Darlington Puts Ford Drivers Through Yearly Qualifying Test
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, moved back into the top 12 after last week’s fifth-place finish at Richmond. Edwards, who sits 11 th in the standings, spoke about racing at Darlington this weekend.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – WHO WAS PRACTICE? “Our Aflac Fusion is pretty slow right now, but we’re working hard on it. We were trying some new stuff, but, luckily, we’ve got another hour-and-a-half to work with it. Our Nationwide car is spectacular, so I’m pretty excited about that tonight. Considering how last week went in practice, we were about 42 nd or something on the sheet the whole practice and Bob really got things turned around and we had our best run ever at Richmond, so I’ve got a lot of faith and got my fingers crossed that Bob will turn this thing around for the next practice and we’ll be really fast tomorrow night. I love racing here. Last week was such a good run. It felt good. We passed a ton of cars and we were strong on pit road and strong on restarts and got a top five. I just couldn’t be happier about coming here to Darlington. This is one of the most fun race tracks we run.”
HOW TOUGH IS DARLINGTON ON YOU PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY? “Today is pretty tough. This is one of those days where running that Nationwide Series doesn’t seem like the wisest thing because you’re back and forth and it’s ninety-something degrees out. But that’s what I train for. My trainers at Carmichael Training Systems take care of me and make sure I’m ready for these days. The fact this is gonna be a race under the lights tomorrow night will make it a lot easier. If we were starting this thing at noon tomorrow, this would be a marathon. It would be a display of who is the fittest because when it’s this hot out and you’re muscling a car around here at this race track, it takes a lot out of you.”
DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS HERE. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE? “I have no clue. Fortunately, it’s 500 miles so we’ll have a lot of practice early on. Hopefully, people will give a lot in the beginning. Bob and I were talking that the last race here I ran into the fence in turn one on lap 12 – a bunch of people got together racing really hard – so I think it’ll crescendo the whole race. Hopefully, we can still keep it all together at the end. I have no clue where I’d want to be. It’ll be a dogfight down in turn one if there’s a restart with 10 to go and everybody’s got four tires. That will be crazy.”
WILL YOU TAKE FOUR OR TWO? “I don’t know. We’ll have to see how the day goes. I don’t know if we’ll stop for four or two. That’s a tough call.”
YOU’RE ON THE EDGE OF THE TOP 12 IN POINTS. ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT THAT? “I don’t think there’s a comfortable position right now. With 16 races left, you could see one car swing 300 points no problem, and most likely swing backwards not forwards, but with 16 race to go we’ve got to be better. The reason we’re in the position we’re in with the points is we had the bad race at Atlanta and then that wreck at Texas. Otherwise, I think we’d be up there with Matt and Greg, which they’re in a lot better spot than I am, so, hopefully, we can just go the next 16 races. But, unless you’re 200 points inside of 13 th or something, it’s not comfortable at all.”
HOW DO YOU THINK THE ROUSH FENWAY CARS ARE RUNNING? THE TWO LAPS YOU LED LAST WEEK WERE THE FIRST LAPS YOU’VE LED ALL YEAR. CAN YOU CONTEND FOR WINS AND WHAT’S UP WITH FORD BECAUSE THEY’RE WINLESS AS WELL? “It is pretty wild. Someone brought that up that those were the first laps we led. That’s not good. We’ve got to be better than that. If you look at last week, we ran fifth and I think the next Ford was 12 th or 13 th , so if Bob and I hadn’t hit what we hit on, that would have been another pretty bad run for us. What we’re trying to do is have everybody go out there with something, take the best thing, and then everybody go to that and move on, so we’ve been working really well as a team. To me, Ford as a company is doing better than any other manufacturer right now. They’re in a really great position. We met with Ford last week and I have a sticker on my phone that says, ‘Ford 596.’ They’ve got 595 wins and they believe, and we believe, that if we can just get one win and get that 596 th win, then we’ll get on a roll, but we’ve just got to find that magic. Last week was the closest I’d been. When they dropped the green flag, we passed something like 20 cars the first two runs and we’ve got to run like that every week. I would say we’re better, but it’s still gonna take some work.”
DO YOU THINK IT’S UNBELIEVABLE FORD IS WINLESS IN ALL THREE SERIES? “I didn’t realize we were winless in all three series. Yeah, that is pretty unbelievable, but that’s good that it’s an unbelievable stat because it shows you how good Ford has been. This sport is cyclical and we talk about that a lot. I truly believe we’ve seen the bottom of it for our teams. I think we’re doing better. If you look at Phoenix, Richmond, Bristol, Texas – we’ve run better and better. Compared to a year ago, we’re way better, so, hopefully, it’s good.”
