Ford Drivers Prepare For California

  David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, continues to creep closer to that 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  With only two races remaining before the cutoff, Ragan sits only 12 points behind Clint Bowyer for the final transfer position.  Ragan spoke about his chances during a press conference Friday morning at California Speedway.

DAVID RAGAN – No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion – YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND?  “Two more races to go and we’ve always seemed to run pretty well here at the Auto Club Speedway.  The track is similar to Michigan, we ran well here in the spring, so this is a track that we kind of look forward to coming to.  I feel like that if we just go out and not make many mistakes – kind of like our whole year – if we don’t hurt ourselves, I think we’ll be fine when they drop the checkered flag on Sunday.” 

WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED ON AND OFF THE TRACK WHEN YOU CAME INTO THIS SPORT AT 18-19-20?  “On the track, my difficult was probably my confidence overshadowed my experience.  I felt like I could go out and be Superman and qualify on the pole and lead every lap and win the race, and I hit realty pretty quick.  All of these guys are pretty good racers.  You can go out and practice and test and be as fast as you want, but when you put yourself on a race track with 42 other drivers, that’s what makes it a little tougher than what it seems to be.  So learning like that and learning the importance of having quality experienced people on the pit box making calls, good guys working in the race shop, that goes a long way.  I think that the major part of our success this year has been because of the experience of Jimmy Fennig and Jack Roush putting key people in the right places to help me.  Certainly, I’m not experienced enough to make all the calls on a given race weekend and those guys really help out a lot, so just probably coming into this sport and being accustomed to winning a lot and being fast wherever we go and then showing up to a few tracks and really struggled.  I really had to stay motivated and keep a good work ethic to try to continue to get better and learn, so I just have a never give up attitude.  The off track stuff, dealing with a couple different sponsors and staying on the road wasn’t the hard part.  I seem to be able to communicate with people and work with the fans and the sponsors pretty well and seem to have a good time doing it.  It was just the transition between the three different series and working with our crew chiefs and engineers and trying to get the most out of the car on a given weekend.” 

WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS AFTER WATKINS GLEN AS FAR AS MAKING THE CHASE?  “After Watkins Glen I knew it would be a tougher road ahead of us.  Obviously, if we could have had a top-15 finish at Watkins Glen, we’d be sitting in 12th right now, but I knew the guys we were racing weren’t great road course racers with Bowyer and Kahne and some of those guys that were right around us in the mix, so basically we just had to get out of Watkins Glen without losing a ton of points and I think we did that.  I think we were still within 100 after Watkins Glen and then basically we knew that top-5s and top-10s were what was going to get us in the chase, and DNFs and 25ths and 30th-place finishes are what’s going to keep us out of it.  It’s as simple as that.  We just try to be the best we can every weekend and the points are going to take care of themselves.  The guys like Bowyer and Kahne and Denny Hamlin and those guys are gonna be fast and it’s gonna be the same thing for them.  They can’t have many mistakes.  I think the car in the next two weeks that clicks off two top-5 finishes or two top-10 finishes are gonna be in the chase and someone’s gonna have that bad race or a tough-luck deal getting caught in the pits on a green flag stop or something kind of freakish like that and find themselves 25th looking on the outside.” 

HOW MUCH MORE DIFFICULT IS YOUR JOB THESE LAST TWO RACES KNOWING YOU CAN’T AFFORD ANY MISTAKES?  “I think it makes it a little bit more difficult, but I  try to have that mindset every single race of the year and, certainly, if you put a lot more focus and effort and try to really think about this race too much, you’ll probably go out and make a mistake if you’re driving on pins and needles the whole 500 laps or 500 miles, so I think the biggest thing is just to go out and do what you’ve been doing and, certainly, maybe be a little extra cautious passing a lapped car on a restart or something like that, but, for the most part, you just have to race and everything is gonna happen for a reason.  If we don’t make the chase, it’s not gonna be because of these last two races.  I can pick out five races from Daytona to this point now that we didn’t do some things right, so these last two races aren’t gonna be the 100 percent reason if we’re in or if we’re out, it’s gonna be a combination of a lot of things since Daytona in February.  So you just have to go and do what you’ve been doing.  If you drive yourself crazy trying not to make that mistake, you’re probably gonna slip up and make that mistake.” 

HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN BANDOLERO CARS HELPED YOU AT ALL WITH THIS NEW CAR?  “Yeah, I think so.  Certainly myself and Logano and Reed (Sorenson) and both the Busch brothers – there have been a lot of drivers come through the Legends car ranks and I think you’ll continue to see that in the next 5-10 years to come and I think Humpy Wheeler was the number one reason that that’s the case.  He put a car together that was gonna make it tough on the driver.  The things aren’t gonna drive good.  They have more horsepower than what the tire wants to hook up.  The tires are hard.  They’re built to go straight, kind of like our COT car, it’s built to go straight and not turn left, so you just have to drive it the best you can.  It’s never gonna be perfect and I think that’s the situation we have now.  The guy who wins this race on Sunday, there car is not gonna be perfect.  There are gonna be some problems with it, but he just has that never give up attitude and he’s able to hang on the longest and try not to make that mistake.” 

AFTER SUNDAY’S RACE YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO DO AT RICHMOND.  WILL YOU PAY MORE ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY GUYS AROUND YOU IN THE STANDINGS ARE DOING ON THE TRACK OR MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THAT?  “I don’t think I’ll be making those decisions.  I think Jimmy Fennig will be making those on top of the pit box or Jack Roush.  After we leave here and if we’re in 12th or 13th or whatever the case may be, we’ll know what kind of spots we have to be ahead of a certain guy and maybe talk to some of the guys who have been in this situation before.  I know my teammate, McMurray, a few years ago was kind of in this situation or talk to Mark and I’m sure Jimmy and Jack and our engineer will be able to have all kinds of equations and stuff figured out for us to be in front of this guy or be behind this guy and what we have to do.  The bottom line is everybody’s gonna be driving as hard as they can to try to win the race, to try to get a good finish.  Yeah, you might have a little pit strategy or something that you can do, but it’s gonna be exciting and hopefully we can come out of this race weekend where all we have to do is get a nice, comfortable top-10 or top-5 and we’ll see what happens.”

            Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle all sit inside the top-12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings going into Sunday’s Pepsi 500.  All three addressed the media after Friday’s practice session at California Speedway.

CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion – FOLLOWING UP ON LAST WEEK.  “All of that stuff doesn’t matter.  We’re here to race and the racing has been pretty good.  It’s been real good, I think, and I’ve just been having a good time with it.” 

DO YOU WORRY ABOUT BEING ON PROBATION?  “No, I don’t worry about being on probation.  I just have to be a little extra careful not to let my emotions get the best of me.  It will be good practice, I think.” 

WERE YOU MAD ABOUT ANYTHING YOU DID AFTER THE RACE?  “No, I felt pretty good about how everything went down last week.”  YOU DON’T REGRET IT?  “No, I don’t regret anything.  I did what I felt was best at the time and that’s fine.  In the grand scheme of things looking back on it, I don’t even think there was really anything that was that bad about last week.  I thought it was just real good hard racing and what happened afterwards is stuff that happens at every short track all around the country every week.  The only bad part about it is just tearing up race cars when you don’t need to.  That’s the only bad part.” 

YOU MENTIONED RICHMOND AND WHAT KYLE DID TO YOU.  WHY DOES IT MATTER?  “I’m not gonna answer that because I think I explained that pretty well in my explanation of how things went after Saturday night.  I don’t really want to get into it any deeper.” 

WHAT KIND OF PROBATION IS THIS?  “I think it’s just probation.  I don’t know exactly what type we’re on yet.  This is just the first week of it.” 

HOW STERN WERE THEY IN THE HAULER?  “I just spoke with Robin Pemberton.  I didn’t go to the hauler.  The way it works is no one can predict everything that’s gonna happen, but this is NASCAR saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to take it easy.’  That’s the way I take it, like, ‘Don’t go out there and do something really stupid.’” 

HAVE YOU HAD MANY ISSUES WITH KYLE BEFORE?  “I feel like we really have been good competitors.  When he’s won this year, I’ve congratulated him.  When I’ve won, he’s congratulated me, and that’s why all this stuff this week, I kind of just got a chuckle out of it because I know deep down that what he says doesn’t matter to me and what I say doesn’t really matter to him.  What really matters is we race well on the race track, so I’d say that we’ll be fine.” 

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE SAILORS COMING THIS WEEK?  “I’d just like to tell all the sailors thank you.  I got a chance to visit the USS Enterprise and what they do for us is a huge sacrifice.  It’s very cool and I hope to get out there again on one of the ships.  It was a blast.” 

THOUGHTS ON THIS RACE?  “This race should be pretty good, so stay tuned.  It’s a fun race track.  It’s gonna be really slippery and a lot of fun.” 

WHAT DOES PROBATION MEAN WHEN YOU’RE ON THE TRACK?  “As a driver, you should never let your emotions get you.  You should never go out and do something stupid, but we do – all of us do – so probation is just one of those things.  It will be the crew chief in my ear, Jack making sure that we don’t go out there and do something dumb and that’s what probation does – just make you take a minute before you do something.” 

BUT IT WON’T CHANGE THE WAY YOU RACE?  “No, the racing will be the same, but the stuff afterwards might be a little more subdued.” 

HOW IS THIS TRACK FROM A PHYSICAL STANDPOINT?  “It’s pretty physically demanding, but, really, when your car is good here, it’s two miles and it’s actually an easy track.  The hard part here is the heat.  That’s the hardest part.” 

HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHERS PHYSICALLY?  “I’d say this one is easier than a lot of the tracks if your car is good, but if you add in the heat and if your car is not just quite right, this place can be pretty tough just because the cars move around a lot.  Really, I think of all the tracks, we probably have the hottest conditions in the car here – at least for the first part of the race.”

IS IT FUN BEING IN A COMPETITION LIKE THIS WITH KYLE?  “It’s very cool to have our team running so well, to be on top of our game, and it’s really fun to have somebody like Kyle that’s so fast.  There have been a couple of races where it’s like either me or him, and I think that brings out the best in a lot of people.  For us, it’s been a lot of fun.  Like I said, if it comes down to just him and I for the championship, that would be fine, but I have a feeling some of these other guys are gonna have something to say about that.” 

JIMMIE JOHNSON WOULD LIKE TO BE IN THE MIDDLE OF YOU GUYS.  HE SAID YOU HAVE ON THE WHITE HAT AND KYLE HAS ON THE BLACK ONE.  “There are no hats.  We’re all really doing the same thing.  We’re all racing as hard as we can every race.  There have been races where I was so mad and so angry afterwards, and there are races where you’re happy.  It just kind of depends on how everything falls as to what hat you’re wearing that day.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NATIONWIDE SERIES?  “The Nationwide Series has been awesome.  It’s been real competitive.  You’ve got guys like Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and you’ve got guys like Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson that run.  It’s a great series and I think it’s as competitive as it’s ever been.  I still don’t like the tapered spacer.  I wish we had more horsepower because it makes it a little more fun to drive, but it really has been a good series this year.  I think it’s been great.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT RICHMOND?  “It’s a fast track.  I wouldn’t say it’s really a short track.  If you’re running the bottom it’s a short track, but if you’re running up top, it’s just a tick different and aero starts to matter.  It’s fun, though.  I like Richmond.  I’m just glad I don’t have to be real stressed out about making the chase going there.  That’s awesome to go there just to have a good time.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE BUD SHOOTOUT CHANGE?  “Wasn’t that great?  You get a pole.  I was so pumped to be in the Bud Shootout and now that doesn’t really even matter now, so I think the Bud Shootout – probably the folks that are in it this year with the new way they have the rules set up is probably better, and it’s probably gonna be a better field.  Really, you have guys that run amazingly well that don’t get a lot of poles.  I don’t get a lot of poles.  Matt Kenseth doesn’t get a lot of poles, so I think it will be cool to see the Bud Shootout made up of the guys that run well in the points.” 

HOW MUCH TRUST DOES A DRIVER HAVE TO HAVE IN A SPOTTER?  “A spotter is extremely important.  Jason Hedlesky does a great job for me.  I think Schrader is the one who said it the best, he said, ‘It doesn’t matter what that spotter says, you’re still the one driving the car.’  So it’s really difficult if you rely on the spotter all the time and you don’t check your mirrors.  You can get yourself in a bad spot.” 

HOW DOES A DRIVER AND SPOTTER FIND COMMON GROUND?  “It’s just like any relationship, you develop it over time.  Jason Hedlesky and I have been together for at least three or four years now.  On the Cup side this is his first year, but we’ve been doing it in the trucks and the Nationwide stuff, and, really, it just takes a while.  I know by the way he’s talking to me and know what he’s saying what he means.” 

HOW DANGEROUS IS JIMMIE FOR THE TITLE?  “We talked about it this week – my trainer and I.  We were kind of going over the guys that were really gonna be tough and it goes without saying – Jimmie Johnson has proven that he can do it when it matters.  I think that’s one of the guys you’re gonna have to beat.  You’re gonna have to beat Jimmie to be the champion.” 

HOW WILL THIS RACE BE DIFFERENT AT NIGHT FROM THE SPRING?  “This race will be a little bit different, but, this race changes a lot over the period of the race.  That’s the biggest thing about this track is when we start the race, this track will be totally different over the last 40 laps because when the sun goes down, it cools off, the grip level goes through the roof and your setup kind of changes and everything.  So it makes it a real technical race.” 

SO YOU NEED TO RELY ON YOUR CREW MORE?  “The crew chief is huge in this race to make the right adjustment because that track is changing the whole time.” 

IS IT BY DESIGN YOUR HAULER IS NEXT TO KYLE’S THIS WEEK?  “It’s just the way the points work out.  Hopefully, they’re by one another for a long time.  I’d like to be this far up in the field every week.”

MATT KENSETH – No. 17 R&L Carriers/DeWalt Ford Fusion – WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT RIVALRIES IN THIS SPORT?  “I think anytime there’s any kind of conflict in any sport it makes it more interesting to watch.  As long as I’m not part of it, I love it.  I think it’s fun to watch.  I think it’s entertaining and gives you something else to think about besides just the race.  You’re thinking about what’s going on with maybe some drivers that have had some issues.” 

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN A DRIVER THAT’S HAD A PROBLEM WITH A RIVAL?  “That’s hard to say.  Maybe you go through periods where maybe you won’t see eye to eye with a certain driver for a while or have a squabble or a disagreement or something like that.  I guess probably friendly rivals is what Dale Jr. and I were throughout the Busch Series.  We both raced for a championship and he won them both those couple years, but it was more of a friendly rival.  We just had a good time racing each other, but it seemed like we were always racing for points and up there racing for wins and top fives.” 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS TRACK?  “I like it because it’s big and wide open and there are two or three grooves.  You can pass, generally, when you catch someone.  The wider the track is, the more opportunities there is to pass and put on a good race, I think.” 

HOW MUCH DOES A DRIVER INTERACT WITH HIS SPOTTER?  “I think every track and every driver-spotter combination is different.  I think there are some guys that don’t like to hear them a lot and really look around and make most of the decisions for themselves in that car, and then I think there are probably other drivers that when their spotter says clear, they don’t even look, they just come up or come down or whatever because they trust them that much.  So I think every combination is a little bit different.  Like at Bristol, all the cars are in a real small area and you’ve got to trust them a lot when things start happening.  It’s the same think like Talladega – it’s a big track but you’ve got all the cars globbed together, so you probably rely on your spotters more.  But at a big track like this, you’re usually pretty aware of your surroundings.” 

DO YOU WORK ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP AND FIGURING OUT THE BEST WAY TO DO IT?  “Yeah, when you start with somebody.  I think if you’ve got to work with them too much, you probably have to find a different combination.  You have to find someone you’re comfortable with and he understands what you want to hear, what you don’t want to hear, when you want him to talk, when you don’t want him to talk, and he understands you too, so I think everybody is just a little different.” 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SHOOTOUT CHANGE?  “Whenever they have any kind of special event that you don’t have to win a pole to be in it, that’s usually good for us because I’m not a very good qualifier.  I haven’t read all the stuff, but I guess I’ve only been a part of that race once, maybe twice.  You want to be a part of every event, so if they make a different way for qualifying, that’s probably good for us.” 

DO YOU THINK THE CHANGE IN LAPS WILL HAVE ANY EFFECT ON THE RACING?  “I don’t think so – not when you have that few cars out there.  I’d imagine it’s half the field or less and even as good as these cars draft, the smaller amount of cars you get out there, the harder it is to pass and to come from the back and do all that stuff.  So I still think in a race like that, when there’s not a lot of cars, you’re gonna want to position yourself as close to the front as you can the whole race.” 

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – HOW WILL THIS RACE BE DIFFERENT THAN THE SPRING EVENT?  “It’s kind of ironic because I remember in the spring it rained out, and the race started late and ended up being a night race.  We were about a full straightaway ahead when it started raining again and we had a really, really fast car.  Then the next day in the sun, I think it was Monday, we weren’t that great and finished in the 12th, 13th, 14th – somewhere in there.  The night before, it looked like we had the thing won, the next day we weren’t that great, so, hopefully, that’s something for us that the night race will be good for us.” 

DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE CLOSE TO HAVING A REALLY GOOD RUN?  “Yeah, I do.  I feel really close and a lot of those not-so-great runs have been self-inflicted.  Speeding at Pocono, we had a great car.  Caught the air hose at Michigan and had to do a pass-through.  A couple others were stupid stuff that happened, so I think that when the chase comes, if we make it, I feel pretty confident we can put together 10 flawless races.  I feel like I can as a driver.  I don’t know if our 10 flawless races is gonna be enough to win the title or not, as of right now it doesn’t look like it is because the 18 and the 99 are a little bit faster than we are, but they’re gonna have to put together 10 flawless races also.  Hopefully, our 10 best races we can put together are gonna be good enough, if we can get ourselves in these next couple of races.” 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NATIONWIDE SERIES THIS YEAR?  “There’s been a lot to it because they changed the engine package and that’s thrown a lot of people curve balls.  The cars have to be set up different.  You’ve got to drive them different.  It makes it tremendously harder to pass, so people have positioned themselves at the front of the field and have been able to win races there, so it’s a competitive series.  That series is super-competitiveness and that says a lot about the competitiveness of that right now.  I think it’s really good.” 

IS 2008 A VINDICATION FOR YOU AFTER NOT MAKING THE CHASE IN ’06?  “Yeah, I think so.  If we get in the chase, that’s the thing we’re gonna have to be tough on is not making any mistakes and put together 10 races.  Ironically enough in ’06 if the point system was like it is today, we would have made it.  We missed it in ’07 by a little bit, so I’m glad that we’re on our way back to getting ourselves in, and I think we can be a tremendous amount better right now than where we’re at.  I think we could be third in points or fourth in points if we just got some of those finishes.  There are a handful of them that are just such dumb things.  That’s the difference between this year and ’06 and ’07.  In ’06 and ’07, we didn’t have a fast enough car.  I said the exact same thing Denny Hamlin said two weeks ago word for word.  ‘We don’t deserve a chase spot,’ because we weren’t running good enough to get it.  We just weren’t.  We were just gonna take up space.  We were gonna take up oxygen being one of the 12 and that’s exactly how I felt the last two years.  I feel completely different now.  We’re running good enough to get in and we’re running competitive enough to make a run at it.  We’ve got six races that we finished 40th or back there a long ways where we were running in the top five, so if we could just kind of shift the clock back a little bit, that would have put us up third or fourth with Darlington being one of them, possibly a win for us, and maybe a couple others being close to a win.  So I feel good about getting in the chase and that we can do something when we get there, but, yeah, this year feels a lot different.” 

IS THE CARL/KYLE RIVALRY A POSITIVE FOR THE SPORT?  “Yeah, absolutely.  I think it helps tremendously.  There are times when you could have created that rivalry yourself, but do you want to throw yourself in the spotlight in that way?  I’m not saying they purposely did that, but that happens sometimes just racing.  Yes, it’s good for our sport.  We didn’t see either one of them get fined points for what they did, which I could argue a little bit with you on that because history has it that that should have been, and it wouldn’t have made a difference, but it would have set the precedence that you can’t spin the guy out after the race is over or run into him, which we’ve not been able to in the past.  But, like I said, it wouldn’t have affected them.  If you take 25 points from both of them, it doesn’t matter so at least it would have been consistent with what we’ve been doing in the past, but I think it’s perfect for the sport.  I think we needed it.  That rivalry is great and there will be a lot of focus on it and the media will build it up to more than what it is, too.  You can count on that.” 

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO ALL THE SAILORS AND MARINES COMING TO THE TRACK THIS WEEKEND?  “I drove the National Guard car for several years and really enjoyed my association with it and cared deeply for all the men and women that served our country, and I’m certainly proud of what they’re doing for us.” 

DO YOU LIKE BEING AN UNDERDOG?  “Yeah, I think so.  I just like to slide under the radar a little bit.  I don’t know.  I don’t necessarily say I like to, but that’s the way it is and I’m certainly OK with that because right now it looks like we’ve got ourselves a good spot in the chase.  If we were sitting here doing this in front of the Richmond race or after, I’d be pretty damn excited being seventh in points.  I know the seeding deal is gonna be different, but I’m pretty happy with what we did.”