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.

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


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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.

Brad Keselowski speaks out on his hometrack, Father's Day, rivalries, Dale Jr. and more

Below is the transcript of Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski's NASCAR teleconference held earlier this week in advance of him returning to his home state to compete at Michigan International Speedway.
THIS IS A BIG WEEKEND FOR YOU RETURNING TO YOUR HOME TRACK IN MICHIGAN, AND I'M SURE YOU'LL BE WATCHING FROM AFAR AS YOU HAVE TWO TRUCKS RUNNING IN THE NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES' RETURN TO GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND'S RACES?  “Yeah, it's a great opportunity to come home to Michigan, which is my home state, certainly my home racetrack, with cars that have been just blistering fast this year.  I'm really, really happy where we're at as a team and how things are progressing and kind of feel like we're turning a corner to getting back into championship form here as we hit the month of June.  It kind of gives me some goose bumps knowing that we have an opportunity to, I guess, one, run for another championship in my eyes as it stands right now, and two, win a big Cup race at my home track, and both of them are very realistic at this time.  A lot of things good going on, and I'm just really excited. You brought up the truck race, as well.  I am happy for those guys, too.  Ryan Blaney has been running really well over there and had a shot at winning in Texas and finished second at Dover, as well.  It seems like he's exactly where I'm at at the Cup level.  There are a lot of good things going on and a lot of positive momentum that we've hit over the last month.  So good things.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE #NASCARWITHDAD CAMPAIGN AND MAYBE A MEMORABLE NASCAR MOMENT THAT COMES TO MIND WITH YOUR DAD.“Well, when I think about racing, and people ask me this question a lot, how I got into racing, and the simple answer is my family.  I think if you look through a lot of those that are in the sport, at least at a competitor level, there's some family traditions that involve racing and a lot of them are based around dads.  That makes Father's Day, I think, uniquely special to motorsports, but it's special to the whole sports world in that sense, and it's something that I'm very proud of with the relationship I have with my dad, how he got me started in racing, and I know it makes a win or any achievement you have even more special to win on that day.Hopefully we can pull that off.”
I'M WONDERING NOW THAT YOU'VE HAD A COUPLE DAYS TO DIGEST POCONO AND THEN TALK TO THE TEAM ABOUT IT, WHAT'S BEEN THE TEAM'S REACTION AS YOU GUYS HAVE DEBRIEFED AND KIND OF LOOKED BACK ON THINGS, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY ‑‑ KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW, DO YOU THINK THE ENGINE COULD HAVE MADE IT OR DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS A COUPLE DAYS LATER? “Well, I thought it was interesting, Joey Logano, my teammate, his engine blew up with the same issue as what mine had. With the information we had at the time, I felt like I made the right decision to try and do something, I just didn't execute it, so it's probably more frustration with not executing the move rather than taking the risk to make it, for me at least. But it's hard to speak for everyone.  I'm sure everyone has different feelings about it.  But it was the right move.  I told somebody I felt like I was playing a game of blackjack and I was sitting on 15 and the dealer had a face card.  If you play by the rules, you should take a card and you should hit, and we did, and we busted.  The dealer turns over his card and he was sitting on 15, as well, and so you knew he was going to bust out.  That's part of it.  That's the cards we play, and some of racing is always going to be chance, and you have to play it by the odds, and I lost.  But that's just the way it goes.”
DO YOU HAVE TO DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT OR SPECIAL TO KIND OF GET OVER THIS THING OF A LOSS LIKE THAT?  DO YOU LISTEN TO ANY SORT OF SPECIFIC MUSIC OR PLAY A CERTAIN VIDEO GAME OR IS THERE A WAY YOU'RE LIKE, I'VE GOT TO DO THIS TO KIND OF GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD? “I think each situation is a little different.  I'm not going to say that I got over it right away because that's not the case.  But for me knowledge is power, and getting over something like that is knowing what I could have done better or should have done differently, and researching those things and finding that answer, and I think that's where I find the ability to move on.”
DO YOU SEE ANY POINT IN THE SEASON WHERE IF ANOTHER DRIVER IS IN THE SAME POSITION AS YOU WERE ON SUNDAY WHERE THEY WOULD JUST PROBABLY STAY OUT IF THEY NEED TO WIN TO GET IN THE CHASE? “You know, obviously if there hadn't been a car in front of me I wouldn't have made a move.  It's not as though I let Dale go by me, which I think some people are under the impression that's what happened, and it's not.  I just made a move on a slower car to try and take the opportunity I had, and it didn't work.  That was kind of what happened.  I didn't let Dale go and say, hey, I'm going to try to cool off my engine.  I just didn't execute the move to try and clean it off, and Dale was close enough to get by me, especially with my engine starting to let go. You know, in that sense I don't feel like anyone would have done anything different.”
