NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 12, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are going to open with Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, currently sitting 10th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings heading into this weekend's race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Immediately following Aric, we will be joined by Elliott Sadler.
Aric, you ended last season on a strong note with two Top?10s in the last four races. Now three races into the season, you are tenth in points. What has made the biggest difference in your team's continued success?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Well, I think really just Todd Parrott and all the guys he has surrounding him. It's the same group of guys we had in the last ten races of last year when our performance really elevated.
We have just really clicked, and our chemistry has been really strong. We have fast race cars every week, and right from the very get go, he's understood me and I've understood him, and we just know how to get our cars where we want them throughout the weekend for the race.
So I've been real encouraged and I was really excited this whole off?season to get going this year because I knew what we were capable of after the last ten races of last year.
So I've always been excited to get going and get the season started but this year more than any other season, I've been really excited about our potential for success.
Q. Curious where you felt like where your team was right now, tenth in points, two or three finishes between tenth and 20th, do you feel like a Top?10 team yet?
ARIC ALMIROLA: I feel like we are right on the cusp of that.
When you really sit down and think about it, you look at the race teams that are on the racetrack, you've got four Hendrick Motorsports cars, and three Gibbs cars, and you know, the three Roush cars, two Penske cars. When you start looking at it, it's like, man, there's a lot of good teams really deep into the field, and you have three RCR cars, and then you throw Richard Petty Motorsports in the mix, and I feel like we are right there with those guys.
I feel like it would be crazy for us to think that as new as we are and the reality is that we don't have the same amount of resources as some of the other teams?? it would be crazy for us to think that we are a championship team at this moment.
But I do feel like we are on the cusp of being a consistent Top?10 team. You know, I felt like Phoenix was a bad day for us and I think we finished 15th, and then Vegas, we ran in the Top?12 all day and we ended up finishing 16th and we were disappointed again because we finished 16th. Like Phoenix, we raced up there in the lead or in second with Biffle, and I felt like that's where we belong.
I feel like we are a competitive race team and I feel like we can compete with these other teams. You know, I'm really proud of what we've been able to do, which this 43 team with Todd Parrott and the guys that we have on our crew. They bring me fast cars to the racetrack, and they do a lot with probably a lot less than some of the other teams that we're competing against.
So I'm just really proud of the effort that we have put in, and you know, I think we are picking right up where we left off at the end of 2012.
Q. I wanted to ask, when you are trying to show how good you are, and obviously you've had some good runs this year, how do you guard against trying to push the car too hard to get top four, top five finishes; is that kind of a balance that you have to deal with there?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, absolutely, especially at the beginning of the year. I made a few mistakes last year at the beginning of the year and we dug ourselves a hole in the points and we never recovered from it really. We spent the whole rest of the year clawing our way to get to 20th in points. And if you look at where we started, I think we finished Daytona in 33rd or something like that.
You know, I went into this year knowing that we were capable of running better, especially at the intermediate tracks and the mile?and?a?half tracks and stuff like that. So the big thing for me was the first few weeks of this year to not make any major mistakes.
I wanted to go out and have solid days, don't get caught speeding on pit road, keep our track position all day and just race smart, and put ourselves in position to where here in the next few weeks, we can go compete and be a legitimate threat for trying to make the Chase. Right now, I know we are only three weeks into it, but myself and everybody on our race team feels like that's a possibility.
We've just got to keep being smart and take what the races will give us. If we have got a tenth place car, we need to finish tenth with it. And if we've got a car capable of running in the Top?5, then we need to run in the Top?5 with it. But we can't push too hard with it and make a mistake and finish 35th, because that would be really hard for us to rebound from.
Q. From what you've seen of this race car, how do you think the racing will change at Bristol?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Honestly I don't know. I think it's going to be more of what we've seen in the past. I think everybody is still trying to get a handle on this new car, so I can't honestly say what it will do. But I have an opinion on what I think it will do.
I think we are going to see people running right up against the fence and I think you're going to see people trying to slide?job each other and trying to make the bottom groove work.
I don't know what the tire is to be honest with you, so I don't know if Goodyear is bringing the same tire back that we ran last year or if they are bringing a newer, softer tire. But if we have a newer, softer tire, then the racing will change. But if we have the same tire as last year, I suspect that the racing will be the same.
