Ford Drivers Preview the 2021 Daytona 500

0
774
Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 10, 2021

The 63rd Annual Daytona 500 is scheduled for this Sunday as the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season begins at Daytona International Speedway. Ford has won “The Great American Race” a total of 15 times with Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, and Matt Kenseth each taking the checkered flag twice with the Blue Oval. Joey Logano has a chance to join that list as he looks to add a second Daytona 500 victory to his 2015 triumph.

NASCAR Media and Ford Performance have worked together this week to provide driver interviews in preparation for the Daytona 500 and the 2021 season.

There will be a few newcomers to the Ford Cup Series roster with the most notable one coming at Stewart-Haas Racing, where Chase Briscoe is replacing the retired Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 HighPoint.com Mustang. Briscoe led the NASCAR XFINITY Series with nine wins last season before finishing third in the playoff standings. Anthony Alfredo will also get an opportunity to race full-time as he takes over the No. 38 Mustang at Front Row Motorsports while B.J. McLeod pilots the new No. 78 entry for Live Fast Motorsports.

Here is what some of the Ford Mustang Drivers had to say regarding questions posed to them during Speedweek.

Kevin Harvick, #4 Stewart-Haas Racing

HOW DO YOU FOLLOW UP ON THE SEASON YOU HAD A YEAR AGO?  IT’S A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW.  “Yeah, the expectation is to go out and be competitive.  I think as you look at last year that’s one of those that you check off as a career year and you obviously want to do that again, but I’ve been around this long enough to understand that those types of seasons don’t come around all the time.  But, look, it’s not to say that it’s not possible because that’s surely the goal – to try to repeat that and do that again.  The expectations are obviously the same as they were every other year.  I think as you look back you capitalized on the days you’re good.  You capitalized on some days when people have trouble and we ran well at the racetracks we were supposed to run well at and made good days out of them.  It was definitely a great year.  I think as we go into this year the expectations are to be competitive and try to put yourself in (a) position to win races again.  This is something that we do every year and last year we were just fortunate to put ourselves in victory lane a few more times than we had in the past, so they’re not all gonna go like that, but that’s the goal.”

HAS THERE BEEN ANY REFLECTION ON HAVING SUCH A HUGE SEASON AND NOT GETTING TO THE FINAL FOUR, OR DO YOU JUST PUT IT BEHIND YOU?  “My focus is always on (the) week to week, winning races.  I think in the end it didn’t really matter.  We ran terrible at Phoenix, so it’s not like you were gonna win the championship anyway.  It didn’t really matter as we got to Phoenix and with the way that we ran.  I think you look back on it and, like I said earlier, you take the things that you did at each one of those racetracks and you try to make them better because that’s really what it’s all about is, ‘How do I stay focused on a week to week basis?  What did we do last year at this particular racetrack?  What did we do good?  What did we do bad?  Show me the strengths.  Show me the weaknesses.  Show me where we beat them.  Show me where we were getting beat.’  And it’s the same preparation over and over and over, and the whole championship layout is something that is what it is, but it changes zero in your preparation.  It really doesn’t change a thing.  You go to the racetrack and, for me, I’m not gonna go to the racetrack and points race.  We’re gonna go to the racetrack and try to put ourselves in (a) position to win the race and then the second thing when you can’t do that is (to) gain the most points that you can on that particular day and you go home.  It’s just not something that I overthink.  It’s not something that really gets me up or down, winning or losing.  It doesn’t.  It doesn’t really affect how I prepare on Monday.  We can finish dead last or we can finish first and I’m gonna do the exact same thing when it comes to Monday morning.  That part doesn’t change for me.”

Ryan Newman, #6 Roush Fenway Racing

AS DAYTONA APPROACHES HAVE YOUR DAUGHTERS TALKED TO YOU ABOUT RETURNING TO THE 500?  HAVE YOU HAD ANY CONVERSATIONS TO SET THEM AT EASE AND MAKE THEM MORE COMFORTABLE WITH YOU GOING BACK TO THE 500?  “I’m glad you asked because it was fun for me to get to the Chili Bowl because it was the first racing event that they got to go to to watch me race again, albeit a short night and not the success that I wanted to have, but it was humbling and heartwarming for me to have them there and get back in the race car.  I look forward to that again, to get them back into a Cup race and have them be a part of it, so it’s had its challenges, no doubt, because of everything going on, but it will be special to have that one-year anniversary and hopefully another great chance to get them to victory lane as we were so close last year.”

