Ford Performance NASCAR: Daytona 500 Media Day Transcripts (Burton, McDowell, Gragson, Gilliland, Preece, Ragan)

HARRISON BURTON, No. 21 Motorcraft/DEX Imaging Ford Mustang Dark Horse – IS THIS THE BREAKOUT YEAR?  “We hope so.  That’s definitely what we’ve been working for.  I think all off-season has been really good with our group to kind of build around.  We had 10 races together at the end of last year to really go through those.  We know each other well and kind of look at things through the mental side of the sport for the last little bit of the off-season and get ready to go for this year.  We’re really excited.  I think our whole group is fired up and we believe we have the right group to make really, really cool and great things happen and it’s gonna be fun to try and do it.”

HOW DO YOU MANAGE THE PRESSURE THAT COMES WITH BEING AT THIS LEVEL?  “I think I just have been ready for it.  I don’t know.  I’ve been racing for so long.  I’ve been in a lot of high-pressure situations in racing and a lot of times the pressure is almost freeing.  It’s a freeing feeling to know what’s on the line.  That’s what you sign up for.  This is a performance-based business and from day one when you sign up for that, you know that there’s gonna be pressure and that’s almost kind of fun.  I enjoy that.  I don’t really look at it as too much of a burden, really.”

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THE 500 AND GIVE THE WOOD BROTHERS WIN NO. 100?  “It would mean everything.  Just to think about not only for the Wood Brothers, obviously, they’re sitting on 99 and probably the coolest people in the whole sport.  That family is just amazing.  They’re amazing people that are down to earth for all the things they’ve done.  It’s amazing that they’re still around and working as hard at it as they are and care about it as much as they do.  When we’re doing pit practice, Eddie Wood is out there watching us and things like that.  It’s crazy.  They deserve it more than anyone in the garage and, on top of that, to do it on the other side of the adversity we’ve had would be really special, I think.  With this group to go out and make something like that happen here or any other race it would be pretty amazing.”

WHAT DO YOU DO TO CHANGE THAT NARRATIVE?  BLANEY WON THE TITLE AND FORD SEEMS TO BE ON AN UPSWING.  WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO AS A TEAM?  “I think we just have to put ourselves in position more often.  I feel like we’ve had fast race cars before.  We’ve run fast laps for solid amounts of time in races and we’ve had good runs before, but not as consistently as we need to.  That’s frustrating almost more so than never doing well at all because you know you can do it.  We know that this group can do it and we have the ability to do it, but it’s just about putting it together more often.  I think we’ve found some keys to try and do that better this off-season and I’m excited to go out and try to put our theories to the test and see if we can improve on what we think we will.”

WHAT DID YOU SEE AS WEAKNESSES LAST YEAR THAT YOU ARE WORKING ON FOR 2024?  “Racing is really hard because there’s not ever 100 percent this is the smoking gun.  There’s always so many variables.  What I try to do is just look at myself and the things that I know I can control – decision-making is definitely at the top of that last, where you have to choose to be aggressive at times and choose to not be aggressive at times.  I feel like for our team we just need to stay on the offense as much as possible.  For us, this whole year is about never settling, never laying down, laying over and that starts with race one lap one and setting the tone for the whole year.  Hopefully, in the Duels we go out and run well.  Every lap matters and that makes it really easy for me as a driver to know we’re not gonna ride around in the back.  There’s none of that.  It’s just let’s go racing and that’s a fun kind of mindset that we’re trying to lean into for sure.”

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU NEED TO BE AGGRESSIVE.  “I think so.  If you’re gonna go down, you might as well go down swinging.  That’s our feeling.  The worst thing that happens is you end up hopefully running well and crashing.  That’s something I can live with.  One of my favorite races as a Cup driver is leading the Daytona 500 in my first Daytona 500 and flipping.  I mean, I know it didn’t end well, but it was one of my favorites because for our first race as a group, to come out and try to be aggressive and win the stage was cool.  That was a good feeling.  The flip was obviously not my favorite part, but that mindset is what we need to carry throughout this whole season.”

FORDS HAVE BEEN REALLY GOOD ON SUPERSPEEDWAYS.  DO YOU HAVE ANY FEEL FOR HOW THIS NEW CAR IS GOING TO DO HERE?  “I think it’ll be good.  I don’t see that it would be worse in any way.  I’m excited to try and get out there.  It’s all numbers for now.  Even in the tests and things like that I’ve done, I haven’t driven it.  Everyone else has had the tests, so other than the Clash, which is not really a good aero feeling race obviously, this is my first time putting it in the wind I guess you could say.  I think it’ll be good.  I’m excited to see how we qualify.  I think that’ll be interesting.  I know that some guys are gonna go for trying to get the pole and see where we are, so it’s gonna be fun to see where we stack up for sure.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TWO SUPERSPEEDWAY RACES TO OPEN THE YEAR WITH DAYTONA AND ATLANTA?  “It’s gonna be interesting.  You could find yourself in a pretty big hole if you get in two wrecks that you didn’t cause.  That would be frustrating, but on the other side of that it’s very interesting to fire off for the first few races as a driver and know you’re superspeedway racing, but they’re very different places and the styles are very different and how you pass and how you maintain track position is very different.  Honestly, it’s not like you can just prepare for Daytona and be prepared for Atlanta.  It’s kind of still two very separate types of racing and it doesn’t seem too weird to me because of that.  If we went to Daytona twice in a row or maybe Daytona and Talladega it would feel very odd, but, to me, going to Atlanta makes sense just because it’s a very different style of racing still and it’s kind of a strange hybrid and then we go to normal racing after that.  I think it makes sense.  I think it’ll be a good show and the fans will get a lot of action out of the gates and it should be a lot of fun.”