IS THE DARLINGTON TRACK GETTING BACK TO WHERE IT WAS BEFORE THE REPAVING? “It’s a little bit closer. When I first got out there in the Nationwide car I was pretty excited because I could tell it was just a little rougher and a little grayer. It’s going to take a couple of years to get as good as it was, but I look forward to it. If they could come out here and just rough it up, do whatever they can, maybe it’ll rain a little extra this year or something. The quicker we can get back to that, I think the better. That’s one of the neatest things about this race track. They tell me that what the asphalt is made out of will age really well, so I guess that’s a long version of ‘we’re on our way to that, but not quite there yet.’”
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU NEED TO WIN A TITLE? “There are certain things you have to have and we’re working on them. We addressed some things with our Aflac team. Number 1 is the pit stops. You have to have good pit stops. It’s too hard to pass and we’ve done that. We’ve got great pit stops. The next thing we have to have is really well-balanced race cars. We’ve been working on that and I think the other thing you have to have that we still struggle with is we have to qualify better. Whether that’s me or the car or engineering or whatever, we’ve got to get better starting positions. If you look at the guys that run really well, it sure benefits them every week to qualify up front. So we definitely look at it like there are things you can work on individually that, as a whole, make us good.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON DOVER? “It’s fitting that Darlington and Dover are close to one another because they give me the highest sensation of speed driving into the corner. I know we’re going faster at some other tracks, but turn one here and both ends – turns one and three at Dover – that’s what race car driving is all about. It feels fast when you sail the race car down in there and I really enjoy both of these places. These are two weeks I’m really looking forward to.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MOM BEING HERE FOR MOTHER’S DAY? “It’s really cool to have mom and Kate and Anne – all of them here. My mom is just unbelievable. She’s supported me and been my best friend. She’s just been really cool and always been behind me, so it means a lot to have her here. I’m really excited about having Kate here. It’s her first Mother’s Day as a mom. I still really haven’t gone shopping yet, but I’m gonna work on something. Maybe tomorrow morning we’ll do something nice, but it’s cool. To be able to have all the guys out there with their moms for the race, that’s always really cool. They all like talking to one another, but my mom has helped me a lot.”
CAN YOU TELL US WHERE YOU RANK DARLINGTON ON THE LIST OF RACES? “Walking over here I ran into David Pearson and to see the success that he’s had here, and his talent and ability as a race car driver and what this place did for him, the history of it and with it being a 500-mile race, I think it’s one of the toughest tracks we go to. I think any driver will tell you that if you can win here, there’s a lot of pride in that. I know there would be for me. We’ve run very well. Some of my biggest disappointments have been troubles here, but it would be huge to win here. Bristol is a big one. Daytona is a big one. For me, Kansas, but this one is right up there.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, is one of three Ford drivers currently in the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Biffle, who is fifth going into this weekend, spoke about returning to a place where he won back-to-back NSCS races in 2005 and 2006.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – ARE YOU WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU’D BE IN THE POINT STANDINGS RIGHT NOW? “I thought we would be in the top 10 in points so many race in, but I kind of personally felt like we would have a win by now. We finished up the season really good and we started off good, and I thought we could get one of these. Ironically, the places that we’ve run good at, we’ve run terrible. Phoenix is one of my best places. It’s a race track I really like and at Richmond we’ve always run fairly well. I know here and Dover are two of my favorite places to come. We stand a chance to win here, so those two races were really a thorn in our side. Talladega, too, because there we were pushing Jamie for the win and finished 17 th , so that kind of hurt on the points front from running really good to finishing 17 th .”
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WHERE YOU’RE AT? “I’m not 100 percent happy because I don’t have any wins. If I had two wins and was fifth in points, I’d be feeling a lot better. I hate it that I lost those couple spots with those bad races.”
FORD IS STILL LOOKING FOR ITS FIRST WIN. IS THAT TROUBLING? “You say that, but we are Ford. It’s not like there’s anybody else, so it’s not any different for us. It’s all the same. We know we haven’t won and none of our teammates have won. We continue to try and get better and better and we’re searching here. I think a lot of our teams – probably six of the teams here – are a little bit different with a different setup, different this, different that, different front geometries. We’re all kind of over the map and we’re hoping somebody hits on something.”
DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE CLOSING THE GAP AND GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? “I thought we were at the beginning of the season, but the last three weeks, no. This is a new week, so we’ll see what happens here.”
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH HOW THE 27 NATIONWIDE PROGRAM IS GOING? “I am. Those guys work so hard. The other thing that’s really hurting them right now is they’re from Nashville. Two guys had their houses flood and they’ve got no place to live and all their stuff is ruined. It’s been tough on them, but they’re a good group of guys with a good sponsor and I’m having a lot of fun driving that car.”