Q. What can you do with the shock and car preparation to make up the difference??
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, and this is something that I've touched on before, and I mean it, is you know, like we said, we do have less resources. There is no doubt about that. We can't hide from that. We understand that.
The only way to overcome that is to have great people and that's what I feel like we have. We've got a great group of people here at Richard Petty Motorsports. We've got a lot of people that work really hard and work extremely long hours to make sure that our cars have every detail, every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed. That's really what this car comes down to, being NASCAR has us in a pretty tight box with our rules. So it's all about the little things. I feel like our race team does a great job of that.
Todd is probably one of the most detail?oriented people, crew chiefs, that I've ever met and he gets his guys to rally around him and pay attention and focus on the details. That's one thing that I feel like we do a great job at, is our cars are very detailed and we take advantage of every single thing we can take advantage of.
Q. What kind of role do you try to play at the shop?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Just a motivator. You know, I'm actually at the shop right now.
But I come to the shop a couple days a week and just tell everybody thank you for all their hard work. I know these guys spend a lot of time away from their family. I'm sure a lot of them eat cold dinners because their families have already eaten and went to bed.
So I just try to make a presence here and make sure all the guys know that I appreciate their hard work, and just to keep them motivated and let them know that we can do this and we are going to do it and we are going to be successful and we are going to try to win some races. But it takes a lot of hard work and I appreciate their hard work.
Q. Given the difficulty of the track, what would it mean to you to win at Darlington?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Oh, man, that would be huge. Let alone the fact that it's probably one of the biggest races in our industry, and not by pay or anything like that, but just by prestige.
The Southern 500 is a huge deal. It's been a huge race to win for many, many years, dating all the way back to the beginning of NASCAR. That would be a huge race to win. And it would mean a lot to me and our race team and I think it would mean a lot to Richard Petty himself, too, just because of all the roots that he has in NASCAR and stuff like that.
I think it would be a really big deal for 43 to go to victory lane at Darlington, which is one of the first racetracks that we still go to.
Q. Just trying it figure out, what's the mentality of you as a driver coming in knowing that you're now having better prepared race cars every week, and do you feel like you're that much closer to your first win, and would it be a surprise to you yet?
ARIC ALMIROLA: Yeah, I really do feel that way, and confidence is key. I know you guys talk about that all the time, and it's hard to put your finger on how you get it, why you get it and stuff like that.
But you know, chemistry is a big deal and confidence is a big deal, and right now, I feel like we've got both of those things going. We show up to the racetrack and we expect to run in the Top?10. And you look at the race teams that compete and that consistently finish in the Top?10, the Top 15, eventually they win races, and we think the same thing.
We feel like if we continue to put ourselves in position to run in the Top?10 and be contenders, then that one day will come where things go our way and we've got a fast car and we get track position at the end of the race and we go out and win a race. That's really what we're focused on.
At the beginning of the year, we sat down and made a list of goals, and that is No.1 on our list of goals is to put that 43 car back in victory lane.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and we wish you the best of luck this weekend in Bristol.
ARIC ALMIROLA: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 11 OneMain Financial car for Joe Gibbs Racing. Sadler won last year's spring Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and he is currently third in the championship standings.
Everything has changed for you in 2013: A new team, a new crew chief, a new manufacturer, but the one thing that has not changed is your success. How have you been able to continue success from year?to?year?
ELLIOTT SADLER: First of all, I want to thank you guys for having me on today.
As far as the success, we've just done a really good job as a race team this year of preparing our race cars and getting them ready for the first four or five races. I think one thing I've learned from my experience as a race car driver is to try to get off to a good, solid start to kind of get the year going.
You've got to get some momentum on your side, and we were close at Daytona. We led a lot, ran up front a lot. We got in two wrecks at the end and knew we had to go to Phoenix and Vegas and managed some really good finishes there; and had some good, solid days to try to get some momentum on our side and we found ourselves going into probably three of my best racetracks here with Bristol coming up, California and Texas, places that I've won with all in the Cup cars.
We feel really good about what we learned and what we did at Phoenix and Vegas and got our foundation build and feel good about the next few races we have in front of us. We are really close in points, and more important than that, we feel really good about our communication in what we are learning together, being we are all kind of part of a new situation this year.