THE DAYTONA 500 CAN BE A BIG MENTAL DRAIN AND WITH ATLANTA AFTERWARDS IT WILL BE TOUGH.  “Yeah, for sure.  You’ll be ready to go and be tired for sure on the plane ride home.  From the Daytona 500 I remember last year how taxing it is just kind of mentally when you’re thinking through the end of those races and it’s high stress scenarios.  We were leading fairly late, I think with 14 laps to go or so, and you’re just thinking through every decision so much and it happens so fast.  It’s really a fun place to be because literally nothing else in the world even matters at all to you.  It’s just racing and it takes your whole concentration, so it’s really fun and definitely after the race you feel it.  I’m gonna be asleep on the plane ride home for sure.”

YOU ARE GOOD AT SUPERSPEEDWAY RACING.  DO YOU FEEL HAVING TWO RACES TO START THE YEAR PLAYS TO YOUR STRENGTHS?  “Yes and no.  I feel like yes we’ve put ourselves in position to win before, but also I’ve wrecked almost every time.  I feel confident in the decisions I’ve made to be up front late.  I feel like that’s honestly always my goal at these races is just do what you have to do to be up front late and have a chance late because at the end of the race you can make every right decision and win, make every wrong decision and win, and so the way some of these things play out, obviously, you have to get really, really lucky if you make the wrong decisions to win, and normally if you make the right decisions you win, so it’s interesting to watch some of these races.  I’ve watched a lot of Daytona 500s play out and there’s never a textbook guide on how to manage the last lap or manage the last two laps because you have so many variables on what others are gonna do.  So, yes, it plays to your strengths, but also everyone feels somewhat nervous about the end of these races knowing there’s not a whole lot you can predict and control.  You have to just more so react.”

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CALLED INTO THE NASCAR HAULER?  “Yeah, when me and Noah fought we both got called into the hauler.  That was interesting.  Wayne is like the sheriff of the Xfinity Series.  I love Wayne Auton, but I was expecting we were gonna get yelled at and be in trouble and he was like, ‘Just don’t do it again, boys,’ and then walked away.  I was like, ‘OK, cool.’  And now obviously me and Noah are buddies again, so it’s not really a big deal anymore, but back then it was the only time I’ve been called in the NASCAR hauler.  That could be a good goal for this year, try to get called in.  All the good guys get called in.  You think about Harvick of those guys that are always on the edge.  You’ve got to go over it sometimes, I guess, so that’s a good goal for me.  I’ll put that on the white board.”

WAYNE HAS A REPUTATION OF BEING THE PRINCIPAL.  “I felt like I was in high school and just got in a fight and the principal is gonna be mad at me.  Me and Austin Cindric joke all the time that Wayne is the ‘not in my series guy.’  He’s awesome.  The way that he’s managed that series is great and he’s just one of those guys that calls you every holiday still and checks in on you and he’s just a stand-up dude.  We all love Wayne, but for those few moments I was really scared of Wayne, that’s for sure.”


MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang Dark Horse – DO YOU STILL GET GOOSEBUMPS COMING BACK HERE AS A DAYTONA 500 RACE WINNER? “Yeah, it is a special place because when you have won it you know what it is like to experience it. Prior to that you dream of what it is like to experience it. Having a good program and having fast cars and knowing that we will have a shot at it is exciting and fun when you roll through the tunnel. It is still a special place.”

YOU NOT ONLY HAVE A SHOT TO WIN THIS RACE AGAIN BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A SHOT AT THE PLAYOFFS AND MAYBE EVEN A CHAMPIONSHIP. THAT MUST BE FUN TO LOOK FORWARD TO: “It is, especially going into this year. Last year was one of our better seasons, probably our best season and we carried a lot of momentum and confidence. The biggest and most important part of that is keeping a lot of the same personnel because the last few years there have been a lot of changes and so this year, going in with almost the same group as we had last year is really valuable.”

DO YOU STILL COME THROUGH THE OLD TURN 4 TUNNEL AND IS IT NOSTALGIC WHEN YOU DO? “Well, I came in through the Turn 1 tunnel yesterday but I went out through the Turn 4 tunnel and yeah, it is. It really is. I don’t know if I am weird but I still look at all the pictures driving through and all the different race cars. It is a special place, it really is. It is a lot of things. One of the things it is for me is it is a reminder of it being a fresh year and a fresh opportunity and another opportunity and not everybody gets those. It is kind of that reminder of not just the season starting but that this is where it kicks off and there is a long season ahead and a lot to look forward to.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TEAM IN GENERAL WITH THE PERSONNEL YOU HAVE COMING BACK AND KEEPING THAT GROUP TOGETHER WHICH ISN’T A LUXURY YOU HAD IN RECENT YEARS? “The last few years, even though we have had decent success have been really tough from that aspect of having a good year and then we would lose a lot of those people. Then you have another good year and lost a lot of those people. It is hard to build chemistry and hard to find good people and people that you click with and can build that confidence and momentum with. To finally have a group that we have kept together and to come back to the race track is a big part of what I think will be a success for us this year. We have a good notebook and understand how each other work and that is a big part of what we have seen over the years when you look at guys that go on a roll, it is usually that group. You think about Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie (Johnson) and what they were able to accomplish. You have to build that team aspect around that individual car and I feel like this year we have the opportunity to do that.”

THE NEW FORD BODY, WILL THAT MAKE THE DUEL RACES MORE INTERESTING WITH TRYING TO FEEL THAT OUT AND A BASELINE OF WHAT YOU HAVE AND HOW IT DRAFTS? “Yes, to all that. I am sure the car will have speed but there are going to be some new particulars with the nose and how it lines up and how you push and not just balance but getting a feel for where you need to position yourself. It is going to be learning on the fly but I am glad that we have Thursday to do that. We will definitely try to get the best starting position we can but at the same time I am going to be moving around and trying to find that sweet spot of where your car wants to be because you can simulate and CFD and all those things and have a decent idea of what you are going to have, but until you get on the race track you don’t truly know what it will be like. I would imagine we will utilize some of those practices too just because we probably have a few things to work through to understand it a little better. I am looking forward to it. The car looks great and I don’t think we lost anything in those areas that we talked about where we won’t be able to push or anything like that.”

