Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Media Day (Kevin Harvick, JH Nemechek & David Ragan)

KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Ford Mustang 

“I think everybody knows that I have been pretty vocal about my opinions on the schedule change and having a variety of markets and race tracks. I think that variety, based upon everything that we have heard and you guys have heard, I don't think there is any limit on that. I think it is important to really consider areas of the country, Canada, but I don't think it matters on the race track. I think it could be exciting anywhere.”

STREET COURSES? ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF THAT? “As long as we don't have to jump through gutters like we did in the LA street race. In the end, you really don't need a street course. There are a number of great road courses in great markets that would be perfectly suitable for the things that we do on the race track.”

A LOT OF PEOPLE WANT MORE SHORT TRACKS BUT IOWA SEEMS TO BE ABOUT THE ONLY ONE IN TERMS OF INFRASTRUCTURE THAT COULD HOST A CUP RACE RIGHT NOW: “I would disagree with that a little bit. I think, and I still believe that our All-Star race would be a great platform to help rebuild some of the grass roots system. Let’s just use Evergreen Speedway. You go to Evergreen Speedway and you have some upgrades to the race track with soft walls and grandstands and infrastructure and get it ready for an All-Star race. You wouldn't have to create some crazy format in order to have a good race and you would help build the infrastructure and take that All-Star race around the country and help rebuild some of these race tracks and leave Truck and XFINITY there and when you are done with that three-year package you have a great race track where you can race ARCA cars or late model cars and you have created an environment that is upgraded and rebuilt because of the attention and money that you brought there from the All-Star race. You could do that at Irwindale, Evergreen, IRP. You could run at IRP on the Wednesday night before the Indy 500 and never be short of people. That one is ready to go with soft walls and they know how to put up plenty of temporary grandstands. Thinking about stuff like that and the infrastructure of our short track system is something you could use at the top levels to help rebuild.”

DO YOU ANTICIPATE SPEEDWEEKS CHANGING NEXT YEAR DUE TO THE DATE CHANGE FOR THE 500? “I have no ideas. That is way too specific for me.”

WOULD IT BE OKAY IF IT BECAUSE JUST ONE WEEK FOR YOU? “Yeah. That would be perfectly fine with me.”

ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC THINGS WILL CHANGE A LOT FOR 2021? “I don't have enough knowledge to give you an honest opinion. I think based on the conversations I have had with everyone from NASCAR that they will be aggressive in looking at things outside of the box and different from what we have done in the past. It is really kind of like ending at Daytona with the regular season. The story is already built. We need more of those types of situations. Even if you only go there for one year, who cares? It was a great story, right? The race is almost secondary because you are in a market that hasn’t had NASCAR or hasn’t had NASCAR in a long time. Something we haven’t done before. If the race is no good, what difference does it make? Everybody wants to have a great game. Everyone wants to have a great football game too and sometimes they are blowouts. Sometimes you get a Super Bowl like we had this year and sometimes you get a route. But the anticipation and hype leading up to it, we need a lot of those on the schedule.”

WHEN DID YOU SIGN YOUR EXTENSION? “End of last year.”

IT SEEMED LIKE YOU WERE MAYBE GOING IN THE DIRECTION OF GETTING OUT OF THE CAR EARLIER: “I don't know if that is a fair assumption. For me, being in the car was always on the table. I think for me it was really testing the waters to kind of see what that was all about. I am in a unique spot to be fortunate enough to be able to experience that and still drive the car. I had to have a lot of conversations. I sat down with Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace and Joe Girardi and I asked a lot of questions about when those guys knew it was time and what did they feel like they could have done differently. A lot of it pointed to why you would want to get out of a situation when you are competitive with a group of guys that you love to be around and are performing and racing for championships. It is a much more predictable schedule and lifestyle than what it was 15 years ago from a testing standpoint and a lifestyle standpoint and how you operate. There were a number of things and they all pointed to staying in the seat. I enjoy the TV booth. I enjoy the radio show. For me, not doing the radio show gave me Wednesday back. We have a very interesting year with the new car being developed and having to develop with it. The simulator time will be up and I need those days back. With the way the race schedule is now on Saturday’s and my family coming to the race track more now that Piper is older it is almost like you are on vacation. Most of these race tracks you go and run one qualifying lap and the rest of the day you have to go figure out something to do. Being in the booth - those were some of the compromises that had to come with staying in the car in order to keep the family life balanced and be able to spend enough time with them to keep that balanced.”

