Selected driver comments -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and David Ragan -- from Friday's media sessions at New Hampshire Motor Speeday .
Dale Earnhardt Jr.WHAT IS YOUR MENTALITY FROM HAVING A FEW ROUGH WEEKS?
“I think the best thing we can do is stay positive. We run good at New Hampshire. We have been kind of eying this weekend and looking forward to it. We wanted to come in here with a lot of confidence that we belong in the Chase. That we belong up front in the top-five and the top-10 and try to make that happen this weekend and try to race up there well.”
HAS YOUR CONFIDENCE CHANGED IN THE LAST FIVE RACES?
“No, not really. It has just been really frustrating. Running poorly is not what you want to be doing. You just have to keep going to the race track. We’ve got good cars. We’ve got a really really good team. We should be running better than we have been the last couple of week and we know it. We are just going to try and work really hard to get back where we were earlier in the season. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES HERE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE?
“I don’t really know. We just come out here and try to run. I like the race track. I always enjoy the racing in New Hampshire. I’ve always had some pretty good cars here and ran well in a lot of the races I’ve run here. I enjoy coming here and look forward to the race. It is good racing. It is really challenging to pass, but it is fun. Hopefully this tire which is new this time, is a good tire.”
HOW DO YOU WEIGH WHETHER TO GO FOR A WIN OR TO GATHER POINTS FOR THE WILD CARD IN THE CHASE?
“If I could win a race, I’d win a race. You go out every week, you show up to run as well as you can. That is all do every week.”
THE FACT YOU HAD GOOD RUNS HERE LAST YEAR GIVE YOU ADDITIONAL CONFIDENCE THIS WEEKEND?
“It is pretty good. I like the race track. We’ve always ran pretty good. I’ve been looking forward to coming with my new crew chief. We ran really good here last year with Lance (McGrew) and those guys. I’m curious as to how the car will drive or how different it might be, good or bad with Steve (Letarte). I am anxious to get going. Anxious to get in the car today.”
Tony StewartYOU JUMPED UP ON THE BOARD LATE IN PRACTICE, DID YOU FIND SOMETHING?
“We didn’t switch over to qualifying trim and make our last run until the last 10 minutes. That’s why we didn’t get up on the board any quicker than we did. Think we are solid so far.”
HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR SEASON SO FAR?
“Same as we did last week and the week before. We’re not where we want to be yet but we are working at it.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT IS COMING TOGETHER NOW?
“We are just taking it a week at a time right now. I don’t know. I mean, we are just literally taking everything a week at a time and hoping we get on the right track soon.”
ARE YOU FRUSTRATED?
“I am frustrated because I keep having to answer the question. I mean, when you are not happy when things…are you happy when things aren’t going the way you like it to go? Makes you frustrated doesn’t it? So yes, we’re frustrated.”
HAS THE OWNERSHIP THING BEEN ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
“It hasn’t changed over the last two and a half years. It’s been exactly the same way the first year. It’s the same as it was last year. It’s the same as it’s been this year.”
DO YOU EVER WISH YOU COULD JUST GO BACK TO BEING ONLY A DRIVER?
“No, I like what I am doing. I enjoy it still. I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m still just as happy doing it now as I was two years ago as I started doing this as a car owner and a driver. Nothing has changed from that side. Every week is a challenge. Every week is a different obstacle. You work hard to try to accomplish the goal each week. It hasn’t changed.”
Ryan NewmanTALK ABOUT THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON AND YOUR THOUGHTS MOVING INTO THE SECOND HALF.
“We’ve had a good run at the first half. Just like any other team I would say we didn’t capitalize on some of the things that we’re fully capable of. Those are the things we need to fix for the second half obviously. I’m just really proud to be where we are. We had a good start to the season and a good opening three or four races which was the first time we had that at Stewart-Haas and just to come into Loudon here, one of my better race tracks stats wise and a place we’ve always run well at is something we are all looking forward to. We need to get the U.S. Army its first win at Stewart-Haas racing, no better place. A lot of first have happened for me here at Loudon and this would be good timing.”
I KNOW YOU ARE ALWAYS GOING OUT FOR A WIN BUT DO YOU FEEL ANY EXTRA PRESSURE TO GET ONE WIN JUST IN CASE THE WILDCARD SITUATION BECOMES NECESSARY FOR YOU?
“I’ve said the last few weeks because we’ve been ninth, 10th in points we are in the best, worst place we could be because we’re in right now but we’re very vulnerable. Because of the single-race winners this year that will change the dynamic of the points. Last year we were that one-race win team that would have made it with this year’s type of points system. So yeah, there’s a lot of emphasis we’re putting on it. Not necessarily because of the points but yeah we want to win. That’s just an added bonus the way the points system works this year.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE WHELEN MODIFIED SERIES RACE THAT KEEPS YOU COMING BACK AND WHY ARE YOU SO SUCCESSFUL?
