Edwards, Kenseth and Allmendinger Meet the Press at Darlington(3)

Ford's three top-12 drivers -- AJ Allmendinger (11th), Matt Kenseth (9th) and Carl Edwards (1st) -- all held Q&A sessions Friday at Darlington Raceway.

Edwards, Kenseth and Allmendinger Meet the Press at Darlington

Edwards, Kenseth and Allmendinger Meet the Press at Darlington

            AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion, climbed back into the top 12 after last week’s seventh-place finish at Richmond. Allmendinger, who stands 11th in the point standings, visited the Darlington infield media center to answer some questions from the press.

AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Best Buy Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CREEPING BACK UP IN THE STANDINGS. “Last week at Richmond was really good to get a top 10. I feel like we’re on the cusp there. We’re hanging in there. We’re not doing anything spectacular, but I’m proud of the team because we’re not making a lot of mistakes either. We’re just kind of just hanging around and having decent finishes and running fairly well, but we definitely need to keep getting better to be one of those teams that you consider a top 10 every week contending for the chase. I’m excited that we’ve been able to go out there and not do anything to hurt ourselves. We’ve really just had one bad race at Bristol and everything else has been inside the top 20 or top 15. If we can just keep getting better and steadily improve, I feel like with what we’ve already done and being right there on the edge of the top 10, we can have a chance at making the chase. We just have to be smart and keep getting better as a race team.” 
DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GOT SOME MOMENTUM WITH SOME TRACKS COMING UP THAT HAVE BEEN GOOD FOR YOU? “Yeah. I feel like what’s happening at Richard Petty Motorsports in general has been really good. Lisa Brown and everybody on the marketing side bringing in new sponsors like Nautica for a race deal last week was really cool, and I know they’re working on other potential sponsors to bring a new flavor to NASCAR, so I think things like that have been really good for the race team and for us to go out there and keep running better and better has been a good thing. This weekend is gonna be a tough challenge. It has historically not been a great race track for me, but by the same point, this year is completely different. To go into Dover next week I’m really pumped up for. Charlotte, we’ve had decent runs there at times, and, obviously, with the All-Star break there is a lot of stuff we can work on, so I’m excited with the upcoming schedule and what we possibly have, but, at the same time, we know what we need to work on and that’s the intermediate race tracks. We’ve got to get a lot better there to really be a contending team each week. My goal was to get to the All-Star break with at least a chance inside the chase, and if we have two good runs here, we’ll be right there. It’s been good so far.” 
WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW THIS PLACE? “I thought they completely messed up the design of the race track when I got here. I said, ‘This can’t possibly be an oval. What’s going on here?’ It’s insane to me. The race track is awesome with how narrow it is. What’s exciting for me is, honestly, the history of the race track. I rolled in here last night and when you roll through the gates and get here, the history behind the track is something that always excites me and excites me about NASCAR in general. Obviously, the race car that I get to drive has a huge part to do with that, but it is definitely a tough race track. I drove on it once before it was repaved and it was tough, and now that it’s repaved it’s tough in a different way because it’s so fast you can’t make a mistake. It’s a tough place. That’s all you can say. There’s not a lot more to describe it.” 
DO YOU FEEL YOUR ORGANIZATION IS PRIMED TO EXPAND TO THREE OR FOUR CARS? “I think there is always progress made, like I said about the new sponsors that we’ve been able to bring in and potentially have more opportunities to bring more in is a good thing. At the same time, I feel fortunate to be 11th in points. We’ve just been real consistent. Marcos has had a lot of bad luck. The way I look at it, until we get both of those cars contending in the top 10 every week on a consistent basis, to try and think about going to three or four teams, to me, isn’t very important. We’ve got to make sure our two cars are fast first, and then make a third one fast and make a fourth one fast. The ownership may see it a little bit different, but, to me, it’s still early. We’ve raced nine and we need to be focused on continuing to get better as a race team. You don’t see a lot of organizations that don’t have a couple of cars already fast add a third car and all of a sudden make everybody a lot faster, so, to me, that’s what our goal has to be is make sure the first two cars are well funded and fast each weekend, and then focus on a third car and then a fourth car.” 