SO CUTTING OUT A LOT OF THOSE PRODUCTION MEETINGS DUE TO RADIO AND TV DURING THE WEEK AND KEEPING MORE TIME FOR YOUR FAMILY PLAYED A ROLE? “Absolutely. Being in the car, that is all stuff that down the road I still want to do, there are just compromises in every situation and for me making the decision that I made had to come with compromises that lead to more time. With that came the way that we gtravel and how we travel and the things that we do and gaining hours back in airplanes and things like that were all in there as well. There are a number of things that went into the process.”

DID YOU RECALIBRATE YOUR GOALS? “My goals are always the same. Be as competitive as you can week in and week out and ahve a chance to compete for championships. We have done a good job at that. A lot of times people forget that this isn’t baseball, football or basketball. Experience in this game matters a lot more than being able to run fast or jump high. Our bodies don't matter as much as they do in other sports. When you look at a guy like Mark Martin, what was he 55? Most of those guys were in their 50’s when they quit. It is easier now than what it was then. That was one thing that Dale (Jarrett) and Rusty (Wallace) brought up. What difference does it make? As long as you are physically able to do the things at a high level, there is really no reason to just up and quit unless you have some things that are happening at home that you want to do different or something along those lines. As long as that circle of life is balanced, our sport is not like other sports as far as your body is concerned.”

DO YOU THINK ABOUT LEGACY? “I don't.”

DOES 50 WINS MEAN ANYTHING? “It would be better than 49. The things that mean the most to me are keeping my team happy. I feel responsible for giving them the effort that I have because I know how much effort they put in. Instead of paying attention to those numbers and thinking about what it would be like to pull into Victory Lane, I enjoy it like at Indy. I was more excited about the picture than I was about winning the Brickyard 400. I was more excited to see the pictures of those guys and how happy Rodney and those guys were. I feel satisfied because we were able to achieve that together and they got to experience it. THose things to me help keep me motivated because I like to experience those things with those guys and my kids and wife and everybody who is around. It is just those types of things that are as fun as the competition on the race track. Now, look, I love to beat Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin and all these guys that race these cars and that is still a pretty big thrill for me in order to outduel those guys and out-think them. There are a lot of things. It is easy to stay motivated.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO BE A PART OF SHEPHERDING THE SPORT INTO THIS NEW ERA THAT IS COMING? “I think the biggest thing of anything like that that came to my mind was the intrigue of the new car. I think it will be interesting to figure out how to make it work and how to get to a point of being competitive and having a chance to win races and what that looks like and what it drives like and what it steers like. Can we make our simulator better than everybody elses’ simulator. There are an endless amount of things that are intriguing. That is the one thing I miss from having owned the race team. How can I put this puzzle together to make it better than another organization. As much as that competition inside the car drives me, it is also that competition and how can I feed these guys enough information to outhink those guys over there.”

STEWART-HAAS RACING FEELS LIKE IT IS COMING UP ON A TRANSITION A LITTLE BIT WITH FREE AGENCY AND THINGS. DO YOU HAVE A VOICE IN THAT OR THE DIRECTION? “I am fortunate that they keep me in the loop as far as opinions and where things are at. I am lucky because that is kind of what Tony (Stewart) and Gene (Haas) wanted as they hired me was to be a part of that stuff and be involved. I enjoy that part of it. I also enjoy the part that I don't have to pay for it. I enjoy voicing my opinion and walking out the door (laughter). In the end it is still their team and they make the ultimate decision but it is something that I get to at least have a voice.”

IS THERE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU GOT FROM MARK MARTIN OR DJ OR THOSE GUYS THAT REALLY RESONATED WITH YOU? “Well, I think that the thing that stuck out to me from Mark was to just remember when you walk out the last time you will never get to see your number on that scoreboard again. From Girardi it was, ‘Make sure they take the jersey off for you, don't take it off yourself.’”

“The analytics go off of average drivers, right? I like to think of myself as above average. Most of the time. I think with Dale (Jarrett), for him leaving a situation where he was very successful and winding up in a situation that he was in ultimately kind of ended things for him. I think that the biggest or one of the biggest things I took away from that was that age doesn't matter if you are competitive in this particular sport. Also, if you are with a good team and you have worked your whole career for it, don't walk away from it and turn your back on it.”