Q. How much stock do you put into Saturday in terms of who is going to be strong on immediate tracks for the rest of the year?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I put a lot of stock in that.
Vegas is always a good telltale of where you stack up and where other teams stack up as far as the immediate tracks are concerned. Usually whoever runs good at Vegas is going to run good when we get to Texas and when we get to Darlington and when we get to Charlotte, and when we get to some of these first mile?and?a?halfs we get to.
So to see how strong the 12 car was on Saturday shows us definitely that Penske has prepared very well for when we get to these next mile?and?a?half tracks we get to. But also with us finishing second, third and fifth on Saturday tells us that we have done our homework, too, and we are in pretty good shape.
Usually, not only the Nationwide Series, but also in the Cup Series, these first mile?and?a?halfs and things that you get to is a great test to see where you stack up to see if you've got to just manipulate your setups a little bit and change a few things, or if you have to really go back to the drawing board.
Q. Getting off to a good start, with no Chase, how key is that in the Nationwide Series? How hard is it to make up ground late if you can't get off to a good start early?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, that is a great question because I've had this same conversation with my crew chief before the season started. Chris came from the Cup series and I wanted him to understand that we are in our Chase, now. I know it's not called that, but our Chase format starts at Daytona. We don't get to make up points at the end of 26 races and everybody gets tied back together. We want to get started off to a good season.
Two years ago, I finished 38th at Daytona and I felt like it took me until the end of April or May to get back into contention. Last year, we got started off really good the first four or five races of the year, and we went into championship contention and felt more relaxed and felt like we could do more things as a race team the entire season.
We felt that we needed to get through these first three or four races and here we are tied for second in points and really feel good about?? now we are going to the new points system this weekend. So we get up front where we feel like we should be around all the good teams and we feel like we are in the middle of this thing now. I feel very comfortable with where we are right now in points and where we are right now as a race team.
Q. It seems every year we talk to you, it doesn't really matter what team you're on, you're usually hovering around the top, and it seems to go just about all season. Could you just about what gets you there, what drives you? What keeps you in the position to be able to keep those great positions you get?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I wish I could sit here and tell you it's all me and I take all the credit, but it's not like that at all. I've been very lucky and very privileged and honored to be on some really good race teams here the last couple years.
You know, a lot of things, I think when you're younger, you take a lot of things for granted and you don't focus on all the mental aspect stuff that goes on with racing and preparing yourself for everything each and every week maybe as much as you do when you get older, and I've learned to prepare myself mentally and physically for each and every week to run for a championship.
I really learned that style of thinking and that style of doing things when I was racing for Kevin Harvick and Kevin Harvick incorporated and Ernie Cope, the way they prepared each and every week to race, like it was the last race of the season.
I think ever since I got in that mind?set, I'm way better prepared mentally as well as physically it seems like week?in and week?out. We feel like when I get to the racetrack, I know the job that I have to do inside the car. I know the feeling that I have to have inside the car to be competitive during race day. I know what I need to feel on Friday to be good on Saturday.
So I'm trying to use my experience and use my knowledge of racing and put all that together before I get to the racetrack and be prepared; so when I get there, it's just getting in the car, figuring out what we have to switch and turn on to make it fast and go from there.
It's definitely a team?team effort, and I feel like with my experience and my knowledge of things, it's just kind of tying it all together.
Q. In the last couple years, it seems like there are more full?time Cup drivers, veterans, returning to Nationwide to race, and most including yourself have had success. Can you talk about that trend and what it means to you?
ELLIOTT SADLER: What it means to me, I had an option when I was back in the Cup Series, and I knew I had no further relationship with the 19 car and Richard Petty Motorsports.
I had some other opportunities, but they were on more under?budgeted or under?funded teams, and I didn't really want to do that again. I'm so competitive at heart that I just didn't want to call myself a Cup driver just to be a Cup driver; but know I was in a situation that would have been tough to win races in, tough to sit on polls, and then tough to be a part of this Chase which ultimately leads you to that opportunity to win a championship.
Honestly I sat down with a really, really good friend of mine named Dale Jarrett and we discussedoptions. I was asking his advice, because he had been through this before, from the Freelander car. He took a step back in the Nationwide Series. And just got thoughts on building his name in racing back up, and he came back to the Woods brothers and Yates, and we all know the history of his Cup career.