“I enjoy the race. I enjoy the 100-lapper part of it. I really enjoy the race cars and the way those guys race here. I got to experience the Whelen Modified at New Smyrna and Bristol, a couple of race tracks but they’re a lot of fun here the way they draft and they way you have to work in the corners. The groove actually is quite a bit different for the modified than it is the Cup cars. Working with Bono and those guys, Gary Putnam they do a really good job putting a great car together. We’ve got aggressive hydraulics on the car, Menards and ECR built a great engine for it. It’s just an opportunity for us to come up and do one of the things we love, is race without the stress. We’ve won and we’ve not won here so we’ll just go out and try it again.
DO YOU SEE ANY FRUSTRATION FROM YOUR BOSS AS A DRIVER WHEN YOU GO BACK AND HAVE TEAM MEETINGS, HE’S SUPPOSED TO COME ON IN THE SUMMERTIME AND THAT HASN’T QUITE HAPPENED YET, DO YOU SEE A SENSE OF FRUSTRATION IN TONY OR IS HE OKAY TO DEAL WITH WHEN HE’S NOT RACING?
“He’s always been okay to deal with. I think yes he is frustrated for that matter I’m ahead of him in points and I’m frustrated. I understand it and I understand our competitive nature not amongst each other but amongst our situation in the points. That’s what drives us, that’s what makes us better. That’s what makes us better teammates and a better organization, to not be okay with where we are at now. Ultimately we want to be first and secondin either order so yeah, I’m sure he’s frustrated. This is crunch time and this has usually been his time but it hasn’t been this year as you stated. That’s going to happen from time to time. Everything does cycle but you don’t want to see that part of the cycle when it’s your teammate.”
What needs to happen as a result of the traffic problem at Kentucky last week?
"I think overall the track has got a lot of upgrades that needs to be done. Obviously, when they built the race track, they weren't going to put in a huge fan zone and four or six lane highways if they weren't going to get a Cup race. They just knew, I guess a year and a half ago or something like that. They had a lot of work that needed to be done in a year and a half and they just didn't get to it all. I think in time they'll get it figured out. Obviously, it has an owner in it that is not afraid to spend money and politic with the state. I think that the state is going to be willing to make some changes and obviously, above and beyond that they've got to have a better traffic strategy because I think that kind of failed."
Do you think an autograph session with all the drivers would help to bring fans back to Kentucky?
"Autograph sessions and things like that, I'm not sure that's going to bring in new fans or anything like that. The stuff that we do to help promote races goes really above and beyond anything that we've ever done in the past to promote races. People just don't have enough money to do it, they're not going to do it. An autograph is not going to make a difference in my opinion whether someone shows up or not."
Will some drivers or teams make desperate moves to make the Chase?
"Maybe, maybe on the crew chief's part, but the drivers really have no choice. If they're second or third or something on a restart, or have a shot at a restart, it would have to be within the first two or three cars. They're not going to make some bold move trying to win from 10th-place. It's just not going to happen. I don't think you'll see that much difference from the on-track with the drivers, but I think you could see it from the crew chiefs trying to do some different strategy."
Do you think the drivers should be used to help apologize to the fans in Kentucky?
"I feel like NASCAR has the most accessible athletes of any sport that we have. Fans can come up to us right in the middle of practice and get an autograph, things like that. It's very accessible. Obviously, I was watching on NASCAR Now that the GM of the track (Kentucky Speedway), he was genuinely sorry about what happened and was wanting to make it up to the fans with the tickets for next year or tickets to any other race at an SMI track. That's taking a big step in my opinion. That's a good thing that they're doing, they genuinely are sorry about what happened. But, I mean, they'll figure it out. As far as using us for their sorry statement, that's okay -- we're willing to do that and I'm alright with it. I don't know that it's
going to bring more people to the race track on race weekend though, is what I'm saying. That part of it, I'm really not too sure about."
What does traffic like what was experienced at Kentucky mean for the sport?
"Well to me, I view it as a good thing that there was that much demand to get into a race track. You hear stories and we hear stories of 10 years ago or so, how hard it was to get into race tracks and everything. Now you hear two hours before a race starts that we just drove right in. That's not a good thing. You want there to be a little bit of traffic that means people are going to be filing into the race track and watching the race. I don't -- when I left the race track, I saw this huge swarm of people coming from every which direction. I kind of look at it and smile that the demand for NASCAR is back."
IS IT BITTERSWEET TO COME BACK TO NEW HAMPSHIRE AFTER LAST YEAR’S PENALTY?
