Monday, May 23

Ford Performance NASCAR: David Ragan, Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney Atlanta Media Availabilities

DAVID RAGAN, No. 15 Select Blinds Ford Mustang – WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET WHEN YOU ADDRESS A NEW RACETRACK BEFORE YOU EVEN GET IN THE CAR?  “I think the biggest thing in preparing for a new racetrack or even a new surface like we have here at Atlanta Motor Speedway is just prepping all you can.  I know that sounds funny because how can you prep before a new racetrack, but Circuit of the Americas the technology is out of this world that drivers can go to a simulator that has a track scan and has the current race car they’re racing modeled out and they can make laps, so when they show up to COTA they can be pretty close.  I feel like you’ll see that with whoever is quick right out of the gate.  Those drivers typically have prepared a little bit more than others, but here like at AMS you just have to think about all the different possibilities and there are some of the same ways that we can prepare.  They’ve scanned this racetrack.  All the OEMs have simulators that the drivers can run.  The engineers can run through different setups and different configurations of what makes their car fast or maybe what makes it drive better in dirty air, so a lot of it is who has the best tools and who has made the best educated guesses going into a day like today.”

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS RETURNING HERE?  “That’s exactly why I decided to come back this weekend and race.  My wife and I were on a ski trip just 24 hours ago in Colorado, so I cut that a little bit short.  It’s important to be back here and have some fun with my friends and family and have a lot of great memories here at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  With the first repave back in 1997 I can remember watching the reconfiguration happen, watching this media center and the garages being built, so I wanted to be back here today and this weekend.  I kind of pick and choose a few races that I run throughout the year and I would have definitely had a fear of missing out – fomo as they call it – if I wouldn't have been here this weekend, so it’s cool to be here at AMS and see the new transition of what the future may look like here.”

 

YOU TESTED THE WHEELFORCE CAR HERE.  IS THERE A BASELINE FOR WHAT COULD BE EXPECTED HERE?  “I think that the cars are gonna be wide-open all the way around the racetrack.  I think the preferred groove will be the bottom lane, but then once you get multiple cars on the track and you get that draft effect, where the speeds are picked up, I think handling is going to come into play some.  I do think you’re gonna be in the throttle a lot and you’re gonna have some pack racing to some extent throughout 500 miles.  Obviously, the corners are a little tighter radius.  The straightaways aren’t as long, so that’s going to damping some of that drafting effect where you see the two and three-wide racing like we see at some of the superspeedways, but I think it’s gonna be a little bit of a mixture.  I think that just pure raw speed is going to be very important in race cars, but I think we’re gonna have some long green flag runs.  Five hundred miles here is a long race and whoever’s car handles the best, they don’t have to get out of the throttle, I think we will see that second lane open up some, and so, again, that’s all of our educated guesses and everyone is gonna be watching both races today with a lot of great interest and I know that as I go to sleep tonight I’ll be playing out different scenarios in my mind on what’s gonna happen on green flag pit stops and on old tires and strategy and how that shakes out to hopefully we can make some good educated decisions.  Another reason why I wanted to come and run was just because it’s new and different and we’ll have to make a lot of decisions on the fly.”

 

HOW ARE THE RESTRICTOR PLATES GOING TO WORK OUT ON A TRACK LIKE THIS AND WAS THAT THE RIGHT CALL?  “Ask me that question on Monday and I’ll really be able to give you a little bit of a more insightful answer.  We do know that these new repaves typically have a lot of grip and they’re really fast.  With the other package, we might have been a little faster than what NASCAR was comfortable with.  I mean, 20 years ago Geoff Bodine ran 197 miles an hour here in qualifying, so things have evolved a lot and I think that was a good bet that NASCAR and I think Goodyear and Speedway Motorsports all came together and said, ‘Hey, I think this is gonna be the best package to put on the best show and keep the drivers and the fans safe here.’  Who knows how that will evolve over the future, but I know there is so much interest in this race this weekend that they haven’t had in years past from people in the industry and fans, but the biggest thing is just how the strategy is gonna play out.  Typically, it’s been four tires every single time you had a caution here.  I think you’re gonna see a lot of fuel only, two tires, maybe alternating lefts and rights throughout the race.  It’s just a different animal when you have a new asphalt surface, but then the increased banking is gonna change how the cars can pass.  Is it the guy running third, fourth or fifth who has that draft effect, is he gonna have the advantage or the guy out front that can dictate the lanes that he’s running?  Those are just all things that we’re gonna learn at a very fast pace today, and I think the other series are gonna race a little different, so whatever you see in the Truck race or the Xfinity race I don’t think is gonna mirror exactly what you’re gonna see on Sunday, maybe a combination of that, but I think we’re gonna be learning from when they drop the green flag here in Truck practice in a few minutes.”