WHAT MAKES THE DAYTONA 500 SO SPECIAL? “It is hard to describe. I think it is just the history and significance of the race and what it means. For me, it probably has a little more meaning because when I started coming down here it was for the 24 hours. The 24 hours of Daytona is a big deal too and to me, that was my first exposure to Daytona. Then to come here as a NASCAR driver for the Daytona it was like, ‘Whoa, the Rolex isn’t that big anymore’, once you see what this is and what this means. I think there are a handful of places in the world that are like that. Daytona and Indianapolis and Monaco and there are some other places that have that sort of prestige and feel to it but Daytona there is just so much history here and it is a really special place.”

TALK ABOUT DRAFTING, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE FRIENDS HERE? “Yeah, you gotta have friends and it kind of goes in an order, right? You start with your teammates, so for me, it is Todd Gilliland and Kaz Grala here. Those are your most important allies and then for us you have your Ford Performance partners, the other Fords that are in the race that will try to work together. Then when it gets down to the end, if you don’t have any of those with you, it is just whoever the guy is that is next to you that is willing to dance for a little bit. You know they are going to try to position themselves the best they can and so the goal is to make yourself valuable to them as well. So when you make moves, when you pull out of line not leaving a guy and hanging them out. Sort of building that trust throughout the race. We all know that on the last lap it all kind of goes out the window but you can’t get in position without help. You are not going to make the runs yourself. You are going to have to have help. It is finding those key people you can work with and hopefully, as the race unfolds they are there at the end when you need them because that is when it is really going to count.”


NOAH GRAGSON, No. 10 Black Rifle Coffee/Ranger Boats Ford Mustang Dark Horse – TONY SAID YOU HAVE BROUGHT NEW ENERGY TO THE SHOP.  HAVE YOU FELT COMFORTABLE OFF THE BAT?  “Yeah.  I think with the other drivers, but most importantly all the individuals on the shop floor, upstairs and engineering – just every department.  It’s been a lot of fun to get to know everyone and every day is something new.  There are over 300 employees over there, maybe 350.  I haven’t gotten an exact number, but it’s a big organization and every day something new – you’re meeting somebody new and get to know them.  I’ve been going to lunch with a lot of the guys and I’ve just been having a lot of quality time with them.  It’s a great organization.  It’s nice.  I know we hit on it prior, but having everything under one roof, pit stop practice, a gym to go work out, our trainer there.  Everything that we need other than the simulator at Ford.  I think we have to make an 11-minute drive down to Ford, so it’s not far at all.  It’s been really good so far.  I’ve been spending pretty much from 7 a.m. until four or five at night every day and I’m enjoying my time a lot.  I really fit in with the atmosphere.  There’s a lot of energy in the air over there.”

HAVE YOU EVER WORKED ON RACE CARS BEFORE?  “I mean, I’ve helped.  I’ve never built race cars.  I’ve always really envied guys who do work on their own stuff, but, no, I’m not one that could go build a race car.  I can help them nut-and-bolt stuff a little bit.  The basics, but I like being a part of it.  The other day I just wiped down the whole chassis on the Vegas car.  I like doing the stuff that nobody wants to do.  Sweeping the floors and doing stuff like that.  I know it’s kind of probably over used, but I do enjoy sweeping and wiping stuff down, probably the nonsense of the little things that you don’t want to do, the headaches.  If I can help somebody else out, I like to do it.”

YOU’VE DRIVEN FOR KYLE BUSCH IN TRUCKS, DALE EARNHARDT JR. IN THE XFINITY SERIES AND NOW YOU GET TO DRIVE FOR TONY STEWART IN CUP.  YOU ONCE SAID YOU PUT ALL THE PRESSURE ON YOURSELF AND THAT IT DOESN’T COME FROM WHO YOU DRIVE FOR.  “I think it’s just the desire and the want to succeed.  There’s a lot of people that are a part of this.  No matter what the driver is there are hundreds of people behind those drivers that allow us to do this and everybody in those race shops, everybody that supports them from a close relationship standpoint, management, logistics, there’s a lot that goes into it.  Yeah, the drivers get all the credit, but I put a lot of pressure on myself at the end of the day to be successful for those that work hard.  I guess for us drivers it’s a privilege to be able to go out here and race, and I’ve regained my love for this sport, where I might have lost appreciation over the past handful of years than what I had as a kid.  I’ve refound that love for it and I’m just grateful to be back and get to work.”

WHAT ARE YOUR EMOTIONS AROUND THIS WEEK?  “Just for me personally, instead of getting on a plane, I get to get on a plane and fly down here and drive into the tunnel and look around and just really soak everything in because it truly is a privilege.  Being able to wear a fire suit and talk to everyone and see faces that I haven’t seen in a while is really special.  It’s somewhat emotional just because I’ve missed it and it’s great to be back.”

WHAT AT SHR MAKES IT FEEL LIKE HOME FOR YOU?  “They’ve just allowed me to be myself.  It’s a good group of people.  It’s great to be wanted and appreciated and the atmosphere over there, there’s just a lot of good people who enjoy coming to work every day.  It’s a great work environment.  I know when I wake up in the morning I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to go see everybody at the shop today and go work alongside them’ and continue to develop these relationships.  It’s just a place that suits me.”

TONY SAID THAT LAST YEAR’S PERFORMANCE AT SHR HAS TO CHANGE IN 2024.  DO YOU GET THE SENSE IT’S A DOUBLE DOWN TYPE OF YEAR TO TRY AND TURN THINGS AROUND?  “Absolutely, 100 percent.  You can’t hide the fact, which I haven’t been there and Josh hasn’t been there, but there’s no denying the fact that they struggled.  They went from winning how many races in ‘21 or ‘22, whatever that year is that they all won races and had like 12 or 13 wins as an organization to having only one driver with one win.  It’s challenging, but I think we use it as motivation.  We all want to be leaders.  We all want to be the best teammates possible, and we all want to work together to be a part of this deal.  It takes everyone’s effort and and if we can be better than we were yesterday, that’s how we’re gonna be successful in the long run is if we can constantly keep improving and working together.”

