The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship & hellip;

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship kicks off this weekend with a pair of Ford drivers in the 12-man field. Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth spoke to media members Friday as well as Nationwide Series points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in advance of the race weekend in Chicago.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship…

Chase Contenders and Nationwide Points Leader Talk Chicagoland

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, enters Saturday’s Dollar General 300 with a 16 point lead in the NNS standings over Elliot Sadler.  Stenhouse met with media members at Chicagoland Speedway to discuss his lead and more.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford) – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE THIS WEEKEND TO BE SUCCESSFUL HERE AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY?  “For us I think it is good to get back here. We had a really fast Mustang last time we were here and had an issue on pit road that kind of cost us a few spots there. We blew a right front. We are good to get back to the mile-and-a-half tracks late in the season because we have been running really strong on them. Atlanta was a really good race for us and I have always liked coming to Chicago after coming here in our ARCA car in 2008. It has always been one of my favorite mile-and-a-half tracks. It is really fast and a lot of fun to drive. We are looking forward to getting on track today and getting our practice in. Hopefully we have a really good race on Saturday.”

HOW DO YOU BALANCE POINTS VERSUS WINS AS RACES UNFOLD?  “I think if you look at it over the whole season, no matter where you are in points you have to go out there and get all the points you can. You don’t have to really worry about the points; you just go do the best job you can do. I don’t think you can really technically points race until Homestead when you know exactly what you need. The way our series has been this year, whoever is leading tends to have a bad race and brings everybody right back into it. It doesn’t matter if you are 70 or 80 points out of it. Come Homestead, you could be in it still. We just have to stay consistent and I think if we run the way we’ve been running the last few weeks we can do that. We just plan on staying up front as much as we can. If you can stay in the top five you tend to stay out of trouble there and that is really our game plan from here on out.”

HOW DO YOU THINK THE DYNAMIC OF THE RACE WILL CHANGE WITH FIVE MORE CUP GUYS IN IT THIS TIME? “I think you are still going to have to beat the same ones, even when all the Cup guys don’t come over. You still have to beat the 18, 60 and 22. Really if you can beat those three, I feel like you are going to win the race, no matter what weekend it is. If you can beat those three I feel like you are going to end up in victory lane no matter what.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, enters the first race in the Chase as the fourth seed and looking for his second championship. Kenseth, who has two wins this season, talked about what it will take to get the Chase started on the right foot, with a victory, his comedy skills and more.

  “Yeah, I like starting here. In the past it has been one of our stronger tracks which doesn’t really mean anything for this weekend but it is nice to be here in Chicago and come to a different venue. I thought it was cool to do all the media stuff yesterday in the same city we are racing at and to kick off the Chase here. I am excited to get in the car here in a little bit.”

  “Thanks. No, I haven’t gotten any job offers. Actually I didn’t think they would invite me back to the media center. That is why I asked to come in today because I didn’t think anybody would want me back after last week.  Everybody was pretty grumpy last Saturday night.”

FOR 11 GUYS OUT THERE, THEY HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO END A DYNASTY. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE THAT GUY?  “I think 11 guys are thinking about it because they are in the Chase but I think in the beginning of the year you start thinking about that in the offseason and going into the season to make the Chase and to win the championship. I think probably all of them would tell you that if they can’t win it then they don’t care who wins it because you want to be the one to win it. Certainly Jimmie and that team have proved the last five years that if you want to win a championship you have to go through them. That is the team that everybody looks at but I don’t get very caught up in that because you have to beat all 42 of the guys out there every week to get the most points and I think you have to run top-five every week to have a shot at the championship, regardless of what that one car does.”

WERE YOU AWARE THAT PAUL MENARD WAS LOOKING TO WRECK YOU AT RICHMOND? “Yes and no. I didn’t really get it all put together until last night when I saw some of his quotes. I tried a couple times to talk to him this week and we sort of connected. Earlier in the race, and I never even put all this together until last night, but earlier in the race I locked up a left front tire and ran into the 78 car and spun out Regan which was just a mistake. We were racing each other and I guess Paul was kind of on my right rear and I honestly didn’t realize he wrecked until later in the race from that incident. I don’t know because I haven’t talked to him again since I was laying in bed last night thinking about it and I didn’t realize the Chase things and he got wrecked in it and the 6 car was trying to make the Chase. I am not sure in his mind if he thought something like that was intentional to help a teammate get in, I have no idea to be honest with you. I didn’t know he wrecked originally because of that. I called Regan first thing because I spun him out and it was just a mistake I made and I tried calling and texting Paul and he texted me back last night finally. I felt bad that those guys got taken out because I was having a bad night anyway and the last thing I wanted to do was mess up anybody else’s night. It was a mistake I made that caused that accident.”

