FORD FAST FACTS:
· Ford Racing has 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Darlington Raceway.
· Carl Edwards is on top of the NSCS standings for the third straight week and has a nine-point lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson.
· Greg Biffle is the only current Ford driver with a NSCS win at Darlington, winning consecutive events in 2005 and 2006.
· Ford Racing has three wins in the first nine NSCS races of 2011 and one more will match its total from all of last season.
· David Ragan has three top-10 finishes in the last four NSCS races, including a season-best fourth last week at Richmond.
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion, climbed back into the top 12 after last week’s seventh-place finish at Richmond. Allmendinger, who stands 11th in the point standings, visited the Darlington infield media center to answer some questions from the press.
AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CREEPING BACK UP IN THE STANDINGS. “Last week at Richmond was really good to get a top 10. I feel like we’re on the cusp there. We’re hanging in there. We’re not doing anything spectacular, but I’m proud of the team because we’re not making a lot of mistakes either. We’re just kind of just hanging around and having decent finishes and running fairly well, but we definitely need to keep getting better to be one of those teams that you consider a top 10 every week contending for the chase. I’m excited that we’ve been able to go out there and not do anything to hurt ourselves. We’ve really just had one bad race at Bristol and everything else has been inside the top 20 or top 15. If we can just keep getting better and steadily improve, I feel like with what we’ve already done and being right there on the edge of the top 10, we can have a chance at making the chase. We just have to be smart and keep getting better as a race team.”
DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GOT SOME MOMENTUM WITH SOME TRACKS COMING UP THAT HAVE BEEN GOOD FOR YOU? “Yeah. I feel like what’s happening at Richard Petty Motorsports in general has been really good. Lisa Brown and everybody on the marketing side bringing in new sponsors like Nautica for a race deal last week was really cool, and I know they’re working on other potential sponsors to bring a new flavor to NASCAR, so I think things like that have been really good for the race team and for us to go out there and keep running better and better has been a good thing. This weekend is gonna be a tough challenge. It has historically not been a great race track for me, but by the same point, this year is completely different. To go into Dover next week I’m really pumped up for. Charlotte, we’ve had decent runs there at times, and, obviously, with the All-Star break there is a lot of stuff we can work on, so I’m excited with the upcoming schedule and what we possibly have, but, at the same time, we know what we need to work on and that’s the intermediate race tracks. We’ve got to get a lot better there to really be a contending team each week. My goal was to get to the All-Star break with at least a chance inside the chase, and if we have two good runs here, we’ll be right there. It’s been good so far.”
AJ ALLMENDINGER CONTINUED — WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW THIS PLACE? “I thought they completely messed up the design of the race track when I got here. I said, ‘This can’t possibly be an oval. What’s going on here?’ It’s insane to me. The race track is awesome with how narrow it is. What’s exciting for me is, honestly, the history of the race track. I rolled in here last night and when you roll through the gates and get here, the history behind the track is something that always excites me and excites me about NASCAR in general. Obviously, the race car that I get to drive has a huge part to do with that, but it is definitely a tough race track. I drove on it once before it was repaved and it was tough, and now that it’s repaved it’s tough in a different way because it’s so fast you can’t make a mistake. It’s a tough place. That’s all you can say. There’s not a lot more to describe it.”
DO YOU FEEL YOUR ORGANIZATION IS PRIMED TO EXPAND TO THREE OR FOUR CARS? “I think there is always progress made, like I said about the new sponsors that we’ve been able to bring in and potentially have more opportunities to bring more in is a good thing. At the same time, I feel fortunate to be 11th in points. We’ve just been real consistent. Marcos has had a lot of bad luck. The way I look at it, until we get both of those cars contending in the top 10 every week on a consistent basis, to try and think about going to three or four teams, to me, isn’t very important. We’ve got to make sure our two cars are fast first, and then make a third one fast and make a fourth one fast. The ownership may see it a little bit different, but, to me, it’s still early. We’ve raced nine and we need to be focused on continuing to get better as a race team. You don’t see a lot of organizations that don’t have a couple of cars already fast add a third car and all of a sudden make everybody a lot faster, so, to me, that’s what our goal has to be is make sure the first two cars are well funded and fast each weekend, and then focus on a third car and then a fourth car.”
CAN YOU LOOK AHEAD TO DOVER FOR US? “For me, I really enjoy Dover. It’s a place that I’ve liked as soon as I got there. Obviously, it’s high-banked and fast. It’s just really a fun place to drive each lap that you’re on it and, relatively, we’ve had really fast race cars there, so I was excited. We did the Goodyear tire test there and it went really well, so, for me, I’m trying to get through Darlington and have a good run and, hopefully, be consistent here and keep ourselves up in the points, and then I’m really looking forward to Dover.”