BOBBY ALLISON WON THIS RACE WHEN HE WAS 50: “You know, as we go to more and more common media types and they try to compare to other sports, I think that a lot of people forget that our sport is not other sports and if you look back it was not uncommon to race the car into your 50’s”

HOW COOL WAS IT TO SEE TONY INDUCTED INTO THE HALL OF FAME? “That was a lot of fun listening to his speech. I wish he would have put a number on those past girlfriends. I don't know if he can keep track of that. Tony, I think his speech shows his character and why everybody loves him for who he is and nothing has changed other than he is not here every week. Tony will always be Tony. It is very rare you see him excited for something that requires so many pictures and media and things like that. Seeing him excited, and he falls right into the same group as my team. When I can see him excited and happy about his life and the way that things are going, it makes me happy. It was a great night to celebrate a guy that is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame but he has been great for racing in general.”

WHAT DID YOU GUYS LEARN FROM THE CLASH? “You mean the crash. I think it will be more of the same. You are going to have to survive. I think survival will be more talked about this year than any year in the past. We have all been programmed to block and do things with the old package for so many years and this is not the old package. The runs are happening faster. The cars are kind of lining up and spin out really easy to the right when you push them wrong. They are going. They are hauling the mail. They are fast compared to where we were before. Just I think as we go and learn you have to have had some luck in the past and we have not had any luck in the past few years in this race. I have had a lot of luck and been on the winning side of this race too. You have always had to have some luck to win this race. You have to have a fast car and it just has to be your day.”

 

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes

NASCAR Cup Series (NCS)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

DAYTONA 500 MEDIA DAY 

DAVID RAGAN, No. 36 Ford Mustang 

IS IT MORE IMPORTANT FOR YOU AS A DRIVER TO STUDY THE RACE THAT HAS JUST GONE BY TO LEARN WHAT MAYBE WENT WRONG OR THE TRACK COMING UP? “That is one thing that you have to navigate individually. I think that you can’t dwell on last weeks race too long. Sometimes early in my career I did that. You make a mistake and you dwell on it Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Before you know it you are hopping on the airplane to go to the next track. I have to turn the light switch off on Monday night. I get back and do my post race review and have our meeting and stuff and then you have to turn that switch off. You have to take good notes so the next time you go to that track you can reference those. I think it is important mentally to turn the switch off from one race and start planning on the next.”

WHEN PEOPLE LOOK AT YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND THEY WILL THINK IT IS A FRONT ROW CAR BUT TECHNICALLY YOU ARE WITH RICK WARE. ONE OF THOSE CARS, JJ YELEY, HAS TO RACE HIS WAY IN. ARE YOU HOPING TO HELP HIM OUT TO GET ALL THE RICK WARE CARS INTO THE 500? “We haven’t even had those discussions. Until you just brought it up I didn’t know what cars had to race in and what Duel. I am sure there will bea  conversation at some point but at the end of the day we have to take care of the No. 36 Ford and that is my job. If it is convenient to help out a teammate or even help out a friend that needs to get in, I think first and foremost it is myself and all my Ford teammates.“

WITH JOHN HUNTER NEMECHECK BEING A ROOKIE, DO YOU THINK YOU COMING FROM A RACING FAMILY WITH KEN RUNNING CUP AND HIM BEING AROUND THE CUP GARAGE ALL THESE YEARS WILL HELP HIM? “Absolutely. I think rookies today are a lot more prepared than rookies 10 or 15 years ago with the technology and data we have at our fingertips. The rookies can access a lot of information. John Hunter is a winner in other divisions, grew up around the race track, he has a father that is still in tune with the race cars and race tracks. John Hunter came over last year and did a real nice job and I think he will slide in. He had all off season to spend time with his team and crew chief and engineers to build that little bit of trust that you need to build. I think he is prepared and ready for the opportunity.”

DID THE KOBE BRYANT TRAGEDY BRING TO MIND FOR YOU A CHANGE IN HOW YOU WILL GET AROUND? “You know, I think it made me think a little bit more before I hop on a private aircraft and go anywhere or even hop in your rental car and head down the road looking at your GPS not knowing exactly where you are going and multi-tasking. A lot of times we take for granted that we do a lot of traveling and there are accidents that happen every day. I don't want to take anything away from the common person getting involved in an accident and losing their life, obviously. Kobe’s accident brings to light some of the dangers that we still have but I don't think it will change the way that I travel. I am too tight. I didn’t spend the money to travel too much on a helicopter and any time I am flying on an airplane there are usually a lot of people on it. I am always grateful when I do land or I will say a prayer when I take off. I always tell my wife and kids I love them before I leave the house because you never know. We live in a world where we travel all the time, even if you aren’t a professional athlete you are still traveling a lot more than folks did 20 or 30 years ago. It definitely makes you think about it more and events like that you have to try to turn them into a positive thing that if we can appreciate our lives a little more and the way we get around, I think that is important.”