SO YOU DID REACH OUT TO PAUL TO DISCUSS WHAT HAPPENED? “I did. I was actually going to go talk to him again because I didn’t realize the whole part about the Chase and maybe thinking that it was intentional or anything. I never even dreamed that either one of them would have thought it was intentional from me. On the other hand it was a mistake that I made and I wanted to apologize for messing up their nights.”

WHAT ABOUT HOW TEAMMATES CAN IMPACT THINGS AND HOW THAT MAY OR MAY NOT PLAY OUT IN THE CHASE?  “With the wild car thing I didn’t think about it that much because I couldn’t keep track of what was all going on and we were locked in so I didn’t really look at it or read about it because it seemed like there were 20 numbers on the wall that could have made it. At the end of the day the two guys that were in made it and it didn’t end up mattering at the end of the day. I guess the possibility is there for things to happen during the Chase. I like to think that it doesn’t. I know for me in all the years I have been in it, I have never really seen anything necessarily different happen than you would normally see happen so you always try to help your teammates, you always try to maybe cut some of your friends a break and that type of thing. Hopefully that doesn’t change during the Chase. Hopefully that is the same a month ago as it is right now.”

  “Well, I think you always try to do that whenever you have a conflict with someone or you make a mistake or even if you are mad and two people get into each other. I think any time you have conflict you try to resolve that, Chase or no Chase. I don’t think it matters. I don’t race any different whether I am in the Chase or not in the Chase and I don’t expect other people to race me different. The whole thing last week I didn’t really think about it or put it together until a little while ago. Paul is a buddy of mine. We have hung out before and he raced at RPM which was basically a teammate. We have flown around to places together, gone to appearances together, you feel bad when something happens to anybody, but especially someone you know that is a friend of yours. You try to work it out but not because it is the Chase and you are worried that something might happen to you in the Chase. You would do that anyway, no matter when it was.”

  “I hope so because it was a mistake. It would be like you going out into the parking lot and backing into somebody’s car. You didn’t do it on purpose. It wasn’t like we were having a feud and somebody got wrecked. It wasn’t like that. It was a handling problem I was having with my car and I lost track of where it was and did something uncharacteristic of us and made a mistake that got somebody spun out. I think everybody probably realizes that it was an accident.”

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, took time after the first practice session Friday at Chicagoland Speedway to meet with media members and discuss the Chase and the weekend ahead.

  “Yeah, the way I run at New Hampshire it is nice to start here. We seem to run really well at these mile-and-a-half’s. I am still nervous about New Hampshire. I think our run at Richmond bodes well for us for New Hampshire and Martinsville. Our practice session went very well with our Aflac Fusion here at Chicago and I am excited about qualifying and the race. We have a really good car and I really like this race track.”

THERE HASN’T BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON’S TITLE CHANCES THIS YEAR. PEOPLE SEEM TO BE PICKING JEFF (GORDON) OR KYLE (BUSCH). WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?  “I don’t know. I am not surprised more people aren’t talking about him, I just think that because he has been the champion for five years now that everyone realizes he is going to be tough. Let me put it this way, it won’t surprise anyone in the garage or in this room if he were to be one of the contenders in the final race at Homestead.  I hope he’s not because he is awfully tough to have to race at these championships but I think he will be tough and everyone takes that as a given. I think that is where the lack of talk about it comes from.”

DOES IT ADD ANY MORE WEIGHT TO THIS YEAR’S CHAMPIONSHIP TO BE THE GUY THAT COULD SNAP JIMMIE’S STREAK?  “It would mean a lot to be the guy that ends Jimmie’s amazing run of championships but then there is another side of that too. Whoever wins the championship this year, if it’s not Jimmie, has to win the next five to beat his run that he just had. There are two sides to it and if someone does beat Jimmie, which I think is as possible as any other outcome, they still have to do it again the next year, and the next year, and I think he is going to be tough for a long time to come. It would be nice to have Jimmie sitting in the crowd while I was giving my speech. That would be great. We have all had to listen to his speeches for a long time.”

DO YOU AGREE THERE SEEMS TO BE ALMOST TWICE AS MANY DRIVERS WITH A CHANCE TO WIN THIS THING THAN IN PREVIOUS YEARS AND WITH THAT MANY GUYS HAVING A SHOT, DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE MORE MIND GAMES?  “I think anyone in the Chase can win the championship. If you look at the way the year has gone, people have gotten hot and cold throughout the year. There is no telling who is going to shine through these 10 races. I believe it is anybody’s championship. As far as head games and stuff like that, you know, I believe from my seat and what I see, no matter what is going on outside the track or in the media it seems like the guys who are in this Chase, every one of them is strong enough mentally to just race and not really have any problems dealing with stuff that happens outside the track. I think they are all really tough. It might be entertaining and there might be a lot of speculation. You never know what is going to come up. We have all been racing so hard this year and so much has happened that I think everyone is tough enough to keep it off the race track.”

SHOULD ‘BOYS HAVE AT IT’ BE INTERPRETED DIFFERENTLY IN THE CHASE?  “I think that NASCAR’s stance on penalties and letting us take care of things on the race track has been very good. I think they have done a really good job of drawing lines when things get out of hand and letting us have at it when we need to. I think it has been good. I think it should stay the same in the Chase. I think it has worked out really well and I don’t know that there should be any extra scrutiny on actions or anything like that.”

WHAT ABOUT THINGS LIKE SATURDAY NIGHT?  “What happened Saturday night? I still haven’t seen the replays and stuff. I think things are different now that they were last week and the guys in the Chase know that. Last week was last week. We were fighting for three points. The guy that won was going to get three points. Other than that, the guys in the Chase weren’t racing for the same thing that they are racing for now. Right now, everybody realizes that there are huge implications to anything that goes on. I think you will see, at least for the beginning of the Chase, pretty polite drivers and a lot more give and take. That is self preservation and I think that is natural.”

THE FIRST FIVE RACES OF THE SEASON YOU LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE IN POSITION TO WIN ANY OR ALL OF THE FIRST FIVE RACES.  IS THERE ANYTHING DIFFERENT TODAY OR ANY REASON WHY YOU DON’T THINK YOU CAN APPEAR TO BE THAT COMPETITIVE AS YOU WERE THEN IN THE CHASE COMING UP?  “That is a good question. I have thought about that a lot throughout the year and what made us so good then and the last couple of races in 2010 and how good we were at the beginning of the season. I feel like there were more races this year that we were the fastest car than we have had in a long time. We didn’t win all those races for a number of races and I think in the summer there were a bunch of variables. Bob talked about it a little bit and we worked on some different things and had some mechanical failures and the contract talks and all that went into that. You never know how much that did or didn’t impact the way people work on stuff or my driving or anything like that. The good thing is that we didn’t keep that downward momentum. We turned it and we were really good at Atlanta, the best we have ever been at Richmond, and really fast in this practice here. I think we kind of got our arms around it and hopefully are back where we were at the beginning of the season. I feel like we are, we just have to go out and make it happen now. I don’t know which one of those things impact it or if it was just luck or what but it did seem like we lulled for awhile and now have come back.”

  “Which issue exactly?”

THE ISSUE IN THE RACE ON SATURDAY NIGHT.  “I am sorry man; you have to be more specific. Are you asking about Paul Menard? Kevin finished first, I finished second and Jeff finished third. Is there anybody else who wants to talk about this because I didn’t see what happened and I didn’t read what happened. I have heard people murmur that there was some issue with Paul Menard. That is all I know. I don’t know. I didn’t see it. I didn’t hear anything. Does anyone have a specific question about it?  I am sorry sir, I just don’t know exactly what you are asking. Do you want me just comment on everything that can be possible with it or something?”

I THINK WHAT HE IS TRYING TO SAY IS THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT A DRIVER WOULD SPIN OUT TO CAUSE A CAUTION TO HELP A DRIVER. IN ADDITION, ARE THERE SECRET RADIO CHANNELS THAT YOU GUYS HAVE THAT NOBODY ELSE CAN HEAR OR IS EVERYTHING AVAILABLE?  “I assume that everything I say in my car everyone can hear. I am pretty sure everyone has a backup channel but we program those in our radios so I am assuming other people listen to them just the same. I read literally one article in passing about Jeff saying that he heard some radio chatter or someone told him about some radio chatter that may have indicated that Paul spun out on purpose to help Kevin. I haven’t talked with Paul about it and haven’t seen the video or heard any of it. Of course that is an option. Everybody has that option to do that. I don’t know if Paul did do it or would do it. I haven’t heard any statement from him so for me to comment on that specific thing, I am not really up to speed on everything that happened.”

SO YOU DON’T HAVE SECRET RADIO CHANNELS NOBODY ELSE CAN HEAR?  “I don’t. Once you start the race, the way I understand it, we can not have a digital radio or scrambled radio in the car. You get channel one and channel two. I am assuming some media or fans don’t have channel two, so to them that would be a channel they can’t listen to but it isn’t a super secret channel or something.”



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