Ford drivers discuss All-Star race with Charlotte media

Ford Racing

Ford drivers discuss All-Star race with Charlotte media

Six Ford Racing drivers are currently guaranteed a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night. Defending winner Carl Edwards, along with Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne and Marcos Ambrose are all in the field after posting wins in either 2011 or 2012.

Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Eight different Ford Racing drivers have won the All-Star Race a total of 10 times.

Davey Allison won the event back-to-back (1991-92) while Mark Martin earned his two victories seven years apart (1998 and 2005). Bill Elliott (1986), Geoff Bodine (1994), Michael Waltrip (1996), Ryan Newman (2002), Matt Kenseth (2004) and Carl Edwards (2011) are the others with one win apiece.

The Sprint All-Star Race has had a variety of names since its inception in 1985 as “The Winston,” but it has primarily taken place each year at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC. In fact, the event has been held at only one other track and that came in 1986 when Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted the race, which was won by Ford Racing legend and Georgia’s own Bill Elliott.

Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 21 Good Sam Ford Fusion, will be making his Sprint All-Star Race debut tomorrow night. Bayne, who missed last year’s event due to illness, addressed reporters today about his expectations this weekend.

TREVOR BAYNE – No. 21 Good Sam Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR FIRST ALL-STAR RACE? “That’s the plan is to go do that (win $1 million). I think it makes it that much sweeter this year going into it knowing that we were trying to run it last year and Good Sam was on board and we were gonna make our debut, and then, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be in the race. To have Good Sam and Camping World come back on board for round two after what happened last year means a lot to me. It means that they’re behind us and want to be a part of the Wood Brothers Racing team and that excites me. Most of all, I’m just excited to be in this All-Star Race. The new format, I think, is gonna be a lot of fun. The short runs, that seems to kind of be our forte this year anyways is going on the short runs. Last time here at Charlotte, in the fall race, which is my only Sprint Cup race here, we ran out of fuel running in the top five, so, fortunately, there’s no fuel mileage issues with 20-lap segments and then a 10-lap segment, and hopefully we can keep it dialed in."

HOW DO YOU BALANCE RUNNING UP FRONT AND NOT OVER-DRIVING THE CAR? “That’s the thing. I think you can push it because they’re short enough. I think you can push the cars. The tires don’t fall off normally for us, they fall off after about lap five, but then they don’t take their big fall until lap 30, 40 – right there coming into a pit cycle is when you’re sliding around and saying, ‘Man, I’ve got to get some new tires.’ So for us, I think you can go after it pretty hard. Those first five, 10 laps are the most important of a run anyway, so it’s not gonna hurt you too bad if you go too hard at the beginning, I think. I think the strategies are gonna be a lot different for this All-Star Race. If you win a segment early, you might try things with your car you wouldn’t normally do and take that risk since you know you’re gonna be at the front. If you haven’t won a segment, then you’re gonna be battling your butt off trying to get a win so you can start at the front. My prediction is probably there will be two or three guys that win a segment.

“I don’t know if it will be four different winners, but it could be, so I think you could still have a chance to start in the top four or top three, even if you don’t win a segment. We started fourth at Texas on the green-white-checkered in the Nationwide race and were able to go win that race, so with 10 laps to go, I think you could still have a shot even if you don’t win a segment."

IF YOU CAN WIN THIS RACE, WOULD YOU CONSIDER TAKING YOUR PORTION OF THE WINNINGS TO PICK UP SOME MORE RACES THIS YEAR? “We talked about doing that and we did that with Daytona. Eddie and Len are the kind of owners that love to be at the race track. That is their hobby, so it’s not like they take the money and go buy a new boat with it or something. They love racing and they want to be a part of it. As many races as we can run, these funds would definitely help that if we won the race, just like at Daytona in 2011. We were able to add a few more races and I’m sure that would probably be the case here. We’re excited about the four races we picked up with Camping World and Good Sam already, and we’re definitely looking to fill out the schedule a little bit more and that would help."

