Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Penske Racing takes the Ford leadership role away from Roush Fenway





















Photo by Matt Myftiu
Jack Roush, second from left, has a lot to figure out to get his teams back in contention in 2014.
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- For nearly two decades, saying the word Ford in relation to NASCAR's Cup series has instantly
brought up images of Jack Roush and his fleet of cars.

Sure, there have been others contributing to Ford's success along the way (Robert Yates Racing, for example), but the team that won the most races and competed for titles on a regular basis was Roush.

Times have changed.

In 2014, Roush Fenway Racing is in a difficult spot. Not long after its arrival in the Ford Camp, Penske Racing has eclipsed Roush Fenway as the dominant Ford team. Brad Keselowsi and Joey Logano are locked into the Chase and running up front every week (even the third car Penske had this week for Juan Pablo Montoya did better than all the Roush cars, and it was his first time in a stock car in 2014.

The former "house of Roush", aka Michigan International Speedway, can no longer be called that name. Greg Biffle finished 20th, Carl Edwards 23rd, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 27th.

So the problems for Roush are two-fold. Not only is Ford in general lagging behind Chevy in overall performance, Roush is also lagging behind Penske.

Edwards has a win earlier this season and will make the Chase, and he said he is thankful for it (and he should be; as another one is not likely to come before the Chase).

"That was a big struggle," he said Sunday after the race. "It was pretty tough, but we worked hard and didn't quit. Fortunately, we have a win to get us in the Chase, but we've just got to get better as a group. That's the way it is."

That's putting it kindly.

It's no surprise that the 2015 lineup at Roush Fenway is still in flux. Sunday's race was a microcosm of their season. Nobody expects the Roush teams to do much this year, and if they do it is an anomaly. Basically the reverse of Penske and the top Chevy teams.

Jack Roush is a smart man, but he's got a lot to figure out. Unfortunately for him, it's not a quick process to get better in this sport.

As Brad Keselowski put it after finishing 3rd on Sunday, "I think what you're seeing now if probably the top 5 or 10 and is what it's going to be when it comes down to money time in the Chase."

He's right. The chances of someone turning on a dime and all of sudden being dominant (like Tony Stewart did in the Chase back in 2011 after barely making it in) are pretty slim.
Miracles can happen, but it's more realistic that Roush's woes will have to be addressed in the offseason.

And any hopes of another Cup title coming Roush's way in 2014 are little more than a pipe dream unless things drastically change in a quick manner.

Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Here's what Jack Roush said about his team's 2015 lineup; and what it really means

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Jack Roush has a lot to figure out before 2015 rolls around.

The only thing he knows for sure is Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne will be driving for him. Beyond that it's a mystery.

His two star drivers, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, are in flux -- still negotiating their futures as they have been for months.

The story goes back and forth ... Biffle is leaving, Biffle is staying, etc., etc.
Similar story for Edwards, although the talk is more about leaving than staying most of the time.


But why is this happening? Well, it's pretty simple -- the Roush Fenway Racing team is not what it used to be. Sure, Edwards and Biffle are excellent drivers and capable of winning many races a year and competing for titles. But when the Chase arrives each year and the title is on the line, they are not the drivers to beat. And Fords are not the cars to beat, at least lately -- It's been pretty much a domination by Chevy (and Jimmie Johnson in particular).

Here's what Jack Roush said Friday at MIS when he was asked about his team's 2015 plans and its current struggles.

"In due time we'll have announcements for 2015. We've got a lot of 2014 in front of us and we're obviously focused on that. If you looked at our year we've been probably challenged more than some of the teams have with the difference in the ride height. I know that's changed the dynamic of the underbody of the car and it's been a revelation. How low is low enough and how low is too low. Too low is higher than we thought it might have been a month ago and we're sorting that out. We're committing to test as much as we can. We've got a test going somewhere virtually every week, either a tire test at a NASCAR race track - a sanctioned test - or a bootlegged race track test that's not on the NASCAR circuit, so we're testing. We're running our eight-post machine in the lab real hard and we're taking very careful note of the ride height changes on the race track and where we seem to have our challenge and our best result returned. I think that most of the answer for the things that we need are in our box of parts - it's the bump stops, it's a rubber, it's those spring combinations - it's the roll bars. We don't seem to have a kinematic problem. We don't seem to have a fundamental error problem. Certainly the Penske guys are running really well with very similar cars and we've just got to get back to where we need to be. This business cycles. We've had times when we've been the cars to beat for an extended period of time to everybody's frustration and now we're just struggling to get back to where we need to be."

