Ford Quartet Talks NASCAR Road Racing at Sonoma
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion, returns to the scene of his near win in 2010 looking for a bit of redemption and with a little extra incentive. A win for Ambrose Sunday would mean a $1 million dollar donation by Stanley to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Ambrose, who is considered the favorite to win Sunday talked about the road course racing, pressure to win and more.
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT BEING BACK HERE AT SONOMA THIS WEEKEND. “It is great to be back. It is a great track. This place has been a pretty good hunting ground for me. I haven’t converted to a win here yet but we have always had great speed. On the Stanley team here at Richard Petty Motorsports we knew coming in to this weekend we had a chance to win and we have tried really hard to make it happen.”
THE SEARCH FOR GRIP ON A TRACK LIKE THIS, WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THAT THAN OTHER COURSES YOU ARE AT? “Well, looking at the weather today, the cool conditions are going to good for us. It is going to present some more grip. This track is notorious for its low grip level. We are racing 3,500 lb cars which are over pounds and under tired. Grip is always and issue for us no matter where we go. It doesn’t make a difference if we are at Charlotte Motor Speedway or here. We are still looking for balance and looking for more grip than anyone else. I think for us, I need a car that is consistent across the fuel run and doesn’t do anything crazy out there. You can set these cars up to get great grip but they don’t handle very well when that happens. They start rolling around a lot and they can get set off with the slide and hitting bumps and things like that. For us, these cars just don’t want to go around this track very well. They are very heavy cars and don’t have a very big tire patch and don’t have very good brakes considering the weight of the car. They have obviously a lot of horsepower so it is a tough balance out there.”
MOST OF THE WEST GUYS HAVE LOADED THE SUMMER SONOMA SETTINGS. IS IT GOING TO BE DIFFICULT TO GET IN THAT CAR AND TRY TO GET THE SETTING INTO A RACE MODE FOR YOU IN THE PRACTICE TIME YOU HAVE? “I don’t think so. We do this every weekend and we have a set plan and agenda when we get here. We know what to expect with all the engineering support we get. We have done good tire modeling and the track grip level doesn’t change a huge amount compared to the other changes that we make to the car. Every year we come back and we seem to get the CG a little lower and we seem to get the suspension a little more refined and the tires keep changing as well when they come back here. We are on a different tire than what we had a last year’s event and I think that is much bigger than what the track will give us as far as change goes. We know what to expect, we just have to get out there and see how it feels.”WHY HAVEN’T ROAD RINGERS BEEN SUCCESSFUL COMING INTO NASCAR ON THESE ROAD COURSES? “I think you would struggle to find another racing car that handles quite like these NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles. They are a beast to drive. Most road racers are used to a car driving them around the track pretty much. A stock car won’t do that around here. You have to really handle it and drive aggressively and get the most out of it. The level of talent is exceptionally high. You think that half the field can’t get around the road course but that is a fallacy. That is not right. These guys know how to get around here and are seriously good. We race against each other every week and we know who we can push around and who we can’t. We know the cars really well too. We know how to tune on them. What other racing car has a truck arm rear suspension with a spring half way inboard from the tire? What other car has steel wheels? What other race car has way too much power for the level of grip? It is one of the heaviest race cars you will ever drive. 3,500 lbs is a seriously heavy car. That is what makes the sport so great. I am not surprised that road ringers can’t adapt to these vehicles because they are very unique.”
I AM CURIOUS IF ANYTHING BUT WINNING IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU HERE AND ALSO YOU GUYS HAVE SO MUCH MOMENTUM AND ARE VERY GOOD ON EVERY TRACK THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT IMPACT THE EXPECTATION COMING IN AS WELL? “I think it softens the expectation a little bit. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we are road racing and Marcos is going to win.’ That isn’t fair to anyone on our team, especially me. This is not a guarantee here and this track doesn’t owe me anything. I am going to have to go earn a win if I am good enough on the day. All I can do is my best and I am really proud of how my Stanley team and Richard Petty has rallied around me and given me the tools I need to keep improving on the race track. You see the form is really swinging for us. We are looking to get out of here with a really strong day. We need a top-five to kick start the start of the run to the end and we are looking for that. I am not looking here to win or else, I am looking here to continue the trend we have had over the last few months.”
LAST YEAR WE SAW TEMPERS FLAIR. DOES THAT CARRY OVER TO THE NEXT RACE OR NEXT TIME YOU RACE ON A ROAD COURSE? “Yeah, no doubt. Already this part of the year we have some guys mad at each other and this is a great track to really lay down some payback. At the same time getting out of this place unscathed is pretty hard to do. You are going to have to sort that out in the next few races as well. It is just a tough track. It is technical, tight and quite a few cautions where we all get together on these double file restarts. It is easy to get shuffled back and lose ten spots. It is tough to get them back. You have to drive very aggressively to get those sports back and contact is inevitable at this track. For me, I just try to do that cat-cat theory. I just go as fast as I can and just try to get out of dodge and try to sit at the front as long as I can. That way you look after your car because you aren’t running into everybody and then you can dictate the race. That is what I try to do to not make enemies out there. I try to be the guy out front.”
