Biffle, Kenseth, Menard and Kahne discuss day one at Phoenix
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 U.S. Census Ford Fusion, stands second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, just 14 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 U.S. Census Ford Fusion – WHAT DID YOU LEARN OUT THERE SO FAR TODAY? “I learned that when it is hot and sunny in Phoenix the track is slick. Same old, same old here. We changed the front geometry around a little bit on our car and got it a lot better. The car drove really well at the end of practice, so I am pretty happy with it. The No. 27 car is running pretty good on the Nationwide side, so it looks like it should be a good night over there for us. I just can’t wait for this day to be over, it is a busy day. I think this is the longest break I have all day, right here with you all between practices. The car is running good overall and I am pretty happy.”
YOU COULD COME OUT OF HERE WITH THE POINTS LEAD, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE NO. 48 CAR IS VULNERABLE AT ALL? “Well, they are really good. Hopefully they look vulnerable to you because they never look vulnerable to me. We are really focused on that. We would love to lead the points, but there are several other guys really, really close too. It is going to take a top-five run here. I haven’t won here in the Sprint Cup car, but I have won a few times in the Nationwide and truck. I would like to get our first Cup win here tomorrow night and that would likely give us the points lead, unless he finished second and led the most laps like he probably will. We are nipping at his heels and are going to keep him honest, that is for sure.
WHEN YOU THROW IN THE ADDED DISTANCE THIS YEAR AND THE HOUR EARLIER STARTING TIME, DOES IT THROW ADDED WRINKLES TO THIS RACE? “I think so. I think it is going to be a lot different. The track is really slick during the day and cools down at night. More of the race is going to be run in the day now. Staying on the lead lap and keeping your car running good is going to be more important, but you still have to be quick at night, though, when the sun goes down. It is going to be a difficult transition for sure. One thing I remember about this track is that the sun goes down behind those grandstands, so visibility is not as big an issue as it might be in other places, but visibility will still be an issue.”
DO YOU FEEL CLOSER TO VICTORY LANE NOW THAN YOU DID THIS POINT LAST YEAR? Yes and no. We ran better last year at California and Vegas than this year. This year we were decent, but this year we were better at Bristol, Martinsville and Atlanta. It has been a trade off, but I feel like we are about in the same spot. We are in position to win races right now. We need to be just a fraction better, but we are in really good shape and really close. I feel like we are capable of winning here tomorrow night, and I would say we are capable of winning at Texas and Darlington. We will just keep at it and see what we can do.”
THERE IS STILL A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE FR9 ENGINE. COULD THAT BE THE LITTLE EXTRA YOU GUYS ARE LOOKING FOR INTO THE END OF THE SEASON? “It could be. There are going to be a few things with that engine. The weight will be a hair lower and I think the engine will be slightly heavier. We are running a little bit more nose weight in these cars than before, so placement is not as much of an issue as getting the weight lower. I think it will have a little broader power range, so the combination is what has made our cars better this year. It hasn’t been any one thing. We have gotten a little better in several areas. The engine will be a piece to that puzzle and we will continue on with some other things and we will be right where we need to be from the middle of the season on.”
WHY CAN’T WE PUT MORE DOWNFORCE IN THESE CARS? “I don’t know those answers. The only way to do those things is to test them. Put more splitter on it or some wickers on the front fenders. I would vote for putting some wickers on the front fenders because then when you scrape the wall or run into the guy in front of you, you lose that bit of down force. You just have to test it and see how it drives”
THE NEW FORD ENGINE WAS INTRODUCED LAST YEAR, WHEN WILL IT BE READY FOR EVERYBODY? “That is a good question, I don’t know the answer. I know they are working hard at it and it is a logistical nightmare. There are a lot of parts and pieces that need working. You are going to have to have 16 engines a week and have to rebuild every single one of them down to the pistons and rings. There is a supply issue getting all the parts and castings and making sure it is ready for competition. I am surprised more of our guys aren’t running it week to week. I haven’t talked to Doug a lot lately about it though.”
Paul Menard, driver of the No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion, fell two spots to 11th-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after last week’s race at Martinsville. Menard, who has six career Phoenix starts, spoke about his hopes for this weekend.
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion – HOW WAS YOUR FIRST PRACTICE RUN? “Practice was good. We stayed real consistent throughout the run. We threw a lot of different things at our Ford and kind of went right back to where we unloaded. We ran 100 laps in practice or 50 laps, whatever it was, and we were basically right back where we started. We are going to look at a few things between practices and make some decisions about what we are going to do to improve.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING QUALIFYING RUN LATER TODAY? “We go out at 4:30, so the draw is a big deal. We have a fairly late draw so we lucked out as far as that goes. Nationwide qualifying is beforehand and that will be in the heat of the day, so we will get a chance to see what the track does in that condition and then later on once it sits and cools a little bit. Hopefully, it is going to be a good starting spot with that late draw.”
