FORD FAST FACTS:
. Ford has won two of the first three races in 2011 and four of the last five dating back to last season.
. There is no track that has been more successful for Ford Racing than Bristol Motor Speedway. Ford has 33 all-time NSCS victories at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile,” which is more than any other track.
. Ford’s last Bristol NSCS win came in 2008 when Carl Edwards won the annual Night Race.
. Edwards and Matt Kenseth are the two current Ford drivers with Cup wins at Bristol.
. Ken Schrader will be making his debut in the No. 32 VA Mortgage Fusion for owner Frank Stoddard.
. There are 11 Fords entered for this weekend’s Jeff Byrd 500 and all but Schrader are guaranteed starting spots in the race.
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion, is one of two Ford drivers currently in the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Allmendinger, who holds down the ninth spot, held a Q&A session Friday morning before practice.
AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND? “It’s one of my favorite places. It was the first race I ever made in the Sprint Cup Series, so it has some meaning for me. Once you get to Bristol, for me at least, you kind of see where your short track program is at. Last year, we weren’t very good here. We struggled a little bit in both races for two separate reasons. One, the first race we were tight and the second race we were loose, so it’s something Mike Shiplett and I really focused on in the off-season to figure out why we struggled here and we think we at least have a handle on it, so I’m looking forward to getting out on the track here in a couple hours and seeing where we’re going to be. Overall, I’m excited about the start. At Vegas I was a little disappointed. We’ve still got to work on our mile-and-a-half program – just on the 43 side of it in general – so to be 19th at Vegas was a little bit of a disappointment, but the good thing was all of the Fords were fast, so there are some notes we can work off. In general, I’m ready to get going. It’s our third week in the top 10, so that’s been good and hopefully we can come here and have a solid week and be able to visit you guys next week in California.”
YOUR ENTRY INTO THE SPORT WAS A STRUGGLE. DID YOU EVER QUESTION WHETHER YOU COULD DO THIS AND WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF YOUR GAME NOW? “I think, for me, it was definitely a struggle mentally. I’m the hardest on myself. I think it’s something that’s always driven me to be who I am. At times it drives me to be really good, but at times it might hurt me because I can bury myself in the ground as well. It was a tough time. I always felt I could do this, I just felt like I needed the right chance. To come straight into the Sprint Cup Series with a brand new team and a brand new manufacturer with no points and no test time at all, it’s not the way to do it, but, unfortunately, I had no choice at that point. I knew I could do it, I just needed the chance and the time. Fortunately enough, I was able to kind of scratch and claw and hang on just enough to get some opportunities to get better and show what I could really do. In the end, it comes down to there are only two options at that point, you could quit or you could stick it out and try to be better, and I’m not gonna quit. It’s made me a lot better now. It’s made me realize what I have at this point and I’m very fortunate. I think, for me, my strengths are I’m not gonna give up. I can drive anything that I get in to and be able to try to make it fast, but at the same time my weakness is I’m hard on myself. I get frustrated and I want to win. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be able to go out there and win a lot of races, so when you come in to here, it’s a different set of goals. It’s not easy to win, so you just have to slowly make goals for yourself that are achievable and just keep going. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win and win a championship, but you’ve got to reach a lot of goals before that to get to that point.”
WHAT’S YOUR REACTION TO YOU BEING CALLED ‘DINGER’? “I like it because I can’t pronounce my own last night, so if they make it shorter, I’m happy (laughing). It’s better than my dad’s nickname, which is ‘Screaming Dinger’, so at least I don’t have that going for me, I guess. I laugh because when Robbie Loomis used to ask my mom, ‘Why is he so fiery? Why is he just so on it?’ She was like, ‘His dad’s nickname is Screaming Dinger, so there’s something that comes from that when he raced.’ But I like it. It’s easier. If people know me by that, I just did a production shoot for Charter Cable and I had to say my name like 1,000 times and I was sick of it by the end of it, so if I can just say Dinger, I’m happy.”