 

WHAT ARE YOU SEEING IN RICK WARE RACING’S PROGRAM TO TRY AND GET BETTER?  “We could talk all day about that.  Smaller teams in the Cup Series have a really hard road in front of them, just because the sport is dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing – these teams that are established, they have a foundation, they have manufacturer support, deep pockets financially, they’ve got great employees, so it’s very hard to come in and establish those roots and grow organically.  You’ve seen some teams be able to do that, but it just takes a long time, a lot of patience, a lot of hard work.  I was a part of that a little bit at Front Row Motorsports and I feel like Rick Ware Racing, just getting to know those guys over the last year, year-and–a-half, they’re kind of on that same path.  They’ve made the commitment to have two charters and two full-time cars.  That’s real important.  They’ve got some really good employees at the race shop, some good employees that travel, starting to build those relationships with the manufacturer, with Ford and with the engine supplier with Roush Yates Engines.  For me, what drew me to this program was having a chartered car that did not have a full-time driver, that I could kind of pick-and-choose some races.  Joey Hand is gonna drive next week at COTA and he’s gonna bring some really good experience and valuable insight to their road racing program, and the development of the Next Gen car for Ford Motor Company as well.  Just a combination of those things that I could pop in and run a few races here and there, and I can help them a little bit, but also have some fun.  It’s hard progress, but they see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Certainly, they’re nowhere near where they want to be, but as long as they’re making steps in that forward direction, it gives everybody some hope and some confidence that they are making progress.”

 

HOW VOCAL AND FEEDBACK TO YOU ANTICIPATE PROVIDING THEM WHEN YOU’RE IN THE CAR?  “In the car and out of the car.  Obviously, here on race weekends I want to help them and help Cody as a young driver with feedback and, ‘hey, here are some things to think about.’  Sometimes we’ll review film and some of the different data post race and help him figure out how to get on and off pit road more efficient, in and out of the pit box, but sometimes just being here and talking to the team members and giving them encouragement and showing them some things like, ‘Hey, this potentially could go wrong or I’ve had this happen to me before.  Let’s be on the lookout and let’s be proactive and not let this happen again.’  So, just some of those things when you have some younger employees that they need to have that confidence and then just some credibility in the garage with some of the other team members and employees and people here in the media center – just all those small things that collectively adds up to helping a team like that kind of build what their identity is and to change the culture a little bit.  They were just trying to survive five years ago and now they’re trying to build on some top 10s, top 15s, run all the laps, run all the races, so it’s small steps but it’s fun to see these teams have that opportunity in the current landscape in the NASCAR world to build that foundation, to survive and to ultimately be able to be a contender at the top level.”

 

WHAT DOES YOUR SUCCESS AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA DO FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE COMING INTO THIS RACE?  “It definitely gives me a little confidence that if this race does play out to where you’re drafting a little bit, you kind of make those split-second decisions on what lane you’re gonna take on restarts, how aggressive you’re gonna be at the beginning of the race to the end of the race, so there are some stuff like that, and then I think just having the other drivers know that I’m in the race car this weekend, that they can have some confidence that I’m not gonna be crazy.  I don’t have anything to prove.  I’m not racing for points.  I just want to go and have some fun and try to have a shot at the win at the end, so I think a combination of some confidence from my end but also the other guys on the racetrack that they can work with me some and trust racing around me that I’m not gonna get too crazy.”