That's a long and complicated answer, because the Roush situation is long and complicated.
Here's my translation of what he said.

To me , "in due time" translates to Roush doesn't know what is going to happen next year with Biffle and Edwards. And if he knows they are leaving, where does that leave him in terms of sponsor money and new drives in the 16 and 99 cars -- could Roush be a two-car team next year if no money can be found and the two big drives leave? Not likely, but that would be a big fall for a team that was once the biggest in NASCAR, running five full-car teams.

"We don't seem to have a fundamental error problem": This is a good and bad statement. On the positive side, it means the cars are capable of being improved to the point where they run up front more often. But on the negative side, if there is no fundamental problem why are the Roush Fenway teams not up to speak with Penske's operation or the Hendrick-level teams?

"We're just struggling to get back to where we need to be." -- To Jack's credit this is a very honest statement, and Jack is right, they do have to get the magic back.
The danger of not getting back to where the team needs to be is they will lose their best drivers, and then not be able to attract big-name free agents due to no longer being a desired landing spot/top-level team.

I'm not saying Roush won't get his ship in order -- he's had ups and downs in the past and returned to form -- but he needs to do it quick because people in the NASCAR world have short memories.

Follow Matt Myftiu on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Juan Pablo Montoya makes brief return to NASCAR -- and is as confident as ever


Photo by Matt Myftiu
Juan Pablo Montoya addresses the media Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway


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BROOKLYN, Mich. --
I've always liked Juan Pablo Montoya and what he brings to motorsports.

Sure, he can rub competitors the wrong way with his aggressive racing style and what might be perceived as a cocky/rude attitude at times.

And no, he didn't exactly tear up the NASCAR circuit and rack up a ton of wins during his seven-year Cup series run with Chip Ganassi that came to an end last November.


But he's got something most NASCAR drivers lack -- personality.

He says what he wants, does what he wants, and comes off as someone who is fully confident he will be able to achieve whatever his goal is (perhaps this is part of why he has seen various levels of success in F1, Indycar and NASCAR in his career, and is generally regarded as one of the more talented well-rounded interdisciplinary racecar drivers of all time).

So why am I talking about Mr. Montoya? He is back, visiting, the NASCAR world this weekend, running the Cup race this Sunday at MIS in advance of his return to compete in the Brickyard 400 -- a race which he should have won a couple times when he was full-time in Cup but had fate deal him some bad hands.

Montoya talked with the media about his return to stock cars, and no surprise -- he was very confident in how he will perform this weekend, saying he had a shot at winning.

And he should be confident. He is driving a third car for Roger Penske, a team with two drivers who have won races and essentially secured Chase spots. Sure, Juan isn't used to these cars, and his first practice showed him 37th fastest on the track, but he will adapt if his equipment is up to speed.

Do I expect him to win?
No, not in his first race after a seven-month break from stock cars.

But if he can get used to the car this week, watch out for him at the Brickyard.

