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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 15, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports. Roger Penske, from Team Penske. Jack Roush, Roush Fenway Racing. Tony Stewart, Stewart‑Haas Racing. Bob Jenkins with Front Row Motorsports. Len Wood with Wood Brothers Racing.
Mark, heading into the 2019 season with a ton of momentum from last season's championship, a pretty decent showing in last night's races as well, the introduction of the Mustang, obviously has created a lot of excitement. Talk to us about the process of bringing the Mustang to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and expectations for this season.
MARK RUSHBROOK: The 2018 season for us was beyond expectations in terms of what our teams were able to do on track. I'm honored to be sitting up here with all of our teams represented, great teamwork, great performance from them. As a company, we couldn't do what we do without having such great partners in the racing teams.
For the Fusion in its last year to take what was called the old body, get it competitive, that was the teams doing it. The process for the new Mustang, it was a decision we took about 18 months ago. As a company with our future in cars, everything that we're doing, the Mustang now being a global car, we wanted to put Mustang in as many global racing series as we could. Given the opportunity with the NASCAR rules to now allow coupes, we started work on the Mustang.
A lot of great work from inside the company with our aerodynamic tools and our design studio. But also strong input from all of our racing teams because they race the cars every weekend, know exactly what they need.
With input, weekly meetings, a lot of CFD and scale tunnel and full scale tunnel, we were to get the car submitted and approved in the middle of the year last year. Now we've been working hard since then as we start the 2019 seen we have the strongest Mustang at possible.
It was encouraging last night to see the performance across all of our teams, strong finish in the Duels. We're pretty excited about what we have so far for a racecar. Definitely looking forward to the Daytona 500 on Sunday, seeing how it performs in that race.
Just excited to have Mustang on the track. Working with Roger and his team in Australia, we have a new Mustang coming over there, as well, in I think two weeks in Adelaide. Just excited to see the Mustang on the track in so many different parts of the world.
THE MODERATOR: This question is for all the owners. Can you each comment a little bit about your team's preparation for the 2019 season with the introduction of the new Mustang, with the new rules package, the collaboration with Ford Performance, what you all did to get ready for this season.
ROGER PENSKE: Obviously I think the advent of Stewart‑Haas coming on in '18, we really began a collaboration back then from the standpoint of how to make the cars better. With the thought of the new Mustang, all of us had the opportunity with our technical people to sit down and interface with Ford's performance team. Whether it was wind tunnel, scale tunnel, all the things that go together, they were key. Each of us had a piece of that.
From our preparation, you have all these cars that are Fusions. We don't have just four or five cars in the stable. You have multiple cars that have to be changed over. It puts a big pressure on us. The good news was Ford provided us the pieces that are specific by NASCAR. We had those in time in order to build these cars, which I thought was good.
Something we don't talk much about is the engine program that we have from Jack and Yates probably is the cornerstone of our success last year. And certainly when you saw last night, it's a big piece of that. They should get a big thank you for that.
It's just a total collaboration. We're racing each other when it comes to Sunday. But I think what we learned is we can work better together during these races. You could see it last night and during the season last year.
We all want to win, but I think that's key to get us to that point where you have 5 or 10 laps to go, you have a chance to win, what we're all trying to do.
JACK ROUSH: I'd like to comment on the Mustang, first of all. The Mustang is a river that runs through for me. 53 years ago I loaded my first Mustang on the truck and took it to the Winter Nationals. I've watched the Mustangs be raced in a myriad of classes, road racing, drag racing.
We've taken is to Bonneville, Pikes Peak, we've taken it to Europe. The Mustang has finally taken its rightful place at the top of the stockcar arena with NASCAR. It's been something that I've watched come over a period of time that I'm very proud of being a staple with for all those years.
The toolbox that Mark Rushbrook, all the engineering staff in Dearborn, the engineering staff in Charlotte have has never had more tools in it. The fact that we've been able to at least for the first couple of races here indicate that we're competitive with the Mustang right out of the box that the work that has been done with CFD, simulation, simulator, all the tools in the toolbox has been effectively applied. I think it bodes well for the results we're going to have at the different racetracks with a different aero package and different engine package this year.
