NASCAR Media Conference
August 12, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's video teleconference. It's in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. That's the 3M Performance 400 Presented by Bondo. Sunday also will be the seventh event in the Race to the Chase. That's the ten-race stretch of the season that precedes NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Today we have two guests joining us from the NASCAR research and development center in Concord, North Carolina. We have Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford and his car owner Jack Roush. Roush Fenway Racing, they have a total of ten Sprint Cup victories at Michigan. That's the second-best total of all time, trailing only the Wood Brothers' total of 11.
Greg, currently 10th in the series points, has two of those Michigan victories for Roush Fenway. Gentlemen, I have a quick opening question for each of you before we go to the media. What is it about Michigan that matches up so well with your organization through the years? Greg, maybe you can start off, then we'll go to Jack for that opener.
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I don't know exactly what it is, but I feel awful lucky to be a part of that, because Michigan has just -- you know, just right off, the very first time I saw the racetrack and was on it in the Craftsman Truck Series, adapted to the track very well, loved the racetrack, the way it raced. I raced twice there in the Craftsman Trucks, undefeated the two times I went there and raced, and then came back and got two more wins in the Sprint Cup Series. That racetrack has just been one of my favorites right out of the getgo.
Roush Fenway has been very good there for a long time. Jeff Burton and Mark Martin had a lot of success there and Carl and Matt, so it's just been a great track for us. It's been a great track for me personally, and I probably have got the benefits of our organization being good there, as well.
HERB BRANHAM: Jack, maybe you can add to that because some of your drivers have won at Michigan.
JACK ROUSH: Well, there's an expectation based on, as Greg said, Mark's early success and then Jeff Burton. There's an expectation that we'll run well at Michigan. I'm well represented there in the grandstands. We have two suites, the only track on the circuit that we have two hospitality suites. We've got a Roush Industries home in the Detroit area there, so we've got lots of people coming to watch, lots of attention, lots of interest. Of course it's Ford Motor Company home there in Detroit. The car companies enjoy coming to Michigan and duking it out.
But we've had a legacy of having really fast cars, I think of having generally pretty good engines, and better-than-average luck there. We've had fewer than an average number of flat tires and blown engines and things, and generally when something does happen, it'll happen to our best car and it'll afford Kevin another opportunity to win.
But Michigan is a great track for us, two-mile track with a lot of opportunity to race wheel-to-wheel, to race clean, to be able to pass clean, and the guys have been very effective. I'm just proud to ride the wave.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to both of you for that opener.
Q. This is for Jack and Greg. What do y'all see as the role of the manufacturer today in NASCAR? Do you see that role changing over time?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I don't know, I think Jack could probably answer that question a lot better than myself, but I see Ford still very involved in our organization and the sport. You know, they're very passionate about NASCAR, and a lot of the race fans are the guys that support the Ford product. You know, they support our teams just the same as I think they have in the past.
We know that all automotive times are tough. You know, all the car industry is not doing the same with the fuel prices and all the things. But they're still just as passionate about it, and they know that the NASCAR fan is their customer, and they help us technically to do what we need to do as much as they can.
JACK ROUSH: Ford in particular has got some research data that indicates that if the broader population had a 30 percent chance of being interested in a Ford product, going to a Ford dealership, the NASCAR fan has twice that, a 60 percent chance that he'd go into a Ford dealership, or he or she would go into a Ford dealership and look at a Ford product. When times are tough as they are now, there's an even greater reason why Ford sees that they should spend a lot of their marketing dollars in the direction of NASCAR, just because they've got so many willing and prospective customers there.
Past that, the teams benefit greatly from the technical innovations of the car companies. I know they've brought us any number of new tools and new computer algorithms to help us predict and to analyze data and to come to an acceptable setup to start at a given racetrack. The tire changes, the track changes, of course the new car has brought with it a new center of mass relationship and a new downforce signature that really made all the records that everybody had obsolete. Without Ford's help we certainly couldn't be in a position where we are in terms of being competitive most places we go.
Q. Jack, has the role of manufacturer changed much over the last 10 or 20 years?
JACK ROUSH: Absolutely. Looking at the budgets of the teams, you know, there was a time when I first started when the contribution that the manufacturer had to the race teams was less than 5 percent of the revenue, and today it's north of 10 percent. So their monetary support has doubled over 15, 20 years, and in the meantime, the -- we used to think about the number of parts that would come from the car companies that could be useful to us that would give you maybe some direction on the way the front faces should be shaped and the way the rear faces should be shaped, and those were primary parts, but today you not only get the parts in terms of what their shape is in consideration of what NASCAR's templates are, but you've got also got an interaction with any number of engineers from the CFD, the fluid dynamics to the aerodynamics to the stiffness and the fatigue characteristics of the chassis and a number of the other components on the chassis.