 

CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE IMPACT COVID AND THE SUPPLY CHAIN HAS HAD FOR SMALLER TEAMS TRYING TO BREAK IN?  “I think that all of the teams have had similar effects and obviously the team owners and competition directors could probably tough on more specifics, but all the things that I can’t get in our ordinary lives, whether it’s kitchen appliances or new vehicles or used vehicles are expensive and all kinds of simple things that we used to take for granted that we could just go and grab isn’t readily available, and when you’re talking about a complex race car being manufactured that has parts and materials that are supplied from vendors all around the world, not only are some of those raw materials and hardware hard to get, but it’s hard to get in a timely fashion.  It’s been a struggle for the large teams, for the small teams.  There were some last-minute rule changes in the fall of last year that I think delayed some of the manufacturers and vendors to get some of their parts and pieces ready, but it has all worked out fine.  I think one thing that the teams have been used to building a lot of their own stuff and they could control their own parts inventory a little bit better and now you don’t have that comfort of having 15 lower control arms sitting on the parts shelf that is ready for you.  You had to depend on some other people, so that probably gave some of the teams a little bit of an uneasy feeling, but every race has started with all the cars.  They’ve all showed up on time and they’ll continue to do that.  There may be some long hours and a lot of hard work in between races, but they’re all gonna get it worked out, and I think in another four to six weeks they’re gonna be in great shape.  I’m already seeing some other inventory showing up to these shops and cars sitting in the shop, so I think this east coast swing after COTA will help out a lot.”

 

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – DO YOU HAVE ANYMORE INSIGHT AS TO WHAT TO EXPECT SINCE THE TEST?  “I would say the three of us that ran that test probably have maybe just a little bit more of an idea of what to expect for the first few laps on track, but that will go away really quickly.  Ultimately, three cars at what is essentially a speedway drafting type event, three cars isn’t enough to get the true feel of it, so I think we’ll be ready when we roll off the truck, but I think we’re gonna learn very quickly as it keeps going.  I know they’ve worked on the track, smoothed it out.  We’re gonna be watching every session that’s on track, including the Truck and Xfinity practices and races trying to learn as much as possible, but we have a ton to figure out as we go through our short practice session today.  We’ll all be learning together, ultimately.  We’ve looked at some of the wheelforce data and talked to some of those drivers since then.  I don’t know that it was a whole lot different.  It sounds like the turn two bump that was probably the bigger one for us is still there.  They worked on it, but it sounds like it’s gonna be pretty pronounced in our cars.  Other than that, we’re getting ready to figure out how fast it’s gonna go with a bigger group.”

 

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT RACING IN THE RAIN AT COTA LAST YEAR WITH PRETTY MUCH ZERO VISIBILITY?  “I hope we never do that again.  Racing in the wet is one thing and I think as an industry we pretty much accepted that that was not the correct way to go about it, and I don’t believe we will race in those circumstances ever again and probably should have been taking more notes after the Xfinity race at the Roval and then once we got to COTA it was a rough one.  Ultimately, I don’t think anybody was complaining about the track being slick or trying to stay off paint or the pace being slow.  Every complaint came down to visibility and when you can’t see it’s just flat-out dangerous.  That was a very scary situation, probably something that nobody expected.  I mean, we obviously didn’t, but we don’t want to have any sort of repeat there.  The track is so large there too that it’s hard to get spotters even close enough, but we talked about the roost from underneath the car and it was like being behind a Top Fuel drag boat.  I mean, it was horrible.  All you could see was the spray right in front of you.  The flashing red lights in the windows didn’t do anything.  You couldn’t see them.  They’re not brake lights either, so you had no clue where the corner was at.  We were guessing the whole time, ultimately, and it’s amazing we didn’t tear up more stuff.  I know Kurt brought up the weather for next weekend.  I know it’s a long way out, but it looks like sunny and 85, so I don’t think we’re gonna have to worry about it when we come back, but it was definitely not something we would ever want to try and duplicate again.”

 

WILL THERE BE ANY DIFFICULTY SEEING THE RED AND WHITE LINE WITH HOW LOW YOU SIT IN THE CAR NOW?  “I would say no, not for that part of it.  Actually, I know David was just here, but he brought up a good point in talking about this a few weeks ago, talking about when we go speedway racing everybody is tucked up, you’re right behind a car and you’re paying attention right out the windshield, but you’re always looking ahead, especially at events like this, where stuff happens in a hurry and one mishap can wipe out a lot of race cars.  In other races David was saying at Daytona you can see the leaders, you can always see the leaders out the windshield.  Well, the radius being so tight here with so much banking, you’re actually not looking forward you’re looking up is where the corner would be for you.  You basically run out of vision.  You’re probably not gonna be able to see the leaders, so I think the worry is more from the design of the racetrack and the shape of everything.  It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just different for our speedway racing style.  We’re gonna be looking and trying to look further ahead to be able to see the front, but you might not necessarily be able to if you are midpack.  Now, I’m planning on being up front and not having to worry about that, but as far as the line goes I would say it’s not really gonna be an issue.  The transition down the front straightaway is so aggressive that if you do get below it, you’re gonna know it really quickly as well.  I don’t think that’s something we’ll be too worried about.”

