Thursday, Aug 18

Ford Performance NASCAR: Mark Rushbrook Michigan Media Availability

MARK RUSHBROOK, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports – MICHIGAN IS THIS WEEKEND AND FORD HAS WON 7 STRAIGHT CUP RACES.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO SUNDAY?  “Every race weekend for NASCAR is a big weekend, but especially Michigan as our home race, as our manufacturer, with our employees, our families, our executives.  There’s a lot of pressure on us to win every race, but especially here at Michigan in front of all of those people.  It’s important for our teams, too.  They know it as well, so looking forward to having everybody there and putting on a good race.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF ANCILLARY THINGS BESIDES THE RACE.  WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON OFF THE TRACK?  “We have a lot of activities going on with a lot of our team members coming out there because they’re there.  We do a lot of special things like the Girls in Engineering Academy, which is a program we’ve been putting on here in Dearborn for that local academy to help introduce high school girls to engineering and the automotive industry and motorsports as a part of that.  We’ll actually have them out at the race as well and show them how we go racing as a manufacturer and let them see our tech trailer as well, and then obviously our activation out there with all of our vehicles on display and really engaging with all of the fans as well, so a lot going on out there.”

AND THERE ARE SOME 20-YEAR MASTERTECHS FROM MOTORCRAFT THAT WILL BE HONORED WITH ABOUT 270 NAMES BEING ON THE NO. 21 MUSTANG.  “That’s been an important program for our Ford Customer Service Division and leveraging the Wood Brothers car, the company car, and taking advantage of recognizing those employees that are so important to who we are as a company and interfacing directly with our customers in the dealership.”

WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT LOSING SOME ENGINEERS TO CHEVROLET FROM THE R&D CENTER AND GETTING THOSE POSITIONS FILLED?  HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT TO GET THE DRIVERS SIM TIME?  “No specific comments on employees moving.  That does happen all the time in all directions between the manufacturers and teams.  That’s part of the business, but we’re staffed and open for business at our tech center with our simulator and our aero program and analytics and everything that happens there.  So, we’ve got a great team of employees and they’re all working really hard to have performance on the track and bring home the race wins.”

ARE YOU RUNNING ACROSS THE SAME THING WHERE YOU HAVE TO TIGHTEN UP THE SHIP WHEN IT COMES TO EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTS?  “Talent may be the most important thing in this sport because the cars don’t go fast without the people to make them go fast, so that is important to us – to recruit, attract the best employees that we can and to retain them.”

IS THERE ANY ROOM AT THE FORD CUP SERIES INN FOR KYLE BUSCH IF ONE OF YOUR TEAMS HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET HIM?  “Drivers are obviously super important.  We’re very happy with the lineup of teams that we have and the drivers that we have now and the plans within the teams.  I have no specific comment on Kyle at the moment.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI WAS ASKED EARLIER TODAY ABOUT THE ISSUES REGARDING PENALTIES WE’VE HAD THIS YEAR FOR SOME OF THE TEAMS REGARDING PARTS ALTERATION.  HE SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO SEE NASCAR HAND OUT PENALITES LIKE CANDY TO PREVENT TEAMS FROM GOING DOWN THAT PATH.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT TOPIC?  “Honestly, it’s hard to say because only NASCAR sees everything across all the different things, but I do agree with the spirit of what the NEXT Gen model is.  The only way NEXT Gen can be successful in the sport is if the rules are enforced – that the teams use the common parts as they’re built by the suppliers and delivered to their shops and put onto their race cars.  So, that rule was put there for a reason and for the model of NEXT Gen to work, NASCAR needs to enforce that rule, to lay out the penalties when they’re deserved.  I don’t know if it’s like handing out candy because you give that to people whether they deserve it or not, but penalties – if somebody is modifying a part or putting something on that they shouldn’t, then NASCAR needs to be handing out the penalties as consistently as possible.  That’s always hard to do and there are always different magnitudes of any violation and they’ve got to be the ultimate judge and juror of what the appropriate penalty is within the rules as written.”