So they are more involved than they were initially and certainly more vital. If all the other manufacturers -- if none of the manufacturers were involved at the level they all are, then it wouldn't matter. But today, every time somebody steps up then the other manufacturers feel the need to match it, and if they don't do that, then they'll get behind. It's really a cascade snowball thing that's gone on.
Q. Greg, I wondered, you lost two spots in the championship at the Glen. Are you concerned at all about not making the Chase or are you pretty comfortable where you are and are out for those elusive bonus points with the victories?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, I think I'm not -- definitely not easy cruising to the Chase right now. We know that we're on the envelope of getting in. You know, we're in that 8th through 13th class that's going to fight right down to Richmond unless one of us breaks out, gets a win, a couple top fives and locks ourselves in in the next two races. We're on that bubble, and certainly finishing 21st at the Glen wasn't what we wanted. It's not where we ran all day, but that's the finish we ended up with.
We are just lucky that the deck is stacked sort of in our favor. We run very well at Michigan, very well at Bristol. I like California and Richmond. So those are good racetracks for us to be going to. If we were going to Talladega and Martinsville and some of these other tracks, I wouldn't be as optimistic in my chances of making the Chase right now. But we're by no means safe. We know that we have to run hard and well.
The thing I love about Michigan is you can race as hard as you want, you know, two and three wide on that downforce racetrack for the win and be able to do that in a cautious manner where you're going to get a good finish. That's what I like about Michigan, one of the things going this weekend. We feel like we can get a top-five finish there if not win. We feel like we can win, but later of the two, a top five, and that will certainly help us in the points.
Q. And a quick follow-up to Jack if I may. You have Matt and Greg kind of fighting to get into the Chase but Carl kind of comfortable there at second in the standings. Do the strategies differ and the goals differ going into Michigan for the three drivers? They kind of have different goals and outlooks there just based on the points?
JACK ROUSH: You know, I haven't really written David Ragan off, either, so I consider that I've got four contenders, only one of which is comfortably seated. But as far as Carl and Greg and Matt, I don't see -- first of all, the crew chiefs are captains of the ship and they make the realtime decisions on what they think should happen and then negotiate with the driver to be able to get that done at the entry on Pit Road. But we see that the big change or the big concern is a broken part, a tire that goes flat at the wrong time, or a wreck that gets caused that may not be your fault that you get caught up in.
And if the thing plays out as it should, and as I hope it will, Greg should certainly be okay given the mix of races we've got left. But man, we've got to miss the wreck and we can't have a part that breaks.
I think there will be more determination of what happens from the result of 8 through 14 or whatever as this thing shakes down. It'll be more determined by things gone wrong than it will by blinding speed.
Q. Greg, just curious, with your two wins there and with the team's success at Michigan, what are the keys to winning at the track, and why do you think Roush Fenway Racing has had so much success at the track?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, you know, some of the keys to winning at Michigan is, you know, keeping the car turning across the middle of the corner and having enough speed up off the corner. We've been really good about that, you know, and I like that racetrack. The corner entry and across the center, the way the racetrack is laid out, we've been able to really capitalize on that.
The success that our organization has had is spectacular, and I have no answer why we've been so good there. I've won two truck races there and two Sprint Cup races, and we just run well as an organization. I think that we're well prepared for that. That's the kind of racetrack that fits our company, our driving style, our aero platform, our cars. So we've just had a lot of success there.
I just look forward to -- you know, it could be a fuel mileage race, a strategy race, mental race for the driver. There's a lot of things at Michigan, cards that get played, that are factors.
Q. Greg, just kind of talk about Bristol next weekend. You guys are really good at Michigan, you're good at California, and you've had some success at Richmond. Talk about Bristol and how much of a factor that race will be.
GREG BIFFLE: Well, every race is going to be a factor, but we all know that Bristol can be treacherous as far as missing an accident or not getting involved in one. Certainly we're thinking of that, but I've run very well at Bristol. We've qualified decent there and run fairly well there. So I'm excited about going to Bristol. I think that's one of my strong suits is Bristol actually coming up, is one of the races I'm really looking forward to that we run so well at.