DO YOU HAVE A NATIONWIDE SCHEDULE UPDATE? “Not right now. My focus has been on the Cup schedule pretty much full-time. I’ve been trying to talk to people about that and for Nationwide. I know that we’re gonna run the Bristol race later in the season. That’s for sure with They came on for both races, but as far as past that I’m not sure. There is a lot of need in the Roush camp with Stenhouse’s No. 6 car. I know they’re close to fully funding it, but they still have to pick up a few races. Matt Kenseth’s car, Carl Edwards’ car, so there is a lot of places that sponsors can go at Roush Fenway and the No. 60 Nationwide car, so I’m not sure what’s gonna happen with that. I just hope we start getting some partners here soon and keep adding onto the Wood Brothers schedule because I think that’s where I need to keep focused. We’ve had two top-10s out of four races this year and that’s pretty honorable, I guess, for our team being part-time and I’d just like to add onto that and keep working on it."

WHAT SEPARATES THE CHAMPIONS IN THIS SERIES FROM THE OTHER DRIVERS? “I got to go to Darlington last weekend and stand on the spotter’s stand and listen and watch, and I actually learned a lot. It’s been a little while since I did that. The biggest thing I could tell from those guys that started at the back and worked their way forward or the guys that started at the front and stayed there was how good of leaders they were. It’s just like any other sport. You have your guys on teams that are leaders and then you have some that don’t know how to do that and can’t keep their team together. When you look at Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards – these kind of guys – they know how to keep their cool throughout a race and they know how to keep their team around them. After a bad pit stop they’re not yelling at them and going off. They’re trying to build them up and get them going again for the next stop because that’s what it’s all about is staying together. Like I said, it’s just like any other sport, so, for me, I’m trying to learn how to be the best leader that I can be. I’m 21 years old. Sometimes I feel a little bit weird when I’m talking to Donnie Wingo, who is probably twice my age. I’ll say he’s 42. He’ll like me for that, but I think it’s all about being a leader. There are some guys on the radio that just lose their mind when one person gets in the way and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that from time to time, so just by listening I learned a lot last week and that makes champions – putting whole races together.”

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE TIME OFF WHEN YOU’RE NOT RACING AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE BEHIND WHEN YOU DO GET THERE? “I don’t feel anymore behind than I did when I started because I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in the Cup deal then, so it’s kind of been a gradual progression of just getting more and more experience, but with every race I feel like I’m catching up more and more. But it is a disadvantage not to be at the race track every weekend for us – with chemistry with the guys, for Donnie to know what I need in the car, which he does a great job anyways, but more races would definitely help us. If I’m saying the car is a five-out-of-10 loose, then he’ll figure out what that means the more races we run. For me, I just need to get on these tracks more. I’ve been at this place one time in a Cup car and we were really quick, but still, experience is key when you don’t know what the track is gonna do when it cools down or whatever you have to do to stay ahead of it. My off time, I’ve been doing to the races. Richmond, I was there for Marcos Ambrose. Darlington, I was there to stand in the spotter’s stand and just trying to take advantage of it. Hopefully for the next 15 years I’ll be at the race track every weekend racing, so every now and then you’ve got to enjoy it too, even though it’s hard because I’d rather be at the race track than anywhere, so that’s pretty much it."

DALE JR. SAID DRIVERS GET A BYE FOR BAD BEHAVIOR IN THIS RACE. DO YOU AGREE? “I think he’s right. I think that’s the perception of this race. I think about Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin and all the stuff that went down here a couple years ago and Carl Edwards after the race crashing after the race, so if you crash for the win, I don’t know if there’s a big issue with it. But myself, I’d rather just lead every lap and win it and not have to worry about it. That would be nice, but you can definitely get away with more here. I would say he’s right on that. The fans are looking for it. I think NASCAR likes it and the drivers know it’s coming because there are no points on the line. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be mad if you crashed them. I think they would still be pretty ticked off, but there’s a lot of money on the line and this is kind of how we race every weekend though because we don’t run for points. We just run to race for wins, so now they’re kind of playing in our court a little bit and we’re looking forward to it.”