CAN YOU LOOK AHEAD TO DOVER FOR US? “For me, I really enjoy Dover. It’s a place that I’ve liked as soon as I got there. Obviously, it’s high-banked and fast. It’s just really a fun place to drive each lap that you’re on it and, relatively, we’ve had really fast race cars there, so I was excited. We did the Goodyear tire test there and it went really well, so, for me, I’m trying to get through Darlington and have a good run and, hopefully, be consistent here and keep ourselves up in the points, and then I’m really looking forward to Dover.” 
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN TO LIKE THIS PLACE AND DO WELL? “After it kind of keeps kicking your butt it’s kind of hard to get to that point, but this year is completely different than last year coming here. Last year, we were struggling and it just seemed like the ball was dropping everywhere that we went and something would go wrong. Last year, we had a brake failure and had a big wreck, so I look at it like, yeah, it’s in the back of your mind that, for me, I’ve never had a great run here, but, at the same time, I do enjoy the place. I enjoy driving it and this year is completely different than where we were last year, so I’m excited about it. For me, it’s always there. You know you have to have a good run, but there have been several places like that for us where we’ve been able to go to and have a good run and kind of just get out of there with a decent run. At Talladega, we were running good all day and finished 11th and that’s a place where I’ve never had a good run, so you just have to have a good attitude about it. For me, it’s a tough place to tame, but I’m ready to get on the race track. Ultimately, it’s all about just getting there and getting on the race track and seeing where you’re at.” 
            Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Wiley X Ford Fusion, is ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings going into this weekend’s Southern 500. Kenseth held a Q&A session in front of his team hauler before Friday’s NSCS practice session.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Wiley X Ford Fusion – CAN YOU WIN THIS RACE TOMORROW NIGHT? “I don’t know. The condensed schedule is always a challenge, especially when you only come to a place once a year with a different tire and all that stuff, so I really don’t have any idea what we’ve got until we get on the track.” 
DID YOU WATCH THE TRUCK RACE OR MONITOR NATIONWIDE PRACTICE AND USE THAT AS ANOTHER TOOL TO TRY AND GET A STARTING POINT? “Hopefully we have a starting point by now, but you should be able to pay attention to at least the Nationwide practice with our cars over there and see if there’s anything they stumble on that the tire likes.” 
DO YOU PREPARE FOR THIS TRACK ANY DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OF HOW DIFFERENT IT IS? “You don’t prepare differently, but certainly every track is unique and you approach and attack every track different. It’s a lot different than it used to be. This car is quite a bit more forgiving, if you bang the right side a little bit, but you still have to have a lot of respect for this track. It’s 500 miles and an extremely long race, so you still need to approach it like that and stay on the lead lap and try to adjust your car throughout the night.” 
ARE YOU EXPECTING THE LAST FEW RACES BEFORE THE CHASE TO BE DIFFERENT AS DRIVERS TRY TO GET WINS AND THOSE WILD CARD SPOTS? “It’s hard for me to look 20 races down the road right now, but every week everybody out there is trying to get a win. I don’t know that it will really change a lot. I think the driving is always aggressive. I think everybody is out there always trying to put their best foot forward and trying to win. Every point system I’ve ever raced under the winner gets the most points and second gets the second-most points and so on, so you always want to get the best you can out of it.” 
THE IDEA BEING IF YOU GET A FEW WINS YOU MIGHT GET IN WITH THE WILD CARD, SO GUYS MIGHT TRY SOME THINGS. “Yeah, maybe strategy-wise or something like that, but I like the idea of the wild card. I think that’s a good idea, but, except for maybe a very rare circumstance, I don’t think it’s gonna change the winner, it’s just gonna change the winner’s points.” 
WITH THE NEW POINT SYSTEM IS IT HARDER IF YOU’RE OUTSIDE THE TOP 10 TO GET IN THAN IT WAS WITH THE OLD SYSTEM? “It depends how many points you’re behind and what the guys in front of you do just like always. I don’t think it’s harder to get in if you’re out depending on how many points there are, but if you do have a real bad finish it drags you down in the points real fast. If you have a few of them, it’s gonna be harder to come back from that, I think.” 