SO YOU WEREN'T NECESSARILY CONVINCED THAT YOU WOULD HAVE TO GIVE UP THE LEAD TO EXECUTE THAT MOVE? “No, no.  If everything would have gone right, I wouldn't have had to give up the lead.  I think that was why I made the move.”
THIS YEAR YOU AND JOEY ARE RIGHT UP THERE EVERY SESSION.  HOW HAS THIS SORT OF TRANSPIRED OVER THE VERY SHORT OFF‑SEASON? “Well, you know, there's not really one area, which may be unfortunate for a soundbyte or a clipping to try to really explain it, but I think there's a lot of areas.  Some of the specific ones that stick out to me would be the change of the Ford nose to start the 2014 season.  I think that put us in line with the other manufacturers, which is pretty significant.  I would say that some of the rules changes have certainly favored us. The new qualifying format certainly favored my style. So I would say there's a lot of things, but those are probably the ones that stick out the most.  I felt like we finished last year very strong.  We got way off last year about this time in the summer with having a different understanding of what the rules were than what NASCAR did.  All those things together kind of put us in a weaker spot 12 months ago than what we are now, and I'm grateful we're not still in that spot.”
DID ROGER PENSKE PLAY A PART IN SORT OF GETTING TOGETHER WITH YOU AND JOEY AND JUST SAYING, LOOK, WE'VE GOT TO IMPROVE THINGS HERE AND HERE'S THE WAY TO GO ABOUT IT AND GIVE YOU THE GREEN LIGHT TO DO THAT? “I think we've been aggressive, and I think our people would tell you that he likes to hire drivers that are aggressive on their own and then he doesn't have to tell them to be aggressive, which I don't think anyone has ever accused him of having to do that with me and Joey.  But Joey is an aggressive driver, I'm an aggressive driver.  We're hungry, we both want wins.  We both want to win championships.  And I think we're in that spot.  We're in that situation where we have what our people would say is a long runway, which means many years and many races and opportunities to do so. Even though we're going to have many years and many opportunities, we both want it right now, and I think Roger likes that about us, and we like the fact that he lets us be us.  So it's a mutual respect.”
WE SAW THE PHOTO OF THE BEER THAT YOU LEFT FOR DALE EARNHARDT JR. ON THE PLANE, AND I KNOW YOU GUYS ARE STILL FRIENDS, BUT DALE TALKED AFTER THE WIN WITH HOW YOU GUYS HAVE BECOME MORE COMPETITORS THAN FRIENDS IN RECENT YEARS AS YOU'VE RACED MORE OFTEN.  CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DALE THESE DAYS? “Yeah, I think it's natural.  I think Dale got a lot more competitive here over the last two to three seasons, and certainly I did, as well.  And that puts a little bit more spotlight on that relationship, and it also puts a little more emphasis on the competitiveness that we have with each other, which I think is a good thing.  I told him after the race, congrats.  I texted a little bit, and we got to talking, and it seems like between Daytona and Vegas and now Pocono, we've kind of swapped back and forth for leads and wins there at the end a couple times now, and if we continue to be in that spot, it might not be a bad spot for the rest of the year. I think he knows that when he wins a race, if it's not going to be me or my teammate, that there's no one else I'd rather see win.  I think that's something that he appreciates.  I don't know if he feels the same way.  A lot of that is for him to explain, but it is interesting.  There is a bit of a rivalry, whether either of us want to acknowledge it or not, between the two companies, and I think it's sometimes been friendly and sometimes not been friendly, but that certainly puts us both in a unique position between a friendship and a competitor.”
DO YOU SEE HIM VERY MUCH LIVING PRETTY MUCH ADJACENT TO HIS SPRAWLING PROPERTY THERE?  DO YOU GO BY VERY OFTEN? “Yeah, I saw him last night.  I see him probably once a month or so.  I try not to over or understate it because of respect to each other and our own privacy.”
I KNOW THIS IS HARD TO QUALIFY, BUT HOW MUCH WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN IN MICHIGAN?  I don't know.  I don't even know ‑‑ I think that's one of those things that it doesn't really hit you until you've done it.  I think for me personally, I look at that race, flying in there and driving through the area and all the memories that pop up, there's deep, deep emotional ties to running there, and when you run well somewhere that you've had such emotional ties to, it just kind of really hits home in your stomach. It's hard to explain those feelings without achieving them.  You can dream of what they feel like, and to some extent I have felt them by winning there at the Nationwide level.  You know, it's one of the few moments I've had in my career where after I won a race I just had to sit down and be by myself just to kind of soak it all in.  I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things, and that was a Nationwide race, that wasn't a Cup race.  I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level. I can tell you it wouldn't be like any other win.”