 

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 BodyArmor Ford Mustang – DID YOU WATCH THAT PRACTICE AND WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU COULD LEARN FROM IT?  “Yeah, I watched it.  It went how I expected it to go, so we’ll see here.  It looks like a mile-and-a-half speedway pretty much.  You never know how different series react – Trucks, Xfinity, Cup cars kind of race and all that stuff, but it was pretty similar to what I thought it was gonna be, but you never know until you get out there.  It was good to see all that stuff, but we’ll find out here in a about an hour.”

 

HAS IT BEEN A BLUR THESE LAST 10 YEARS?  “Yeah, it’s pretty wild to think about it.  Mr. Penske and I actually sat down this year and was just talking and I said, ‘Do you know this summer is like 10 years that I’ve been driving with you guys?’  I signed with him the summer of 2012 and it’s pretty hard to believe.  It’s gone by really fast.  Time flies, that’s for sure, and especially when you’re having a lot of fun with great people.  It is very hard to believe.  I still remember making my first Nationwide start with Tommy Baldwin at Richmond and it’s been pretty neat to drive for some great teams along the way, work with some great people and meet some great people along the way.  It’s gone by very fast.  This reminds me that time doesn’t stop, it keeps going, and getting old.”

 

YOU WILL RUN THE SRX FINALE WITH YOUR DAD AT SHARON SPEEDWAY LATER THIS YEAR.  HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?  “It’s gonna be really special.  I was excited when SRX came to me and dad about wanting to have their season finale at Sharon.  Sharon has been a huge part of our family for a long time.  Dad is part owner.  He grew up five miles down the road from there, so that’s a very special track for him and my grandfather raced there a lot, so it’s gonna be very very neat.  I hope there are no weather implications to where it works out good to where I can get there and we can race and there are no issues on that, but I’ve never really raced against dad.  There are maybe less than a handful of times that just kind of some one-off dirt track events back years ago, so it’ll be a lot of fun.  Hopefully, he doesn’t whip me too bad.  I have a feeling that he’s going to, but it’ll be a lot of fun and that’s a good series.  I think they do a good job and I think it’ll raise a lot of money for that speedway too.  The ticket sales already since we announced that have been through the roof, so it’s gonna be good all around and I’m looking forward to it.”

 

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU RACED AT SHARON?  “The last time, I only raced there one time.  I raced a limited sprint car there, but that was probably 2012.  I mean, it’s been nine, 10 years, so it’s been a long time.  I go up there as much as I can to watch, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the actual surface at that place, so dad’s got a little bit of a leg up on me in experience.  It’s been a long time, but I’m looking forward to going back up there and racing.”

 

HOW DID THE CONVERSATION GO WITH ROGER ABOUT RACING THE SRX EVENT?  “You talk to everybody.  I talked to Tim, to Roger, Travis Geisler, Mike Nelson, kind of getting their feel for it early on when it was initially brought up and dad was talking to me about it when SRX came to him because he wasn’t gonna do it if I couldn’t do it.  Dad didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t be there and race there, so I’m happy it worked out, but I feel like they were really really nice, Roger and Tim, from the standpoint of understanding it’s gonna help my dad’s track out a lot.  A lot of eyes are gonna be watching it and it will hopefully make the track some money and help them out.  I don’t know if it would have been possible if it was any other track, but I think just the family ties, they understood that and they understood how much it meant to me to want to do it and race against dad because I don’t know if I’ll ever get that chance to do that, so they were really really great from that aspect of understanding where I was coming from and wanting to do it, and it’s gonna be done right.  I mean, those cars are safe.  We’re gonna make sure they’re safe and Sharon we’re gonna be running 70 miles an hour around there.  It’s gonna be slick and slow, but it was really great how understanding they were of how bad I wanted to do it.”


