SURPRISED WITH THIS MOVE? “Yeah, I was surprised because I was enjoying R&D (laughing).”
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – HOW WAS PRACTICE? “We came with a couple of different things. We tried to organize for kinematics on the front suspension and hoped that we would find a solution to the worst problem we’ve had all year, which is getting the cars to turn in the middle of the corner. I haven’t been debriefed by each driver or crew chief, but, by all appearances, we’ve still got some of the same problem. There has not been an immediate solution. The balance that you always have on Friday is how much time do you spend on qualifying and how much time do you spend on race practice? I’m not absolutely sure what the strategies were for each crew chief and each driver, but we’ll have good mileage and we’ll have our cars that will handle better than they handled today when we get through with practice tomorrow. Loudon has been very good to us over a period of time. We’ve had some great success here and always enjoy coming here to the northeast and being in this community.” WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE THIS WEEK? “We’re blessed at Roush Fenway with a lot of very able and talented people with years and years and decades and decades of experience. We’re continually working for and looking for the best chemistry between driver and crew chief, and the best relationship between a crew chief and his team – the same as a crew chief needs to reach and get all the energy that’s in the driver and give the driver everything that he recognizes that he needs and sometimes the things he doesn’t recognize he needs. That’s a crew chief’s job to be perceptive on that and to reconcile it. If you had said, ‘What was the reason we made the crew chief change on the 17 this week,’ I guess there were two reasons for it. We weren’t getting the number of changes in a practice session that we thought we needed. We were a little slow in the garage area. I don’t fault the guys for that, but the direction and the plan may not have been as well-defined or understood. We had difficulty getting through tech at Sears Point, from the number of times we had to go around for things that were found not to be the way NASCAR wanted them. Some thought we might not be able to qualify. As it turned out, Matt had a flat tire and ran over something on the race track. That caused one of his rear tires to lose a substantial part of their air, and that’s the reason we didn’t qualify well. But what preceded that was the difficulty we had getting through the tech line and, as it turned out – except for Matt stepping in and begging forgiveness – we may not have been able to have gotten our car in the qualifying line in time to make the five-minute clock deadline. So the combination of the plan not working as well as it needed to with the team, and the strategies not working as well as they had in the first few races with Todd resulted in our making the decision that the team wasn’t where it needed to be. Jimmy Fennig, coming off a real productive test program for the race tracks we can go to, which are naturally not NASCAR tracks, but Jimmy was current on a lot of the cutting-edge thinking that we’ve had. Jimmy is a great leader and we thought we’d pass the baton to Jimmy’s hand and let him see what he could do to help Matt.”
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – HOW WAS PRACTICE? “We didn’t run real great today. Last year, this was probably one of our weakest tracks. We struggled at these tracks, but this year has been a little better. Phoenix, I think, was better for us and Richmond was a little better for us. We were just trying some things today. We went through a lot of stuff in race practice trying to hopefully get a direction for tomorrow. We seem to be off on speed quite a bit in qualifying trim, so we’re getting ready to try and make some changes and, hopefully, get it a little better for this afternoon.” IS IT FAIR TO SAY YOU AREN’T GOING TO BE SATISFIED UNTIL ROBBIE REISER IS BACK ON THE BOX? “No, that’s not fair to say. Robbie had a chance to come back and do it, but the problem is Robbie wants to do everything, so he didn’t want to leave his post at the front office. There’s a lot more going on and a lot more important things in Roush Fenway Racing than just one team. It’s about the whole organization as well, so there’s no way you can do both. I think he probably would have came and filled in for the rest of the year if he could try to do both, but there just are not enough hours in a day. No, that’s not really true. It does seem like I’m pretty hard on crew chiefs lately, that’s for sure, but we’ve just had some opportunities within the organization. Jack has a lot of quality people working in R&D and the speedway department and other places – championship-winning crew chiefs like Todd and Jimmy – and we just had some opportunities to mix things up a little bit and see if we can get the team heading in the direction we think it needs to be headed in.”