ARE YOU EXPECTING THE SAME LEVEL OF AGGRESSION HERE WE HAVE SEEN THE LAST TWO YEARS? “It has been pretty heavy the last couple years here. We saw Tony Stewart up in the tire wall and a lot of people are aggressive trying to make passes. I think the double file restarts keeps everyone bunched up more than it used to. I think the points system has changed a lot as well and you know that every point is critical. People are taking chances. I expect to see a similar race I would think.”
BLOCKING IS PART OF THIS COURSE. HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? IS IT JUST GUT FEELING? “It is gut feel for sure. You can mess up a corner and have to defend your spot because you feel like you are going to pull away over a two or three or four lap period if you don’t make another mistake. There are moments you just have to defend your sport because someone is slowing in front of you and had to check up or you made a mistake and had to lift. Consistent blocking, guys just get sick of it and will dump you for it. We know the rule. It is a self-made rule and we police it ourselves and you just have to choose who you are racing against, what time of the race it is and be smart. We aren’t Sprint Cup series drivers because we are dummies. We have earned our way to this point and we should know how to conduct business out there. You have to know who you are racing around and you have to realize what is happening around you. You have to make those choices. If the guy behind you feels you have been a (EXPLETIVE), he will get you out of the way.”
Matt Kenseth enters the first road course race of the season as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series points leader. The steady Kenseth talked with members of the media at Sonoma prior to the first practice session Friday morning.
MATT KENSETH, No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion – TALK ABOUT BEING WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS ALMOST HALFWAY THROUGH THE YEAR AND BEING BACK HERE AT SONOMA. “This place has always been a challenge to say the least for me. I look forward to coming here in a different way. We go to Michigan and some other places where I really look forward to because we are usually one of the guys challenging for a win. I look forward to coming here for the challenge of trying to improve and get better and be more competitive and just improving. “
BEING THE POINTS LEADER, DOES IT CHANGE HOW YOU DO THIS RACE? DO YOU TRY TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE AND PROTECT THE POINTS? “Well, all of the above I guess. You never want to get in trouble, you always want to win races and get the best finish you can. If you do all those things, the higher you finish, the more points you get. You go out and race as hard as you can and certainly you never want to wreck or get spun out of do any of that stuff. You try to race hard and race smart and be in a good position at the end.”
IT SEEMS THE LAST FEW YEARS THAT THE ROAD COURSES HAVE HAD SO MUCH ACTION, DRAMA AND CONTROVERSY THAT WE USED TO ASSOCIATE WITH SHORT TRACKS. WHY ARE ROAD COURSES PRONE TO ANGER OR RETALIATION? “It has really changed a lot through the last few years. I think a couple things really changed it. I started road course racing however long ago it was and there was always road course etiquette. You would only pass in certain zones and when people got along side you to pass in those zones you would drop back and fall in line and go on. You would really race the race track the entire race and race the fuel mileage and tires and try to be in position - since the two-wide restarts and this car that has really changed. I think all the etiquette is out the window and you run side-by-side in places you were told not to before. It has really changed a lot. I think the two-wide restarts has really thrown almost all of that out the window and everybody is bunched up. You have wait for one car on the restarts because you might lose eight or 10 sports before you know it. I think those two things have changed it the most. I think this has turned into the most no-holds-barred, crazy, people running into each other race more so than any of the short tracks we go to now.”
WHAT IS YOUR FEELING ON THE CHUTE OR IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE CAROUSEL BACK IN ACTION? “Do I have to pick one? I never races on it with the carousel. I think that it would be fun from what a lot of people say that used to race on that. Mark Martin and a lot of those guys said it was a lot better and opened up one or two more passing zones and was a fun part of the track to race on. I think it would be neat to try it, just because it would be different for me.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, met with media at Sonoma after the first practice session Friday afternoon where he was the 13th fastest.
CARL EDWARDS, No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion -- TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE OUT THERE TODAY. “We went testing a little bit and Marcos Ambrose has been helping our team, him and his crew chief Todd (Parrott) and we are working hard on trying to make sure we picked the right setup and get a good qualifying run and want to get our first road course win in the Cup series together. Bob and I, that is what we want to do this weekend. We feel like we have been fast at these road courses. We have been on the pole once at Watkins Glen and we have had some good runs but we are just trying to have a good solid weekend and practice went pretty well. We have Aflac on board and they have been a great partner and have a lot of folks out here this weekend. We have people out here visiting and enjoying the area. It is a lot of fun to come here and hopefully we have a good qualifying run.”
GUYS HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT PAYBACK AT THIS TRACK AND RAMPED UP AGGRESSION. WHAT DO YOU THINK? “There are a lot of opportunities here to not just pay somebody back but to make mistakes and bump into people and be overly aggressive. I have run into other people and run into the walls and tire barriers and axle hopped here, pretty much everything. Most of the time it is the best strategy, for me it has been best to race as hard as I can and give everyone as much respect as I can and try to get a good solid finish. Last year I think we saw one of the most aggressive races I have seen here. That could definitely be what happens again on Sunday. My plan is to be as aggressive as I can without ruining somebody’s day. That is the plan.