Matt Kenseth won the Sprint All-Star Race in 2004 and would like nothing better than to duplicate that this weekend for new sponsor Fifth Third Bank. Kenseth spoke about this weekend before practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Fusion – TALK ABOUT WINNING THIS RACE AND YOUR NEW SPONSOR. “This is always a fun two weeks with some really fun events. I had a good time at the pit stop contest last night. The guys finished third, so that’s the best they’ve ever done there. I thought they were really competitive. I think if we get back to a normal pit stop and not push the car, we’d have a real good shot. The 48 guys were like monsters pushing that thing, but it was fun to be a part of that. It’s always a fun event doing a pit stop tonight in qualifying and the unique format tomorrow night with everybody racing for a million bucks. I’m excited to get on track here for a little bit and see how our car drives and go from there."

YOU GET A LOT OF CREDIT FOR GETTING ON AND OFF PIT ROAD WELL. WHO ELSE DOES THAT WELL AND HOW ARE YOU SO GOOD AT IT? “I don’t know that I’m really that good at it. I think I have a really great pit crew. I think last night, it has a lot to do with pushing the car and all that too and how athletic the people are, so I was pretty proud of my guys. They had the individual front tire changer award and got beat right at the end there and finished second in that thing, so that was good. The gas man did really well, so those guys do a really good job, but you certainly have to put it all together in not just the races, but on pit road these days as well for track position. That counts from the time you get onto pit road to the time you get off pit road and get up to speed. We work hard on all of that, but I think everybody does."

WHAT SEPARATES THE ELITE DRIVERS FROM EVERYONE ELSE IN THE SPORT? “That’s a tough one. Everybody is a little bit different. I always feel like coming to the race track that having fast cars is the most important part and having the whole team working together with the driver and the pit stops, I think that whole unit has to work good together. It’s certainly a team sport, so I feel like the combination is really important. Obviously, your equipment, but I think the crew chief/driver combination is all really important. I think if you look at the guys who have won, especially multiple championships, most of them have done that with the same driver/crew chief team combination, so I think that combination is one of the most important things."

DOES YOUR TEAM FIGURE OUT A STRATEGY WHEN THE FORMAT IS ANNOUNCED OR DO YOU JUST SEE HOW IT GOES AND DECIDE ON THE FLY? “It changes every year with format changes. We’ll have to see how it plays out this year, but it seems like one of the more interesting formats, especially for strategy because somewhere along the line you’re gonna need fuel and tires, but also it’s gonna be more important to win one of those segments than it is where your track position is after the third or fourth segment. So I think you’re gonna see some people doing different things to try to get that track position and win one of those segments to get on pit road first for that last segment because most people will probably just do a stop-and-go, so it’s gonna be important to have your tires and fuel, but to try to win one of those segments so you can get on and off pit road first. But we do talk about strategy and think about it a lot. Jimmy and I have been talking about it on and off for a few minutes here and there for a while, so a lot of it plays. It depends on how you qualify tonight, how the first segment goes. I think you’re gonna kind of base your strategy off that.

“If you can qualify in the front and be fortunate to win the first segment, so you know you’re gonna be the first guy on pit road, you’ll probably do your strategy different than you would if you get into the third or fourth segment and haven’t won one."

DOES THE GARAGE AREA FEEL HENDRICK IS NOT AS DOMINANT NOW AS IN THE PAST? “I don’t know. Whenever I think of Hendrick I think of championship and race wins. I mean, 200 Cup wins is crazy. It’s hard to every feel like they’re not a contender or feel sorry for those guys because they haven’t won. Gosh, it’s already 10 races into the season and they haven’t won a race yet. I mean, it’s pretty hard to sit and feel bad for somebody like that, so I was obviously kidding about that. It wasn’t like they were gone or are going anywhere. All of those cars have run good at certain times. I know Jeff has had a real bad run of luck, but yet he’s been real fast and was in position to win Martinsville and a few of those races, so those guys and that organization have been a force for as long as I’ve been watching the sport."

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE NIGHT DALE JR. WON THE ALL-STAR RACE AND IS HE DIFFERENT NOW? “Yeah, a lot of things change through the years obviously. But a few things I remember about that, I think everybody has seen a picture of his dad going down there and giving him a big hug and his hat almost getting knocked off. That was pretty cool. You could see the emotion down there. I remember him winning that race and then that really went into the next week and us winning our first race in the 600 because he had already won Texas earlier in the year and moved up to Cup at the same time. There was always a lot of comparisons. We moved up from the Busch Series to the Cup Series and were racing for rookie of the year and all that. After he won Texas, I was certainly dying to get a win as well and hoping we could win our rookie year as well. So I remember winning the All-Star Race and then he went and dominated the 600 and they got off on the last set of tires or a pit stop or something and we were able to capitalize on that and win the 600 the next week. It was a pretty cool couple of weeks, but I think winning that race and being a part of that race was big for him. I don’t even believe that I was in that race. I don’t think we qualified. I think we were in the Open and didn’t qualify, so I remember watching it on TV."