JACK ROUSH CONTINUED – CARL SAID EARLIER THAT HE THOUGHT YOU GUYS WERE DOING A GOOD JOB OF STAYING EVEN WITH THE FIELD AND NOT FALL FURTHER BEHIND. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? “The elephant that’s in the room is that we’ve not unloaded with as much speed as we’ve historically unloaded with and we have the same able drivers and the same great support from Ford Motor Company – we haven’t had a manufacturer affiliation change – and with the same great cast of characters. Everybody has arguable gotten wiser and certainly had more experience, and we haven’t had a major revolution or change in the guard, but we’ve not unloaded as good as we should and I attribute that to NASCAR’s – not that it’s NASCAR’s problem because it’s the same for everybody – but when we eliminated the race track testing, we didn’t have a chance to go back and benchmark the testing that we could do against the race tracks you’re gonna race at, so, lacking that benchmark, we’re left to measure part of what we would carry to a race track based on historical information from the previous year or from simulation things. We’ve had at least two third-party simulation software providers – not Ford Motor Company and not any names you’d recognize, and I won’t name names – but our software that had been cranked through for making the predictions has not worked as well as it should. So, for that reason, given the fact we can’t test at the race tracks, we haven’t been able to unload with as much speed as we should. We’ve been faced pretty much all year with the same problem – you come to the race track and you have some information that’s of some use from the previous year and you’ve turned your crank and it says, ‘OK, what about the bump stop? What about the nose weight? What about this, that and the other thing?’ And we just haven’t managed to get it as right from a prediction point of view. So then we struggle through the first hour or hour-and-a-half in practice and you establish a baseline, as Matt made reference to, and then you go back on Saturday and have a baseline that’s real time and a place to start – but you’re an hour or hour-and-a-half behind the folks that had better simulation. So we’re in the process and in partnership with Ford to identify new third-party vendors that will carry us into 2011 certainly being on track where we need to be, and, hopefully, we can get enough additional benefit out of the tools we’ve got this year that will be ready to go and make a championship run at the end. If I wanted to say what I could do to help Matt and help all the guys make the best use of their time in practice and getting ready to qualify, it would be to have better predictions in what the race track was gonna require as a function of what the new tire data was and what the latest aero map was and what the latest theory was on geometry for the front end. We have not been limited on some technology, we just haven’t managed to get that combination of things where they need to be and we will. It’ll happen. Hopefully, sooner than later, but we’ll eventually get in front of that. As far as Robbie is concerned being Matt’s crew chief, Matt said the truth and pretty much all of it. Faced with the prospect that Robbie could have been Matt’s crew chief for the balance of the year until we got to a plan that would be long-term, Robbie was not willing to say that he would stand down from doing the general managership thing he’s been doing. The manufacturing works great. The pit stop practice works great. All of the things he organizes for his meetings and things have been taken to a level that was never achieved before, and he wasn’t willing to say he’d be willing to give up on that. And right on the heels of his being the crew chief for Matt the last time he had a health problem and he’s past that now, but neither Matt nor I nor Tracy – Robbie’s wife, which I didn’t have a conversation with Tracy, but I would have if it came to that point – but we’re not willing to put Robbie back into a situation where he can do jeopardy to his health. So if he were willing to lay it down and let us organize the managership of all the manufacturing activities and the preparations – if he was willing to lay that down, he would be the crew chief today, but Jimmy Fennig is a great choice. He’s a card-carrying guy. He’s a championship crew chief in the garage and he’s got as much enthusiasm as he had when I met him 20 years ago.” WHAT DOES MIKE HELTON SAY AS FAR AS OPTIONS FOR TESTING? “I can answer half that, not all. When I talk to Mike Helton he’s always very attentive and very courteous and he’s very interesting in what my perspective is and what would help solve not only my problems, but make it better for everybody in the garage. He’s indicated that they are looking at opening up testing. He’s not been specific at all about what the options are. The thing that I floated of a system of vouchers that would allow you to test a given number, certainly not before every race, but maybe a third of the races at the most. I’d like to see testing opened up for Thursdays or Wednesdays or whichever day that preceded the day you were going to be at the race track. Bring a dually truck with one additional car, put your data acquisition and your telemetry and things on the car and test whatever you wanted as you would for any test you’d go to on the day that preceded the official activities. Load one car back on the dually, get it off the grounds, and then present whatever your primary car was for inspection on Friday morning. It would save us travel time because you’d already have the people already in the same place. A lot of the hotels have got minimums that would wind up not costing you extra for a hotel room. Most of the time we have minimums that we’re not able to use all the minimums, so the lodging would be a savings, the travel would be a savings, the carbon footprint would be reduced, and we would not be as reliant as we are on simulations or on testing at race tracks that are kind of the same or got similarities to some of the race tracks we go to, but are different for surface or different for some of the nuances of track design and layout.” EIGHT WEEKS AGO THE INTERIM TAG WAS OFF TODD. HOW DID THINGS GO FROM LOOKING SO GOOD THEN TO HAVING TO MAKE A CHANGE? “I think I answered that question, but I’ll go through it again. We had problems getting through inspection at Sears Point that fell on the crew chief’s head. Matt and I shared a concern that we weren’t getting the optimum number of changes in the garage based on the plan and the preparation and the execution of the pre-race activities. That was not the case in the first few races when Todd was at the helm, but, for whatever reason – I don’t know if Matt stopped talking to him or I stopped talking to him or what happened, but for whatever reason – we kind of had a breakdown in team communication and the effectiveness we had of getting ready for the race. Todd is very able. He hasn’t lost his job. He’s been reassigned. The assignment he had prior to the assignment he got of being the crew chief for Matt was director of our speedway program. We’ve had fast speedway cars. He’s very knowledgeable and has great passion for racing at Daytona and Talladega, so he’s back in that slot.” ARE YOU CLOSE TO MAKING ANY CHANGES WITH THE 16 OR 99? MATT IS HIGHEST IN POINTS AND HE’S ON HIS THIRD CREW CHIEF THIS YEAR? “We’ve got great people that are not faulted for the lack of ideal performance, and we’re giving ourselves time to work things out. I’m sure people wonder how my mind works the same as I look at other folks that are in decision-making positions and wonder how their minds work. As it relates to the managership and my race teams – and I’m talking about the speedway manager, I’m talking about the R&D manager, I’m talking about the general manager, I’m talking about the crew chiefs, and I’m talking about the engineering manager. I would look at all those as being candidates for any of the managership jobs that we have and would happily look at opportunities to rotate folks where careers would be expanded and chemistry could be improved. We’re continually looking at a possible combination of things that could be beneficial, but, as I said, I don’t fault the people for the fact that we don’t unload as good as we should. It’s a combination of what our predictive capabilities have been and the lack of testing.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – HOW WAS PRACTICE? “We were pretty happy with our car. The lap times are so tight here. We were pretty decent in race trim and probably a tenth off in qualifying trim, so that put us 22 nd . I feel like we can get a little bit better lap, just got the car tightened up a little bit more. Hopefully, we qualify in the top 10 here. That’s what we’re shooting for. Hopefully, we can make it stick. I like this race track. It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it.”
ARE YOU AN UNDERRATED ROAD COURSE DRIVER? “I really like road racing. I’ve done extremely well at it the little bit that I’ve done it. The first time we raced at Borland Speedway I won in the Craftsman Truck Series. The first time ever I was at a road course I qualified outside front row to Bobby Hamilton in Topeka, Kansas. That was my first time at Topeka as well, and that was with a southwest tour car, so I’ve had some moderate success. I sat on the pole and won at the Glen in the Truck Series, and got a few second-place finishes to Fellows. I’ve run good at about all the road course races, but stuff happens and you end up not getting a good finish. But I enjoy it and really like it. I run well at most all of the road course races. I like it. I would do it a few more times a year, if we had the opportunity. We ran the Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona one time in a prototype car with Matt, Kurt, myself and another guy and that was a lot of fun. We had a good time doing it. Our car wasn’t good enough to do what we needed to do, but I look forward to maybe doing that again some year in a good car.”