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE GOING INTO SUNDAY? YOU SAID ALL ALONG YOU WEREN’T DONE COMPLETELY, BUT DO YOU TREAT THIS AS YOUR LAST ONE? “I don't really treat it as my last one. Man, I am 34 years old. I don't want to stay on this earth and never race again. I know I am not going to be in Las Vegas but I am sure there will be a few more races throughout the year that I will pop up and run. It is a little more relaxing coming down here knowing you don't have to worry about your downforce car sitting at the race shop or how your pit crew will be all season long or if you made the right acquisitions on the engineering staff or those things that go into making a team competitive all season long. All I have to worry about is the Daytona 500 and I take it as seriously as I would if we were running a full season but I am not distracted by any of the other noise that goes with starting a full season. It is fun to be down here. I still love motorsports and I love racing. I want to race for a long time. This is an important big race and a fun race to be at. Who know what my future will be like at the Daytona 500 but I hope I can run more down the road.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY BUCKET LIST RACES YOU WOULD LIKE TO RUN? “Yeah, some I have run before that I want to go back and race like the Snowball Derby and my Legends car at the Thursday Thunder races at Atlanta Motor Speedway where I got my start. I would like to run the 24-hours one day. I would like to run a Martinsville truck race. I would love to go back to Toledo and Salem, Indiana. ORP and some of the great short tracks that I ran in my ARCA car back in 2004 and 2005. Absolutely. There are some fun races that I would love to run down the road without running full time on the Cup side. It will allow me that opportunity to hopefully explore some of those opportunities.”

WHAT IS THE LINE ON BLOCKING? WHAT IS FAIR GAME AND WHAT IS NOT? “It is different for everybody and in every situation. Let me start by saying that with this package it is a lot harder to be effective at blocking because the runs that we get are so big. We have more horsepower and the spoiler is bigger and punches a bigger hole in the air and that guy that is getting a run that you are going to block, he is coming at a faster rate than what we have ever had before. Over the last five to seven years at the speedway races, if you were aggressively blocking up front and you had a good spotter, you could maintain the lead pretty well and it has been done well. Dale Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and some of those guys. Jamie McMurray, they were really good at maintaining both lanes but you can’t do that as aggressively anymore. I think we have seen that. If you look at the data from the July race down here and both Talladega’s, you will see where a lot of those wrecks were because of guys trying to block and you get a good run and the bumpers don't line up well anymore. The line for me is that I am not going to push it blocking unless it is very late in the race and the risk is worth the reward. If I were good enough, if anyone blocked me, I would just wreck ‘em. The problem is a lot of times when you do that you wreck yourself. The way to stop all that is for the guys to just wreck and you kind of get them out of the way but that is easier said than done. Nothing would make me happier than to have a great run coming and some guy pull up to block and I could spin him out and keep going. that would be awesome and that would teach them a lesson. Sometimes you get caught up in those wrecks though and I don't want to do that either.”

 

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK, No. 38 Ford Mustang

 

DO YOU THINK GROWING UP IN THE SPORT WILL HELP YOU IN YOUR ROOKIE YEAR? “Yeah, I think so. I think growing up around it and be a part of it, you have seen the good, bad and ugly. You learn how to handle yourself and not handle yourself in certain situations. Being able to have a radio and listen to the crew guys from the standpoint of the crew chief talking to the engineers to my dad talking on the radio with the spotters and how they communicate, I think that has helped me as a driver. Growing up around it and experience the Daytona 500 as a kid following his dad and watching his hero is pretty special to be able to be down here driving in my first Daytona 500 as well.”

 

WHEN YOU STRAP IN ON SUNDAY, WILL YOU TAKE A COUPLE OF MINUTES TO SOAK ALL THAT IN? “I wouldn’t say that I have had a huge chance to soak everything in. That is one thing that I have been told, to just take some time for myself and enjoy the moment. You only get one first start in this thing so being able to enjoy it. Some of the other drivers I have talked to regret not enjoying that and taking some time for themselves. Before I strap in I will take a couple of seconds to think about it and that this is it, we are here. This is really cool. Then we will go out there and maximize our opportunity and try to accomplish what we are here to accomplish.”

 

WHAT WAS YOUR DAD’S REACTION WHEN YOU GOT THE CALL FROM FRONT ROW? “He was pretty excited. He pushed me to be better always. But that is a dad mentality, a boss mentality and advisor mentality. He has been every role for me trying to push me to be better. It is really neat to have him here. Being able to grow up and be at every Daytona 500 that he has been a part of and now for him to be a dad cheering on his son and the roles reversed is pretty neat.”