WOULD WINNING THIS WEEK HELP HIM RECAPTURE SOME OF THAT RESPECT AND SWAGGER HE HAD BACK THEN? “I don’t know about the swagger part, but I don’t think he’s ever lost any respect. I think he’s well-respected in the garage and everybody knows he’s got a lot of ability and can win races and championships, so I don’t think that he’s lost any of that respect, at least in the garage area."

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ALL-STAR MEMORY? “Yeah, that’s easy – when we won it in 2004. That would have to be my favorite memory. I think that was the year Newman won a whole bunch of those races on their pit strategy and different things, and when they got out in front they were just always so fast. I remember he didn’t get tires in that last segment and we did and I was amazed at how hard it was to get around him when we had new tires on and he never even stopped. We raced extremely hard that last segment for the win and it was pretty cool that we were able to beat him and come out of here with a victory.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF THIS RACE THAT DIDN’T INVOLVE YOU? “Probably the ones that everybody else thinks about. Earnhardt’s pass in the grass. The ’92 race with the wreck at the start-finish line, and probably the won where Rusty spun out Waltrip. That was one you remember seeing. I thought it was funny too because I didn’t realize for a while that it was Todd Parrott and after he worked for me then I realized it was him knocking the guys down and pushing the car back in there and throwing an elbow at him and the crews kind of fighting and stuff – a lot of guys that I still know today – Hammond and all those guys – so I remember watching that one. That was kind of a cool one to watch."

IS THERE ANY ONE WHO IS A FAVORITE TOMORROW? “That’s a little bit tough without being out on the track yet this week. We haven’t been on the track since last fall, so that’s tough to say. I hope our stuff runs as good as it did last year. We ran really well at the 600 and kind of so-so in the All-Star Race, but good in the 600 and the fall race, so I think you probably look at the guys who have been strong at Vegas, Texas and places like that. Those will probably be the same guys that run good here.”

Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion, qualified for the Sprint All-Star Race by virtue of his first series victory last year at Watkins Glen International. Ambrose followed Kenseth in the media center and answered questions from members of the press.

MARCOS AMBROSE – No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion – HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE A CHANCE AT $1 MILLION? “It feels pretty good right now. I’m watching the practice here that I was in last year thinking I’m pleased I’m in the media center and not my race car right now. It’s not often you can say that, but I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to be part of the All-Star. It’s one of the biggest races you can do for money. I think dollar per mile it would probably be the biggest race in the world for the amount of money you can win and the amount of miles you can compete in, so I’m here to do it and here to be part of the action and put ourselves in contention at the end. We’ve got a great race team and I’m looking forward to qualifying tonight with the three-lap deal. I think it’s gonna be real interesting and my first time at it I’ll probably make a mistake or two, but it’s definitely gonna be good to learn and good to be part of that and race for the cash tomorrow night."

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR ROAD COURSE SUCCESS AND OVAL RACING? “I guess you’re right and I’ve thought about those same questions a lot. To be candid, I know what I’m doing on the road racing stuff. I’ve made a career and grown up racing road courses. I know how to drive big, heavy cars around those places and it’s always compromise when you go road racing. You can’t get the perfect balance in the race car. You never look for the perfect balance, you’re just looking for something that can get you around the course, fairly linear handling left to right, and not worry so much about the dynamics of the race car. When you come to these ovals, there’s so much going on behind the suspensions that it’s hard to keep up with and it’s hard to really feel the individual wheels, so I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to win on an oval. It’s going to come, I know that but I’ve just got to be patient with it. There is definitely a link between our successful runs on road racing compared to ovals and that link is me and I continue to work on it. It’s a tough sport. I jumped in the 9 car with the Stanley/DeWalt sponsorship and we’ve carried the team forward. I feel good about where we’re at. I think we’re more competitive now than what we were this time last year and we’re gonna keep getting better and better. It’s just a matter of pulling good people around you and having clear direction and we’ve got that. We just have to give it time."