But like anything, you can be caught up in just about anything, so there's a lot of close calls at Bristol because it's so tight, so fast, so many cars, lap cars, people racing for position. Typically, most typically the way you get in an accident there is you get wrecked from behind. There's an accident in front of you, you slow down, you get hit from behind from other cars that can't stop that quick. Normally there's nothing you can do about that, that's just one of those things that you have to hopefully make sure that you're in safe territory so those accidents don't happen right in front of you. But I look forward to Bristol.
Q. Jack, you mentioned David Ragan. Kind of talk about him and how he's done the last few weeks and how he's put himself in a position to at least have a shot at getting in the Chase.
JACK ROUSH: Well, Jimmy Finnegan has certainly been partnered with him on that. Most of us, myself included, looked at David this year and said, well, the goal is to be solidly in the top 15 but never really initially thought that David could be a contender, would be a contender for the Chase.
But Jimmy from the very beginning says, David and I are going to be contenders for this Chase, and if we don't have more than our share of bad luck, we'll be there. And they're close on that. They've been caught up in a wreck or two that set things back a little, but they've been real close.
You know, David has earned his stripes this year. I can't tell you the number of times I've been stopped by other drivers or other crew chiefs who have said David Ragan is really doing a nice job. It's a pleasure to race around him. He's got a code on the racetrack that is predictable and is creditable. He does things that I think other drivers would expect and would like to expect if they were treated fairly in terms of quarter given and quarter taken, and he represents his sponsor well, and he reacts or responds to frustration in a way that doesn't embarrass him or anybody else, nor does it thwart his opportunity to get as many points as he can in a bad situation.
But as we go around to the second time this year to the racetracks, Jimmy Finnegan is expecting David to take another step, and I am, as well. By no means have I decided that David will not be a factor in this thing if we can just keep him from being involved in a wreck that he doesn't cause, and if parts don't break then he's got a real good shot at it.
Q. And I'm sure he'd like nothing more than to get his first win there at Michigan with all of your people looking on?
JACK ROUSH: Oh, yes, that's for sure.
Q. Greg, after Kyle Busch got out of his car at Watkins Glen over the weekend, he kind of got out and said, take that, to all the people who are showing weakness. Do you guys ever use external criticism to motivate yourself or your team?
GREG BIFFLE: I think you can. Certainly if somebody tells you that you can't do it or you're not any good, you know, or whatever the situation might be, that kind of gives you extra motivation to prove somebody wrong. That certainly can be -- that can certainly be motivation.
You know, I don't know what -- they're just doing everything right right now. Kyle is a good driver, and they've got good equipment under him and they're making the right pit calls. They're just enjoying that success.
And we've been in that situation. You know, sometimes it's short-lived, sometimes it isn't. We won six races in 2005, and it just kind of slips away from your fingers and you don't ever really know what you did wrong or what happened. Just enjoy it while you can. That's what he's doing, and I don't blame him.
Q. Jack, a follow-up from earlier. You talked a lot about what Ford gives you. What do you feel you give back to Ford Motor Company?
JACK ROUSH: Well, we certainly give them endorsements through the drivers that would get some excitement in the dealerships, excited about that. The interface that we've got, I spoke about the technical side, but the interface that we've got with Ford, as a for-instance thing, they maybe bring four or five technical experts, provide really significant input into the team, and that's important.
But on the other hand, we probably are interfacing or are facing off the half dozen or so people within Ford that provide us real critical help. We've got three dozen -- we've got 35 to 50 internally that mold that information and assimilate it and pose the questions and interpret the answers to be able to make it -- reflect itself in the race car.
But the information that we've got that comes out of our testing is there for Ford to use in ways that suits their purpose back to the production side of the company to maybe help them enhance the aero function of the car a little, maybe to help them find a tad more fuel mileage, maybe to help them explore the use of a new technique or process or material in the construction of cars. There's a lot of give-and-take both ways, but certainly we try to work back with the company to give them the benefit of all the technologies we're exploring.
Q. And as a follow-up, is there anything that the team owners or NASCAR can do during lean economic times like this to help out the manufacturers or just keep on working as hard as possible?
JACK ROUSH: Well, I think that what you see with the cooperation, for instance, between the Roush Fenway group and the Yates group and the Wood Brothers group, what those cooperations do is allow the dollars that the car company, that Ford, spends to give the greatest benefit. There was a point in time when Ford, looking at what was happening with Robert Yates' program and what was happening with the Roush Racing program prior to Roush Fenway organization, looking at those things, there was a great deal of redundancy. And I'm sure what all the manufacturers are doing now is looking at ways that they can eliminate the redundancy.