ARE YOU GETTING MORE COMFORTABLE DEALING WITH ALL THE ATTENTION THAT COMES WITH RUNNING IN THE TOP-12 WEEK AFTER WEEK? “Yeah, it comes with the territory I guess. I hate having to do things like this right now between practices when I should be thinking about my race car, but that is just the way the schedule plays out and we have to do what we have to do. It comes with the territory.”
YOU GUYS HAVE GOTTEN OFF TO A GOOD START, BUT HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT MAINAINING THAT PACE AND NOT LETTING YOUR FOOT UP OFF THE GAS AS A TEAM? “We don’t plan on not having a good run. We are 100-percent every time we come to the race track. Some days are going to be worse than others, obviously, but it is never for a lack of effort.”
YOU HAVE 14 STRAIGHT RACES COMING UP ON THE SCHEDULE. WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE WITH THAT? “Our last off weekend was after Atlanta for me because we are running Nationwide also. We are running every weekend now until Thanksgiving and it is good because it keeps you up on it the whole time. Last week, a lot of guys had a weekend off and if I had not run the Nationwide race, I would have had the weekend off and probably would have been sitting at home bored. I am glad we are running the Nationwide car every weekend because it keeps it fresh and doing what we love to do.”
AFTER THE FIRST SIX RACES OF THE YEAR, WHERE WOULD YOU GRADE YOU GUYS? “100-percent effort everytime.”
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion, has three top 10 and one top five finish in 11 career starts at Phoenix International Raceway. Kahne spoke about his historic struggles at
Phoenix, what he hopes to do to turn things around and his future beyond this year.
KASEY KAHNE – No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion – HOW HAS YOUR CAR HANDLED
IN THE FIRST TWO PRACTICES? “This track is always kind of difficult for me to figure out what I need my car to do. My best race here was my first race here in a Cup car and I haven’t even been close to that since. I kind of struggle at this place and we were decent at times and not so good at other times. We will probably qualify well this afternoon, we usually do.”
HOW DO YOU APPROACH BOTH ENDS OF THIS TRACK BEING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT? “I struggle here, so I really don’t know. It is a tough track for me. I have just never really felt like I figured it out or even gotten close. Hopefully we will hit on something for tomorrow that works, but it is going to be a tough race.”
HAVE YOU BEGUN THINKING ABOUT NEXT YEAR AND HAVE YOU HAD DISCUSSIONS WITH PETTY? “I would say it is just too far away. I have talked with Petty, RPM, the Gillette’s to find out their plans for the future, but I am still not really sure what I am going to do, or what I want to do. It is kind of up in the air, but we have had some talks. I just keep trying to race and run well and I will figure all that out when I need to.”
DO YOU HAVE A TIME FRAME IN MIND WHERE YOU PREFER TO HAVE IT WRAPPED UP? “I can definitely see it becoming a distraction for myself, my team and my sponsors. You always have to be looking ahead, that is just part of this sport. I need to have something done prior to June.”
ARE THERE THINGS YOU WANT TO SEE INTERNALLY PRIOR TO THAT TIME THAT WOULD MAKE YOU LEAN ONE DIRECTION OR ANOTHER? “In the past I have tried to be somewhat involved with the way some of the things are going. I always felt like I was pretty involved working with Ray Evernham, that is how we did it. That stuff has gone away over the last year and a half. I just drive these days. All I do is drive and try to work hard to run well with our No. 9 team and go from there.”
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point race heading into this weekend’s SUBWAY Fresh Fit 600. Kenseth, who has finished in the top 10 in five of six races so far this season, spoke about track conditions in Phoenix, his run-in last week with Jeff Gordon and his growing relationship with crew chief Todd Parrott.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – ANY INSIGHTS AFTER A FULL DAY OF PRACTICE? “Not really. The main thing I noticed is that Jimmie shaved his beard. Other than that I didn’t notice much. It was a good day of practice. The track was hot and slick and I think tomorrow with it being a longer race it will be different. Not sure what today’s practice really did I guess. I don’t know a whole lot.”
A LOT OF GUYS ARE SPINNING OUT. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? “You would have to ask them, because I am not spinning out, knock on wood. I don’t know why they are spinning out.”
HOW COME NOBODY IS USING THE NEW FORD ENGINE? “Gosh, I don’t have any answers for you today. I don’t know why. That would be a question for Doug Yates and Jack Roush. I know last year when they were developing that they were having a hard time getting parts. I think they were having a hard time with the castings. The plate stuff has some races on it, but to be honest with you, I don’t know why we aren’t all racing it yet. I know the cars are ready for it.”
HOW DO YOU FIND THE TRACK SO FAR, AND DO YOU THINK SUNLIGHT WILL PLAY A FACTOR TOMORROW? “I would think the biggest time it will play a factor is when we can’t see for an hour or so when the sun is setting. It can become very difficult here when the sun sets to try to find your pit stall and trying to find turn one and all that. I would say that is the biggest challenge.”