AFTER NASCAR MADE THE CHANGES TO THE CAR FORD HAD TO MAKE SOME TWEAKS BEFORE THE START OF THE YEAR.  HOW MUCH DID THOSE TWEAKS IMPACTED PERFORMANCE AND POTENTIALLY SOME OF THE STRUGGLES FORD TEAMS HAVE HAD?  “I don’t think the struggles we’ve had this season are related to that.  The process that NASCAR has to submit your cars and get inside the box for parity is a good, robust process.  Certainly coming online with an all-new car and the need to revisit that just before the start of the season was the right thing to do for the sport and everybody is inside that box.  We feel there’s parity and an equal playing field for all three manufacturers to compete.”

MANUFACTURERS COULD SUBMIT NEW NOSES BY AUGUST 1 FOR NEXT YEAR.  WERE YOU ABLE TO DO THAT AND, IF SO, DO YOU FEEL LIKE ANY IMPROVEMENTS YOU CAN MAKE AS A WHOLE ARE RELIANT ON ANY CHANGES TO THE NOSE?  CAN YOU MAKE SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENTS THROUGH THE REST OF THIS YEAR?  “Certainly, we will have changes for next year, but still within the box for parity.”

IF A FORD TEAM WAS INTERESTED IN KYLE BUSCH, HE HAS A TRUCK OPERATION.  IS THERE A WAY TO INCORPORATE THAT TYPE OF OPERATION OF THERE WERE SUCH TALKS THAT LED TO HIM IN A FORD?  “Any time we have an opportunity to improve our program, whether it is with drivers at a certain level in NASCAR or teams at all the levels in NASCAR, then that’s certainly something that is our responsibility to consider and make decisions on how it makes our program better or doesn’t.  So, certainly we would consider all options.”

WOULD YOU PERSONALLY WANT KYLE BUSCH?  “That’s not for me to answer, not from a personal perspective.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE IN TERMS OF THE STRUGGLES FORD HAS HAD THIS SEASON.  HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR GROUP?  “Four wins is not enough.  It’s not acceptable.  We need to get more wins.  We need to have drivers further up the standings and hopefully at least four if not more drivers into the playoffs.  It’s certainly going to be hard with where we are with only four regular season races left, so it’s been a struggle with the new car, the new package with getting our head around it and how to set it up properly going to the track and optimizing it.  We’ve seen a lot of success with speed at different tracks where we have understood it, but we still didn’t bring the win home.  So, there’s a lot of work to do, but that’s racing.  We always need to make all elements of the car better, the engine, the aerodynamics, the chassis, the setup, the tire model, our simulator model, and that’s what we’re working on.  We have a lot of meetings and advancements with our teams to try and do better every week.”

HAS THERE BEEN ONE BIG STRUGGLE THAT ALL THE TEAMS ARE HAVING?  “It’s been different.  We’ve had different strengths across different cars at the different tracks.  I think that’s part of the struggle is this car is so sensitive that even when one team is taking four cars or two cars to the track with very small differences, you’ll see one near the top of the board and two or three or four down at the other end of the board.  So, that’s part of it and just understanding how sensitive it is and making sure we can really find the optimum spot for these cars to run.”

HAVE YOU SPECIFIED ANY ONE ELEMENT THAT NEEDS MORE IMPROVEMENT THAN ANOTHER?  “Honestly, as I just said for the last question, we’ve got to get better in all areas because if you’re equal in every area, you’re exactly that – you’re only equal in every area.  We want to have the best engine with the best aero, which means the least drag and most downforce.  The best chassis setup, which means really understanding the tire model and how to optimize ride heights and all the settings in the suspension, so it’s racing.  We’ve got to advance all of those to be the best in every area because the competition is so close.  If you’re off in just one area, then you’re not gonna win the race.  Again, as we go to different tracks, whether it’s a superspeedway versus a road course, there are different strengths and weaknesses because of the different engine packages and the different setup required on the car.”