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN TO LIKE THIS PLACE AND DO WELL? “After it kind of keeps kicking your butt it’s kind of hard to get to that point, but this year is completely different than last year coming here. Last year, we were struggling and it just seemed like the ball was dropping everywhere that we went and something would go wrong. Last year, we had a brake failure and had a big wreck, so I look at it like, yeah, it’s in the back of your mind that, for me, I’ve never had a great run here, but, at the same time, I do enjoy the place. I enjoy driving it and this year is completely different than where we were last year, so I’m excited about it. For me, it’s always there. You know you have to have a good run, but there have been several places like that for us where we’ve been able to go to and have a good run and kind of just get out of there with a decent run. At Talladega, we were running good all day and finished 11th and that’s a place where I’ve never had a good run, so you just have to have a good attitude about it. For me, it’s a tough place to tame, but I’m ready to get on the race track. Ultimately, it’s all about just getting there and getting on the race track and seeing where you’re at.”
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Wiley X Ford Fusion, is ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings going into this weekend’s Southern 500. Kenseth held a Q&A session in front of his team hauler before Friday’s NSCS practice session.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Wiley X Ford Fusion – CAN YOU WIN THIS RACE TOMORROW NIGHT? “I don’t know. The condensed schedule is always a challenge, especially when you only come to a place once a year with a different tire and all that stuff, so I really don’t have any idea what we’ve got until we get on the track.”
DID YOU WATCH THE TRUCK RACE OR MONITOR NATIONWIDE PRACTICE AND USE THAT AS ANOTHER TOOL TO TRY AND GET A STARTING POINT? “Hopefully we have a starting point by now, but you should be able to pay attention to at least the Nationwide practice with our cars over there and see if there’s anything they stumble on that the tire likes.”
DO YOU PREPARE FOR THIS TRACK ANY DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OF HOW DIFFERENT IT IS? “You don’t prepare differently, but certainly every track is unique and you approach and attack every track different. It’s a lot different than it used to be. This car is quite a bit more forgiving, if you bang the right side a little bit, but you still have to have a lot of respect for this track. It’s 500 miles and an extremely long race, so you still need to approach it like that and stay on the lead lap and try to adjust your car throughout the night.”
ARE YOU EXPECTING THE LAST FEW RACES BEFORE THE CHASE TO BE DIFFERENT AS DRIVERS TRY TO GET WINS AND THOSE WILD CARD SPOTS? “It’s hard for me to look 20 races down the road right now, but every week everybody out there is trying to get a win. I don’t know that it will really change a lot. I think the driving is always aggressive. I think everybody is out there always trying to put their best foot forward and trying to win. Every point system I’ve ever raced under the winner gets the most points and second gets the second-most points and so on, so you always want to get the best you can out of it.”
THE IDEA BEING IF YOU GET A FEW WINS YOU MIGHT GET IN WITH THE WILD CARD, SO GUYS MIGHT TRY SOME THINGS. “Yeah, maybe strategy-wise or something like that, but I like the idea of the wild card. I think that’s a good idea, but, except for maybe a very rare circumstance, I don’t think it’s gonna change the winner, it’s just gonna change the winner’s points.”
WITH THE NEW POINT SYSTEM IS IT HARDER IF YOU’RE OUTSIDE THE TOP 10 TO GET IN THAN IT WAS WITH THE OLD SYSTEM? “It depends how many points you’re behind and what the guys in front of you do just like always. I don’t think it’s harder to get in if you’re out depending on how many points there are, but if you do have a real bad finish it drags you down in the points real fast. If you have a few of them, it’s gonna be harder to come back from that, I think.”
DO YOU LOOK AT THE NEXT THREE TRACKS – DOVER, CHARLOTTE AND KANSAS – ANY DIFFERENTLY KNOWING THEY’RE IN THE CHASE LATER IN THE YEAR? “No, because really we’ve got to get to the chase first. After the two speedway races and even last week being in a wreck again, yeah, we’re in the top 10 in points right now but not very comfortably. I’ve gotten us pretty far behind in the points, so you look to each track as an opportunity to try to win, try to get as many points as you can, and you always put your best foot forward. If you happen to run good that week, hopefully it will help you if you get to the chase to use some of that information, but I don’t think about the chase at all or prepare for that right now. A lot of things will change in the next five months until we get there.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL THERE? “Dover is a really unique track. You’ve got to have the car turning good there, like every track, but you also have to have a certain amount of security. It’s a real fast, high-banked, bumpy track being concrete. It’s not a real forgiving track. It’s always been my favorite. I always look forward to going there and look forward to the challenge.”
IS YOUR DRIVING STYLE ANY DIFFERENT BECAUSE IT’S CONCRETE? “That’s kind of hard to answer because it’s so different. Even if it was black top, it’s such a different track compared to any other track we go to. It’s a very unique size and shape with the banking and just the way it’s laid out there is really nothing on the circuit you can compare it to.”
DO YOU GET A CHANCE TO CATCH YOUR BREATH AT ALL, LIKE ON THE BACK STRAIGHTAWAY? “The banking on the straightaway doesn’t really bother you on the straightaway, unless you get in a wreck. Obviously, it funnels everybody to the bottom if you get in a wreck and you usually hit the inside wall, but if you don’t get in a wreck, you don’t probably notice the banked straightaways that much.”