WHAT IS IT THAT VETERAN DRIVERS ARE LOOKING FOR IN UP-AND-COMERS IN THE WAY THEY RACE? HOW SHOULD THOSE GUYS BE RACING YOU SO THEY AVOID THAT STIGMA SOME OF THE YOUNG GUYS HAVE? “I think every situation is different. I can’t really answer questions for any other drivers. I don’t really treat drivers different. I treat them all the same whether it is their first week on the track or their tenth year. If they give you respect and room on the track, you do the same to them. Usually you race them how they race you. There might be a driver that a friend of mine has problems with all the time that I have never had a problem with. Every situation is different I think.”
COMING OUT OF THE MARTINSVILLE EXPERIENCE, IF THERE WERE A COMPARABLE SITUATION AT THE END OF THE RACE TOMORROW NIGHT, IS THERE ANY REASON TO EXPECT FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE THAT ANYTHING DIFFERENT WOULD HAPPEN? “Every track and every situation is different. The Martinsville thing, I saw a chance to go for a win and I barely got into Jeff and it was at Martinsville at 40 mph. I thought for him to say that he was going to make sure he ruined my day – which he did by the way and I finished 18th – because I barely bumped into the back of him -- was a little bit harsh and unreasonable, but that is my view and I am sure his is different. Whenever I have a chance, I am going to go for a win. I am not going to go down there and spin someone out for the win. I just won’t do that no matter who it is. I am going to race them as hard as I can and as fair as I can. This track is a lot different from Martinsville. There are two or three grooves down there in one and two and no matter if they throw three green-white-checkered’s, there should be enough room for everyone to get through.”
WHAT WILL IT TAKE WHEN IT IS ALL SAID AND DONE TO BE A SPRINT CUP CHAMPION? “Well, if you look at the past few years you have to obviously get into the chase and it would be nice to get a few wins to get some bonus points going in. A couple years ago when Jimmie won and Jeff finished second, Jeff had almost a perfect chase with a top five average if I am not mistaken and still lost the championship. It seems to me just from watching that the 48 is as good as I have to be. We are going to have to be about perfect to beat those guys with everyone having the same luck or fortune. If they don’t have any trouble, I think you have to be about perfect to beat them.”
IF YOU ASKED PEOPLE TO NAME DRIVERS THAT WOULD GET INTO INCIDENTS WITH OTHER DRIVERS ON THE TRACK, YOU AND JEFF GORDON WOULD PROBABLY RANK LOW. WHY IS IT THAT YOURS ALWAYS SEEM TO BE WITH HIM? “I don’t know, and I always seem to come out on the short end of the stick for some reason too. I don’t know if it is coincidence or not. After the third or fourth time you start to think it isn’t coincidence though. I have talked to him at length and I don’t know if he has a problem with me in particular or what. Gosh, I was happy to run that well at Martinsville and then to have a shot to have a chance to pass someone for the win was great. I was so happy with how our car ran, but very disappointed with the finish because we could have come out of there leading the points, or at least with another top ten finish. I was disappointed with the result, but man I was happy with how we ran.
I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT JEFF IS ON EDGE A LITTLE BIT THIS YEAR, DO YOU TRY TO READ OTHER DRIVERS AND HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT ABOUT JEFF? “Not really, I don’t really pay that much attention to them to tell you the truth. I don’t watch the news shows when I get home and no offense, but I don’t read what you write when I get home that much either. If people are going to write bad stuff about you, then you probably shouldn’t listen and if they are writing good stuff you shouldn’t listen because you will think you are doing better than what you are.
AFTER TWO PRACTICE SESSIONS TODAY, DID YOU NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT WITH THE SPOILER? “To be honest with you, no. This has been one of our worst places since I went to this car for some reason. I did see a couple of those cars that spun out, so maybe that has something to do with it. I hope it does and I hope it makes it harder to drive and harder to catch and correct because I think that probably rewards you when you have a good day and are careful. The biggest thing today was that it was really slick out there, almost like it was a different tire or something. The track was real slippery, but it is real hot and sunny out there.”
CAN YOU UPDATE US ON HOW THINGS ARE GOING WITH TODD? “I think things are going really great. I didn’t really know Todd very well before this, other than saying hi in the garage or whatever. He has a lot of enthusiasm and the leadership I think our team needed. It has been really good and has been a lot of fun. Even when things don’t go quite right it has still been fun. Our car being better has helped that too. We have a lot better stuff to work with this year than last year. He has been doing a really good job, we have gotten to know each other a little better every week and so far so good.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE QUALIFYING EFFORT HERE? “Not yet, really. I think the track will be a lot different at 4 or 5 o’clock compared to now. We didn’t work on it much; we focused on race trim mostly. It is going to be a surprise for me honestly.”
IS IT FAIR TO TAKE THE INTERIM TAG OFF TODD’S TITLE YET? “Well, that is not my department, that is Jack’s department. I am certainly happy with everything Todd’s doing and hopefully he is happy with what I am doing. I don’t see any signals that things are going to change. We are working well together and hopefully we keep it going.
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