WHAT ARE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS TEAM AND IS THIS A REBOOT?  “Yeah, it’s definitely a reboot.  It’s incredible to get an opportunity like this.  At the same time, there’s gonna be challenges along the way.  There’s gonna be adversity.  There’s gonna be good runs and bad runs, but it’s how you react to it and how you keep on moving forward each and every race.  It’s easy when you’re winning and I’ve kind of learned that over the past couple of years.  When we were in the Xfinity Series and literally could do no wrong.  It might have been the best thing for me, but the worst thing of winning all those races because I kind of lost my grounding in sense of ‘hey, I’ve got to keep on working at this.’  It’s not always gonna come as easy as it did in my final year in Xfinity.  It was somewhat of a rude awakening in 2023.  Obviously, we didn’t unload with race-winning speed, ever, so that was a big challenge.  We’ve done a lot of self-reflecting and soul searching over the past handful of months and trying to become the best leader possible.  I think that’s what in 20 years when I look back I feel like, man, if I was the best leader for my team and the best piece of the puzzle for my team and did the best job, I’l be satisfied with myself.”

HOW DO YOU BALANCE ALL OF WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED WHILE STILL BEING YOURSELF AND HAVING THAT PERSONALITY SO MANY FANS OF YOURS HAVE GROWN TO LOVE?  “There’s a balance to that, obviously, and that’s one of the things that I’ve been working on is just balancing life, and how I balance work from time to relax.  Everything is about balance no matter what it is.  If they load us up with interviews from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, and then we go jump in the car for qualifying, you’re probably gonna be a little worn out and not do as good of a job as possible.  There’s a good balance because today we’re doing it for a half day and then you get a little time to regroup and then get in the car.  It’s an example of everything is about balance, so that’s one thing that I’m learning is balance and being a leader for a race team and how not only do my words influence others, but my body language and just everything being more self aware has been a big part of finding myself and my process.  It’s not always gonna be perfect and I’m not perfect by any means, but I continue to try and learn and grow each and every day and become better than I was yesterday.”

HOW MUCH HAS TONY HELPED WITH THAT?  “He’s been a big influence on me and being able to lean on him.  He’s been through a lot of challenges and adversity in his life and his career, and to be able to lean on him for advice has been very important to me.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO GET CALLED INTO THE NASCAR HAULER?  “It’s just say what they need to say and really just try and process it.  Absolutely don’t argue at all because you’re just gonna make yourself worse.  When you’re so frustrated in the moment you’re probably like, ‘man, this is my side of the story and you’re not listening to me.’  But NASCAR’s point is probably the more realistic and right way to go about things and once you settle down and calm down you can understand that.”

DID ANY VETERAN DRIVER GIVE YOU ANY WORDS OF WISDOM ON HOW TO HANDLE YOURSELF IN THOSE SITUATIONS?  “No, it’s not really a topic between anyone I don’t think.  Probably just like shut up and let them talk and listen kind of deal.  I haven’t really talked to any of them too much.  You always hear stories every once in a while like, ‘if I could be a fly on the wall for that one,’ but they all take emotions out of it.  Emotions are a big part when you go in there and that’s probably why things are happening.  Once you push those aside, the picture becomes pretty clear.”

DID YOU AND ROSS GET CALLED TO THE HAULER?  “At Darlington we did.  It was good.  It was fine.  I tested micros with him (Ross) the next night at Millbridge.  We work out together and I called him after the race.  I was like, ‘Nice shot, but if that security guard wasn’t there, I was coming and I wasn’t stopping.  I hope you know that.’  That’s part of it and it’s just emotions.  Those are the emotions of the sport and that’s what makes this sport so exciting is the emotions are high and the tension is tight and sparks are gonna fly, fists are gonna fly and smoke is gonna rise, but at the end of the day that’s what makes this sport so exciting.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE YOUR SPONSORS WITH YOU?  “Yeah, we have a lot of great support.  It’s just relationships and being able to bring value to a partner and say, ‘Hey, what’s our plan here?  How do we achieve it and go above and beyond?’  I can confidently say that we do go above and beyond and try to and we’ve got a lot of great partners that allow us to do this.  It’s great to be back with True Timber and Black Rifle Coffee and kick off this relationship with Ranger Boats and Winchester.  It’s really special to be able to introduce them on a familiar scheme that we’ve had over the past handful of years in the Xfinity Series.  It kind of brings me back to our roots and a little bit of my identity back.”

TODD GILLILAND, No. 38 gener8tor Ford Mustang Dark Horse – WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE DUEL RACES TO LOOK LIKE?  “For me, I think the Duels will be a huge learning experience.  I think obviously qualifying will show what kind of speed everyone has, which I think the new Dark Horse Mustang is gonna be really fast, but then I think once we get into the Duels it’s about seeing how the bumpers line up.  Like I said, I don’t have any worries about how our car is gonna draft, it’s more so about pushing each other and being consistent with all of that stuff.  I think all of our speed is going to be fine, but there’s gonna be a few things to learn, for sure.”

HOW DO YOU FIND MORE CONSISTENT SPEED AND HOW HAS THE OFF-SEASON BEEN AT FRONT ROW?  “If it was easy, everyone would be super consistent and I think it’s only getting harder in the Cup Series with everyone improving their program, so it’s just gonna be tougher every single year, but as a team I think having the consistency back with Ryan and Brit as my spotter, I think that never hurts.  And then I think with Travis, the 34 crew chief, and Ryan, my crew chief, just getting closer and closer as time goes on, I think that will always help.  We have some exciting stuff as far as new alliances and more aero data, all the stuff that should only help us, so I’m super excited about it.  This is probably the most information that we’ve ever had and it’s just about putting it to good use and making the most of it.”