DO YOU LOOK AT THE NEXT THREE TRACKS – DOVER, CHARLOTTE AND KANSAS – ANY DIFFERENTLY KNOWING THEY’RE IN THE CHASE LATER IN THE YEAR? “No, because really we’ve got to get to the chase first. After the two speedway races and even last week being in a wreck again, yeah, we’re in the top 10 in points right now but not very comfortably. I’ve gotten us pretty far behind in the points, so you look to each track as an opportunity to try to win, try to get as many points as you can, and you always put your best foot forward. If you happen to run good that week, hopefully it will help you if you get to the chase to use some of that information, but I don’t think about the chase at all or prepare for that right now. A lot of things will change in the next five months until we get there.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL THERE? “Dover is a really unique track. You’ve got to have the car turning good there, like every track, but you also have to have a certain amount of security. It’s a real fast, high-banked, bumpy track being concrete. It’s not a real forgiving track. It’s always been my favorite. I always look forward to going there and look forward to the challenge.”
IS YOUR DRIVING STYLE ANY DIFFERENT BECAUSE IT’S CONCRETE? “That’s kind of hard to answer because it’s so different. Even if it was black top, it’s such a different track compared to any other track we go to. It’s a very unique size and shape with the banking and just the way it’s laid out there is really nothing on the circuit you can compare it to.” 
DO YOU GET A CHANCE TO CATCH YOUR BREATH AT ALL, LIKE ON THE BACK STRAIGHTAWAY? “The banking on the straightaway doesn’t really bother you on the straightaway, unless you get in a wreck. Obviously, it funnels everybody to the bottom if you get in a wreck and you usually hit the inside wall, but if you don’t get in a wreck, you don’t probably notice the banked straightaways that much.”
            Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, is leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings for the third straight week. He spoke with reporters in the Darlington Raceway infield media center to discuss a variety of subjects.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – YOU HAD YOUR SECOND CHILD THIS WEEK. CONGRATULATIONS. HOW IS IT GOING? “It’s going great. It was amazing. Kate is an amazing woman. We had a healthy young boy. His name is Michael Edwards and he’s doing great, so it’s just a great week. It was unreal. We had a lot of fun. Annie is really excited about her little brother. I don’t think she quite understands what is going on, but we’re all doing really well, so it’s good.” 
WHERE DOES DARLINGTON RANK ON YOUR DIFFICULTY SCALE AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT JEFF GORDON HAS FIVE MORE WINS HERE THAN ANY OTHER ACTIVE DRIVER? “This place is really difficult. I had a lot of help before my first trip here from Jeff Burton. He’s really good here and he helped me a lot with my first run here in the trucks. Bobby Hudson was spotting for me then and he’d watched a million races here. I’ve never gotten a win here, but we’ve run really well. We’ve run well in the trucks, in Nationwide and in the Cup Series. We’ve had at least one Cup race get away that I thought we could win. I feel like our Aflac Fusion is pretty good this weekend, but it is very difficult. I think Jeff’s success here says a lot about him as a driver and a lot about that team. He’s won seven races. That’s unreal. I ran the truck race here and we overheated the engine. We were running really well and overheated the engine, but the first Cup race I came to here I was just watching, hanging out. I watched the beginning of the race from turn three, in that building, watched a bunch of laps and then I decided I was gonna drive back to Charlotte. I got back to my apartment, drove all the way home. I had watched enough that I was ready to go home, drove all the way home, walked in and flipped on the radio and the race was still going. They were still out there grinding it out and it was like 90 degrees outside. It’s such a tough race. It’s a grueling race physically, so that says a lot about Jeff to be able to win all of those.”
IS THERE ANY UPDATE ON YOUR CONTRACT STATUS FOR NEXT YEAR? “I don’t have any timetable, and, like I said at the beginning of the year, I don’t really like to talk about that stuff in the media. I’ve been fortunate to be able to take care of it behind closed doors, but it’s all going well. We’re just working on it.” 