RED MAN IS GOING AWAY SOON. ARE YOU INVOLVED IN A NEW SPONSOR? “To some degree they’re kind of looking for a sponsor for that car with me driving it. I told them I would be willing to do some more races in it. How many? We’ll just wait and see. I think they’ve got a few leads, we’ll wait and see what they come up with.”
ARE YOU INTO SOCIAL MEDIA MUCH? “Yes, I’m a fan of it. I’m not as involved in it as some guys, but I’ve been doing the twittering and it’s amazing the reaction you get. I tweeted a picture of this rattlesnake that a guy from my mountain property sent me, so you think about the speed of the data. He’s out in the woods in Morganton and takes a picture of this rattlesnake, and then 10,000 people see it within five minutes of him taking the picture. It’s amazing how stuff travels today. We were going to the baseball park to watch my niece play and there are like seven baseball fields on this school property and she’s telling us where to turn and where they were playing. My brother hung up the phone we started talking about, ‘What did we ever do before we had cell phones? What happened when our parents were looking around for us?’ I guess they just drove around until they found us.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENED IN NASHVILLE? “I have to say that I have not seen a lot of coverage and I don’t know how bad the flooding was, but I did see some snippets of it. I truly don’t know the regions and how bad it was and how widespread, but I know they said there were seven counties or something affected. Water has got to be the worst. Flooding is the worst because it ruins everything. It ruins pictures and furniture and houses and cars – it ruins everything. You’ve got nothing left. It’s as bad as a fire.”
DARLINGTON QUALIFYING QUOTES
AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion (Qualified 12 th ) – “Everybody with the Insignia/Best Buy Ford has had just a great day. I’m proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports. They’re building good cars, but we can’t do anything about the draw. I don’t know where that’s gonna put us, but the right side is clean and we just had a solid day. We’re happy with that. I think we’ve got a pretty good car in race trim. We’re gonna fine-tune it tomorrow, but it’s been a good day.”
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Menards Ford Fusion (Qualified 20 th ) – “I was really happy with that . We picked up four or five tenths. The car stuck a lot better. We made some air-pressure adjustments. I left a little bit out there. I was kind of kicking myself because I could have got back to the gas sooner off of four and gained a little bit more speed coming to the checkered, but, overall, I’m real happy with the Menards team and we’ve got a good race car, too.” THE DRAW DIDN’T HELP. “The draw is not gonna help, but it hasn’t seemed to have cooled off a whole lot, so, hopefully, it’ll stay hot and sunny and it won’t be an issue.”
KASEY KAHNE – No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion (Qualified 10 th ) – “That was a good lap. I felt pretty good about it. We made some gains from practice and picked up a lot of speed. The track, it’s late in the afternoon, so I would say it could pick up some more speed for some of these guys at the end, but it is what it is. Hopefully, we end up in the top 10.” WILL GUYS GOING TO BACKUPS BENEFIT BY QUALIFYING LATE? “Well, I don’t know. I know one thing – our car is clean. It probably won’t be after tomorrow night’s race, but it’s clean so far and there are a lot of cars that are not clean. It’s tough. The track has been very fast and the grip has been minimal at times, but it’s been an interesting day. It’s gonna be an interesting night in the Nationwide race and then tomorrow in the Cup race.”
KEVIN CONWAY – No. 37 ExtenZe Ford Fusion (Qualified 46 th ) – HOW HAS THE LADY IN BLACK TREATED YOU TODAY? “She hasn’t been very kind to us, but at least she hasn’t jumped out and bit us just yet. We still have 500 miles to go tomorrow night, but we were just really, really tight in qualifying. We were a little tight in practice and didn’t want to over-adjust for qualifying and stayed just really, really tight.”
DAVID RAGAN – No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion (Qualified 21 st ) – “This is always a fun place to qualify, and our UPS Ford is pretty good, I think. This was a good pickup. You’d always like a little bit more, but, all in all, I think our car is really good for the race. We ran a lot of laps today. I think we ran the most laps in both practices, so I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got. Hopefully, Donnie and I can make a few of the right changes and be good when they drop the rag tomorrow.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion (Qualified 17 th ) – “That car is really good. I didn’t notice anything about it that wasn’t fast, so I was pretty happy. We’ll just wait and see tomorrow night. I gave it what I had, but I could have been a little faster than that. I was a little nervous and just had to take care of it a little bit. I don’t know what happened in practice. I just got loose. The car had been loose all day and we just weren’t able to tighten it up enough and I got loose down there.”
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion, is fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings going into this weekend’s race. He spoke about the weekend after making his Cup qualifying lap Friday afternoon.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion (Qualified 29 th ) – “Today has been a struggle for whatever reason. We haven’t been very good right off the truck and we’ve just been struggling with it to find any speed and to get it to drive like I want, so it’s been a struggle. The qualifying lap was actually better than I thought it would be, but it probably still won’t end up very good going that early, but the car drove a little better than I expected.”