Here is the full transcript from Montoya's media session this morning.
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JUAN PABLO MONTOYA – No. 12 SKF Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW THINGS ARE GOING AND COMING BACK TO NASCAR?  “It’s exciting to be back, especially with Team Penske and the SKF Ford.  It’s pretty cool.  I only had one day of testing in Nashville a little bit before the Indy 500, so it’s been awhile, but in Nashville it probably took me about five laps to really get comfortable in the car.  It was really weird because one of the funny things is in Indy Car the cars are always on pit road.  You don’t drive through the garage, so that was kind of fun.  You get in the garage and you’ve got to reverse out again, so that brought back good memories of being here.  To be honest with you, with the way Team Penske is running here it’s a hell of a chance.  You see Joey’s comments sometimes and he says it was a terrible day and he finished fifth or sixth, so from my history here I would have killed to have a car that would do that.  Our goal here, I think, is we’ll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way really look at it is it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard.  Working with Greg Erwin, who is a real experienced crew chief.  He’s won races and he knows what it takes to get it done.  If we do a good job here understanding what I want out of the car, then going to the Brickyard we might be looking really, really strong.  It could be fun.”
 DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO GETTING A DIFFERENT LOOK ON THE NASCAR SIDE WITH TEAM PENSKE VERSUS GANASSI?  “Absolutely.  It’s a very different organization.  With Chip we had good years, bad years, good races, bad – we had everything.  The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning, so if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we’ll easily get a top 10 and if I’m really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win.  I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is gonna play into my hands a little bit because it’s a really fast track.  It’s a track you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in Indy Car.  I always run well here and qualified really well here. Last year I think I qualified 10th and sixth last year in the Ganassi car, so coming here is really exciting.  Roger gave me the opportunity to come here and we want to make SKF and the Ford group proud of what we can do.”
YOU HAD SOME AIRLINE ISSUES TRYING TO GET HERE THIS WEEK.  DID YOU THINK YOU MIGHT NOT MAKE IT?  “I made it here last night about 11:30.”
DID AMERICAN AIRLINES HANDLE EVERYTHING WELL?  “No. (laughter)  To be honest with you, we were gonna drive from Chicago to Iowa and we were getting our car.  As we were renting the car to drive they said the team plane is going to Joliet tomorrow morning to leave some crews for Chicago, and then they’re going to take Will to Iowa.  So I stayed by Joliet and they took me in the morning.  I got there and it was raining.  It was hectic I would say.  The challenge is crazy because I was telling somebody yesterday I was going around Milwaukee, and I tested Milwaukee a lot on the Cup side, and it’s 10 seconds a lap difference there, so my visual cues change a lot.  I think that’s gonna be the hardest thing is the more I drive the Indy Cars the visual part.  Most of the feeling between the cars is visual – how fast it tells you you’re OK here, so those two edges are the big difference.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA CONTINUED -- WHAT KIND OF OPPORTUNITY IS THIS FOR YOU AND HOW WILL IT TRANSLATE BACK TO OPEN-WHEEL?  “For me it’s more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here.  This year we’ve got two really good shots.  This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords.  They always excel here and have a car that can win, and the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, and we hope it does, we might have a shot at winning this.  And then going to the Brickyard is a place that I run really well.  When we ran bad we were always in the top 10, so going there in a car like this you’re definitely looking at a shot at a win as well.” 
A COUPLE OF DRIVERS WERE SENSITIVE ABOUT YOUR TECHNIQUE AT BELLE ISLE A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, SUGGESTING YOU WERE BLOCKING.  “I blocked once, yeah.  I got away with it.  I was lucky that I got away with it.  I looked at the video afterwards and I told them that I was surprised they didn’t penalize me for that, but they said the video was down and they couldn’t.”
WILL YOUR FRIENDS HERE BE MORE UNDERSTANDING?  “It’s racing.  I’m here to race and that’s it. I’ve done this long enough.  If you think about every series I’ve done, the longest series I’ve been in in my career was NASCAR.  I was in Formula 1 for six years and I was here for seven.  In Indy Car I’ve only been there for two-and-a-half, so I know the game here and it’s fun knowing that you’re not doing the whole season.”
WILL IT BE MUCH DIFFERENT TO GET IN THE CAR THIS WEEKEND WITH SOME OF THE RULE CHANGES THAT HAVE TAKEN PLACE?  “I think it will be easier to drive.  I think the extra downforce and extra grip in the cars is something that’s new for everybody here, one they’re used to, but for me I’m going the other way.  I’m going to less downforce and less grip, so the more they put on the grip the easier it’s going to be for me to drive, I think.  It’s funny.  In Nashville I drove it and, to be honest with you, the first three laps I missed the corner by a mile.  From history I always know where to brake and I can pretty much tell you every track where you have to lift, so I went there and I braked and as I started turning in it felt really slow, so I got out of the brakes and missed the corner completely.”
SO DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE UP TO SPEED?  “I was within a tenth-and-a-half of the best time they ran at Nashville in eight laps.  I was kind of surprised, so that was good.”
YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT IN NASCAR?  “Especially here I think it’s a great thing because the tires are really consistent, so if I screw up I’ll get another shot.  They tell me the draw is a big thing and where you draw on pit lane makes a big difference, so we’ll see where we draw.  To be honest with you, we just have to put the car in the top 24 on the first run and then we can really go at it and see what it brings, but it’s exciting.  The way it was before, if your car was good, it was really good.  If you missed it, you were screwed.  Here this gives you a little extra chance to get it done.”
DO YOU THINK NASCAR COULD EXPAND TO A ROAD COURSE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY AND HOW POPULAR WOULD IT BE?  “I think it’s more of what does NASCAR want to do.  NASCAR has always been very protective of what they are and where they are and their fans and I’m not sure they want to explore other countries. You’ve got to ask them and not me.  Would it be popular?  It depends where you take it.  I think if you take it to Europe people, just because it’s NASCAR, the same thing when Formula 1 comes here, and people just don’t watch it.  I think if you went to Asia or someplace like that, it could be a big hit – like China or Japan – it could work, but do they really want to do it.  Do you really want to add more races?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. transcript: Michigan International Speedway