A lot of balls in the air. But I'm confident in Mark and all of his contemporaries, all my friends and partners, to be able to meet those challenges.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, what they said. What else am I going to say that you two didn't say already?
They're both right. The thing that's been impressive from our standpoint at Stewart‑Haas is we came from a totally different culture with a different manufacturer. When we came over to the Ford stable, how hands‑on Mark and his staff are, it's just an extension of the race teams that are sitting up here. It's not just a manufacturer that you go to and say you need this, you need that, it might be weeks before you hear something. These guys are very proactive.
Mark is on the phone with all these race teams constantly checking in on what can we do to be better, faster, to help. Having that kind of support from a manufacturer is very crucial to what we do obviously.
Like Roger and Jack have mentioned, we couldn't do it without these guys. Having that kind of support is huge for what we're trying to do here. As competitive as this series is, it keeps getting more competitive every year, to have that kind of backing, the resources that Mark Rushbrook and his staff give us.
Like they mentioned, there's a lot of tools in this toolbox. It's a lot of fun for our guys at the shop, whether it's in the aero department, drivetrain. Every department we have being able to work with the Ford side has been a lot of fun for these guys. They really feel that push from forward.
Not that our guys need a lot of motivation anyway, but that motivation and push we get from the Ford side is a lot of fun. It keeps us all going.
As far as preparation for this year, I think Stewart‑Haas Racing probably has been one of the teams that are used to hitting curve balls left and right. To sit here and switch body styles over the winter, as much as that's a huge undertaking for everyone, I think it's just another walk in the park for our guys. They're so used to it from adding teams consecutive years, to changing manufacturers, changing body styles. It's just a layup for our guys.
I've had all the confidence in our group. We have cars that are fast down here. I think we all learned last year, especially at the restrictor plate tracks, we get these Ford teams together, it's really hard to handle all of us if we're working together.
We all want to win the race at the end of the day, but if we're racing each other at the end of the day, it's a lot better scenario than racing the entire field. Excited about what we've got to look forward to this year.
BOB JENKINS: My youngest memory as a child was riding around in my grandfather's 1966 Mustang, thinking I'm riding in the coolest car in town.
I'm proud the Ford brand has a performance car that's a flagship now in NASCAR. You think about the history of the Mustang, what better car to have representing the sport.
Rollouts are rollouts. Every time a new body style comes in the sport, historically there's been issues, usually takes the manufacturer six months to a year to figure it out. I've been impressed with the Ford team, the preparation they put into this car, from initial results at the test, here at Daytona. We're pretty well going to hit the ground running.
For a team like ours, Ford to partner with us, they want to be a part of our improvement. The Mustang, what it brings to a team like ours is a new platform, a chance to build all new racecars. For us, it's a new beginning. We have a great relationship with the folks at Roush Fenway. We're building a new fleet of cars, so are they. My hope is this year will be a breakthrough year for us.
LEN WOOD: We've raced Fords forever. We trust their judgment. They picked a really good one with the Mustang. Our dad had a '65 red one, our uncle had a dark blue one. We have an alliance with Team Penske, they do a nice job of giving us the best cars every week.
With Mark Rushbrook taking over the Ford program last year, I think he's done a very nice job. Rolling out the Mustang, just like the GT you rolled out several years ago, top‑notch. Obviously last night with top three both races, we're off to a good start.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Roger, with us going to new cars, according to NASCAR in a couple years, cars that will reflect what you're selling in the showroom, how do we engage the long time fan as far as reinvigorating the car culture that was once so passionate as NASCAR fans?
ROGER PENSKE: I think it's got to be relevancy to what we're selling in the showrooms, there's no question. That's part of the agenda that NASCAR has, is to try to connect better with the fans, with these cars. I think at the same time as we look at the technology that's out there, things we're looking at on the highway, we have to connect in the racecars.
I don't have a lot of information today on the Gen 7, I know there's lots of discussions going on. The good news is that NASCAR certainly is connecting with the teams, not just the Ford team, but everyone.
It's really up to the manufacturer, Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet, to be sure it's relevant to what they're selling. They all support us in a certain way. I think they need to be sure we connect with the customer. That customer ultimately is a fan.