IS CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY A TRACK YOU CAN COMPARE TO ANYTHING ELSE? “All the mile-and-a-half race tracks are different. There isn’t any of them that are exactly the same. You can compare some to others, but Chicago and Kansas are sort of on their own. They’re both different from each other, but both don’t resemble Atlanta or Charlotte or Texas or Vegas. They’re kind of by themselves and both different. I look forward to going to Chicago. I like that track.”
DO YOU WORRY MAJOR CHANGES COULD BE COMING TO YOUR PROGRAM AFTER THE CHANGE THIS WEEK WITH THE 17? “Jack and I discussed personnel changes that he was looking at doing. He’s trying to restart the fire, if you will, but I’m pretty happy with the way my program is and I told him that. I said, ‘I feel like we’re gaining on it.’ We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve been to Gresham a few times and tested. Obviously, that’s not like any place we race, but we feel like we’re learning little bits and pieces and we’re showing up at the race track a little bit better than we have in the past. I think if we keep working on our simulation and keep working on our race cars at the race track, I think we’re gonna be headed in the right direction. I’m not so worried about the crew chief change.”
AS A DRIVER WHAT WOULD SCARE YOU MOST – NOT BEING COMPETITIVE OR NOT BEING RELEVANT? “I would say not being competitive because not being relevant doesn’t really matter if you’re winning races and you’re up in the points all the time. If they don’t want to write about me in the newspaper and they don’t want to cover it, it’s a non-issue. We finished seventh at the road course and ran good the whole day. I qualified ninth and was up to fourth or fifth when I drove down pit road and was speeding. I don’t know what I did. Maybe I had it in the wrong gear, but I was eight miles an hour too fast, so I’m still not clear on what I did there, but I did something and screwed our day up. Then I had to go in recover mode and the caution came out and made it to where we could make it and I was able to redeem myself by saving enough gas and being smart behind the wheel and taking care of my car to make it to the end, and not racing guys I didn’t have to. We would have been third or fourth if the last caution wouldn’t have come out. That bunched the field back up again and I got run off the road, but that happens. I would say not being competitive because when you’re not competitive, then you can’t do anything. When you’re competitive and you’re running well, you can make a little noise and be kind like, ‘Hey, look at me.’ But if you’re not competitive, that makes it tough.”
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD CO-HOST OR HOST A RADIO SHOW? “No idea, none at all. I never even considered it, but I really enjoy it. I enjoy talking about our sport and I learn about our sport when I participate more in those types of things. I really enjoy that and like talking about it, and I think I’m good at explaining situations from the driver’s point of view and what people look at, so I really enjoy it. I’ll probably do more of it in the future.”
IS ANYBODY MAD AT YOU OR ARE YOU MAD AT ANYONE AFTER LAST WEEK? “When you’re down to the nitty-gritty and it comes down to the end it’s hard. I got run off the road by Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon, but when you’re side-by-side and a corner comes and you’re a little bit ahead of the guy you just turn for the corner and sorry about the guy that’s beside you – or coming off the corner – because once you get two tires in the dirt you can’t really do anything to the guy. You can’t push back or be like, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna move over for you.’ Once you’ve got two off in the dirt, then it’s survival mode – take care of your car and get back on the race track so you can go. Usually, you’ll lose a couple spots and that’s what happened to me. I restarted third and finished seventh at the checkered flag, but that’s racing.”
SO YOU DON’T OWE JEFF GORDON? “No. I don’t owe anybody anything. I’m pretty straight on that whole deal. I didn’t run anybody off the road, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
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