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/SUPERMAN CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and discussed his Superman paint scheme on the No. 88 Chevrolet SS this weekend, fan reaction from his win last week at Pocono, leaving fellow Chevrolet driver Ryan Newman at the airport and many other topics.  Full Transcript: 
YOU WON HERE IN 2012 WITH THE BATMAN SUPERHERO ON YOUR CAR, THIS WEEK YOU HAVE THE SUPERMAN PAINT SCHEME.  WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT HAVING A SUPERHERO ON YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND AND HOW DO YOU THINK THAT IS GOING TO PLAY OUT FOR YOU? “Well we’ve got to prove to the fans that Superman is not bad luck for me.  We ran Superman on the car at Charlotte and everybody was very excited about the promotion with DC Comics that we are doing at Hendrick Motorsports.  We’ve got a program with them for a couple of years it’s going to be very exciting.  Pairing DC Comics with the National Guard seemed like a natural fit.  We went into Charlotte thinking we were going to do very well. The car was very fast and felt like we had a good shot of running really well maybe even winning the race.  But had some troubles in the race so my race fans were a little curious as to why we needed to have Superman back on the car.  We are here to prove this weekend that he belongs on the hood and that we can do some great things and hopefully win this race this weekend. 
“I think it’s a great looking race car.  I thought it looked awesome at Charlotte. Now we’ve got the gold numbers on it this weekend and Superman is on the hood.  I’m excited.  I enjoy working with DC Comics they are a fun group of people with a lot of great initiatives that match well with our sport and fit well with our sport.  We like to have them around need to keep them around and hopefully win a race here and get them excited about the future.” 
WHAT WAS THE THING THAT STOOD OUT IN THE CELEBRATION OR REACTION YOU GOT FROM PEOPLE DURING THE WEEK?  YOUR TEAM IS REALLY PUMPED UP AFTER LAST WEEK’S WIN: “Well the one thing that stands out to me is the fans reaction.  Especially the stuff on You Tube, the stuff Mike Davis puts together and just being able to see that it’s a bit of an ultimate reward.  And is kind of at the core of why we go out and race.  It wouldn’t be any fun people would all be bored to death if there wasn’t anybody here watching.  To see somebody get that excited and that happy about our efforts is a hell of a pat on the back.  That is the big take away.  Obviously we are really happy about how we performed and felt worthy of winning that race and felt like that we are that kind of team that can go out there and win multiple races and compete very well.  I have felt for a while now that we were right on the brink of something good something new and hopefully that is what we are seeing this year and hopefully we can get even better. I think we can compete even better than we are now.  Hopefully we can make that happen in the next several months when the time is right.”  
HAS RYAN NEWMAN ANSWERED YOUR TEXTS?  CAN YOU TELL US THE WHOLE STORY ABOUT HIM BEING LEFT AT THE AIRPORT?“No, is he here?  Let me check (checks his phone).  Yes, he did.  He said ‘I should have texted last night’.  But I still don’t know where he’s at.  Yeah, this is what happened, this is the honest truth.  Tuesday he asked me if he could get a ride to the race track which is common for drivers to do that.  We were leaving at 8:30 a.m. that is what it said on my calendar.  Then since Tuesday we have added some media to this morning, did a couple of things out front.  My PR guy Mike Hoag moved take-off time to 8:00 a.m.  I didn’t know about it. I didn’t look at my calendar. When I got up this morning I didn’t look at the clock, I just got in the shower, went downstairs, got in the car and drove to the airport and got on the plane.  I forgot about Ryan.  Even if we were taking off at 8:30 a.m. and he wasn’t there I probably would have left him.  Yeah, he should have texted me last night.  I think he got a ride. That was unfortunate for sure, but it happens.”
YOU WON YOUR SECOND RACE OF THE YEAR LAST WEEKEND NOW EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT HOW MANY RACES YOU WILL WIN THIS YEAR.  DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT AT ALL?  DOES IT SURPRISE YOU?
“Definitely that’s new. That’s the new conversation topic for us, but I just want to win the next one. We have so much fun winning and going to Victory Lane and last week was so much fun (with) the feeling that you have inside and that you have for several hours after that. It’s like the best feeling ever. And I want to do it again; I want to do it now, this weekend. So, I just want to win more races and take care of the car and finish as well as we can and I think that mentality and making that a reality can win us a championship. But, just one week at a time, trying to win a race, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
NOW THAT YOU HAVE TWO WINS, YOU ARE PRETTY MUCH PUNCHED INTO THE CHASE. DO YOU GAMBLE SOME TO GET MORE VICTORIES OR DO YOU PLAY IT CAUTIOUS?
“No, we don’t play it cautious. We’ve gambled pretty good, a little bit more than we typically would after we won Daytona because of the new point system, so I think we can even be a bit more aggressive and Steve (Letarte, crew chief) probably will in certain situations. We can definitely be more aggressive with our fuel mileage. That’s typically the one thing that you’ll be more aggressive with whereas say, if you don’t win a win and you’re three laps short, you might try to stay out and hope for them cautions or try to save that fuel mileage over that particular run. Whereas, with two wins, we might do that with something like seven or eight laps short, something ridiculous. But hey, if we get a couple of cautions, then we’re right on the fine line of making it work. And track position at some of these tracks is so important, for example this past weekend at Pocono, you could really gamble hard on that fuel mileage where two years ago, you would have definitely come down pit road and filled it up and tried to get a top 10, like we did in 2012, I think.”
 WITH YOUR SUCCESS LEVEL AT MICHIGAN, WHAT IS YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“I feel pretty good. You’ve got to be confident because we ran well here, but at the same time, this is a new package. We haven’t raced here with the cars slammed to the ground and all the new rules that we’ve got this year. We’ve got some new competitors in the battle. The No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) has been lightning fast every week, so you’ve got to be looking at him when practice starts today to see how they are because they’re going to be fast. And you’ve got a lot of new players and some new cars that are going to be up front trying to compete. And, a lot of new challenges that you’re going to have to face that you didn’t face last year or the year before. So, it’s a little bit of a whole new deal. So we’ll see how it works out. I think we can be quick. We came here and tested for Goodyear and had some time and opportunity to work on our car a little bit while we were at the test and maybe learn some things that we needed to learn. Hopefully that will give us an edge.”
YOU HAVE BEEN STRONG HERE SINCE 2012. LAST AUGUST THERE WAS A TIRE PROBLEM. WITH THAT TEST, DO YOU HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN GOOD SHAPE?
“Well, we weren’t on them tires too long at the test. We would just run 15 or 20-lap runs and look at wear and let Goodyear decide on what tire they felt comfortable with. We blew a tire in the race last year; blew a right front and hit the wall. We blew a motor at the other race. We were running well in both events; leading one and running in the top 10 in the other. So, I feel like we can be competitive here and we’ll just have to be real conservative on our right front camber, air pressures, and things like that to make sure the tire lives. That’s going to cost us some speed and cost us some competitiveness in our car, but to make sure we don’t have any problems, that’s what we’re going to have to do. And, maybe we can work around that with some other components in the car and regain that speed throughout the weekend.”