HOW HARD WAS IT FOR YOU TO HIT THE RESET BUTTON AFTER THE FRUSTRATION AND DISAPPOINTMENT OF LAST YEAR?  CAN YOU KIND OF TALK US THROUGH A LITTLE BIT OF THE OFF‑SEASON AND HOW YOU KIND OF GEARED UP FOR THE NEW YEAR? “Well, it's always hard.  We talked about how you set the reset button after losing a race like we did last week, which is not easy, and in that sense the answer is understanding what went wrong and knowing that with where we're at in the season that we're going to continue to have fast cars for hopefully months to come. It's a little bit different in the context of seasons.  I think in seasons the great thing is everybody resets.  The rules reset.  The team resets, the changes, and it has a feeling kind of like the first day of school when you get to Daytona, where even if you finished out the year before with maybe some B's and C's or a D along the way, you feel like this is a new year, new teachers, new classmates, and it really is yours for the taking and yours to make it whatever you want. That's kind of how I've always felt about it and maybe everyone else doesn't feel that way, but for me it just always feels like there's a new level of energy and excitement.  This year there's been no shortage of that, knowing that the changes, like I said, to the Ford race car for 2014 were I think a pretty good improvement, and that in itself was exciting for me.  But I think just knowing that I have another year of experience and can do better and working to be better is exciting for me, as well, and gets me reenergized for this season.”
HOW MUCH HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE WE DROVE THROUGH YOUR HOMETOWN I GUESS MAYBE FOUR YEARS AGO WHEN YOU HAD FIRST STARTED WITH PENSKE TO TODAY? “Well, I remember that trip.  That was a lot of fun.  That was 2010, and I went from being a Cup upstart who won a race and won I think six Nationwide races at that time to now being a Nationwide champion later that year and a few years later a Cup champion, and I just feel more confident.  I feel solidified in the sport as a competitor but also in some ways as a personality, which is interesting.  I see the sport from maybe a wider view sometimes, where I was perhaps a little more focused and didn't see some things that I hadn't seen before. I'm probably a lot more mature in some ways that are good and some ways that are bad, but I still have the same fire, the same drive and desire to win races and to win another championship.  At that time I hadn't won any championships, and I didn't know if I ever was going to.  I felt like I could, but I didn't really believe it until I achieved it. Now I feel like I can win any weekend, really at every track, where I didn't feel that way before, and I feel like every year we go into it I have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, and that's very, very rewarding and very, very ‑‑ I don't know how to put it, but it's exciting and energizing.  I hate using that word excited because everybody uses it, but that's how I feel now, and it's so much different than where I was then.  It's a different level of confidence.”
EVERYBODY IS LOOKING FOR THAT NEXT RIVALRY, AND NATE TOUCHED ON IT ABOUT DALE JR., AND CERTAINLY THAT WOULD BE A FRIENDLY RIVALRY.  IS THAT JUST FRIENDLY COMPETITION COMPARED TO A RIVALRY, BECAUSE BACK IN YOUR NATIONWIDE DAYS WHEN WHETHER IT WAS DENNY HAMLIN, CARL EDWARDS, WHOEVER, THERE JUST SEEMED TO BE A LEVEL OF INTENSITY THAT WAS A DIFFERENT DYNAMIC THAN SOMETHING THAT WOULD GO ALONG WITH A FRIENDLY RIVALRY LIKE YOU AND JR. HAVE. “I don't know if you can have a friendly rivalry.  I guess when I've always thought of rivalries, I've always thought of them as being unfriendly.  It's kind of interesting to think about it that way.  I wouldn't mind racing Dale for a bunch of race wins and championships and that becoming a headline, like I said earlier.  That would be a lot of dang fun, and I really haven't had that opportunity until this year and didn't know if it was ever going to come because I really wasn't running the way I wanted to at the start of my Cup career, and he probably wasn't, either; or not at the start, but over those last three or four years.  But it's great to see where we've progressed together, and I think if there's one guy I want to win a race other than my teammate, I would like it to be him.I don't know how that dynamic is going to grow or change.  That's a lesson in time, I guess.  But I can't wait to find out.”
IT WAS SAID ON SIRIUS A LITTLE BIT EARLIER THAT THERE'S A GREAT SATISFACTION THAT COMES FROM BEATING YOUR BUDDIES.  CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT OR DO YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT, AND IF YOU DO, CAN YOU EXPLAIN IT? “I think you can.  When I think about it, I think about it like if you sat down for a game of pool with one of your best friends to beat them.  To me it's no different than that.  It's quite simple.  And I agree, it's one of the best feelings.  I'd rather play a game of pool with a friend than a stranger because the bragging rights seem so temporary when you beat somebody who's not a friend.  But the bragging rights when you beat a friend are long lasting.”
AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM STACKS UP OVERALL, AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS ARE CHASING ANYONE IN PARTICULAR? “I think we are two small steps away from, in my eyes, being a favorite.  We need to be a little bit more consistent on pit road.  We made some pretty significant changes to start the season with our lineup.  We made another change about two weeks back, and that's all because we don't feel like we're where we need to be.  We're not consistent enough and performing at the level we need to, and we're committed to getting that better.  I know Roger is committed to it and I'm committed to it.  So I think from that perspective we need to make a gain there.  The engine shop has done a great job with reliability, but it appears pretty obvious to everyone right now that the Hendrick side is a bit above everyone else from a power level, and we need to make a step to catch up with them.  I think if we can cross those two hurdles, I quite honestly feel like we can be the team to win it all this year.”
HOW DIFFERENT IS GOING BACK TO MICHIGAN FOR YOU AS FAR AS WHERE YOU STAY OR WHAT YOU DO WHILE YOU'RE THERE?  IS IT DIFFERENT AT ALL OR IS IT JUST ANOTHER RACE WEEKEND FROM THAT STANDPOINT? “It's definitely different.  There seems to be a lot more commitments that weekend than any other weekend, and there's always somebody who wants a ticket or a pass or you name it, which is ‑‑ it's good and bad at the same time.  You're glad that people care, and on the other side, you're like, I've got to work here at some point.  It's fun for me personally, and it makes the success rewarding. I think the crew guys would tell you that when we don't run well at Michigan that they probably feel it the most because I turn into a real jerk when I don't run well at Michigan because that's how important it is to me.  I want to be able to showcase to my friends and family the sacrifices that they've made for me and that I make on them, whether it's missing birthday parties or weddings or what have you, that they're meaningful, and the best way I know how to do that is to win and run well.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT THIS A LITTLE EARLIER THAT YOUR TRUCKS ARE GOING TO BE DRIVING IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION THIS WEEKEND.  HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE LOGISTICS OF THAT, WHEN YOU'RE IN ONE PLACE AT MIS AND THEY'RE IN ANOTHER AS FAR AS ADMINISTRATION, KEEPING TABS ON DRIVER PROGRESS AND SO FORTH? ”Oh, it's a challenge.  It's a great question.   I think you try to hire the best people you can and let them do their job.  I'm very adamant about with the truck team operations that I want to be there to manage it when I can, but when I can't, which is quite often, more often than not I should say, it's got to be self‑sustaining.  It can't be a distraction to my Cup effort because my No. 1 goal every year is to win a Sprint Cup championship.  It can't be a distraction to that. Because of that, it means I rely on great people.  We have a good team over there.  I got Jeremy Thompson, who manages it for me who came from the now‑defunct Red Bull team.  He's been a home run for me personally.  I get a little bit of help from my sister who helps kind of manage and spy on the team for me a little bit sometimes it feels like and lets me know how things are there.  But I feel like I rely on great people and they've done a good job so far.”
WHAT KIND OF VENTURE IS THAT FOR YOU PERSONALLY, CARING ABOUT AND MAKING THE INVESTMENT IN YOUR SPRINT CUP PROGRESS AND OVERSEEING ANOTHER ENTITY?   “Absolutely, and we talk about it all the time.  I'm going to go back to something I just said to Kenny Bruce a minute or two ago.  One of the most rewarding things for me personally is to see that program succeed.  By definition success in that program could mean a lot of different things, and the first thing that comes to mind is winning races, winning championships.  But it's a much bigger picture than that.  We talked about making some lineup changes, and two or three of the lineup changes came directly from the truck team to the pit crew, over‑the‑wall crew, and that to me is probably one of the most rewarding things out there is to see someone who's 22, 23 years old, they get to start with my truck team and do a good job on it.  The next thing you know they're changing the right front tire on my Cup car a couple weeks later.  That's very rewarding for me personally and makes it all kind of make sense at the end of the day.”
IT WAS RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT YOUR CHECKERED FLAG FOUNDATION WILL SPONSOR THE CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES RACE AT MICHIGAN IN AUGUST.  CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT AND HOW IT ALL CAME TOGETHER? “That's one of those things that comes up, and talk about doing something cool in your hometown, I'm not going to drive the truck race, but in partnership with Cooper Standard, who sponsors the truck team that I have, and Careers For Veterans, which is an initiative to find veterans a new job or a job, period, we kind of all teamed up, and we're going to sponsor the Michigan truck race and showcase the support that we all have for those different causes.  My foundation does a lot or tries to do a lot for veterans, and it seems as though there are a lot of efficiencies there in providing for that weekend, and I can't say I've ever had my name or even one of my companies or foundations' name on anything that big before. I'm kind of thrilled about that, as well, and it's just going to be a fun event that I think showcases my personal support and passion for racing and charity at the same time.  Thanks to Cooper Standard and Careers For Veterans, as well.  They had a large part in putting it together, and I'm just glad to be in partnership with them.”