Q. Recent months we've heard a lot from NASCAR that we're here to execute Jim France's vision. What has been communicated to you about the vision? How confident are you in the future?
JACK ROUSH: The most important thing for everybody in the room is making the racing as exciting as it can possibly be for the race fans.
The race teams do some things that are counter to that. We make the engines blow up less frequently. We make our cars better with the CFD and with the analysis of all the parts. You don't break parts, blow up engines. Goodyear does an ever‑improving job with the tires.
The opportunity you have to have the fans excited about the fact that an underdog, something they didn't see coming, is going to happen. You don't have that as much to play to as you have in the past.
The things that NASCAR has done with regard to the segments and the other things that they've done, the championship run at the end, the way they've organized that, is in the direction of making it more interesting for the fans.
We have to keep them engaged. We have to think about their attention spans. The races may need to get shorter. That could be cost savings all the way around. Probably need to get shorter. People say we need to race fewer times. I'm not sure that's true. I used to tell Mike Helton, if he had three or four races a week, I'd be there for him. I don't know if I'd say that today, but...
Anyway, keeping it exciting for the fans, individual decisions we make that will keep them engaged, keep news or surprises coming within their attention span is very important.
Q. Conventional wisdom has been that Daytona is a completely different animal from the races that follow. With the new package, does what happens this week inform what happens later on to a greater extent or is it still a one‑off?
TONY STEWART: I still think it's a one‑off. I think restrictor plate racing always is. The new package is definitely going to add an element this year that kind of, like Roger said, a bunch of balls up in the air right now. Nobody knows exactly what to expect.
Having a restrictor plate package, open package, this new package, we're all excited to see what it produces. At the end of the day, it's all about making the racing more exciting for the fans, reengaging the fans in the sport.
I think restrictor plate racing at Daytona and Talladega is always going to be an element of its own that really is separate from what you see the rest of the season.
BOB JENKINS: What we saw at the test is we'll have pack racing. I think the race will be a lot closer, but not like the packs you have at Daytona or Talladega.
Q. Roger and Tony, you are somewhat biased because you had wins last night, but what do you think so far about the overall quality of racing during Speedweeks? Has NASCAR given you any indications they might make some changes for Sunday?
ROGER PENSKE: NASCAR hasn't given us any indication they're going to change anything. I think we have to put it in context. The 125s quite honestly, you have your 500 car, you have less of a field, so there's less cars out there to maneuver with or draft.
The racing will be certainly better on race day than maybe you saw last night. Cars are trying to get up last night to the front and draft. From a show perspective, I think you're going to have a blanket over the cars that can win. Just a matter of staying out of trouble on race day, working with your other Ford teammates here.
NASCAR has made no adjustments as far as I know. Maybe Tony has one he hasn't told me about yet.
TONY STEWART: I haven't even been here (laughter).
No, the thing about the qualifying races, the majority of the field is locked in anyway. The worst thing you want to do is put yourself in a bad position to have to bring a backup car.
From 20 years ago when I started, the backup cars weren't near as good as the primary cars. Nowadays, the backup cars are almost identical to the primary cars coming out. Still, you don't want to do anything to jeopardize that car that you qualified for the race.
Guys are a lot more careful. But we saw guys like Chase Elliott last night, Daniel Suarez, that were trying moves by themselves. That's something you typically don't see a lot of, where guys can move and pass by themselves. I thought that was encouraging to see you're not having to rely necessarily on a whole pack of cars to help you move through the field.
Watching that, to me it was a show. As a driver and car owner, I caught myself paying attention to those two guys, their races, the effort they were making to try to figure out how to get around somebody, get back in a hole, get back in line. From that standpoint, I was entertained from it.
The big thing is, like Roger said, the more cars you get out there, the more the pack racing gets a lot better and bigger. Qualifying races typically aren't as exciting from that standpoint, but it's because guys are really trying to take care of their equipment.
The goal at the end of the day is to win the Daytona 500. I don't think we put a lot of emphasis on winning the qualifying races. If you can win it, great. In no way do you want to jeopardize your primary car to do so.
Q. Mark, I heard a Ford driver say this week, If I can't win, I'm going to make sure a Ford wins. The five personalities you have up there, the egos that are sitting in the cars, how have you been able to create that mindset amongst all these guys?