BLANEY TALKED ABOUT HOW EVERYTHING HAPPENED SO FAST IN THE ACCIDENT LAST YEAR AND HE SAID HE TALKED TO YOU A COUPLE DAYS AFTERWARDS.  WERE YOU ABLE TO REASSURE HIM?  “I’ll be honest with you, I think I had a personal conversation with him on the phone, I don’t remember it.  But I do remember putting my arm around him and talking to him in Phoenix after I got a chance to see him face-to-face and I could see his character and what he was feeling internally because of what happened after him seeing me.  So, I can only imagine what it was like not knowing or that night of or the days after, so that’s one of the toughest things that we do as drivers is (to) have to check our feelings because of what we do and the things that are required of us to be competitive and to push everybody’s envelope and it’s just the way it is.  The guys that get it, and I believe he does, have a lot of respect for that and therefore I have more respect for him.”

Aric Almirola, #10 Stewart-Haas Racing

WILL THE 500 BE LIKE LAST YEAR WHERE YOU JUST TRY TO SURVIVE TO THE END AND THEN BLOCK THE LAST FEW LAPS?  “Without a doubt, absolutely.  In superspeedway racing, no matter what, the draft is a very big part of our racing, so guys run into each other and that helps both cars go faster.  When you lock bumpers you go faster, so anytime there’s contact involved and that helps you go faster when you start pushing and shoving, it only takes one small mistake at 195-200 miles an hour to misjudge something just by a fraction of an inch and you get involved in a big wreck.”

DID WHAT HAPPENED IN 2018, BEING HALF A LAP AWAY FROM WINNING THE 500, CHANGE YOUR MENTALITY FOR THE NEXT TIME?  “No, I was just really upset for about 24 hours, maybe 48 hours, and then after that, I was already shifting my focus to the next race and trying to put that one behind me.  That’s the one thing in life that is so apparent, and we’re always faced with that is that we can’t change the past.  We can’t go back and change what happened yesterday or even five minutes ago.  We just have to always look at the present and look ahead and look towards the next opportunity, so that’s been my mentality with our sport and kind of in life in general, and so, yeah, I was bummed out, for sure, to be that close to winning the Daytona 500 and it not happen, but I don’t think it kept me down whatsoever.  We went on to have a great season the rest of the year, won a race later that season, and finished fifth in the overall point standings, so it still turned out to be a great year even though the Daytona 500 got away from us.”

Chase Briscoe, #14 Stewart-Haas Racing

CAN YOU TAKE US BACK TO YOUR MEETING WITH TONY WHEN YOU WERE TOLD ABOUT BEING PROMOTED?  “First off, Tony, really the whole company, knew it had been done for two weeks that I was gonna be going to the Cup Series and everybody had kept it hidden from me.  So, when I got told I was going to meet with Tony it was a last-ditch effort trying to get HighPoint.com to kind of figure out what they wanted to do.  Tony was wanting my family there and my wife there and all these people and I didn’t really understand why he was something that would happen.  And then to go through the whole day at Tony’s house, had dinner with him and then at the very end he told me I’m getting to go Cup racing.  I think, for me, the fact that Tony put all the effort just to try to have my family there.  He said, ‘You only get told you’re going Cup for the first time once and I wanted to make it special for you.’  For me, anytime you get told that it’s gonna be special, but for me to here it from my hero, the guy I grew up cheering for, the guy I grew up idolizing as a race car driver, that’s super special to be able to know that not only am I getting to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, but specifically I’m getting to drive that 14 car, which is the one I specifically cheered for growing up.  For me, it’s just super special.  It still doesn’t seem possible that I’m getting to drive that car and getting to start off my career in that car in the Daytona 500.  I’m just excited to get going.  There’s a lot of nerves and a lot of pressure that comes with that car and specifically with that number.  There’s a lot of history involved and really a legacy with that number.  I would say it’s one of the more iconic numbers in the sport and I want to do those guys proud.  I’m just looking forward to getting going and seeing where we stack up.”

Chris Buescher, #17 Roush Fenway Racing

WHAT ARE SOME POSITIVES YOU CAN TAKEAWAY FROM LAST YEAR?  “I haven’t been real shy about the frustrations of the way we did it, but I guess to reiterate I am thankful that our season did go back to on schedule and we got to run our playoffs on schedule, so that’s definitely a positive.  Our sport is unique in the way that we are able to compete and stay distanced apart and keep going.  When you look at the positives from our team, specifically I guess, I think that communication got steadily better through the year as we learned how to get through some of these different changes  I think at the end of the day it’s actually gonna help us moving forward.  I think we will have better communication back and forth, quicker communication, and keep everybody in the loop better so we can be more productive as a company and as a race team.  I do think that there’s some positive and some light at the end of the tunnel as far as that goes.  As far as the race season and the way we want to show up to the racetrack and practice a couple (of) times and qualify for our starting spot, I can’t say that I’ve figured out much positive about all that, other than the fact that we are racing.  I’m definitely looking forward to the day we can get back to normal, but for the meantime, we are figuring out how to make the best of what we have to work with here.”

