Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Media Day (Suarez and Ragan)

DANIEL SUAREZ, No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang — WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS YEAR? “The expectations for this year and the team has been very strong and I know what I’m capable of doing and everything looks extremely good. The reality is we have to be patient. We have to walk before we run and that’s something extremely important for myself. We know that the results are gonna get there, but we have to be patient and be smart in all of the decisions. Billy Scott, my crew chief, and the rest of the guys have been nothing but great working with me and bringing in the new fresh air and new fresh energy, and I can tell you that I’m extremely excited to what the future is holding for us.”

YOU HAD TO FEEL YOU WERE GOING TO BE WITH JGR A LOT LONGER THAN YOU WERE. “If you were asking me that question my first year in Cup, I would have said yes. The second year it was extremely unstable. I was expecting things that I never got — many, many different things that were planning on doing and never did, and stuff like that. A lot of changes and a lot of parts and pieces were moved around and I felt like something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. I’m not the best driver when it comes to patience, so I was always wishing things and trying to figure out things and trying to find out what part I was missing and I couldn’t find it and they couldn’t find it, either. So we decided to part ways and, honestly, maybe six months ago I was pretty disappointed and down on things, but today I can tell you that maybe it was the best thing that could happen to me.”

DO YOU LOOK AT JOEY’S SITUATION AS A GOOD ANALOGY? “You see what happens and then we’ll talk, but I’m extremely confident. I have never forgot what I’m good doing and what I can do. In this sport of racing people are extremely important. You have to have the right people. You need to have the right group. You need to have people who actually trust in yourself and people that have your back, and if you don’t have that combination of things something is gonna be missing. The perfect example is last year I would say that for myself it was a bad year, but we had good results. We had a pole position and we had a couple second-place finishes and we had some good results, and it’s not like I remembered how to drive in those races. We were just extremely inconsistent somehow and we couldn’t figure out the reason. Now I feel with new fresh air, a fresh change, new people and new energy, it was something very good for me.”

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHR AND JGR? “Something that I feel is extremely important is how involved Tony Stewart is in the racing. I’ve had a good relationship with Tony in the past, but now I get to talk with him more and getting to learn him more and that’s been extremely good. He’s a driver. He’s not just a team owner. He’s a driver that happens to be a team owner and that’s something that I feel is a plus because he understands the position of the driver. He knows what the race car is lacking and I feel like it’s gonna be good. I see Stewart-Haas Racing as a big station with a bunch of real racers, which is something really good. It’s a great group. I can tell you that I’m very fortunate to, I feel like there are very few drivers in the sport that are fortunate enough to be with a very good team like Joe Gibbs Racing and then transfer to another extremely good team like Stewart-Haas Racing, so I’m one of those fortunate drivers and I’m really looking forward to keep having fun and to do what I think we’re gonna be able to do and what we couldn’t do as consistently as I wanted in previous years.”

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN BUILDING THAT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR TEAM? “As much as possible, but the reality is we won’t be able to prepare everything 100 percent until we get to the race track. The part that we do at the shop and everything that we do to prepare at the shop, I feel like we did that job extremely well. But there are some parts that you can’t fix at the race shop, you have to go to the race testing. The Clash race that we just had was extremely important for us. I feel like we’re one of the race teams with more benefits from that because we have everything new. The spotter was new, the crew chief new, the pit crew new, everything was new, so it was extremely productive for us to have that race.”

SOME THINK YOU CAN WIN ON SUNDAY. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU? “Our Ford Mustang is pretty quick. I was just mentioning a little bit ago, I can’t remember the last time I was involved in a wreck and I actually stepped out of the race car with a smile on my face. The car had plenty of speed. It was a lot of fun to go back to the back for a penalty and then go back to the front in a few laps. That was a lot of fun and we’re expecting to have a Daytona 500 car that is just as fast or faster, and I feel it’s gonna be good. Tomorrow night is gonna be a good test for us and hopefully we can put ourselves in a good position for the 500.”

DO THE SHR CARS DRIVE DIFFERENTLY THAN THE JGR CARS? “Yeah, it does a little bit. A lot of people, I can’t tell you how many people asked me, ‘Hey, Daniel. What are the differences between the Toyota Camry and the Ford Mustang after the California test?’ And it was so difficult to compare because I feel like it wasn’t comparing apples with apples with a new package and a new engine and everything. But here it is apples with apples, so I feel like this has been a lot of help for me to know the difference between a very good team in Toyota to another very good team in Ford. The Mustang is different and I’m very pleased with the speed that we have. I’m really looking forward to the race.”

DO YOU HOPE YOUR FIRST YEAR AT SHR WILL BE SIMILAR TO ARIC’S LAST YEAR? “I think we can, we just have to be smart. I don’t see why not. Aric is a great friend and a great driver. We’ve had some good conversations about the plan that he had last year and I feel like we have everything we need to be extremely competitive and everything to be successful, but at the same time we have to be patient. Sometimes when you’re hungry and you see all this food in front of you, you want to go ahead and eat the whole thing. We have to take our time and do things right, walk and then run. I don’t want to run and then fall and then run again. We have a good plan and we’re gonna go through it.”

SO ONE BITE AT A TIME. “Yeah. I’m not very patient, I will tell you that and my mom will tell you that too. I want to run as hard as possible today, but you have to be smart and take things one step at a time. If the opportunity presents, I’m gonna take it. That’s who I am, but we have to be smart and take things one step at a time.”

HOW MUCH DO YOU RELY ON YOUR TEAMMATES? “Something I have learned is that everyone is very tight together. Everyone talks a lot to each other. I have had several conversations with Clint, with Kevin actually just last week, with Aric. Honestly, I’ve been very good friends with Aric the last couple years, so it’s been very good to now have a different vibe and different conversations with them on how to approach things and how to work with things and I’m really looking forward to learn from these guys and work together.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE SHR CAN BE A HOME FOR YOU? “Honestly, they have made me feel like home in just a few months. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I’m really looking forward. I will take it one day at a time, but I feel like we have a good future ahead of us and hopefully we can enjoy that and take advantage of it.”

HOW DO YOU BALANCE NOT TEARING UP YOUR CAR BUT ALSO WANTING TO WIN IN THE DUEL TOMORROW NIGHT? “That’s the money question. If you know the answer, let me know. I feel like it’s gonna be interesting to see how that works because in the Clash everyone was aggressive. Everyone was patient at one point and then got aggressive again. We wanted to win, but we didn’t care. If we were wrecking, we were wrecking. It wasn’t a big deal, but the 500 is different, for the Duels it is different. Last night, I was watching the Duels from last year and everyone was wrecking, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how aggressive we are. I will say to you right now we’re gonna be patient and tomorrow night everyone could be crazy again. We’ll see. We’ll move with the flow.”

SO YOU GO INTO IT WITH A PLAN? “I was told a few years ago that for speedway racing you have to have a Plan A and a Plan B, and Plan A never works so you have to go to Plan B. We’ll see how things work, but the good thing is we have fast race cars and that’s always good. The Duels for me is gonna be like a test because the starting position for the 500 for me, in my personal opinion, doesn’t really matter a lot. It’s a big, long race. You’re gonna start in the back three times and you’re still gonna make it to the front, so we’ll see how things work out. Having a fast race car is the main thing.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL AS FAR AS THE SPORT GOING INTERNATIONAL AND HAVING OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHERS? “Patrice is actually a good friend of mine. Yesterday I called him to talk about it a little bit and he’s a great kid, very talented driver, he’s very fine. It’s just one of those deals where he wasn’t in the best position for the future and he decided to do something else and I don’t blame him. It’s better to do something good for a different part of the season than to have something full that who knows if it’s gonna be full or not, but he was in a little bit of a difficult position, but he’s a very talented driver. He’s in a good position and he’s gonna find a new home for sure.”

WHAT CAN YOU DO IF THINGS START TO GET CRAZY OUT THERE? “This is the line that I see. If you’re too conservative, you’re not learning anything. Once you get in the 500 race, you’re gonna be learning what you were supposed to be learning in the Duels in the 500. That’s the line that you have to take. You have to be aggressive, but don’t be dumb. That’s the way I take it. You have to be aggressive. You have to know how much your car is gonna take. You have to make those moves. You have to learn how much your car is gonna be able to take because eventually you will have to make those moves at one point in the weekend. You can be taking care of your race car the entire weekend. If you do that, you will win the race. So you have to make those moves, just make sure that those moves are aggressive but without too much risk of a mistake.”

IT SEEMS YOU ARE MORE RELAXED THIS YEAR? HOW REFRESHED ARE YOU? IT JUST APPEARS DIFFERENT? “It is. You’re not the first person that has told me I’m just very happy, very relaxed and just very relaxed. I feel that way. I’m extremely excited to be at the race track. I’m excited to go out there and be competitive, but at the same time be relaxed because I know what I have, so we’re gonna be fine. We just have to enjoy the week and the weekend.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE GOING INTO THIS YEAR DRIVING FOR PEOPLE LIKE TONY AND GENE? “It’s been good. Tony and Gene have been very good to me, talking to me a lot about racing and expectations. I’m very excited about our future. Tony, I feel like it’s a huge advantage to have someone like him as a boss and team owner and a race car driver as well. I feel like we have a lot of good things coming out way.”

THE K&N SERIES AT NEW SMYRNA THE OTHER NIGHT SAID THAT WAS THE LARGEST TRACK THEY WOULD RUN THIS YEAR. ANY SUGGESTIONS ON PLACES THAT COULD MAKE THAT TRANSITION EASIER? “I didn’t know that. I have raced at New Smyrna. I actually won there. It’s a great race track and it’s surprising that that one is gonna be the biggest race track on the schedule for the K&N Series. I didn’t know any of that. Whatever they have to do to prepare those drivers to make that transition into the bigger series is what they have to do. I’m not sure if it’s more tracks, dirt tracks, big tracks or speedways. I don’t know. I’m a driver and not a director, but whatever they have to do to prepare those kids to make the next step is what they have to do.”

WOULD THOSE CARS HANDLE AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK? “I’m not sure. The cars will, the bodies, who knows? Well, those bodies are very similar to ARCA, so probably. I don’t know. Honestly, the truth is I’ve been a little disconnected from those series for years, so I don’t know exactly what they’re racing now, but I would tell you that back when I was racing one mile and a little bit over a mile race track was perfectly fine for those race cars.”

DAVID RAGAN, No. 38 Ford Mustang — WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE NEW MUSTANG? “Alright, so the Mustang, when you think of Ford Performance and Ford Motor Company and going fast and winning races, well what’s the first thing you think about? You think about the Ford Mustang. It has won races all over the world, all different types of racing series, different types of drivers, different types of tracks, and so I couldn’t be more proud to be racing the Mustang for Ford Motor Company in the Monster Energy Cup Series. I think the car looks great. The Mustang on the road is an excellent car and they put a lot of emphasis on that Mustang looking sharp and going fast, and they do the same thing with our race car. I think our number 38 Mustang is going to be a good race car this year. We’ve worked a lot. I am sure we’ll have a few things to tweak on once we get Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix under our belts, but I think the preparations been really good so far.”

FORD FANS SEEM TO BE CONCERNED WITH SWITCHING AFTER WHAT HAPPENED WITH CHEVY AND THEIR NEW CAR LAST YEAR: “It’s always a fault but I it’s not a concern. Generally, you learn from other people’s mistakes, you got to pay attention to the world that we live in, and the industry that we live in. And I think Ford did a great job of learning from the other manufacturers mistakes as they came in. I feel like the technology that we have, we’ve used it to the best of our ability, and we’ve made the best decisions that we can in building this Mustang. It is a new downforce package and rules package this year so there will be some tweaking but I guarantee you that we’re not going to have the struggles like some the other manufacturers had.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “Well, you’re going to have to pass ‘em you’re going to have to get in front of ‘em. I think we’ll have a good enough car that we can we can get up front at some point. It’s just a matter of when are you in the front of the pack. It’s a big cycle at speedway racing. The leaders get shuffled to the back, the guys in the middle can get shuffled to the front based off of strategy and making good decisions on the racetrack so you’ve just got to make sure that you’re on the right cycle at the end of the race at the right time and to dodge the wrecks. There’s obviously some strategy. I don’t want to run hard and use my stuff up and take too many risks too early just to maintain good track position. They don’t pay anything for halfway like they used to. All the money is paid when they drop the checkered flag so I want to make sure that I’ve got a good car that’s in one piece that I can race hard at the end.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “I try to think about that. Yeah, definitely by the lap number and I don’t want to wait too long but I want to be toward the front in the last fuel run and a half. So that’s the last 45 laps, maybe 50. You definitely don’t want to wait to 15 laps to go. That’s unrealistic to think that you can just drive your way to the front. I want to try to establish what are our track position is going to be and stick to my guns and not be messing around anymore.”

HOW HAS ADDING THE THIRD TEAM AT FRONT ROW IMPACTED YOU: “Well so far it’s impacted us in a positive way. We’ve been able to bring on some more employees and some more engineers and upgrade some of our race cars. Obviously having a third car, if you do it at the right time I think it can be a blessing for your race team. If you do it at the wrong time and the wrong set of circumstances it could be a curse for your race team. I think Bob Jenkins and Jerry Freeze and our whole team we were able to plan it the right way, hire the right people. We’ve had to put in a lot of work and a lot of hours over the offseason but I think Matt (Tifft) is a good young kid with a lot of talent that can bring some things to the table. Michael (McDowell) and I we had teams that pretty much stayed intact. We didn’t have a lot of turnover over the offseason. I think those are some good reasons that the third team will benefit Front Row Motorsports.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “I’ve seen him a little bit this offseason. We’ve hung out a little bit around the shop, a little bit down here this weekend at Daytona. But we haven’t been with each other a lot. We still have a lot to learn and I’m sure throughout the year will spend time at the shop, at the racetrack away from the racetrack and it’ll only get stronger. I know that Matt’s really driven to be the best race car driver he can be. He’s been on the simulator a lot, studying film, asking questions and some of the right questions. It’s fun to be a part of that because he challenges me to think outside of the box and to not just be complacent with what’s going on.”

YOU DIDN’T REALLY HAVE A TEAMMATE TO TAKE YOU UNDER YOUR WING WHEN YOU STARTED IN THE CUP SERIES DID YOU? “I think teammates in this sport, we are teammates and we want to work with each other and help each other, but we’re not here to babysit each other. My Roush teammates, they certainly didn’t babysit me and just give me all all the answers that I wanted. Anything that I asked they were there for, but you’ve got to show that you want it to. I wished I would have asked more questions. When I was 20, 21, 22 years old. I thought that I could just come into the sport and go fast and I knew what to do. I found out pretty quick that I was wrong. I think that young kids today, they’ve got to come in hungry. They’ve got to ask the right questions. They’ve got to show that they want it and they can’t come in intitled or with a big ego. I think Matt is 180-degrees opposite of that. I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He asks the right questions and I will certainly answer every question that he has. But I’m not here to babysit others and I don’t think other teammates do the same thing.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GROWTH OF FRONT ROW FROM WHEN YOU STARTED WITH THE ORGANIZATION TO NOW? “I think Bob has had a specific plan to grow Front Row Motorsports over the past eight to 10 years and he’s executed it. It’s been slow and steady and he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. You look at some of the big teams that have come and gone in the span that Front Row Motorsports is still here. You look at teams like Red Bull Racing and Ginn Motorsports and MWR, some real successful teams, Furniture Row Racing that they’re gone, they’re no longer here. I think that Front Row Motorsports is here to stay. I think in the next five to 10 years they will take the places of some of the other powerhouse teams that aren’t here in 10 years. I don’t know what the next one is that’s going to be gone but it’s a fact that over the years things come and go. Our sport is no different. Successful teams aren’t forever. I think Front Row will be a premier championship winning team on the Cup level in the next five to 10 years.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “It’s a good sign for the sport that there is a Bob Jenkins but there needs to be more of them. I can only think of one or two people like Bob Jenkins that have been able to do what they’ve done. I think you have to have such a large financial ability to pour money into the sport and into your teams and make that huge investment that there aren’t many people in the world that have that kind of financial means and the patience and the plan and the discipline to do that. Bob’s got that and I think probably the only one in the sport that’s been able to withstand the ups and downs and to grow his team. And I wish we had three or four more like him. Hopefully NASCAR can get aggressive on some of the infrastructure changes and the schedule changes and the cost saving changes that would allow new owners to come into the sport.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “Well, I learned that you don’t need to change lanes before the start finish line. That’s the first one. Other than that, you just got to be there at the end. You can’t worry about leading at lap 50 or leading a lap 100 or showing off early in the race. You’ve got to get your car to handle good. You’ve got to keep your fenders clean, can’t run the engine hot. You’ve got to make good decisions on pit road. And when it’s 40 laps to go, you’ve got to be close to the front. That year in 2011 we work close to the front and we made it work. You can’t get caught up in racing. 500 miles is a long race here. It feels so much longer than the Coke 400. It’s 100 miles longer but it feels like it’s 300 or 400 miles longer so you’ve got to pace yourself to the end.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “The 2011 Daytona 500 is a mistake that I made that got away. At the time NASCAR wasn’t clear on their rule and in my mind I did not make a mistake but they felt like I did and they made an example out of me with that rule. The one that I feel like it really got away was the Coca Cola 600. We finished second to Harvick that year. That’s when he was getting pushed under caution. And we knew that wasn’t right. NASCAR should have called that as well. Junior ran out of gas and Harvick ended up winning and we were the next car with plenty of fuel and new tires so we should have won the Coke 600 that year and that’s the one that kind of bites me. I can live with the Daytona 500 but often think about the Coke 600 that year.”

QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “Well we didn’t get that memo in Talladega or we would have been with them. Stewart-Haas had really fast race cars and they did a great job. I’m sure everybody learned from that. Ford has done a great job of all of our guys working together. We are big Ford family. Mark Rushbrook and Edsel Ford and the Ford Performance Team, they’ll be down here. They’re certainly going to encourage us all to work together and if I can’t win and if I can help a Front Row Motorsports teammate win, that’s my goal and if I can’t do that I want to help another Ford team win.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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