MARK RUSHBROOK: One of the best things of working at Ford Motor Company is it's still a family company. The fact that Edsel Ford is here this weekend, the presence that he has with us, support that he has, is huge for our programs.
That's the way the company operates, as one Ford. That's the way that we started to approach our racing programs here. Obviously, like I said earlier, we can't go racing without our teams. They're an extension of Ford Motor Company, an extension of our family.
We spend a lot of time talking about where are we going to work together, where are we going to race each other across the different teams. We know in those different areas where we are able to have the teams work together, it makes all of them stronger. As several of these team owners have told you, that gives you the opportunity they can work together, separate from the pack, race each other for the last lap.
That helps our company and our program in total. The stronger our company is with our motorsports program, the stronger and more support we can give to each of the teams.
They're all racers, the owners and every one of the drivers. I think they understand the concept and the benefit to them all in the long run.
Q. Roger and Jack, as the sport looks to contain cost, are there certain things that shouldn't be contained for teams, you should be able to have your ability to have your ingenuity as you look forward to the future? Can you survive on a budget of 10 to 12 million per car if it came to some sort of cap?
ROGER PENSKE: I don't think necessarily a cap. You'll spend more time trying to manage it and regulate it. I think there's common parts across the car which can be supplied by a manufacturer, multiple manufacturers, assuming they're the same, which can take some costs out. I think that's something that NASCAR and the OEMs are looking at.
We don't need to escalate it. We need it to be reasonable. I'm not sure what that cost is. There's a lot of things we can do, if you want to. To me, those are things we need to look at as an industry, the OEMs, teams, drivers that have to buy into this from a safety perspective.
I don't think I'm looking at what's the cost going to be. There's always going to be costs associated. With the technology that runs through the garage area, we can have a set of rules, and it won't take long, it will be the next week that people have an idea how to make it better. That's really all we want to be able to do. What that is, I don't know today.
JACK ROUSH: The fewer systems in the car that we compete in from an engineering and development point of view, the lower the costs will be. We went through a bevy of changes in the front snout last year. The relative stiffness and relative weakness in the chassis became something we had to do development on. That required more engineers and application of fabricator time, things to try to make sure you weren't missing something that Tony found or Roger found, that the Chevrolet guys have found or Toyota.
The fewer of those things we have to be guarding engineer development with, the lower the costs will be. I think with Gen 7, NASCAR is having discussions with the teams on how to address that. If we're able to compete in the margins and have fewer things that we do, blank page engineering on, the lower our costs will be. That's where we're all trying to get.
ROGER PENSKE: I think we're really talking about Gen 7 for NASCAR. It not just the car or the engine. I think it's the show, it's the length of the races, it's where we're going to run, are we going to run more at night, short tracks. Let's call it Gen 7 for NASCAR, not just the car. That's what I'd say.
Q. Len, you've been down here with the Wood Brothers ever since the beginning of the Daytona 500. Is the prestige of the Daytona 500 win as great today as it was years ago?
LEN WOOD: Yes. Our dad and uncles won the first race for Ford, first Daytona 500 race for Ford, in '63. They were over the moon about winning that race. As it went on, we won with Pearson, won with Cale, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson. When we won with Trevor Bayne, it was almost like it was more (indiscernible) and myself, it was more our team then versus dad and his brothers earlier on.
My dad, his last time in victory circle, was here in 2011. He wasn't with us at Pocono with Blaney. To see his smile, my mom's smile, it's pretty big.
Q. Mark, NASCAR's OSS was operational last year. How did that affect the development of the Mustang? Was it perhaps a perceptual advantage over General Motors who had an existing car and had to adapt to it?
MARK RUSHBROOK: As the rules adjust, we have to adjust. We have to optimize our cars and our teams and our execution to that. As we were designing the new Mustang, it gave us the opportunity to try to optimize for that. But the rules also changed at the same time, right?
Our car was approved in the July timeframe. We didn't know the 2019 rules until well after that. There's always things changing the sport. That's good, right? Keeps it healthy and exciting, all those changes made for the right thing. That's part of what the teams do and we do as an OEM. We adjust to those changes and go race.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today, gentlemen. Good luck in the Daytona 500.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports