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Ford Performance NASCAR: Almirola Leads Ford in Martinsville Cup Qualifying

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Saturday, October 26, 2019
EVENT: First Data 500, Martinsville Speedway (Qualifying)

Ford Qualifying Results:
4th – Aric Almirola
5th – Michael McDowell
6th – Ryan Blaney
7th – Clint Bowyer
9th – Daniel Suarez
10th – Joey Logano
15th – Brad Keselowski
16th – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17th – David Ragan
22nd – Kevin Harvick
27th – Ryan Newman
28th – Corey LaJoie
30th – Paul Menard
31st – Matt Crafton

CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 BlueDEF Ford Mustang – YOU ANNOUNCED YOU’RE BACK NEXT YEAR, SO HOW MUCH IS STILL TO BE DESIRED? “I want to win races. I want to a championship. It’s always been that way. Once you win a race at this level the next goal is a championship. It’s as simple as that. You start off every year to win your first race and then as many as you can and compete for a championship. We’ve been a part of years where I’ve been part of that conversation and I’ve been years where I haven’t, and, for me, over the years it’s hard to pinpoint without pointing fingers or anything else other than just looking at yourself in the mirror. I mean, sometimes there were reasons and sometimes there wasn’t and I should have performed better. I’m with a manufacturer that’s dedicated to that goal (winning races and championships). I’m with an organization that’s dedicated to that goal and certainly a race team, so that’s the goal. I love this sport. It’s fun. I love you guys. Everybody works their butt off to bring in the show. Call us whatever, but that’s our job and to come in and set up shop, put on a show and tear it down and go to the next one and I like that life.”

IS IT HARD TO LOOK YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR? “I’m not a very attractive person. Yes.”

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ON SUNDAY? “Hopefully not as much of that (accidents like the truck race). But you can expect, tensions have been high. I hate to say it, but his Playoffs for as chaotic as it has been, as many swings as there’s been, some upsets, some good stories there hasn’t been that big, crazy story yet and you look for a track like Martinsville to possibly produce something like that. Hopefully, it’s just behind you. At the end of the day it’s in the rearview mirror and we’re drinking beer laughing about what they did all day long, not what we did. You don’t want to be laughing at yourself.”

CAN YOU BE MORE AGGRESSIVE WITH GUYS STILL IN THE PLAYOFFS SINCE THEY MAY HAVE MORE TO LOSE? “Whether I was in it or out of it or anything in between you’re full force. You’re coming here to win the race no different than anybody. It doesn’t matter if we were racing, that’s the unique thing about the predicament we have with our Playoff system. It’s not like the NFL where you go home and it’s just two teams putting on a show. There are 40 of us still out there putting on a show and that being said I’m at one of my best race tracks. Whether I’m in the Playoffs or out of the Playoffs or anything in between I feel like I have a shot at winning at this place and hopefully bringing another grandfather clock home.”

CAN YOU MAKE A MOVE THAT OTHERS MIGHT NOT MAKE IF THEY’RE STILL IN THE TITLE HUNT? “If that opportunity presented itself on a short track, it’s short track racing and you see it all the time – you take that chance. That’s how we all grew up. Those are the risks you take as a race car driver and really short track racing nine times out of 10 is the only thing that produces that opportunity, that opportunity of ‘hey, it’s there for the taking, you gonna take it or not?’ That doesn’t always present itself on a mile-and-a-half track or another race track. These short tracks like this, these half-mile race tracks, are no different than any other Friday or Saturday night all across the country. I see it every week. I have race cars that race all over the country on short tracks. This kind of racing happens every night.”

YOU WERE FASTEST IN PRACTICE ON THE LONG RUNS. “Yeah, crumbs. It’s all about crumbs on these short tracks like this. We were fast on our averages and things like that. I’ve got a lot of confidence for tomorrow. We’ve got to get there. You’ve got to put yourself in position. It’s gonna be extremely hard to pass. When I talk crumbs I mean you’re just barely better than them. You’re a couple hundredths here a couple thousandths there. But we have a full head of steam going into the race and we should be. We tested here a couple months ago? I’m not sure when that was, August? And we were good there. We’ve been good here. Ever since I’ve been in the 14 car we’ve been good here. It’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CHANGE TO YOUR PIT CREW FOR THE REST OF THE PLAYOFFS? “It wasn’t a decision by me. It was a decision by the upper office – team managers and things like that. We have four great pit crews, counting the Wood Brothers team, and with the two cars still left in the Playoffs we decided to – you know, my guys have done such a great job and it hurt me for those guys not to be a part of it because they’ve gotten us this far, but the 2 team has been really great all year and they have some really fast hands right now and they’re really on top of the ball. My guys were too, but it was a call to try to really step our team up a little bit, that it could be stepped up. The opportunity presented itself. It wasn’t anything that I disliked or liked. It was just how it is, but hopefully it doesn’t cause any bad waves or things like that. It’s just something Team Penske thought we should do to improve our team where we could a little bit.”