WE SEENS GUYS LIKE MCDOWELL AND BUESCHER EMERGE THIS YEAR.  HAS THAT BEEN INTERESTING TO SEE SOME OF THOSE GUYS BREAK THROUGH?  “I think it’s been great for the sport.  As a fan, it’s been some of the best racing we’ve ever had.  Because of the excitement you don’t know who is gonna be at the front as you go to every race weekend, so I think that’s been really, really good.  The cars are so much closer and with change comes opportunity and great drivers that maybe didn’t have the right opportunity with the old car, this plays into their wheelhouse and they’ve got a great opportunity with this car.  I think, again, it’s good for the sport to have different teams, different drivers at the front.”

YEARS AGO OEM’S WOULD BE POLITICKING FOR CHANGES DURING THE SEASON IF THEY WERE PERCEIVED TO BE AT A DISADVANTAGE.  DOES THAT STILL GO ON OR IS IT NOT PART OF THE CULTURE ANYMORE?  “In my opinion, pounding on the hauler isn’t the right way to go about it because the sport has changed.  The rules are the rules and everybody’s got to race within those rules, so we just need to optimize within those rules like all the teams are.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHICAGO STREET RACE AND WHAT OTHER MARKETS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE ADDED?  “I think it’s fantastic.  What NASCAR did with the Clash in the L.A. Coliseum was a great experiment with a great, positive result and that’s what the sport needs is experimentation, trying different things.  Some will work and some won’t, and that’s OK, but certainly the Clash in the Coliseum did and, again, to see NASCAR now going to a NASCAR street course is fantastic.  It’s a great market.  It’s an important market for us.  We’ve got a plant in Chicago and a lot of fans and customers in Chicago, so I think it’s a great market to be in and, again, a very different race that will be great for the fans there in person and great for the fans watching on the television as well or following it online.  We encourage NASCAR to keep doing that kind of experimentation, trying different things, new things, smart things – not just trying different things to try them, but in a smart way, and I think they are.  I think that needs to continue.  Things like the All-Star Race.  I think some improvement can be made there as well in terms of the format and how to make it a real All-Star Race again.  But they’re open to that.  They’re discussing that, so we’re really encouraged with what we see and just ask for it to continue.”

HOW CAN THE ALL-STAR RACE IMPACT YOU GUYS AND WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?  WHAT MORE IS LEFT?  “I don’t know and that’s part of the discussion.  It can be taking some ideas, and these are just my ideas, but take it to a different market, just like we did with the Clash – somewhere very different.  Right now, in recent history, the All-Star Race is very similar to any other NASCAR weekend, other than it’s fewer drivers in the feature race and different stage lengths, different qualifying formats and stuff like that.  While that’s interesting and entertaining, is it really different enough?  So if we can go to a different track.  If we can bring in different ideas.  Bring in a former champion that’s retired to come and mix it up with the current drivers.  There’s good things about doing that and there are some bad things about doing that, but that’s what I think people are talking about, what can be done, what will work and I’m sure that the sport will come to something and see some changes there soon.”

ARE YOU SEEING IMPACT FROM NASCAR’S GROWTH OR WILL IT NEED TO BE SPREAD A LITTLE FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD?  “We’re selling every single car and truck that we can make right now, partly because of the supply chain issues that everybody is struggling with in this industry and other industries, but that doesn’t mean we stop racing because we don’t literally race on Sunday, sell on the very next Monday.  Through racing we connect in a very emotional, passionate way with our customers, with our fans and we’re a brand that’s top of mind for them.  It’s something that they believe in and when they buy a new car or a truck a year from now or five years from now, we want them to buy a Ford and hopefully by then the supply chain issues are behind us and we’re cranking out at full capacity.  It’s important to be in this sport, continue that connection with our fans, with our customers and keep them in Fords lifelong, whether it’s a Mustang or an F-150, whether it’s combustion engine or electric motor.  It’s important to be connected with them as a brand and go through the journey with them.”

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