IS THAT FUN OR IS IT AGGRAVATING? “I like racing here a lot. I really like the green flag runs, the longer runs when you can start working a guy over and march through the field finding peoples weak spots and racing that way. The restarts here can be pretty difficult. They can be really crazy if you are in the middle of the pack and surrounded by guys that aren’t racing for the same things you are racing for. This is their event to go shine and sometimes you can get really run over by some of those guys. You have to do a really good job at this race of standing your ground and treating everybody the way you want to be treated and the key is to stay up front. Those guys up front race really hard here but it seems like the top five or six guys you have a good respectful race. Either way, we can do it either way. We can run up in the front or fight all day in the back. Whatever we end up with I can assure you we are giving our best effort at this track. This is, I think, a bottleneck for the Chase. If you come out of here with a good solid run, there can be some guys that don’t have a good run and you can shake the points up.”
WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON THE INCIDENT LAST YEAR WITH BIFFLE AND BORIS SAID AND DO YOU THINK THINGS GET A LITTLE DANGEROUS? “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t see what happened there and can’t recall. This is racing. There are just more corners you know? It seems when you get more corners you get more opportunities for people to take advantage of people in those corners. At these road races it is hard to get away and every once in awhile you will have a situation where a couple guys beat on each other hard for a couple laps and get madder and madder. That is racing. We go out here racing and at the end of the day if people aren’t happy with each other I would hope they work it out however they have to. I don’t think there is too much emotion in our sport at all. I think our sport has a good mix of respectful competition and guys that aren’t afraid to say they don’t appreciate what happened. It seems to be entertaining because we are talking a lot about it. I think we are okay. I think it is good.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, met with media members after practice Friday and before qualifying at Sonoma.
GREG BIFFLE, No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE AND THE RACE ON SUNDAY. “Our practice went fairly decent. When the track was green when we first went out our car was pretty good and then it got worse as it went. Maybe we have a little work to do. In qualifying trim we didn’t really pick up a whole lot. We picked up a couple tenths which isn’t much. We will keep working on it. I think my qualifying run there that I made I had to lift off the gas and got a little out of shape. As long as that doesn’t happen again in qualifying I think we will able to get in the top-10.”
HOW MUCH PRACTICE AND TESTING HAVE YOU DONE LEADING INTO THIS RACE? “We have been to VIR one time testing. We were going to go back and do some brake testing but we never did. It always takes a couple laps to get used to this place and kind of get going again and used to braking and shifting. I almost over ran turn 11 my first time around. I was a little excited about where the braking zone is and was a little deep and that is probably what got me a fast lap.”
WHY DO TEMPERS SEEM TO FLARE HERE MORE THAN AT OTHER TRACKS? “Well, because of our side by side double file restarts this race track tends to create a lot of drama because it is so difficult to get in the corner. This track certainly has room for two cars but it builds up debris and sand and dirt and grass and rubber right outside of where the guy runs. Ultimately it ends up being one lane wide. When you start side by side it makes it really tough to get down in that first corner or up at the top of the hill. If you think about it, when you are in a traffic jam or are going along and everybody slows down to make a corner and you are row 10, you are stopped a long ways from the corner waiting for those guys to take their turn to go around the corner before you get there. The thing gets fanned out and guys try to think that is an opportunity to make up three or four spots or rows and you end up with guys in the dirt, guys slamming into you, guys driving in where there is no room to drive into. You get fenders rubbing the tire and you have to pit and fix it. That is why tempers get a little bit stirred up here more than any other place because there is just not the room. There is the room but when you come to a first gear corner, everyone is flying down the front stretch then everybody has to go down to first gear and wait their turn almost.”
BORIS SAID IS HERE THIS WEEKEND. HAVE YOU GUYS PATCHED THINGS UP AT ALL? “No. We talked on the phone and it is what it is. It is different when you come out and run one or two races a season then when you are running for the points. It is different. You have different goals in mind. If I was in his shoes a 15th place finish doesn’t matter. It is not even on the radar. They are just different goals.”
YOU ARE THIRD IN THE STANDINGS. HOW DO YOU RATE YOUR ROAD COURSE SKILLS TO MAINTAIN THAT SPOT? “I think that I do pretty well or pretty decent on a road course. The whole thing we were just talking about is the restarts. How is that going to play into whether you have your fender beat in or stay on the race track as far as that goes. I think we have good cars and pretty good strategy and did a lot of brake testing and they seem to be really good. I feel like I can come out of here with a top-five fairly easily. That being said, you can get off the race track and something can happen too. As long as we don’t run out of gas and keep on the course I think we will come out of here with a decent finish.”
DID YOU FEEL ANY OF THE MOISTURE ON THE RACE TRACK? DID IT CHANGE ANYTHING? “I certainly would like to hope that is why my qualifying runs weren’t very fast. That didn’t hurt everybody else though. It looked wet to me through the windshield, the race track looked wet or kind of dark like it was damp but it seemed like it still had grip. It wasn’t really enough rain to probably put the caution out but it was hard to tell whether it truly had any moisture on it.”