(BROOKLYN, MI) -- Roush Fenway Racing Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards spent Monday and Tuesday using one of their NASCAR allotted tests at Michigan International Speedway in preparation for both the August MIS race and this weekend’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. All three took time during the lunch break to discuss the test and the upcoming Indy weekend.
RICKY STENHOUSE Jr., No. 17 Ford Fusion – HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TEST TO GET YOU READY FOR THE AUGUST RACE? “I think it is very important for us. I think our cars were not too far off last time we were here. I thought our EcoBoost Ford had some speed. I got in the wall early and kind of ruined our race though. To kind of come back and have a package close and we also brought some new packages. Really we are just trying to run through as much as we can so that we can have a solid direction to go with some of our newer builds and newer cars and ideas and things like that. I do feel a lot better than when we were here last time so we are really looking forward to the upcoming race here. I know Greg has won here and we have had two decent runs last year so we are excited to come back to Michigan, especially after this test.”
GREG BIFFLE, No. 16 Ford Fusion – YOU HAVE WON HERE IN THE TRUCK SERIES AND CUP SERIES, WHAT ABOUT THIS TRACK SUITS YOU SO WELL? “It is a good track and a track I like to drive. I love the way it is laid out. Roush Fenway has a lot of success here over the years as well. It has been a good track and a fun track. Out of all the places to come to test, I prefer here I guess because I like the race track. I think we have learned, like Ricky said, some things and picked up some speed. We were further off in the spring than Ricky and some of the other guys were. We were probably closer to half a second off of the pace of the fast cars. I think since we have shown up here we have found three of four-tenths of speed and I feel pretty good about that. I think there is still more to have. It is hard when there is just three of us here. Of course we are comparing against each other which doesn’t do you a whole lot of good a lot of times because you don’t know what everyone else looks like on speed. I think we are gaining on it and that is the most important thing.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT FORD AND HOW THEY HAVE GAINED ON CHEVROLET? “I think it is more of a Roush Fenway thing than a Ford thing. You look at the Penske cars and they are beating the Chevrolet’s every week. It is pretty obvious that we need to catch up to where the Penske team is. That is why we are here testing yesterday and today and we are finding some of that speed. We just need to continue to work hard and narrow in on it and see if we can close that gap to the fast Penske cars.”
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE MADE GAINS TO CLOSE THE GAP? “It is little bits and pieces all over the place. We find a half a tenth here and there, or a tenth there and then we keep nit-picking around the car and end up finding three or four tenths of speed which is huge. Some of it is in the gray area of optimizing the rules as other guys have done a better job of. It can be aero. It could be balance too, shifting the balance from up front to the back. These cars are so aero sensitive and it is small changes. A lot of times it is a combination of all of them too. We are finding little pieces all over the place that are picking us up bits of speed. I think we still have a ways to go on suspension and all those types of things. It is really weird. I have one car here that is much slower down the straightaway than the other car and we have absolutely no idea why. If you show up here on a regular race weekend and you unload car A, you wouldn’t have any idea and just race the whole weekend and go home. Then you unload car B and it is two miles an hour faster down the straightaway. Both cars blow the same in the tunnel, look exactly the same and have the same engines. It is just these cars and they are handmade and hand built. That can be the differences in these teams. Our team to the other teams and what not. We will keep working and trying to understand those bit and pieces. Everything we have done to car A has produced speed on car B exactly the same. We are getting a report back from whatever changes we make that we are finding speed in both cars, which is good.”
YOU’VE COME CLOSE TO WINNING AT THE BRICKYARD. IS THIS THE YEAR? “Hopefully if any of the speed we’ve found here today – this was a dual purpose test – it was a pre-Indy test looking for speed for Indy. We tested there and were about half a second off of the cars we tested around. It is the same as here. We knew we had to find that speed. So we feel like we have found some of that speed. I feel pretty good about going to Indy now. Certainly I was not feeling good about it until this test and we still have the rest of today to go. Hopefully we find a little more and dial it in and get ready for Indy.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. CONTINUED … “I’ve only been to Indy twice. I’ve run one Nationwide race and one Cup race there. I feel like by the end of the day we kind of had it figured out in the Nationwide car. It is tough to get a lot of practice there so I don’t feel like I got comfortable with our car during practice last year during the Cup weekend. I feel like I got comfortable and knew what I needed to do by the end of the race. Having one race under my belt and going back there, with the things we have been working on, hopefully we will have that speed that we need. I really enjoy being in Indy. I lived not too far from there for about a year when I raced Sprint Cars and I always enjoy going back to Indy.”