HOW SIGNIFICANT CAN THIS PENSKE ALLIANCE BE FOR YOU GUYS?  “I’m not 100 percent sure on how all of it goes.  That’s more of a crew chief’s side of things and just how all of that is gonna flow, but, for me, just what I’ve heard we’re gonna have the most information we’ve ever had.  That just gives my crew chief and two engineers more puzzle pieces to make the ultimate thing they want to make, so it’s really cool and really exciting and I’m excited about it for sure.”

YOU HAD A SHOT TO WIN YOUR DUEL RACE LAST YEAR.  WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE THAT MIGHT HELP YOU THIS YEAR?  “It was definitely really cool to watch that back and see.  Really, we were in a perfect spot I thought.  There were maybe a few things I would have done different last year in the Duels, like a half-a-lap before that, that would have put us in a better spot.  I think it’s a little bit learning from that, but those are tough situations.  You can think about what you’re gonna do, but when your heart is just racing in that situation, my spotter it was his first race in the Cup Series too, but those are just really, really good spots to be in to learn.  Obviously, it was nice that we didn’t wreck.  We kind of got turned on the apron.  If our car was driving better too, I would have been in a much better situation, so there are so many different layers of learning to that, but I’m really excited I had that experience and to be back here and try to do it again.”

HOW MUCH DO NERVES PLAY A ROLE IN THE FINAL LAPS OF SPEEDWAY RACING LIKE THIS?  “I think the biggest thing to me at the end of these races is how much time is actually left.  It’s like with 10 to go it feels like everything is on the line and we have to go right now, but, in reality, 10 laps at Daytona can be hours.  It’s about surviving, not getting too anxious, not making a bad move too early.  Even though 10 laps seems like the end of the world, it’s about having guys like Brit on the radio, my spotter, to keep me in the moment just chugging forward and not getting too nervous or anxious and making a bad move too early.”

TEN LAPS ALMOST MEANS 35 LAPS TO GO.  “Exactly.  That’s what I need them to tell me at least because I’ll still get anxious in the car.”

HOW DO YOU RACE IN THE MOMENT WHILE ALSO THINKING AHEAD TO THE END?  “It’s about being patient.  Last year, I think I was right behind Ricky with seven, eight to 10 laps to go.  We kind of got separated and he obviously went on to win the race.  I think that experience shows me that you’re never out of it.  Obviously, the field has thinned out a little bit by then.  I made a couple bad moves and I was in the big wreck at the end to where you really have to make the correct moves to be further forward, whether it’s going through that last pit cycle or getting in the right spot at the right time to be ahead of I think where the wrecks can happen, so it’s about surviving, being in the right position and having something to fight with at the end.”

WHAT WAS A BAD MOVE IN YOUR MIND?  “I think it was honestly a move of just being too aggressive.  I think I was in a line with him.  I think I got out of line and then kind of got side-by-side and we actually ended up losing the front draft, which that really didn’t end up costing us because there was a caution, but it was really the point of losing track position.  I think we’ve seen with the Next Gen car that track position is key.  Once it gets to the end of the race and it’s two-by-two it’s like going down the freeway, there’s sometimes nowhere to go.  If you get out of line, you’re gonna lose all of your spots.  It’s about keeping track position all day and then on the flip side of that too the pit cycles are even that much more important.  We’ve seen guys saving fuel to get on and off pit road faster.  Under green leading the race, it’s just opened up a whole new page of strategy in superspeedway racing.”

IN ONE SENSE IT FEELS LIKE A FUEL MILEAGE RACE?  “Yeah, I think it’s always been that way to some extent.  Obviously, it’s always been the more fuel you can save on the racetrack, the less time you’re gonna have to spend in the pits, but I think before when you could just make a third line and drive back to the front, I think it’s really been more under the microscope in the Next Gen era.  Really, the first year maybe not so much, but I think last year is when guys really started to realize how much of a difference it can actually make and just how important it really is.  To me, it definitely began to be more relevant last year for sure.”

SO WHAT IS IT LIKE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK IF THEY’RE SAVING AT THE FRONT?  “I definitely think it does present some opportunity to go forward.  I think, to be honest, the third lane at Talladega last year, I think me and Michael and Riley was in the 36 car, and we made the third lane work and got to the front.  But, truthfully, I really think that was just because guys were saving fuel and it slows down the bottom lane so much.  At the back of the pack you’re barely in the gas just kind of sticking with everyone – kind of for the same reason, there’s nowhere to go and you know just as much too.  You have to be saving fuel to keep up with these guys when everyone pits, so it’s really not a bad place to be.  Obviously, you want to be the one saving fuel closer to the front.”

RYAN PREECE, No. 41 Ford Mustang Dark Horse – THIS IS YOUR FIRST RACE COMING BACK HERE AFTER THE CRASH. WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND COMING BACK HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THAT CRASH IN AUGUST? “Nothing. I look at this race or this track no different than I did a year ago. And as I said, I think it did more, I don’t want to say harm, but gave people more mixed feelings about this racetrack for my wife and my father than it did me. But as a racer I feel like we’re, like I said this morning, at least I’ll speak for myself, I’m numb to these things and getting in the race car and having that happen. Crappy deal. I was pissed off more that we had such a fast race car and wasn’t able to finish the race. So it would be nice to go into the 500, and we’re going to see how our speed is with this new Mustang Dark Horse tonight. And we certainly had really fast Ford Mustangs last year. So I’m eager to get out there tonight.”

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION WHEN YOU SAW A REPLAY OF THE WRECK?  “Not much. I think it’s really like you understand the severity of it the more times that you watched it. So it probably took about 30, 40 times of watching it to understand how bad it really was and obviously things happen really fast. So, for your brain to really interpret everything that that happened throughout that wreck. You just remember more and more. 