Matt DiBenedetto, #21 Wood Brothers Racing

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO WIN, ESPECIALLY WITH THE NEXT ONE BEING #100 FOR THE WOOD BROTHERS?  “It’s huge and you’ve got to win and perform.  That’s everything, but we’ve been so dang close to them now that it’s painful.  I mean, that’s a good sign is that when you have that momentum and you’re that close and you’re in (the) position as many times as we have been now, and then knowing that we’re going into this season with the momentum that we have, I think we can do it much more consistently.  If you keep putting yourself in (a) position to get that win, that’s when it has the ability to come.  You’re not always gonna win every one of them that you’re in (a) position to win, but you have that opportunity, so I’m excited about that.  Also, from a personal standpoint, I so badly want to get the 100th win for the Wood Brothers because they are family.  Anyone who knows the Woods knows when you drive for them you’re not friends you’re family to them.  They are family and I want it so bad for them and for the whole entire family, so that would be an amazing accomplishment there.  We’ve got to go out there.  Now that I know we are ready as a team, I feel the last bit of last year, and going into this year I feel we are 100 percent ready to win.  I’m honest.  Early in the season last year I did not feel like we were ready.  We had a lot of things we had to work on and you have to be perfect.  Your team has to be excellent to win, so I did not feel like we were a winning team at the beginning of last year because of the circumstances.  We had the people and the equipment and all the things, but we needed time and we got that now, so going into this year I think it’s our time and the goal is to win, to run up front, to compete, and to compete all the way down to the end because I know we can do it.”

Joey Logano, #22 Team Penske

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START AND WIN EARLY?  “I think these days you’ve got to be good all year long.  There’s the opportunity that you can get through the playoffs even if you don’t have many playoff points, but you don’t leave yourself any cushion to fall back on if you don’t run well.  So, it seems like, yeah, you’re right, last year we went through quite the rollercoaster.  It was really good and then it went really bad, and then it came back and we raced for a championship in Phoenix.  It can go up and down, but it’s nice if you have a lot of points as you go through those playoffs.  You sleep a lot easier and things like that.  It’s just like it is for football, you want to try and seed yourself the best you can and it’s the same thing for us in NASCAR.  It’s nice to get a win early.  Maybe it makes you sleep a little better, but you just can’t get a win and go check out for two or three months and then come back when the playoffs start.  You just can’t do that.  It doesn’t mean that you’re gonna have ups and downs throughout it, you probably will, but making sure you’re good when it matters the most is key.”

TJ MAJORS SAID YOU GUYS ALWAYS GET TOGETHER AND TALK BEFORE SPEEDWAY RACES.  HAVE YOU DONE THAT YET AND, IF SO, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING OUT FOR GOING INTO SUNDAY?  “I think every time you kind of re-watch a race you see something.  The more eyes you have together and talk things out, he may pull something out that I didn’t see or vice versa and it just helps to be on the same page.  That’s kind of the biggest thing.  The spotter means a lot, especially on superspeedways, but really everywhere now the spotter means a lot, and the more that he is thinking the same way that I am and vice versa, that is kind of what puts us on the same page and I think makes us a strong pair.  So, the more we can be together and obviously the more we race together is important.  This weekend, it being the first race back is always you want to get back out there and knock the rust off a little bit and try to see the way the draft is working, the way it’s moving.  We won’t really have an idea of what that is until the Duels, but just trying to understand how that’s gonna be and how he communicates that it’s a constant flow of just trying to figure out what that is.  It always changes.  The draft never stays the same.  It evolves every time we’re out there.  Every driver is learning something every time he runs a racetrack.  Like I said earlier, what worked last year doesn’t work this year because you have to keep moving along with it.  You look at sometimes the draft ends up single-file against the wall, sometimes it’s single-file on the bottom.  It’s just how teams are working together, how alliances change, and what people see successful, so you have to constantly be studying what that is.”