“No, hey; the trophy is in my house (laughs), and I am to have another one there. We’ve run well here. I’ve got to get things turned back around. That’s the biggest thing right now for us is just two bad weekends in a row. You know you go to Daytona and it’s bound to happen. We’ve had such great runs over the last few years at Daytona. You’re not going to go to a place like that 10 times and get 10 good finishes. You’re just not. It’s too much of a crapshoot. You’re going to get caught up in something sooner or later and unfortunately it was my time.
“Kentucky, the next week, that’s where it really hurts. That’s what has really set us back here in the points, and I can’t think of a better place right here in New Hampshire to get things turned back around and pointed in the right direction.”
YOU ARE 12TH IN THE POINTS. HOW CRITICAL IS IT TO GET A GOOD FINISH THIS WEEKEND?
“Oh, this is a crucial time for us. We’ve got them breathing down our necks and we’re still within reaching distance of the cars in front of us, so this is a good time to get things pointed back in the right direction points-wise. But I tell you, with this crazy wildcard thing this is a good track for us to get a win and solidify ourselves in the Chase. So it’s an important weekend for sure.”
ON THE PENALTY
“The biggest thing that I don’t understand about it is that it passed post-race inspection and it gets back to something that nobody understands or knows a lot about; which is fine. I was okay. A penalty is a penalty and if you’re caught, you’re caught; it doesn’t matter what I think at the end of the day. Kyle Busch was low at Pocono; and I know the significance of what that does for a race car. And it was a lot more than 60 (thousandths of an inch out of tolerance). That’s the way that I look at that and he got a slap on the wrist and we got pretty much a season-ending penalty.
“But it is what it is. It doesn’t matter. It’s behind me, it really is. It’s frustrating for me to have to come back here and answer questions about last year because I’m worried about last week, and overcoming last week; forget about last year.
HAVING TWO BAD WEEKS IN A ROW, HOW DO YOU ROLL WITH THAT DURING THE WEEK?
“You go straight to the race shop and try to get to the bottom of it and try to help them figure out the problem. And that’s where I’ve been all week. That’s what you do. You’ve got to get back to work and you’re as big a part of that as anything. Obviously they don’t know the answer or they would have had it fixed. So you’ve got to go back there and communicate week by week; going back through the weeks and try to go through them one by one and hopefully through communication, you trip something in their mind that says oh man, we went in the wrong direction there. And first don’t make that mistake again and secondly even improve on it. So that’s what I do. I think that’s what the key is, it not letting it spiral out of control. That’s two bad weeks in a row. Everybody across the board, driver, crew chief, the pit crew, over the wall guys; it can very easily become a negative and spiral out of control. But there are so many positives about our season. We’ve run well and that’s what has put us in this situation. To have two bad weeks in a row and still be in the top 12 in points shows that our season has been pretty good. But we’ve got to put together a string of good runs and we’ve done that. We had six straight top-10 runs there and two of them were top-2 finishes and we almost won at Texas. We almost won at Talladega. We can do it. We’ve just got to get back after it and make it happen.”
JUST TALK ABOUT THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON.
“Okay, the second half of the season for us is about getting wins. It is about going out here and being aggressive and getting those bonus points going into the Chase and having a little bit of fun. We have worked really hard to get to this point in the season and be in the position we are in to have had the win there at Vegas and to be where we are at in points, so now we are trying to go out there and get some more victories which is fun. That is the whole point of what we do. It is nice to not be looking backwards over our shoulders right now but to be looking forward. That is fun.”
ALTHOUGH ENGINES AREN’T AS IMPORTANT HERE AS A LOT OF PLACES, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPROVEMENTS THEY MADE TO THE FORD ENGINES THIS SEASON?
“It is funny, when you talk about engines; it is interesting which tracks they are really important at. Doug Richard a long time ago told me at Martinsville, ‘You know everybody does all this qualifying stuff for Daytona but if you look at the lap times at Martinsville in qualifying, every thousandth of a second matters there.’ That really stuck with me and I have noticed that these engines have made a difference at every race track. I think it is a huge thing for us to have the FR9 everywhere. I think at places like this it is just as important as anywhere else and maybe even more because the RPM range is so wide and we are so slow in the middle of the corners and fast at the end of the straightaways. I think it is important here.”
HOW MUCH EFFORT IS BEING DONE BACK AT ROUSH FENWAY TO WORK ON THINGS FOR THE CHASE?
“There is a lot of effort going into the Chase and a lot of things we are working on now that we hope to apply then. I think that is what a lot of the teams are doing, they are working hard right now to try things you want to try that you think might work. Once the Chase comes it is really difficult to take something new and unproven to the race track. Now is the time to be working on all that stuff and we are working on it pretty hard.”