AFTER WINNING WATKINS GLEN WHEN DID IT HIT YOU THAT YOU WERE IN THE ALL-STAR RACE? “It was probably the off-season when you start thinking about the next year coming up and you realize you’re locked into the Bud Shootout, you’re locked into the All-Star events, and you look forward to them. I’ve been looking forward to this event all year. It’s great to be part of the big boys and part of the All-Star crew. We’ve raced our way in here on merit. We won a race in the Sprint Cup Series. We deserve to be here and we’ve got a chance to win the money, so I’m excited to be in the race. I feel good about being in the race and been looking forward to it all year, but, to answer your question, it’s probably not the moment that you win the race that you realize you’re in the All-Star Race, it’s really when you start planning or think about the next season and what we’re gonna do and how it was shaping up.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CHEVY ANNOUNCING THEY’RE GOING TO RACE A CAR BASED OFF THE COMMADORE, WHICH HAS AUSTRALIAN ROOTS? “It is the wrong make, so I want to be a little careful of what I say here, but I’m really proud to think that Australia can produce with their people and infrastructure that they can produce a world-standard car that Chevrolet would like to bring to the U.S. and sell it here. It’s even better that they’ve decided to make it one of their focus marks, it’s gonna be a rear-wheel drive car, which I’ve grown up driving rear-wheel drive cars, manual cars, it’s just a standard thing out there. It’s a world-class product and I look forward to racing against them and beating them, but it’s definitely made a buzz in Australia. There’s been a lot of talk about it and been a surprise to a lot of people. I think they kept it pretty quiet and it’s amazing to see. Even the photo I saw with all the checkered flag print over it, it was really hard to see the lines on it, so I’ll be interested to see how it really looks when they get the proper decals on it."

DOES IT BOTHER YOU TO BE VIEWED AS A ROAD COURSE SPECIALIST? “Not at all. We’re in front of a lot of really good oval racers in points and I’m here talking to you and there are 1,000 drivers that wish they could be me right now, so I don’t feel bad about it for one second. I’m proud that I’m here. I’m proud that I’m talking to you and I can race with the best of them on ovals and road courses, it’s just that we’re gonna get this first oval win, we’ve got to get it out of the way pretty soon and you guys are gonna quit talking about it."

HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO GO TO WIN TOMORROW NIGHT? “I went three-wide on the bottom at Darlington on the green-white-checker, which, if you look back, you probably wouldn’t want to do again, but that was just instinct taking over, and I’m just gonna let that happen again. I don’t mind mixing it up with the best of them. I’ve been very respectful in this sport to get here and I’ve always known my place, but I’ve got a chance to win $1 million. I’ve spent the last six years trying to build friends in the garage and I’m probably gonna lose them all in one night. We’ll see what happens."

WHAT MAKES THE ELITE DRIVERS DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS IN THE SPORT? “You’ve just got to have everything going for you. You could have a great team around you. You’ve got to have the sponsorship lined up. You’ve got to have manufacturer support. You’ve got to have good mechanics and crew, and then when you get the chance to get behind the wheel you’ve got to know what you’re doing. What makes Jimmie Johnson win five in a row? I think there’s a magic source there that we’re all looking for, but some guys have crazy talent and other guys are working hard to try to find it.”

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M/American Red Cross Ford Fusion, has never won the Sprint All-Star Race, but his season is off to a good start as he leads the series in points. Biffle spoke about his chances tomorrow night before today’s practice and qualifying session.

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M/American Red Cross Ford Fusion – IS YOUR MENTALITY GOING TO BE DIFFERENT TOMORROW NIGHT? “I’m really excited about this All-Star Race. One, you get to take a week off from the pressure of the points. There has certainly been a lot of emphasis on that for us as a team, so this is kind of fun. We like this race track. I like this race track. We’ve run really, really well here. You look back, last year we almost won the 600. We ran good in the All-Star Race and we ran really good here in the fall, so this has been a good race track for us. Our mile-and-a-half program is really good. I feel good about my chances tomorrow night in this All-Star Race."