Austin Cindric, #33 Team Penske

HAVE YOU WORKED YOUR WAY THROUGH EVERY SCENARIO FOR MAKING THE 500?  “I think anyone who makes plans at superspeedways do it because they’re nervous because there’s no way to prepare for these races.  There’s no way to prepare for those scenarios.  Qualifying is significantly important for both of our opportunities to make it into the race, but also where we start in the Duels.  I think we’ll play it as it goes.  I’d be extremely unlucky if I didn’t have a Penske-affiliated car with me in the Duels, so that would be nice to have and nice to have teammates.  If I get in the race, hopefully, I can help those guys get stage points and try and fight for a race win and get a Penske car and a Ford into Victory Lane for the Daytona 500.  There’s a lot of work to still do, but there are definitely a lot of different scenarios and a lot of things you have to prepare for and sometimes it will come down to the small details, and hopefully, it doesn’t have to come down to missing big wrecks and the things you’re accustomed to seeing in speedway racing, but you definitely have to be prepared for.”

Michael McDowell #34 Front Row Motorsports

WHAT IS LIFE LIKE AS A MID-LEVEL TEAM TRYING TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT?  “For me, it’s a lot of fun because on those good days where you sneak out a top 10 or a top-five you really feel like you’ve accomplished something, and then you obviously have those ups-and-downs, on those days where you run twenty-something you can kind of brush it off and get ready for the next week.  But just seeing the steady progression for us is what I think is the motivator.  Last year, you always have high expectations, but when you actually go out there and perform we started to feel like, ‘Hey, we can do this.  We can run 15th every week and we can beat two or three of these big teams and do it on a weekly basis.’  So that was a lot of fun and very rewarding and hopefully, we can keep that going into 2021 as well.”

Anthony Alfredo, #38 Front Row Motorsports

WOULD YOU HAVE BELIEVED BEING IN THE CUP SERIES FULL-TIME IN 2021 WAS A POSSIBILITY IF SOMEONE MENTIONED IT TO YOU A YEAR AGO AT THIS TIME?  “Probably not.  I had no idea.  I’m just so thankful.  I feel very blessed and definitely wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, but I felt like I had a great year last year and I was just hoping things would come full circle because of putting the effort forward and all the people who have been by my side throughout my career.  Of course, like I mentioned earlier, Team Dillon Management and Austin Craven have worked really hard for me to help me find a home and all that hard work has been paying off and I feel like this is really just the beginning now of something much larger.”

Cole Custer, #41 Stewart-Haas Racing

WHAT DOES THE DAYTONA 500 MEAN TO YOU?  “For me, I just run the smartest race I can possible.  I think you have to be aggressive in speedway racing.  I think you have to race the whole time, but there are at times where if you’re in a bad spot you might try and do the smarter route and hang back or something.  It’s something where it’s the biggest and most prestigious race of the year and it’s the first one, so I think we’re all going on kill.  I mean, everybody wants to put their name in that hat of being a Daytona 500 winner.  I think it’s something everybody wants to go there and we’re gonna put it all on the line to try to win that race.”

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS YEAR?  “I’m hungry to get going.  I think we’re excited to try and go out there and run in the top 10.  I think that’s the biggest thing.  Last year, we could hit it right from time to time and run in the top 10 and compete for a win, but we just need to do it more consistently and I think this year we have a lot more notes to look at.  I have a lot better idea and more confidence in the cars, so I’m looking forward to trying to put ourselves in that category and try and be upfront more.”

BJ McLeod #78 Live Fast Motorsports

IS THERE TWICE THE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE BEING A DRIVER AND TEAM OWNER?  “Fortunately, enough for me I’ve been a racer my whole life, so the pressure I really feel like most of the pressure left me a long time ago as far as anxiety or anything that might make you anxious for the weekend as far as getting in the cars.  It’s really the owner’s side, yes, there’s a lot of pressure.  It’s a big thing to overcome to be at this highest level and that definitely I always feel pressure.  It’s funny because I enjoy jumping in the seat, the times I get to and obviously a lot this year, I love getting in the seat because it’s the three or four or five hours a week that I get to not be an owner and I’ve learned how to separate the two and I can say honestly, which I said honestly my first and second and third year in XFINITY that I couldn’t separate the two correctly.  I was always upfront and honest about it and I can tell you now I can separate it completely.  It doesn’t affect me at all.  If anything, I’d say it makes me a little more risky because I know what everything costs, and I’m willing to pay for it, so I don’t have to feel bad.  It’s definitely been a process to learn that and get to where I can handle both sides of it and I actually enjoy it more now.  I’d rather be that than just the driver.  It’s definitely a positive thing for us.”