YOU SAID YOU KEPT PICKING UP STUFF THE MORE YOU WATCHED THE REPLAYS, WHAT WAS THE MOMENT WHEN IT SEEMED REALLY DANGEROUS TO YOU AFTER WATCHING IT 30 OR 40 TIMES? “I knew how dangerous it was but as a driver, you’re numb to it. So it really doesn’t impact me one way or another when I was watching it at first. And then as I watched it more and more, I was like, okay, yeah, that was pretty big.”

YOU SAID THE CARS HAD SPEED, LAST YEAR, BUT THE RESULTS ON PAPER FOR SHR AS A WHOLE THE RESULTS WERE NOT PLEASANT LAST YEAR. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS WEEK, ATLANTA, YOU GUYS AS A TEAM AND AN ORGANIZATION GETTING OFF TO A FAST START TO HOPEFULLY PUT SOME OF THOSE DEMONS FROM LAST YEAR to bed?  “When you look at Daytona, you can have the fastest race car in the world and still not win this race. You can get collected in the big one. And I think that was honestly the fact for many of us. I think when you look back at last year, the 10, the 4, the 14, and myself, we ran top four, lead laps, whatever it may have been, all of us. And it wasn’t just from a track position move. It was having speed and pushing people and doing all the things that it took. Atlanta’s tough. That’s a handling track as much as it is a speed track. But certainly, the beginning of our season, it’s very diverse. It has super speedways, it has short tracks, it has intermediates. And having two superspeedway style races at the beginning of the season can certainly put you in a hole really quick or it can give you a little bit of a cushion and make you feel good.”

HOW SOON DO YOU THINK YOU’LL KNOW THEN AS FAR AS WHERE SHR IS AT AS AN ORGANIZATION THIS YEAR? “I WOULD SAY IT’S GOING TO TAKE SIX RACES TO SEE THE INTERMEDIATE GAINS. WE DON’T GET TO VEGAS UNTIL THE THIRD RACE OF THE SEASON SO THAT’S THE ONE THAT WE HAVE CIRCLED. “I would say it’s going to take six races to see the intermediate gains. We don’t get to Vegas until the third race of the season so that’s the one that we have circled.”

HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED THIS OFF SEASON WHEN COMPARED TO THE LAST NOW THAT KEVIN HARVICK IS IN THE BOOTH AND NO LONGER BEHIND THE WHEEL? “Well, I think it you have four drivers with four completely different personalities. I’m different from Chase and Noah and Josh and as they are from me so I feel like there’s certain traits that I have that push them as well as certain traits that they have that push me so I feel like it compliments each other as well as us at Stewart Haas, we hear everybody, we hear you guys, we’re not just ignoring it. And as you heard Tony say, mediocrity isn’t acceptable. I’m a race car driver. I’m somebody that’s very passionate about what I do. And I do it outside the Cup series and I don’t accept mediocrity. I know within our 41 team we didn’t have the year we wanted, but we set some of the foundation that we needed going into this year and now we’re going to go do what we need to do. As a race car driver, to have a long-lasting career, you need to win races, and I’m sick of talking about not winning.”

TO HELP KEEP CARS ON THE GROUND, ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE CHANGES THAT NASCAR MADE AFTER YOUR CRASH AND THE CONTINUED IMPROVEMENTS AROUND THE RACE TRACK? “I feel right now with our rules packages, with the limiters and the diffuser and everything that we have, that was the best alternative that we needed to do. Certainly, I don’t want to see any driver have to fly in the air like that. Because at the end of the day, I was certainly lucky. I understand that. You’re inches away from possibly not walking out of here or seeing your family again. So for me, I’m happy they did it. And it was a step in what needed to be done to keep these cars on the ground.”

YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SPEED ON THESE SUPERSPEEDWAYS. I KNOW IT’S GETTING OVERSHADOWED BY WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST AUGUST BUT WHAT’S THE MINDSET COMING IN HERE WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THE STATE? “A lot of the preparation. Track position is huge right now with what we have but certainly you prepare for those last couple laps understanding the pack energy. I don’t know if fans really understand what we’re dealing with and doing. Trying to block lanes or have air push us, propel us forward, or what car we have behind us pushing us, or even what OEM. I know I have a list of drivers that I’m going to try and hook up with and get ourselves to the front and stay there.”


QUESTION INDAUDIBLE: “I am biased. I am from the Northeast so I can complain a little bit. It is something that I wish, selfishly, that we had 1200 horsepower. I want to feel like I have an egg underneath that gas pedal. Right now we are in a time, an era of needing every little bit of downforce you can, which has always been the case. Whichever team has their tools in tune with what is going on is what separates each of us as a driver. Going into Vegas I feel really good about the Ford Mustang Dark Horse and some of the information we have seen coming into the year. All the gains that we made that we were all working towards last year. They were able to win the championship even with what we had but the Mustang Dark Horse will make It better.”

WE HAVE HEARD THAT ONE OF THE CHANGES ON THE MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS IS THAT YOU DON’T GET SUCKED AROUND QUITE SO EASY. HAS THAT HELPED THE RACING? “I think it has just changed some of the things. You are always going to have challenges. We are at 180 miles per hour and dirty air is a thing. We certainly do fight dirty air with these cars because they aren’t sucked and sealed off. When you get withing two or three car lengths of somebody, the amount of air on that car is different than if you are in clean air. Trying to control that balance is a real thing. To your point, we aren’t leaning on sideforce to get around race cars. The mechanical aspect is different from what it was before.”

HOW IS THE RACING SIMILAR DAYTONA TO ATLANTA AND ALSO DIFFERENT? “The runs that we get at Atlanta are far greater than any other superspeedway runs that we get but the handling in Atlanta means so much more. It is actually tricky. Some teams concentrate on trimming out and I think a lot of it is weather oriented but you need to have a really good handling car at Atlanta.”