HARVICK AND KYLE BOTH LIKE HAVING AS MANY WINS AS POSSIBLE BECAUSE THEY FEEL THEY CAN TAKE MORE CHANCES WITH SETUP S. AS THE POINT LEADER WOULD YOU RATHER BE WHERE YOU ARE NOW OR MORE WINS THIS YEAR? “I’d rather be where I’m at now. The wins are very important, though. I think just the fact that we have one win is great, two would be better. I think both of those guys are in a great position to make the chase because they’re both gonna be in the top 20 in points. It’s kind of interesting all the curves that go with that stuff. I think if you can have two wins, I believe you’ll be in the chase, so that’s a relief, I’m sure, for those guys. But having the points lead is nice, too. I think it builds a lot of confidence within the team. This is the longest we’ve led the points. We’ve been able to hang onto the points lead for quite a while now, so I’m enjoying it. If it does rain out qualifying, there’s an advantage there. I’d like to have the points lead and a bunch of wins. That would be the best, but we’re working on that.” 
YOU CAN SEE GRAY COMING BACK TO THE TRACK. DOES THAT MEAN GRIP IS GOING AWAY FROM THE TRACK? “I was pretty excited and anxious to see what it looked like. I was telling the guys that rode with me down to the race that this track was so different before they paved it, and I’m hoping it gets back to that.  It seems like it has aged quite well, I think, over the last year. It took a lot of rubber about three-quarters of the way through the Nationwide practice and that changed the grip level a little bit. It seems like the tires are falling off a little bit, so I think it’s good. I think the track is going really well, and I think that’s good for the racing.” 
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IT’S LIKE BEING A NASCAR DRIVER AWAY FROM THE TRACK? “We run all over the place. There’s always something going on. I’ve been running the Nationwide Series full-time. I think this is the seventh year running both series full-time, so, for me, days like today without the rain are really busy. You’re in the car, it feels like for 12 or 15 hours – from 8:30 in the morning until whenever we finish the race at night, so those days are really busy. The one thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been doing this is my off days are like Monday and Tuesday, so I end up having days off when nobody else does, so that’s kind of odd. But we work on the weekends essentially, and the guys in the shop are the ones that really work the hardest, the guys that work in the shop all week and then travel. There’s more than what you see on television, I guess, is the best way to put it. There’s a lot of work that goes into this and it seems like the more you work, the better you go so nobody lets up.” 
DOES YOUR BOY LOOK OR ACT LIKE YOU, AND HOW FRUSTRATING IS THE TRACK TO LEARN AT FIRST? “I don’t know him well enough. He’s only been around a couple of days, but he’s healthy and that’s the biggest thing. That’s one of the most stressful things that I hope I ever have to go through. It’s wild to anticipate how everything is gonna go, but I’m very fortunate. As far as this race track, it’s just wild. To drive down into turn one, if you had a heart rate monitor it’s like as you’re approaching turn one your heart rate just gets higher and higher and you think, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this right.’ And you drive down in that corner and it just launches you into the middle of this corner and, to me, I don’t know what other guys feel like, but my brain is screaming, ‘Step on the throttle, step on the throttle,’ and for some reason my foot just won’t do it quick enough because it’s so different from most tracks. You have to be on the throttle really, really running hard around the center of the corner and you build up all this steam and then the game is to see if you can thread that needle off of two and launch down that back straightaway, so it’s a very challenging race track. I feel like the pace of the race, mentally at least, changes a lot throughout the race. You get a lot more comfortable and understand how it’s working, but the first few laps out here are tough.” 
DOES THE ALL-STAR RACE HAVE A LEVEL OF INTENSITY YOU CAN FEEL AS A DRIVER? “Yeah, it’s really fun because it’s all about the win. It’s about winning a million dollars and getting the trophy. It’s a neat race. It feels like we should have more of those type of races because it is different and it truly is all or nothing. If you’re running around there in eighth place or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s about winning. I have not been fortunate enough to run that well at that race. It seems like we’re always really bad there. We were watching some coverage from last year’s race before I came over here and we talked about it a little bit and they think we’re gonna be better this year, but it’s fun. That would be an unreal race to win. That would be cool.” 
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT WAS ACCEPTABLE TO SAY ON THE RADIO TO YOUR CREW? “I think everybody is different and everybody expresses their frustration in different ways. In the heat of the moment, at least for me, it’s easy to say things that you sometimes go, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have said that,’ but I think that’s just part of the sport and I don’t know if that will ever change. I think at the end of the day caring enough to be upset about something is part of competition.” 
DO CREW GUYS UNDERSTAND THAT FRUSTRATION? “I think we all do it differently. Just like all of us do there are people that deal with things in different ways, so I don’t think it’s the same scale for every person. I know just within my team there are guys that can say certain things to me and we can interact in a certain way that I couldn’t interact with another guy, so you just have to kind of measure that stuff based on who you’re dealing with.” 
HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE LAST 5-10 RACES TO GO WITH DRIVERS OUTSIDE THE CHASE TRYING TO GET A WIN AND GRAB A WILD CARD SPOT? “That’s gonna be really interesting. I think that’s something we haven’t talked a lot about, but there will obviously be guys that aren’t gonna make it in the top 10 – there might be some wild pit strategies and really, really hard racing to get a win. It just depends on how it stacks up and what it looks like is gonna be needed. If there are eight guys or something that are all on equal ground, but if they got a win they would be in the chase, you’re gonna see some really hardcore racing out of those guys. I hope I’m in and I hope I don’t have to be one of those guys, but I think the fans are gonna benefit by that.” 
DID THE RAIN CREATE ANY ISSUES AS FAR AS GETTING A READ ON THINGS? “We’re gonna look good or not here based on whether or not it stops raining because Bob and the guys forecasted right when it was gonna rain. We got some race trim in, we got qualifying practice in, and if it continues to rain, then we might have messed up because we should have spent more time in race trim, but if we do get qualifying in, then I think we did the right thing.   It’s really difficult to decide what to do because it’s not just about whether it rains, it’s how quick does it dry off, are we gonna get more race practice. It’s a tough call. I’m hoping that we get qualifying in, just so we can make use of all that practice we had.”  
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A BETTER APPRECIATION OF WHAT YOUR CREW GUYS DO SINCE YOU USED TO WORK ON CARS, COMPARED TO GUYS WHO HAVE NEVER DONE THAT AND JUST DRIVE? “I can tell you honestly that it’s difficult sometimes to remember how much work goes into these cars because we show up, we get in the race car, we race them really hard and if you run into something, I don’t have to fix that. So sometimes it’s easy to forget how much work goes into these things. I’d say it could go either way. I know when I first came in, I probably was a little timid sometimes on the race track because I didn’t want to tear things up and I didn’t want to be too hard on the car. I was so used to thinking, ‘OK, don’t wear out the engine. It has to last all year. Don’t miss a shift. Don’t be hard on the tires’ because I didn’t want to buy new tires. I think it took a little while to where I could get the most out of the car, but I guess it could go the other way too and you could abuse the equipment a little bit because you don’t understand what goes into it. I don’t know if that’s really a factor in how fast a guys is. I think it could go either way. I don’t think the guys want you to be too easy on it, in a way. I really respect what goes into these race cars. The thing that’s hard to remember sometimes is that every single person is giving everything they’ve got. Everybody is doing their best job, so when things aren’t going well it’s so frustrating because you think, ‘Why can’t they make this car any faster?’ But everybody is doing the best they can. I think on our team we did a really good job of staying conscious of that through those 70 races we went without a win. We were right on the verge of people starting to point fingers at each other and we didn’t do it and that was pretty cool. I was really proud of everybody. I never heard a cross work about me driving and I did my best not to blame anyone. We just kept working and I think that’s really important.”  
WHEN WAS YOUR SON BORN? “He was born on Wednesday afternoon. He was eight pounds, six ounces. They’re doing really well. She’s a great mom and I hope she enjoys this Mother’s Day.”