CARL EDWARDS, No. 99 Ford Fusion – IT WAS A TOUGH GO FOR YOU AND THE REST OF THE ROUSH TEAM IN JUNE HERE AT MIS. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE SINCE AND HOW IS THIS TEST GOING TO HELP? “As far as our performance here earlier this year, that was really the low point for us in a number of ways. We didn’t expect to come here and to perform that poorly. We truly believed we would come here and this was going to be a track where we could turn things around. It showed us a couple of things, number one that we have things to work on, and number two that you can’t rely on past performance. My average finish might be great here but it doesn’t matter now, today. From that performance everyone at the shop has worked very hard. That is why we are here today. We are working to be better, specifically at this track and hopefully it carries over to others.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CONTRACT SITUATION? “I have chosen not to talk about that publicly. I feel like those are things that need to be taken care of the right way, behind closed doors. I am very proud to drive a Ford for Jack Roush as I always have been.”
WHAT IS THE APPROACH YOU ARE TAKING THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON? “It is really simple. There are a lot of complex things going on, but we just want to win the championship, period. We have to be better at the type of tracks that are going to help us do that. The 1.5 mile tracks and high speed tracks. My pit crew is great and my crew chief is great. I feel I am doing a good job driving the car. Our engines are great and the bodies seem to be very good. We just have to figure out what part or parts we are missing so we can perform the way that some of these other teams are performing, specifically the Penske cars. That is really a gift to us I believe, their performance, because it rules out some of the things we could blame our struggles on. It rules out the Ford Fusion body, it is obviously a great body and works well in the air. It rules out our engines because we have the same engines. Those are two giant pieces we don’t have to worry about. We have a few things we have to work on. Really we have found a couple things recently that are going to be good. We plan on coming back and being better.”
HOW DO THESE TESTS HELP YOU SHED LIGHT ON THOSE ISSUES YOU NEED TO WORK ON? “It is like any scientific experiment. It is difficult to do when you don’t have a control or benchmark. Here it is tough because our three Roush cars are here but we don’t know how well Brad or Joey would be or how fast they would be if they were here today. It is a bit of a struggle to try to make sure we are making gains but we feel strongly we have found a couple of things. What you do in a test session is you try everything you would want to try during the race weekend that takes too long to try. You try to manage all the variables. Right now we have perfect weather, no wind or clouds and the track is virtually the same every time we go out. I can go out and make a run three-laps then come in and change something for 30-minutes and if it is faster or slower or the handling changes it is really easy to pick it up. We get to try things at these tests we would never have time to do at the race weekend.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO INDY, GREG WAS SAYING THIS IS A DUAL TEST TO SEE WHAT YOU COULD LEARN FOR THIS WEEKEND. ARE THERE THINGS YOU ARE LEARNING THAT CAN TRANSFER TO THE BRICKYARD AND WHAT IS IT DOING TO YOUR CONFIDENCE? “The problem is, let’s say this afternoon at 4 o’clock the problem is getting that on the car for Indy because those cars have to be loaded tomorrow basically. Anything we have worked on, and there have been a lot of phone calls back and forth – I have seen a lot of engineers on the phone. This is a high speed race track here and we come off the corners here guys and I have a speedometer in the car which we don’t have during the race weekend, but I have seen 211 and 212 miles per hour on the straightaway here and coming off the corner right when you slide up to the wall on the back at 204 mph. The speeds are really high and the track is ultra smooth. It is a perfect place to test. We will go to Indy this week and anything we learn here will most likely help us there. It is a nice time to test at this type of race track.”
PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY ROBERT BENKO
Pictured Above: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Greg Biffle
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.