HOW CLOSE ARE YOU WITH YOUR PIT CREW? “They’re family. I know all of them very well. I know their spouces and kids very well, so that stings. You try not to make it personal because it’s not. It’s a business and that’s sometimes kind of hard to get in the back of your mind – that it’s business and you have to do what’s best for everybody – but those guys are family from pit crew, road crew and everybody like that. They’ve got to be.”

HOW WAS YOUR CAR TODAY? “We were decent. Made two long runs and some qualifying runs. I thought we were OK. You never know going into tomorrow. The weather is gonna be a little bit different and practice is so hard here. It’s kind of hard to figure out what the track is gonna do when we get a bunch of rubber on it, but I thought we started pretty well.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF ROGER PENSKE BEING AWARDED THE MEDAL OF FREEDOM? “The highest civilian award you can get and that’s pretty amazing. It just shows what he’s done for so long, how great of a person he is outside of motorsports, and what he’s done for his country and his community. It’s really incredible. That was really neat to see. I heard about it before it happened and I really couldn’t think of anybody more deserving than RP.”

MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 A&W All American Foods Ford Mustang – “We’re making gains. I think everybody at Front Row and especially the 34 group with Drew Blickensderfer and our guys now that we’re coming back to tracks for a second time we’re getting some momentum and getting things rolling. It’s a really big effort for us today.”

A GREAT QUALIFYING RUN. “That’s a great day for us. That’s a win for sure. I’m real excited that two weeks in a row we’ve shown a lot of speed. It’s different than Kansas, where you can be a little trimmed out for qualifying and get a better spot. At Martinsville, you’ll take all the downforce you can get. Our car has good speed and we’ve got A&W Restaurants on the car again this week and, more than anything, it’s a boost of confidence for everybody. We’ve been working hard. We’ve been fighting hard. We’ve been scrappy all year, but we haven’t been able to execute as well as we want to in the races. Martinsville, this is definitely a good start. Track position is really important here, but we’ve got to execute all day long – 500 laps – but this still feels good. It’s great for everybody at Front Row, for Bob Jenkins making the investment that he’s made over the years, and especially the last couple of years to strengthen our program with Ford Performance and our alliance with Roush Fenway. It’s great to see some results.”

PAUL MENARD, No. 21 Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Mustang – “It’s always tough going out first, especially here at Martinsville. The tires just take so long to come in. I got a little too loose on entry, a little too tight back to the gas and just kind of on top of the track, but made a lot of changes today and we’ll see if they work out tomorrow.”

HOW IS IT REPRESENTING THE WOOD BROTHERS AT THEIR HOME TRACK? “It’s awesome. This is my fourth time doing it and a lot of 21 fans here, so that’s neat to see.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang – “Our car is good. We’ve had good speed since we got here and our Smithfield Mustang has been driving good. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I’ve been happy with it so far.”

CRUCIAL TO START UP FRONT HERE WITH HOW HARD IT IS TO PASS? “Qualifying and a good starting position is really important at Martinsville. We put a lot of emphasis on qualifying well when we come to these short tracks. It means a lot and I think today was a great day for us. We got a good car in race trim, really good on the long run, and then it also was able to qualify well, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage tomorrow. Hopefully, we can keep our car up front, do a good job on pit road and have good restarts and do all the things right and then we’ll see what happens.”

KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang – IS IT HARDER TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP NOW WITH THIS FORMAT? “I think it’s just hard to get there. It’s not really the same. It’s definitely different, whether it’s harder or easier you could probably debate that. If you look at the old style points it’s a pretty good points battle if you did it how it was 15 years ago, but it’s just hard to get to Homestead and put it all together through the nine weeks leading up to that. That’s the most difficult part.”

TWO OF THE LAST THREE WINNERS AT MARTINSVILLE WON THE TITLE. IS IT COINCIDENCE? “Yeah, I think it is. It’s a coincidence.”

DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT RESTARTS AT KANSAS THAT WILL HELP AT TEXAS? “We’ve learned a lot about restarts all year. Restarts are the name of the game to get yourself in a position with the way you have to race. Every week every restart is important as you go to any race track.”

WHAT ABOUT RESTARTS AT MARTINSVILLE? “Hopefully, they don’t go like the truck race did today. It’s the same as the answer I just gave just because of the fact that the restarts are key. Being on the outside here stinks, so you’ve got to kind of find a way to get yourself down and find a hole and so restarts are as important here as anywhere.”

HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC OF RESTARTS CHANGED? “I’m classically trained over the last twenty-some years in NASCAR racing, so my days of short track classically trained are over. You try to be as aggressive as you can and the restarts are different than they used to be just because you have to be so aggressive on them.”

OF THE THREE TRACKS IN THIS ROUND IS THIS THE ONE THAT CONCERNS YOU THE MOST? “This hasn’t been our best race track, but we’re not gonna qualify well today, but we’ve qualified in the back and started in the back and you really have to just get in that rhythm and see how the race plays out and not make any mistakes and put yourself in position at the end of the first stage to be where you need to be and it’s really no different than any other race. It wouldn’t be my choice to say if I had one more race left I wouldn’t pick Martinsville for sure, but we’ve run fine here over the last few races and expect to do the same tomorrow.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford Mustang – WHAT DID YOU THINK SEEING ROGER PENSKE GET THE MEDAL OF FREEDOM THIS WEEK? “That’s a big one — anytime you get invited to the White House no matter who is sitting there. It seems like there’s always a lot of drama over whether it’s a left or a right guy in there, but it’s still a big deal to me. I’m happy for him. He’s certainly done so much in his life. I don’t know how he’s done it, but he deserves the credit for it.”

HOW SURPRISING HAS YOUR EXIT BEEN FROM THE PLAYOFFS FOR YOU AND THIS TEAM? “I don’t know if I have a really good word for that. It’s not fun, but it is what it is. Surprising is maybe not the word that comes to mind as much as disappointing, but reality nonetheless.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT QUALIFYING TODAY? “I thought we would be a little bit faster than we were. I was hoping to qualify up in the top three or four and get a great pit stall, but it wasn’t there, so we’ll see. I’ll be interested to see with the impound how the car runs in the race.”

YOU ARE THE MOST RECENT WINNER HERE. HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANCES TOMORROW? “We’ve ran so well here the last few years, but the racing is always evolving and always changing. The cars keep changing. Even the car we had here last spring we weren’t allowed to bring back. You have to keep up with the times.”

YOU WEREN’T ALLOWED TO BRING IT BACK? “Yeah, they changed some rules on it and the car was outlawed.”

WAS IT THE REAR END STUFF? “I think it was something with the chassis.”

YOU HAVE A MIXED PIT CREW NOW FROM THE 22 AND THE 12. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? “I’m not allowed to have feelings. It’s not a sport, who was it, was it Poole that said if you want fair go to the place with corn dogs and hot dogs. I think they might have those here, so maybe that’s not a great analogy, but it wasn’t my decision and it’s not my authority to make it, so you just have to roll with it.”

THERE HAS BEEN SPECULATION ON WHETHER YOU AND PAUL HAVE RUN YOUR COURSE. DO YOU HAVE ANY FEELING ON IF YOU NEED A NEW CREW CHIEF? “I haven’t put any thought into that.”

YOU GUYS HAVE THREE WINS. “There are a lot of people that would be happy to have three wins.”

ARE YOU ONE OF THEM? “I’d be a lot happier to have four or five wins and a shot at the championship, but that’s not the reality and I try really hard to be thankful for what I’ve got.”

CAN SOMEBODY DO WHAT YOU DID IN THE SPRING AND JUST BEAT THE FIELD? “With the big spoiler it’s real easy to take control of this race and use the air and kind of hold everybody off. I feel like Chase Elliott was the fastest car in the spring and we had track position on him and we used it pretty well, so you have to take what you’re given and that’s the rules as they are and we’ll try to do the best we can with them.”

DAVID RAGAN, No. 38 MDS Transport Ford Mustang – HAVE YOU STARTED REFLECTING YET ON THIS COMING TO AN END? “I don’t want to seem weird because this is a pretty big milestone and something interesting happening in my life and my career, but I haven’t thought about it much. I’ve taken these weeks as I normally would. You want the best finish you can get. I’m preparing the same. I was on the simulator this week and doing the same appearances and stuff like that, and I think if anything I’ve been pretty busy with some of my family and friends and some different people who are like, ‘Hey, we want to come to one of these last few races,’ so I’ve been calling in a few favors and getting a few extra hot passes here and there and that’s keeping my mind off of not racing full-time next year. I think Homestead will feel a little different, but here at Martinsville, last week at Kansas, Talladega it’s all felt pretty good. I think it would be bad news if it was feeling bad and I was feeling upset or stressed out, but I feel really good. I’m so excited about some of the things I’m working on for next year and it’ll be a fun off season.”



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

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