I think by and large what I see from the Chevrolet teams and the Dodge teams that they're cooperating with that. None of the teams are being loggerheaded and saying you absolutely can't share this information with another team. There's a lot of that going on from a manufacturer's point of view, and without that, the amount of money they'd have to spend to achieve the same results with other teams would be dramatically increased.
Q. Thanks for being on with us. Greg, you mentioned many times that Michigan is kind of your forte for Roush Fenway Racing and such. You also have California coming up on the schedule right before the Chase. Can you tell the fans what the difference is between the two tracks since they are both two-mile ovals?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, it's kind of funny because a lot of people think that California and Michigan are similar, but they're as far from a contrast as you can believe. The only thing that's really similar to the two is they're both two miles in length.
California has a different surface compound to it. It drives differently than Michigan. It drives much flatter than Michigan. It seems like Michigan has a lot more banking, just the way that the racetrack drives. So there's a lot of differences.
Both racetracks are fun to race on and are strategy and fuel mileage races. But they're just completely different. You kind of attack one a lot different than you do the other. They're both fun to race on, like I said, but setups are completely different and the way we race them are completely different.
Q. Greg, this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway is interesting, as you've pointed out, simply because we have talked with most of the drivers, and they all say they like the track because you can run high or low, and at times you can go three or four wide. Do you have a set plan as to which groove you'll run at Michigan, or will it take you about seven or eight laps to find out where the car feels comfortable, up high or down low?
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, I mean, most of the time on new tires the faster lap is from the center of the racetrack to the bottom. As the tire starts to wear, the groove goes up higher, and the reason for that, one is the bottom and the middle start to gain rubber. But secondly, the upper groove you're able to maintain more momentum. The larger the radius, the less you have to turn the steering wheel, meaning the corner becomes less sharp the higher up on the racetrack you go.
One thing that's difficult to manage at Michigan, and some guys are pretty successful at it, is running right against the wall, you know, like we do at Darlington or other places. What happens is it's very difficult to manage the car, the way it'll get loose or slide or lose a little bit of grip because you're going so fast. To run two feet off the wall at Michigan is I'd like to say a dangerous line because one little mistake and it wipes the right side of the car off.
I intend to stay away from that line. Unless I have to absolutely revert to that line, I will. But I'd like to get my car to run at the middle or the bottom seems to be the best for me.
Q. Greg, as the Chase gets closer, how much are you paying attention when you're out there on the racetrack to the guys that are around you in points versus where you finish ahead of them, or are you just out there going for wins and getting the best finish possible?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, you know, we do pay attention to where the other guys are at, but mostly under caution. You know, when you're racing and you're thinking about the guy in front of you for position or the guy behind you or working on your car to get it to handle good or what adjustments I need, you're not really thinking about who you're racing around or who's leading the points or who's not. You're more really focused on where you're at or what you need to do to get a better run.
When the caution comes out, we'll sometimes reflect on where people are running, you know, the 29 is having troubles or -- I won't call in and ask; I know the cars I'm racing for that position. I'll see them ten spots ahead of me and know that there's nothing I can do about it, but certainly I'm aware where they're at and running. Once the green flag drops you're really focused on the task at hand, and that's getting the car around the track.
Q. Greg, do you have a workout routine, and do you feel that all the seat time that the NASCAR driver has, do you feel that's a form of exercise, also?
GREG BIFFLE: Yes, it is, because a lot of exercise is heart rate. Whether you're running on a treadmill or doing a stairstepper or elliptical, a lot of focus is on heart rate, and our heart rate is 150 or higher for five hours inside that car. You know, when you sweat out four, five, six pounds of water weight, certainly that is a lot of workout that a guy goes through on Saturdays and Sundays. And I can tell the difference; honestly, this year I've only run about 12 Nationwide races versus normally I run every weekend. I can certainly tell the difference. So I've been at the gym a little bit more than I have in the past.
I work out in the evenings, and I've been one or two nights a week keeping fit, especially for the Chase coming up. I want to be the best I can be and be prepared to give a run at the title.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and thanks very much to today's NASCAR Cam guests, Greg Biffle and Jack Roush. Thanks for joining us. Best of luck at Michigan.
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