ANY CHANCE UNCLE DALE WILL BE RACING TOO?  “I don’t know if he could fit in one of those things.  He’s a little bit too big.  I think that was a conversation, like a couple people talked about that like, ‘We just need Dale now to run.’  I don’t know if we’ll make that happen, but you never know.  He could make a guest appearance.  That would be really fun if we could race because I have never raced against Dale before, but it would be great to have my dad, Dale and myself race.  That would be really cool to have three Blaney’s in that race, but I don’t know if that will happen.  Maybe.  We’ll see.”

 

WHAT’S YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WITH THIS CAR NOW?  “I still feel like everyone is still getting comfortable.  There are always things you can learn no matter what car it is for how long you’ve driven a certain race car, but I feel like my comfort level is pretty decent now.  You’re still learning things every single week, but going to three very different tracks on the west coast you kind of understood what the cars liked, what they wanted, what they didn’t want, what you could or couldn’t do in them, so that was a big help having those three races out there at different tracks, and you’re still learning on what changes do what and how much to change, and raceability of those things.  What can you do behind a car or in traffic that you couldn’t do or could do in the other car that maybe you can or can’t do in this car, so everyone is getting pretty comfortable, but I feel like I’ve taken a pretty good liking to it.  They drive and they race really well, so that’s been nice.  You’re never gonna be fully comfortable, but you’re just trying to get a little more comfortable than everybody else quicker.”

 

WITH YOUR STRENGTH ON SUPERSPEEDWAYS DOES THAT GIVE YOU MORE CONFIDENCE COMING TO THIS TRACK UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES?  “It’s kind of hard to tell.  Yeah, we’ve run really well at speedways.  Our Daytona car was really fast, so you’re not really sure how it’s gonna carry over to here, so you just kind of have to figure it out and see where you stack up when you get on the track.  You can expect all these things and try to plan all kinds of stuff but until you’re actually out there running and see what the track gives you and what your car gives you, you don’t know.  But I have confidence every single week in our race cars no matter what kind of track it is because I know Penske builds great race cars and we’ve been doing that this year.  I have no doubt in my mind that we’ve brought the best that we can bring this weekend too.  It is more like a speedway race than we’ve ever seen here.  It’ll be like the first mile-and-a-half superspeedway race, so you hope those things carry over from what you do well at Daytona and Talladega, but I think at the same time it’ll be a little bit different than those tracks, but it’s just kind of hard to tell.  The confidence level is there just because you believe in your team and believe you bring something good.”

 

DO YOU TALK TO YOUR PIT CREW AFTER A WEEKEND LIKE LAST WEEK?  “Yeah, we talked through all that stuff.  We have meetings every single week about everything from the car side to pit road to everything, and you just go over all the things you want to get better at.  It’s the same with the driver.  I go over things I want to get better at and need to work on, and it’s the same with the pit crew, so they’re doing their best.  They’ve had a little bit of a rough patch, but I believe 100 percent in those guys and they’re gonna figure it out.  We had some really good stops at Phoenix and then we had some that we struggled with, so it’s a matter of smoothing that side of it over.  Those guys are gonna be fine.  I’ve got all the confidence in the world in those guys and they’ll figure it out and clean it up.  That’s all you can do.  You’ve just got to believe in everybody and they’re continuing to work.  They’re not moping around that they’ve made some mistakes.  They’re motivated to try and get better and better and that’s what a team is about.  Everyone wants to get better at the things you maybe didn’t do something great the week before.  You want to try and get better and they’re doing just that.  They’re gonna be fine.  They maybe haven’t started off the best, but those guys are awesome at what they do and I fully believe they’ll be fine.”

 

HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE WILL IT BE RUNNING THE BRISTOL DIRT RACE AT NIGHT?  “I think it’ll make a pretty big difference, just the sun not sucking all the moisture out of the track.  It’s a fine line of how much moisture you can put it in from what our cars can take as far as clogging up grilles and windshields, but you still need to water it to make sure it’s not a dust bowl like it was last year.  I think the night race will help that.  Larson or Reddick or Bell, they could tell you something a little bit more scientifically about it, but I think it’s definitely not gonna hurt having it at night.  The progressive banking, I think, will be pretty decent, maybe try to get us to move around off the bottom, but I think the night race is something all the drivers initially said right away is what we needed to change to make the track and racing better, and I think that’s definitely gonna help.”

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