HOW MUCH STRESS DO YOU FELL WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE GOING ON, INCLUDING CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS, BECAUSE YOU DON’T REALLY SHOW MUCH STRESS. IS THERE SOMETHING WE AREN’T SEEING HERE?
“I think as competitors we all put ourselves in position where we want to do the very best we can all the time. There is always that pressure there. People ask a lot about pressure and do you feel pressure to do this or that. I think I can probably speak for most of the drivers in the garage that we are very self-motivated and the pressure is from within. Those things you just mentioned, running around from race track to race track and back and forth in the garage relieves some of the pressure and gives me an outlet. I just got out of the Cup car and practice didn’t go as well as we wanted and didn’t run that super fast lap that we thought we would run and I am frustrated about it. Now I get to run over to the Nationwide car and go out there and slam the pedal down and it takes my mind off of it until qualifying. I guess there is a lot of pressure and stress and things going on, but all the running around and stuff I do is exactly the right medicine for it.”
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE TWITTER COMMENTS MADE BY GOLDEN TATE ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON AT THE ESPY AWARDS?
“Yeah, I saw that last night and I thought that was hilarious. I thought it was pretty comical. I personally would invite anyone, including Golden Tate, or anyone who thinks that Jimmie Johnson isn’t an athlete to come out and compete with him in just about anything. He might not be able to lift as much weight as those guys but I have followed Jimmie Johnson on a motocross track and watched what he is able to do and a lot of people don’t realize how much of an athlete he is. I thought it was interesting.”
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS STILL COMES UP AFTER ALL THIS TIME?
“It is the perfect topic to debate because you don’t have to be an athlete to drive a race car. You don’t have to be an athlete to be the best golfer. I would argue there are positions in football where you don’t have to be that great of an athlete to do well. It is just like anything. There are people in this garage that are very, very good athletes. Tony Kanaan in the Indy Car Series, I would put that guy up against anyone in an endurance endeavor like bicycling, running or swimming. I think until someone goes and tries something, I think it is extremely arrogant to knock it. That is the bottom line. You can watch professional table tennis and say, ‘Wow, that is no big deal,’ but I know we have all tried to play ping pong and there is no way we could play at that level. Everywhere things are difficult. I mostly thought it was comical. I read the comments and things and it was pretty funny.”
David RaganTALK ABOUT THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. YOU HAVE MADE A LOT OF HEADLINES. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON?
“I think we have had a good couple of weeks. We have made up a lot of points to that top-10. Getting the win was big. Following up with a top-10 and leading some laps at Kentucky was a Chase caliber run for our team. I think that wins are very important for us still and that is what we come to the race track to do every weekend. Top-10’s, top-fives and leading laps are what will get us to the top-10 in points. I think everyone is talking about that wild card but our goal is getting into the top-10. I foresee there is going to be a lot of action from probably fifth to 15th in points, there are going to be a lot of guys moving up and down.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PRESSURE? PRESSURE TO WIN, PRESSURE TO REGAIN YOUR SPONSOR, PRESSURE TO SAY IN A RIDE?
“Oh sure, I think I have said it a lot, I have had pressure from day one being a young guy at Roush Fenway. Not having a lot of experience coming in and having a good year my rookie year and better year my sophomore year and then really struggling the last two. Coming into this season we knew we would have a lot of pressure. We have run well and we got the win and have put ourselves in a position to make the Chase. I think that brings more pressure just because now we are so close we need to capitalize on the progress we have made. Being right outside of the top-10, with the win, it is like, ‘Hey, we gotta do something with it.’ We can’t turn back now. There has always been a lot of pressure at this Sprint Cup Series level, but that is what we thrive on. It affects us in a good way.”
WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE NEXT FIRST TIME WINNER?
“Watkins Glen is just around the corner and that is Marcos Ambrose’s best track on the circuit in my opinion. I think he will be really strong there. If you look at this weekend, our Ford teammate AJ Allmendinger is really good on the short track. Either one of those two guys could win one at any moment. I know it has been a year or two since Logano has won and he feels the pressure to win. He has been running great lately too. I think there are three or four guys and they all happen to be right around us in points that could possible get that win. We are not safe until that checkered flag falls at Richmond.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT WIN YOU HAD SOLIDIFIED YOUR STANDING WITH UPS AND ROUSH?
“I think a lot of it depends on what UPS does in coming back. I am really happy at Roush and I think the Ford’s are running great and Jack is happy with the performance of the 6 team even compared to his other teams. A lot of it is the negotiations between Roush and UPS and working out the small details. I am encouraged by some of the recent conversations we have had and things look to be on the good side but like I have said, you can’t stop with what you have done. You have to keep going and that is what is important. I still think we are four to six weeks out from really having some announcements and look forward to some good runs in between then.”
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