 

DOES BEING IN THE SEAT WITH THIS TEAM FOR THOSE HANDFUL OF RACES LAST YEAR HELP YOU GOING INTO THIS FULL TIME THIS YEAR? “I definitely think that the baseline of knowing what to expect. The short track package is out the window from what I drove last year. Us as a team we want to strive to make our cars better and be able to communicate with my crew chief, Seth Barber and the engineers and figure out what changes we need to make in the off-season to make our team and cars better is something that we strive for. Being able to have that communications already kicked off, I definitely think it helps compared to coming into a brand new team. There are still some new faces on the team and one up in the spotter stand as well. Just trying to communicate as best we can and make the most out of it.”

 

WHAT DID YOU NOTICE WAS THE DIFFERENCE IN TALENT LEVEL AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CUP SERIES FROM WHAT YOU WERE USED TO IN THE XFINITY SERIES? “I think every series has talent. When you come to the Cup Series, there is a reason these guys are here on Sunday doing what they do and racing against and that is why they have had such long careers. They are the best in the business. To take everything they are doing and try to learn and experience and when you come to the Cup Series it is a whole different level. It is a big jump for sure. Being able to kind of take everything you can out of that and just make the most of it, that is the biggest thing for myself, being able to be here with the Cup guys and now I am a Cup guy. Just learning from them and make every opportunity count.”

 

IT WAS JUST THREE RACES BUT WERE THERE ANY MOMENTS LAST YEAR THAT YOU SAW SOMETHING ON THE TRACK THAT OPENED YOUR EYES? “Probably the coolest thing is having data on the Cup cars compared to Xfinity and Trucks. You can compare when you think you are driving in the corner deep and maybe you aren't or if you are overdriving it in the corners. I had to rely on that pretty big for not having any experience in the Cup car to jumping in and trying to learn at three different race tracks and where I could be better, what I should focus on. What are the trends of steering input and how guys are setting up their cars for the long run. There are so many variables to making a car go fast. Being able to get here and not make any mistakes is the big thing. From the time you show up when practice starts to the time the checkered flag falls you can’t make any mistakes. In the Xfinity and Truck Series’ you don't want to but if you were able to make a mistake then you were able to rebound from it. These guys, they don't make mistakes. Sometimes they do, I shouldn’t say they don't. Sometimes they do and sometimes they have clean weekends. It shows when they don't make any mistakes.”

 

WHAT ADVICE DID YOUR DAD GIVE YOU GOING INTO THIS RACE? “Take it all in. Enjoy the moment. Have fun while doing it. That is the biggest thing. YOu don't want to come here and try to set the world on fire and wreck trying to do so. So be there at the end of the race and have a shot. It is anyone's race here at Daytona, that is for sure. Being able to maximize our performance and being able to have him down here as a dad and enjoying the moment with me will be very special.”

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR POSSIBILITIES? “It is going to be a tough battle. It is going to come down to the very end. I think being able to race against Cole (Custer), Tyler (Reddick) and Christopher Bell is something we have done through the Truck Series, Xfinity Series and now the Cup Series. We all came in at different times in those other series’ but to be in the same class in the Cup Series is pretty special. We all want to beat each other. With the situations we were all dealt we are in different positions with different teams but you know the goal going in and try to maximize your races and opportunities.”

 

“I feel like I have a good relationship with all of them. We have all had run-ins in the past. I feel like we have all had our times where we have been mad at each other but at the same time I think I would say we are all friends here at the track. Some of us hang out with each other once in awhile. Probably the coolest thing, and I kind of regret going now, but being able to be at Christopher Bell’s first asphalt late model test. I shook down the car for him and I wish I would have raced that car that weekend because that thing was fast.”

 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE YOUTH MOVEMENT IN NASCAR? “I definitely think there is a next generation of drivers coming in. I think you see some of the older generation of drivers getting ready to hang up their helmets. One of the greats in our sport, Jimmie Johnson, this is his last year. To be a part of that new generation coming in and with Cup experience I think will help us in the future. We want to make a name for ourselves and we have done so in the Truck and Xfinity Series. To start that learning curve now in the Cup Series and get to race around these guys and pick their brains and have a good relationship with them will only make me better as a driver.”


 

Ron Fleshman

RIS NASCAR Editor.  Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.

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Volume 2020, Issue 2, Posted 7:55 PM, 02.12.2020