I kind of used that base as why I'm doing what I did; is that opportunity to come back to Nationwide, get my confidence back up, learn more about what's going on with these race cars; and getting more mentally prepared and hopefully do a good enough job to maybe one day some opportunities will open for me.
You know, it worked. I had a great, great, great opportunity presented to me last year from Michael Waltrip Racing to run some races in the 55 car. But just was not really left?? didn't get permission to be able to do that. But I still feel like my name and my confidence, my ability right now, is probably better than it ever has been as far as being very comfortable, very optimistic in what I'm doing.
So I see other drivers doing the same thing. I haven't really talked to other drivers about it. Maybe they are thinking the same thing; go back to Nationwide, kind of reboot, get yourself reenergized, get in some really good equipment and try to make the most of it. I have nine polls and four wins and a bunch of Top?5s and Top?10s just in the last two seasons, and I think that says a lot.
Q. I realize there's a settling?in period any time you go to a new place to work, and it's three weeks in, maybe a little bit early, but how would you assess just how you've meshed with the Gibbs organization? How much have they welcomed you and just to try to cultivate your relationship, your new teammates and just how has the fitting in period been for you?
ELLIOTT SADLER: That's a good question. And I'll revert to this, I'll tell you what, the Gibbs corporation and organization, Joe and J.B. Gibbs, the whole family atmosphere has been absolutely amazing to be a part of, and they really have welcomed me in with open ams. I really feel like part of the family already. They just make you feel so comfortable there.
And I'll give you an example. If anybody recognized and heard what Matt Kenseth was saying after he took the checkered flag at Vegas about thanking the Lord for putting him in this situation, and his interview that he gave on FOX about how comfortable he was in this new car and this new environment with this new race team; I'm sitting home watching and I go, 'I know exactly what you mean, Matt.' This organization, this team, makes everybody feel so welcome, all on the same page, all family atmosphere, just great, great people.
But as far as the transition over to being a part of the team and with the people, has been very seamless. It's been a lot of fun.
As far as learning the new car, Chris, Dale and myself learning each other, that's going to take a few weeks we think. I think we learned some things at Daytona that translated at Phoenix. We learned some things during Texas that we used at Vegas and we feel like we are getting better.
Chris and I are both on the same page. We are both eager to get to the track each week. I warned him before we got to Daytona: I'm going to apologize, I'm going to call you probably five or six times a day. Because my mind is just always looking ahead, always wondering about what we can do to make our cars faster. And he and I are on the same page as far as we eat, sleep and drink racing all the time. We call each other all hours of the day and night thinking about different programs and setups and simulations we can run to make our cars better.
So as soon as Chris and I get on the same page on exactly what I need to go fast, and me being able to tell him exactly what he needs to hear to make adjustments, we are going to be really, really good. So I obviously think our team is going to get stronger as the year goes on.
Q. Every driver, including you, wants to start the season off on an up?note, but with different cars and surface changes at many of the tracks, how much does this throw you off as a driver, to get that season off to a nice start?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, it better not throw you off as a driver. As a driver, you'd better have your stuff together when you show up at these different tracks.
We know before we get to the track if there's a surface change or if Goodyear has changed a tire. Goodyear is changing the tire a little bit this weekend for the Nationwide Series, it's a little bit different tire. It's actually the same Cup tire that they ran last fall. So I know this as a driver and I know the tendency that it's going to give me.
The driver better be prepared on what you know before you show up at the race track. That helps. Yes, we all want to get off to a good start and teams do it in different ways, as far as winning, as far as being consistent. You see people taking less chances at the beginning of the season, as far as fuel mileage and things like that, because they don't want to take their selves, this new points system. You don't want to take yourselves out of the hunt this early in the season.
So what we have done is we have just tried to be on the safe side of everything, safe side of fuel mileage, safe side of tire wear, safe side of doing four tires instead of two tires. We have been doing a lot of things on the safe side to make sure we are not shooting ourselves in the foot.
We'll do this in a couple weeks to make sure we are where we need to be in the points, and then once we build a lead or have a gap or have some cushion, then we'll start making a little bit more chances as far as the points are concerned.
THE MODERATOR: Elliott, thank you for joining us today and best of luck this weekend in Bristol.