Did you know? -- Ford Racing Michigan Speedway notes

DID YOU KNOW? … Ford Racing has won more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway than any other manufacturer with 34.  NOTE: Mercury has 12 wins, giving Ford Motor Company more than half of the overall victories at the speedway (46-of-89, 52%).  
DID YOU KNOW? … Ford Racing won the inaugural Michigan International Speedway Manufacturer’s trophy last year after Joey Logano won August’s Pure Michigan 400.
DID YOU KNOW? … The Ford brand has won at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in 25 of the last 30 years, including eight season sweeps (1985, ’86, ’91, ’94, ’96, ’97, 2002, ’13). 
DID YOU KNOW? … Bill Elliott is the only driver to win four straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Michigan International Speedway, sweeping both events in 1985 and ’86.
DID YOU KNOW? … Cale Yarborough won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in 1969, driving a Mercury for the Wood Brothers.  Yarbrough, David Pearson, and Bobby Allison combined to win 12 of the first 15 races at the track in either a Mercury or Ford.  Pearson won eight times (1F-7M) while Allison and Yarborough won twice each in Mercury’s.
DID YOU KNOW? … When Greg Biffle won last year’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway in June it represented the 1,000th NASCAR victory for Ford Racing in the top three touring series combined (NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series).
DID YOU KNOW? … Ford’s 34 all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Michigan International Speedway have come from 13 different drivers:  Bill Elliott (7), Mark Martin (4), Dale Jarrett (4), Greg Biffle (4), Davey Allison (3), Rusty Wallace (3), Matt Kenseth (2), Carl Edwards (2), David Pearson (1), Geoffrey Bodine (1), Ernie Irvan (1), Kurt Busch (1), Joey Logano (1)
DID YOU KNOW? … Dale Jarrett’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory came on Aug. 18, 1991 at Michigan International Speedway while driving the famed No. 21 of the Wood Brothers.