WITH THE NEW MUSTANG, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE SHORT TRACK RACING BECAUSE YOU GUYS WERE STOUT LAST YEAR ON SHORT TRACKS? “I feel like it is a good baseline. With the changed rule package I don’t really know. If you show up exactly how you did last year you are going to be in trouble. From what I saw in some of the testing, honestly, I wish we would stop touching things. I don’t think that some of these changes are going to help us. If we are ultimately going to fix some of what we all want, we need horsepower. I want 1200 horsepower, not 800. We need a lot more and that will help.”

IS THAT THE ONLY THING THAT FIXES IT? “I think it is a combination. I think tires, horsepower would certainly fix things. I will say that Goodyear has done a phenomenal job taking big steps outside their comfort zone and I for one, as a race car driver really appreciate it. We will continue to work on those things so that way us race car drivers feel like we continue to keep making a big difference and hopefully keep trending in those directions.”

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN TO RACE FANS YOUR STANCE ON WANTING MORE HORSEPOWER? WHY? WHAT WOULD IT DO? “As a race car driver, the way a car handles means so much but it makes us feel like we can manipulate what the car is doing under braking. Right now if I go to a mile-and-a-half, if I touch that brake pedal I am running 36th. We need to make it so you don’t even go near that. Essentially I feel like we are go kart racing and I haven’t done that since I was 10 years old. I don’t wanna go back to that. I want to have high horsepower race cars where I as a driver over the years have fine tuned my skills to make grip or speed doing different things and not feel like I have to just hold the gas pedal wide open the whole time.”

GUYS MAKE A MISTAKE NOW, ESPECIALLY ON A SHORT TRACK, IF THEY DOWNSHIFT THEY DON’T LOSE ANYTHING, BUT DO YOU FEEL LIKE WITH MORE HORSEPOWER YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN MAKE GUYS PAY FOR THEIR MISTAKES MORE? “Absolutely. Honestly, that whole shifting conversation, I have my own opinion on it. I wish we didn’t take it away. It created an added tool for us drivers to be able to do things. The added horsepower would just give you so many different ways to manage your race and how you decide to take care of your tires versus not, especially if the tires you can blow them off in 20 laps. You have to be smart as a race car driver to manage them.”


DAVID RAGAN, No. 60 Ford Mustang Dark Horse – HOW DISAPPOINTING WAS IT TO NOT GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO RUN NASCAR’S NEW EV CONCEPT AT THE CLASH A FEW WEEKS AGO? “Yeah, it was disappointing because we put a lot of hard work, a lot of effort, some guys from Europe were over, really doing their thing, and it was going to be cool. They really had some neat stuff to play during the halftime break, and the car has a lot of cool features and a lot of neat things. The time will come where we can show everyone and I don’t know that that timing but I’m grateful they asked me to be a part of it and that was a fun project to get to make some laps and see all the hard work that’s gone into it.”

JUST FROM TESTING IT, EXACTLY HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO A CURRENT CUP CAR AND DID YOU NOTICE ANYTHING REALLY SIMILAR OR REALLY DIFFERENT WITH THAT PLATFORM? “I don’t know how much they want me to talk about or not talk about, but in general the car has some similarities. You know, from the balance and handling, it does have a lot of the same components that this next gen car has. From the braking and the regeneration of the electric motors and the torque that the all-wheel drive has, it’s pretty incredible the performance that it has. I was surprised that really the couple of tests that we did went so well. When you design a new car from the ground up and you outsource parts from all around the world, that’s a challenge and for everything to go off really smooth and not have any hiccups, we just scratched the surface on the capabilities of that car and everyone is still learning. So yes, that’s probably a couple big takeaways. There are some similarities, but there’s a lot of power, a lot of cool things that makes the car fun to drive, and I was really surprised at just how smooth the testing went.”

WHAT’S IT LIKE FOR YOU TO COME INTO DAYTONA BACK IN A CAR THAT JACK (ROUSH), IS A PART OF, KIND OF BRINGING THIS FULL CIRCLE TO WHERE YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER?   “I feel like it has been a flash of the eyes from when I was here 16, 17 years ago, you know, as a 20-year-old. Jack Roush took a chance on me as a kid to put in his premier car. I remember that first Daytona 500. I had no idea what I was getting involved in. Somehow we crossed the start-finish line in fifth that race. I kind of walked away from that first one. I thought, man, this is easy. I finished fifth in my first one. I’ll probably win next year. Here I am 16 years down the road still trying to get that win, but it’s awesome to come back and drive a car that Jack Roush and Doug Yates have an engine in, and to see what Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher have done for RFK to bring that team back to the championship caliber team that it has been. That’s a testament to their character, to their skill as race car drivers, but also their leaders as a race team. So it’s fun to see a lot of familiar faces that were there during the glory days that put in all the hard work when they were kind of at their low point four or five years ago and to see them smiling, walking around the race shop knowing they’ve got some cars that can go win races.”

WHEN DID THIS PROCESS START AS FAR AS THE CONVERSATIONS FOR YOU BEING IN THIS CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME? “We had some early conversations toward the end of last year. I think they had, one of their anchor partners that really wanted a full-season campaign. The Daytona 500 is a special race. It’s a big race. Millions of people from all over the world are tuning in. So the build submarines message to get out and drive some interest in the workforce behind the submarine industry here in the US. They wanted to be on a car in Daytona and they’ve got a lot of races with Brad and Chris. Toward the end of last year we had some conversations and everything came together really nice.”

WHAT KEEPS DRAWING YOU BACK TO THIS RACE? “This is just a special race, that’s a good question. I would love to go run some short tracks. I love short track racing. Atlanta Motor Speedway is my hometown track, but the Daytona 500 is a race that it’s special to be here in February. Even if I wasn’t racing, I think it’s just second nature to come to Daytona in February to be here for Speed Weeks. There’s so much good racing going on over at Volusia and New Smyrna and Citrus County, all the short tracks around, but for it to all come together at Daytona that second or third week of February is special. To have a good chance to run well, I don’t think that I would be here if it was just a mediocre effort, but to be here in a car with a team that I feel like we can compete for a win and leading laps, that gives me the confidence that I can come back and have some fun. Also don’t have that stress and responsibility that I know I’m getting ready to be gone for the next 38 weeks in a row and fighting all season long. That would be tough to sign up again for and I’ve already made a commitment to my wife and my kids that I’m gonna be home a little bit more so it’s fun to have one foot in the door and one foot out of the door.”

THE LAST COUPLE OF STARTS THAT YOU’VE MADE HAVE BEEN IN A FORD AND NOW YOU ARE BACK IN A FORD AGAIN AND THAT HAS TO BE A DRAW AS WELL BECAUSE THE FORDS HAVE BEEN REALLY DAMN GOOD AT THESE SUPERSPEEDWAY RACES: “Yes, since I’ve been in the Cup series they’ve been really good at superspeedways. I think it’s something that the Doug Yates and Jack Roush love speedway racing and I think the Fords have got just a really good mature group of drivers. When you look at the Ford driver lineup, even the young drivers are good at these speedway races. I think that makes a big difference too that they all work well together, they make good decisions, but having good race cars. The testing that I’m doing with Ford and the development kind of behind the scenes, that’s the only group I would like to be down here with.”

I KNOW THE CARS AND THE ENGINES HAVE TO BE GOOD, BUT YOU’VE PROVEN THAT YOU ARE A VERY CAPABLE COMPETITOR ON THE SUPERSPEEDWAY TOO, OBVIOUSLY, YOU GOT THE WINS BOTH HERE AND IN TALLADEGA.  WHAT MAKES YOU A GOOD SUPER SPEEDWAY RACER? “What makes any driver a good super speedway racer? “It’s kind of like the question, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? I mean, you’ve got to have a good car. You gotta have a good engine. And I think a driver absolutely plays into it. I think some guys will say, oh, it just comes down to luck, being in the right place at the right time, and that certainly is an element, but I don’t believe that to be 100% true. I think drivers that put the effort and that really study the races and find the analytics that show the trends, I think they can make better decisions during the race. I think some drivers put in that hard work, and I think some drivers don’t put in that hard work, and they just take it for whatever might happen. I think they’re the ones that are getting caught up in the wrecks or not making the right decisions at the right time. Early in my career, I think it set the tone. I had Jimmy Fennig as a crew chief my first couple of years, Donnie Wingo as a crew chief, Jay Guy at Front Row Motorsports, who loved speedway racing. I think I fed off of them, I really enjoy speedway racing, and that kind of made me put the extra work into it.”

DO YOU EVER LOOK BACK AT OLD RACES HERE FOR THE 500 IN PARTICULAR, RATHER THAN JUST THE 400, AND LOOK AT OLD FILMS AND SAY, I WISH I HAD DONE IT THIS WAY? AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE AWAY FROM THE TIMES YOU ALMOST WON THE 500? “Oh, absolutely. I go back to races all the time and look. You always go back to the last couple of years. Obviously, with this Next-Gen car, the cars race a little different. The style is a little different with these cars. I think going back 10 years ago probably doesn’t make a lot of difference. But the last two Daytona 500s I’ve looked at, I’ve thought about. Two years ago, I was part of that group coming to the checkered flag. I think we finished fifth or sixth, and we all wrecked crossing the start-finish line. But it’s really a survival to the end. And I often think about working the race backwards like you do road courses. You want to have your shortest and your best pit stop the very last stop of the race. And you want to have the best track position at the end. You want to feel out your car and build some relationships the first 140, 150 laps and then from there on out you’ve got to be in position to make the right moves and you never know when the wreck is going to happen. It could happen running first and second or it could happen running eighth or ninth. You’ve got to be in that top five to top ten if you think you’re going to win the race those final ten laps.”

WHAT DO YOU ANTICIPATE THE DUELS LOOKING LIKE TOMORROW NIGHT BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY THE FORD’S HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW THIS CAR DRIVES IN THE DRAFT. TOYOTA’S IS THE SAME. CHEVROLET HAS TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DRAFT FOR YOU GUYS TOO. HOW WILL THAT IMPACT WHETHER WE SEE AN AGGRESSIVE, CONSERVATIVE, OR STANDARD SORT OF DUEL? “The trends make you believe that you generally have one duel that kind of goes green flag and everything’s smooth, and then you have another one that they generally start pushing a little bit more and have a couple of cautions. And the Duels are just the best opportunity for practice. You generally don’t have that many cars all together even in the two practice sessions on Friday and Saturday. So the Duel is your chance as a driver, as a spotter, and even as a crew chief to see how your car is going to handle, what kind of speed you have, how you can push, and to start building some relationships with other drivers and building some confidence that, hey, I can be pushed or I can push you and still be under control. Generally you see that first one roll off a little smoother. I don’t know if it’s the later in the night or if the drivers get a little more confident and some mistakes are made that second one. So I hope I’m in the first duel.”

IF YOU’RE IN THE MIX IN THE 500, WHICH IS SAY 10 TO GO, IS THERE TIME TO THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU MIGHT TRY TO DO OVER THE LAST 10 LAPS OR DOES IT JUST KIND OF COME NATURALLY AS THINGS DEVELOP? “I think that it’s going to come naturally and I think the planning is done last week and this week. I have looked over the scenarios, I’ve looked over past races on who chose where, what they did on restarts, where the winner came from, where the guy that was leading on the white finished and the mistakes that he made. I feel like having all that in your memory bank will allow you to make a better decision when the time comes. If you’re trying to process all of those scenarios under a yellow flag or a green flag scenario, you can’t effectively do it. You end up making a bad decision or no decision at all and that’s the worst that you can do. You’ve got to have your game plan kind of set and it’s got to be reaction. I know that if I’m running first, second, third, fourth I kind of know what I want to do on a restart. I know that if I have a teammate nearby, I know what I’m going to do if it’s any different. I think all the prep is done the last couple of days leading into the weekend and then it’s just all reaction once you get to Sunday.”

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