DO YOU HEAR ANY CONCERN ABOUT THE POINT STRUCTURE AND HOW IT REALLY PENALIZES YOU FOR A BAD FINISH? “It’s what we need to do. You need to be on top of your game every week and with the point system, I really didn’t have any bad or good feelings about it. The cool thing, for me, to look at the points and see where you’re at it’s easy – you just count cars. I know I’m 10 cars behind such-and-such or I’m five cars ahead of him. It’s one point per car, so it makes it simple inside the race car when you look at the points and truly know how far you are behind, but you’ve got to be on your game every week. That’s what makes the Sprint Cup Series so tough and to go out there and make sure you don’t have a bad day and the points now make it like that. Heck, I’m always worried every week not to have a bad week. I like being able to come and talk to you guys and be inside the top 10, but it’s early and I know where we are as a race team. I feel like we’re a solid race team. Would I say we’re a definite chase team yet? No. Do I think we can potentially get there? Yeah, we’ve just got to keep getting better. There are certain race tracks, the mile-and-a-halfs, this is a big test again for us this week. These first five or six races were gonna be a really big test for us to see where we were as a race team because a lot of those race tracks is where we struggled last year, so, for me, I look at a guy like Matt Kenseth, where he runs every lap. It seems every year he completes something like 99.8 percent of the laps. That’s what you’ve got to do and now the point structure makes it even more important, so that’s what I’m focused on this year is just being solid. Even if the car is not great, don’t do anything to hurt it and just try to run every lap. We’ve got to make our race team better. We’re not there yet, but we can get there and hopefully we will get there.”
HOW DOES BRISTOL RANK IN TERMS OF DIFFICULTY TO LEARN AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGES FOR YOU BEHIND THE WHEEL? “It’s a tough place to learn. It’s a tough place to race. I loved the place when I showed up to it. I still do and I’m always excited to come here, but I honestly haven’t had a great race here. I think my best finish is like 17th. We’ve had times where we were really fast here and something goes wrong, and I think that’s probably the most difficult thing is you can have a great race car all day, you can do all the right things and just one bad move by you or one bad move by somebody else completely takes you out. There’s not a lot of room for error, where you can save a race car, or, if you get turned, you’re not gonna get wrecked. It’s a tough place and when they re-did it, both corners look the same, but there is just a little bit different ends on both sides. One and two kind of gets tighter in the center, but it seems like on the exit it seems like it opens up just a little bit more for whatever reason. Three and four doesn’t seem as tight right at the center, but right off of four it gets really narrow. Last year, this place it seemed like the first race it rubbered up really bad, so your car got really tight over the rubber. The second race it just seemed really loose to me all weekend, so it’s very temperature sensitive. Although it’s concrete, it seems like just the way the rubber builds up on the race track is real critical, so it’s a tough place to set up for and you continually have to throughout the weekend and throughout the race keep adjusting.”
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO KEEP WORKING ON HERE? “I think it’s just ultimately getting a good balance. I’ve gotten myself in trouble here before where you start being able to run up against the wall and, right away during a weekend, maybe my car is not great on the bottom and I start moving up top, and do the middle and up top and I can be really fast in practice doing that, but you can’t do that in the race all the time. When you’ve got cars lined up on the inside of you it’s hard to be able for you to choose your line, so I think it’s just getting a good balance. Last year taught me a good lesson of what we needed overall because, like I said, the first race we were OK but we weren’t great, and the second race we came back and I just said, ‘Man, I need the car to turn. As long as you make the car turn, we’ll be OK.’ Well, we made it turn and I wrecked three times during the weekend, so I think it taught me a lot about just what kind of overall balance we need and just have a solid race car. Everytime I come here I learn a little bit more about how I need to drive it and what I need to make the car better to drive it right, so it’s just a good overall balance. You need to be maybe just a tick tight, but you can’t be too tight. You definitely need the back end in the race track through the center and up off the corner.”
IS IT MORE DIFFICULT TO SET THE CAR UP FOR A SHORT TRACK VERSUS BIGGER SPEEDWAY? “I think the biggest deal with the shorter race tracks is you get a lot more rubber build up on the race track than say a mile-and-a-half or a two-mile. You get rubber built up on every race track, obviously, but at these shorter ones it just seems like the rubber builds up little spots in the race track where when you hit it, the front end gets really tight. A place like here, Martinsville does it really bad, Phoenix does it, so it’s these type of tracks – Dover is another place with the concrete where you get a lot of rubber build up. When it comes to a mile-and-a-half or anything like that, every place the driver wants it solid in to turn through the center and have good grip off, I mean, that’s what we’re always complaining about and we never have it good enough, but I think on the short tracks it makes it a lot more difficult just because of how the rubber actually builds up on the race track and you’re fighting that more than anything.”
CAN YOU DIVIDE A RACE LIKE THIS UP IN STINTS AND HOW TO YOU PLAN OUT A RACE? “You’ve just got to be patient. In an open-wheel race, you know there are gonna be three stints during the race most likely. There are gonna be two pit stops and you divide up the race. The first stint was always based on fuel mileage, but these races you’ve just got to be patient. You’ve got to see where you’re running on the race track. If you’re inside the top 10, you can kind of take it easy all day and just get to the last 100 laps here. If you’re fighting right on the edge of getting lapped, you’ve got to race tooth-and-nail and try to get everything you can, so it’s more based on how the car is, where you’re running and you’re always trying to get to the last 100 laps of a race or the last 50 laps and really go racing from there, but it’s all judged on how your car is throughout the whole race. If you’re inside the top 10, it makes it a lot easier.”
IS IT MORE IMPORTANT TO COME OUT OF THIS WEEKEND WITH A SOLID RUN AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO CONTINUE THE FORWARD PROGRESS YOU’VE SHOWN? “I’ve just got to take everything that comes. Vegas has been my worst race track. We were good at times throughout the race and then we got bad at the end, but there were times in the past where I maybe would have gotten frustrated and tried too hard and got up in the wall and really hurt us. We finished 19th. It’s not where we want to finish, but as long as you can kind of finish inside the top 20 on your bad days, that’s gonna be alright. The same thing here. We’re just gonna work on being solid and see where we are after Saturday practice and how good we are in the race. For me, it’s just continuing the same growth of learning just to get through this race and be smart about it. If we’re good, then we’re gonna run really hard. If we’re not, we’re just gonna try to survive and get all the points we can. The fortunate thing for us so far is all of the Fords have been fast – RPM, Roush Fenway – all of the Fords have been really fast, so Vegas, for instance, we weren’t great but Carl and Marcos were really good, so we’ve got good notes to go off of. Hopefully, we’re the good car this weekend and we just keep doing the right things.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, has won three of the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races dating back to last season. Edwards, who is coming off a win at Las Vegas two weeks ago, is third in the point standings heading into Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU CONTINUE YOUR MOMENTUM? “The win at Vegas made for a really fun off week. I’m just excited to be here at the races. I’ve got a little extra pressure. We’ve got the Scotts car in both races. It’s the EZ Seed 300 and we’d like to do really well in that race on Saturday. I’m excited to run the Jeff Byrd 500. I think that race is gonna be really special for whoever wins it – to honor Jeff Byrd and what he’s done for this place and our sport. I’m just hoping our car is fast. We haven’t practiced the Cup car yet, but the Nationwide car is super-fast and I’m just having fun and hope we can come out of here doing well and running the way we’ve been running.”
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF RETURNING TO BE ONE OF THE GUYS TO BEAT AT BRISTOL WITH THE NEW ENGINE? “I hope so. I think that this place has been really good to us before. We’ve won here twice in the night race. Kurt won here a ton with Jack’s Fords and I think that engine is gonna be a big part of this if we run well here because you have to accelerate these cars out of the corners – out of these huge-banked corners – and kind of rocket down the straightaway and any extra horsepower pays off, so if we do run well, I think the engine will have been a huge factor in that.”
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE WAY THIS NEW POINTS SYSTEM HAS SHAKEN OUT AND HOW IT APPEARS A BAD FINISH CAN REALLY SET YOU BACK? “I haven’t looked at the points, but I’ve seen a little bit about some of the guys who have had just a couple of bad races how far back they are and I’ve heard that some guys are really concerned. But I think the fact that we have 26 races until the chase, everyone is gonna have their bad days. We’re gonna have trouble. Guys that are up front are gonna have just as much trouble, I think, as the guys in the back. I think it’ll end up working out, the thing is though, just what you said, the bad days can have a huge impact and I think once we get towards the start of the chase and then towards the end of the season, you can see a huge drop in someone’s position or a huge flip in two cars with their relative point situations in just one week because of that. To have a 47-point swing is 180-something in the old system. That’s a huge swing in one race, that’s a lot bigger, so I think it will make for a little more nerves later when it’s all on the line.”
HOW MUCH NATIONWIDE PRACTICE WILL YOU RUN TODAY AND DO ALL OF THAT TIME HELP YOU IN THE CUP CAR? “I don’t know how much practice we’re gonna run. I think it’s gonna depend on the tires. There’s not any rubber out there right now, so we’re having trouble with the right-rear tire. That will change as we go through the day and we’ll kind of know how much practice we can run, but we’ll run as much as we can. I think it does help me. I went out there for the first lap and, man, I’ve run a bunch of laps at Bristol, but, still, those first couple of laps it took me a minute to get my head right. You drive down in the corner and it slams you down in the seat. You know you’re supposed to hit the throttle, but you’re going, ‘Give me just a second here while I make sure this is all gonna work out.’ It just takes a little while to get going here at Bristol, so I think that Nationwide car does help me a little bit, at least to get ready for practice in the Cup car.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT THE NEW SURFACE HERE AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE CHEERS THEME FOR DRIVER’S INTRO? “This place presents a lot of challenges to a driver with this new surface. It looked like when they changed it like, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be easier to pass,’ and it would be easier to race because there won’t be just one groove, but it’s the opposite. It’s become much more difficult to pass guys and I think that puts a premium on qualifying, on good pit stops and on restarts because once it gets strung out, it’s very difficult to get by a guy. You can run side-by-side with a guy for 25 laps trying to make something happen. And, yeah, I went through a lot of songs. We got on You Tube and we just looked at all these songs. I was doing something in the other room and my little brother brought up the Cheers theme song and I heard it and I was like, ‘That’s it. That’s the song.’ I just thought it was a good song and it reminded me of watching that show with my parents when I was a kid.”
SINCE ’94 EVERY MAJOR SPORT HAS HAD A LABOR ISSUE, BUT NASCAR HAS NOT BECAUSE OF ITS STRUCTURE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? “That’s a pretty big subject. I don’t know enough about that. I’m still pretty glad to be getting paid to drive a race car, but I think our sport is different in a number of ways and that’s one of them. It’s a very complex sport that takes a lot to just get to the race track. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than other sports in that respect, but I’m glad we’re racing and I don’t see anything like that in the future. I see us racing every week.”
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT YOU HAVE HERE COMPARED TO THE OTHER SPORTS? “I haven’t paid enough attention to it, so I don’t know. It kind of shocked me. I saw a headline the other day and I thought, ‘The NFL might not play football?’ I didn’t know that was possible. I’m not the best NFL historian or anything, but that was kind of shocking to me that that could go on. In our sport, I don’t think about that as an option.”
KNOWING THAT WINS ARE PART OF THE WILDCARD SCENARIO, DID THAT MAKE FINISHING 2ND AT DAYTONA AND THE PHOENIX PROBLEM MORE FRUSTRATING? “Yeah, I was pretty frustrated about Phoenix, but that’s racing. Things like that happen and the fastest car doesn’t always win. As bad as our luck was at Phoenix, it was that good and turned right around at Vegas. Fortunately, we benefitted from Tony’s problem and now he’s frustrated. That’s just how racing goes. If you go long enough, it’ll balance out. I’ve won races on huge strokes of luck and I’ve lost them, too, but, yeah, those wins are important and it’s hard to have that bad day when you feel like your car is that good because it is so difficult to win and they mean so much.”
CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR MINDSET NOW FOR THIS RACE VERSUS A YEAR AGO? AND ARE YOU BACK? “I don’t think I went anywhere. I don’t even remember coming here last year at this time, but I guarantee you I didn’t feel like I do now. This has been a fun week. I’ve been going to bed at night thinking about laps at Bristol and what we’re gonna do to be fast and make sure we win and not make mistakes. A year ago, I was thinking, ‘Man, what’s wrong? What are we doing wrong here?’ I was looking at myself saying, ‘What do I have to do to be better? Am I missing something? Are we not communicating the right way?’ It’s a totally different mindset and it feels good to be in a position where you show up and I’m thinking about winning this race. I’m not thinking about hanging on for a position in the points. I’m not thinking about whether or not our engine is gonna be good or our pit stops are gonna be good. I’m just thinking about the pure performance part of the sport and that’s really fun, so I don’t even want to start thinking about last year because I’m enjoying this. I just hope it lasts.”
WHAT ABOUT THE POSITION YOU’RE IN NOW? “I think we’re in as good of a position as we’ve been. There are obviously things we can still work on and we can be better, but it’s good. If we can run like this, if this was the fall race and had six or eight races to go, I’d feel pretty darn good about our chances, but there’s just so much racing left and you never know what’s gonna happen. I have a feeling there are gonna be some guys that really speed it up through the season and guys that are gonna be coming out of nowhere and being tough. I think we’ve got a shot, though.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE JEFF GORDON-JEFF BURTON SCUFFLE AT TEXAS LAST YEAR? “This is racing. I think we’ve got guys that are passionate about the sport and guys that care about racing. We put everything on the line. The fans want to see guys that are passionate about racing and passionate about what they do and every once in a while you’re gonna see stuff like that. I think that’s just the sport and, yeah, those would have been about the last two guys I would have expected, but I think that made for a great story that day and I respect the heck out of both of those guys. I think it’s just racing.”