IS THE ALL-STAR RACE MORE NERVE-WRACKING AT THE END THAN A NORMAL RACE? “It’s probably more nerve-wracking because of the emphasis and the build-up to this race. So much is put into this race and so much emphasis. It is $1 million to win, so a lot of prestige goes with it, so that final restart you still have the butterflies like always, but probably less than the 600 race. You’re still going for a win, but a lot is built up about this race and it’s so short. Your adrenaline is at peak all of the time."

DO YOU THINK YOU’RE THE FAVORITE? “Everybody has run so good this season. To be honest with you, I wish I could say I feel like we’re the favorite. I feel like we have a great opportunity, but to look at the 48 car, the 11 car, the 99 car, the 17 car and all those guys, I think any one of us can win this thing. The guy that starts in the top two rows, the guy that’s got the setup right for the last run of the night seems like that’s gonna be the guy and I hope that we’re one of them right there. I would say you throw about 10 numbers in a basket and every one of us has about an equal chance."

TO YOU AGREE THE WINNER WILL COME FROM THE FRONT TWO ROWS? “I think the winner is gonna come potentially from the top three rows because if the two guys in front of a certain row get racing each other, or whatever happens, it opens the door up for basically that third row. But if you’re gonna come deeper than that with 10 to go, something maybe more extraordinary is gonna happen. But if one guy gets slowed up a little bit sideways and bunches up some cars, a guy makes it three-wide coming off of two, you can get a run from back a little bit further and get up there, but, typically, it’s probably gonna be the top two or three rows."

DO YOU AGREE WITH DALE JR. THAT DRIVERS GET A PASS AS FAR AS THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THIS RACE WITH THE MONEY AT STAKE? “We know there’s gonna be a little pushing and shoving and rubbing and grinding going on for that $1 million bucks on the last lap. Typically, it’s hard to get beside that guy on that last lap, or hard to get to him, so that is true, but my feelings will be hurt if you cost me from winning that $1 million bucks. We all are gonna do whatever we can. We’re not gonna intentionally, or at least I’m not gonna intentionally wreck somebody, but you’re certainly gonna rough them up and try to maybe stop their momentum a little bit or find some type of advantage or edge if it’s coming down to the checkered flag."

WHAT IS IT LIKE DURING PRE-RACE FOR YOU HERE AT CHARLOTTE? “It’s certainly exciting now because I’ve got a 10-month old daughter. With her being out on pit road, not every race but a lot of them, it’s kind of a little inspiration when I get ready to buckle in that car. It’s neat to be home in front of what we call our hometown track and all of our friends and family. All of our team guys’ families get to participate, so that’s exciting to spend a couple weeks at home and see all the people that are able to come out for this event. It’s nice to be in this situation.”

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN ANYTHING AT A LOCAL LEVEL THAT WAS A LESSER VERSION OF THIS ALL-STAR FORMAT? “Not really. There are a couple things. I’ve been involved in about every one of them at some level, so on Friday night after we qualified, they’d bring this wheel out to the frontstretch and you’d spin it to know what the invert is. That was kind of typical of the short track days – 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 or whatever it was – and then the other thing I did is I ran some enduro races when I was running street stocks and coming up. They were 300-lap enduro races, so we’d run kind of like what Tony recommended a couple weeks back, we’d run 100 laps one direction on the track, we’d run 100 laps the other direction, and then track had a half-mile and quarter-mile, and then we’d run 100 laps one way on the quarter-mile and 100 laps the other way on the quarter-mile to finish. That was a lot of fun. Those are fun races and the lemon races or whatever they run around here, where you just take an old beater car and go out and have a little fun, so nothing quite like this format."

DO YOU EXPECT ANYBODY TO TAKE TIRES ON THE FINAL PIT STOP? “You’re exactly right, there’s no mystery to what’s gonna happen. Track position is what’s gonna win the race and we’ll see what this track thinks of new tires. As the track ages, as the tire is maybe a little bit different – the same tire but maybe it acts a little different on the race track, so after 20 laps we’ll see how important a new tire is. Maybe it doesn’t really matter that much, so we’ll have some practice and a little bit of that race to figure that out, but you’ve got to be at the front at the end. You’re not gonna win from the fourth or fifth row, sixth row, just because you have new tires – I don’t think. Anything can happen, but it’s gonna be track position and maybe it’s two tires, maybe it’s no tires."

WHAT MAKES A CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER? “I think what makes a championship driver is a driver’s ability to adapt to all situations. One week you’ve got something going on, you’ve got things you’ve got to do inside the car, you fall behind, you get a lap down, it’s a driver that can adapt to all race tracks, all situations, and be kind of cool under the collar when things aren’t going right. That’s what makes a championship driver – car control, talent, and being able to manage everything from every race track."

BRUTON SMITH IS NOT ON THE FINAL LIST OF 25 FOR THIS YEAR’S HALL OF FAME BALLOT. IS THAT SURPRISING TO YOU? “Yes, I would have to say it’s surprising. I would say that he should definitely be on the list. He’s done a tremendous amount for our sport. He’s done a tremendous amount with this race track and other race tracks like Las Vegas and other places. He’s been a huge contributor to our sport and definitely deserves an opportunity at some point, or at least gets my vote to be counted."

ARE YOU AS CONFIDENT ABOUT THE 600 NEXT WEEK AS YOU’VE EVER BEEN? “Yeah, I feel really confident right now getting ready for this race and the 600. Typically, how you feel going into a race track is how you ran there last, so you open the notebook up and see how you ran at that particular track and how well you run at that particular track and then how much better our program is from the last time we were here. You add all those things up and you can convince yourself that you’re gonna be unbeatable, but it feels good coming here in the situation we’re in and we know we’ve got good cars. We know everybody else has stepped their game up too, so we just have to show up here and go out on the track here in a little bit and lay down some fast laps and get our car driving good.”

WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF THE FIRST ALL-STAR RACE YOU SAW? “I honestly don’t remember the first All-Star Race I saw, but I do remember watching the one that had light rain and everybody when down into turn one and they all wrecked. That’s one that sticks out in my head. I think that we were in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, I don’t remember exactly where we were racing then, I know Nationwide was off racing somewhere else, and we watched that event. That’s one that really sticks out in my head of when I was involved in the sport and coming up."

WHO IS THE BEST ON RESTARTS RIGHT NOW AND ARE THE TIRES GOING TO BE SPINNING LIKE AT DARLINGTON? “A lot of times it’s reflex time and the leader, when he puts the gas down, how much he puts it down, does his tires spin a little bit, does he get good grip off that, and then just reaction time of that lane. You want to put the gas down as much as you can, but if you do that too quickly, you start spinning the tires and then there’s no way to really get them to stop spinning. It happened at Darlington. I don’t know what happened to Tony. I think he ran out of gas a little bit, it might not have been him, but the bottom lane got jammed up and the top lane is going and the bottom lane is not. I’ve got guys going out three-wide behind me, driving down in the corner on the apron. It’s a hornet’s nest that last little bit, so any one of those things. I don’t say any guy is more proficient or better at it right now than just putting the gas down and going, and whoever gets that best little reflex jump or the tires take about all the power you can give it and whoever just does it perfect."

WHAT WAS YOUR EMOTION WHEN YOU WON A RACE AND QUALIFIED FOR THIS EVENT? “I’ve been in this race, I didn’t make it my first year. I won after I was here in the first year I was in Sprint Cup, so I didn’t make it the first year, but I’ve been in it every year since, except for one year we went winless. I’ve won a race every year since or finished second and got in, and it’s pretty exciting to be in it. It’s pretty exciting to be in here right now while they’re out there practicing for the race to try and get in. It feels good to be a part of that group, but it certainly is exciting for your first time to win a race and know that that’s put you in the event."

IS IT HARD BEING ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN? “Yeah, it’s hard being on the outside looking in. It’s like the Bud Shootout or anything else when you don’t qualify or you’re not in that position to race that race. That one year was pretty disappointing because it’s just another nail in the coffin, so to speak, where you went a year without winning a race and then you didn’t race your way into the All-Star Race. I missed it by one spot, I think, so it kind of continues that toughness to get back into Victory Lane.”

Drivers go after hometown bragging rights
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