WHERE ARE YOU GUYS AS AN ORGANIZATION AND WHY HASN’T FORD WON YET IN ANY OF THE THREE SERIES? “I think we’re in a better spot today than we were last year at this time as an organization. I feel like our cars are a little faster, although, for some reason, to me anyway, it feels like every week is getting just a little bit harder. I’m not sure why, but it seems like we show up and we’re not quite as fast and it’s harder to find that balance and find that speed the last few weeks for some reason. So I think we’re ahead of last year. I think the reason that Ford probably doesn’t have any wins is we haven’t got our cars to run fast enough, obviously, but all of your eggs are sort of in one basket, too. RPM and Roush are side-by-side. We use the same engineering department, the same chassis, the same bodies – all that stuff – so, really, all of your eggs are in one basket. If us as an organization is off and we’re not hitting it right, it’s gonna be hard for Ford to win, so we’ve got to figure out how to get a little bit better to get up there with those guys.”
YOU’RE NOT ALL OFF. “There have been weeks where, if everything lined up perfect, we probably ran good enough to win. At Vegas, Jeff had the best car and Jimmie, and then we probably had the third-best car most of the day, so if the stars all align right and you can run in the top three or top five, then you’ll probably win some races here and there. But every week we’ve just been off a little bit. I don’t think we’re light years behind, but it’s just so competitive these days that it’s just little things that get you over the top, so we’ve just got to figure out how to get some new things in the system and get them implemented in our cars and just get caught up a little bit more. I feel like over the winter we definitely caught up a lot from where we ended up last year, but I thought we were a long ways off when we finished last year. This year, it feels like we’re at least a step closer.”
A LOT OF GUYS HIT THE WALL TODAY. WAS IT DUE TO TRACK CONDITIONS? “It’s obviously one of the toughest tracks that we come to. The speeds are extremely high. We only come here once a year. You can’t test. It’s hard. It’s tough to get around here fast and in control and not hit the wall. The groove is so narrow that you’re always running right up next to it and the speeds are really high. If one thing goes wrong and you step over that edge just a little bit, it’s not very forgiving. It’s very difficult to catch up from that, so I think it’s been about normal. It seems like there has been a lot of them in the wall today, though, for some reason. Thankfully, we haven’t been yet, but we still have a Nationwide race to run.”
DO YOU EVER WORRY ABOUT QUALIFYING? YOU SEEM TO ALWAYS COME FROM THE BACK REALLY WELL. “Yeah, we always do. In the past, you can look at a lot of things and say, ‘Oh, he can work his way from the back,’ but the only reason is because we qualified bad. I think we’ve actually gotten better qualifying over the years, it’s just we used to qualify bad with really, really fast race cars. We’d qualify in the twenties and on race day we’d have one of the top three, four or five race cars, whereas now I feel like our qualifying reflects closer to what our race cars are and what our race setups are for whatever reason. I don’t think I’m an exceptional qualifier, but I don’t think I’m the worst qualifier either. Like today, we worked on race setup all day. We never even made a mock-up run because we were so far off in race trim. If we would have been a little closer, we would have probably worked on it a little harder.”
WHAT’S THE DEAL ON THE REAR SPOILER? IT LOOKS LIKE IT’S GRABBING THE WALL? “Yeah, that’s one of the things we looked at. The spoiler is much wider than we used to run on our old cars and it hangs way off the bumper cover on both sides, and that’s one of the things we noticed right away and talked about as an organization. We try not to get in the wall because if you get the right-rear into the wall hard enough, it’ll hit that spoiler and move the decklid over, which makes it difficult. It’s pretty wide and I’m sure if it does cause problems that NASCAR will look at that and figure out how to narrow it up a little bit. But they wanted to make it wide. They did a good job of matching the aero-balance so it’s the same as it was with the wing with the longer quarterpanels and the wider spoiler, but still made it short enough where we can see. So they did a good job of matching all that up, but, who knows, maybe they’ll decide we need a little less rear downforce down the road or something like that. The key is to try and not hit the wall.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE ALL-STAR RACE? “The all-star race if fun. The most fun part about it for me, really, is how much it involves the pit crew. You’ve got the pit crew challenge during the week and it really showcases those guys. I think this there is a mandatory four-tire stop before the final 10 laps, so, obviously, it’ll be very important to have a really good pit stop as important as track position is, so that part to me is always a lot of fun. Going out to qualify and leaving pit road as fast as you can and coming off the track as hard as you can without speeding and doing a live pit stop, all of that kind of stuff makes the week a lot of fun because everybody gets to watch that one-on-one, and the crews get a lot of recognition that week. They don’t ever get as much as they deserve, especially when they’re doing well, and it’s cool to be able to showcase them a little bit that week.” ....
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