Almirola and Ford talk with Talladega media

Ford Racing

Richard Petty Motorsports made news this week with the announcement of a crew chief change on the famed No. 43 car. Mike Ford, who was most recently with the 11 car and Denny Hamlin, replaces Greg Erwin beginning this weekend in Talladega. Ford joined driver Aric Almirola in the Talladega Superspeedway media center Friday to discuss the change.

Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 43 Verifone Sail Ford – TALK ABOUT YOUR NEW CREW CHIEF YOU’VE GOT HERE THIS WEEK. “Yeah, I am excited to add Mike to our race team. It is going to be really good for me to have Mike’s experience come on board. He has a whole new fresh set of ideas and a lot of experience to help me. I know I’ve run quite a few Cup races but I am still relatively new at this. This is my first full time season so to have the experience and leadership of Mike on board will be really good. Not just for the 43 team but for Richard Petty Motorsports as a whole. I think what Mike brings to the table will be really great for our race team and I am looking forward to getting going with him this weekend.”

MIKE FORD, crew chief No. 43 Verifone Sail Ford – CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING NAMED CREW CHIEF OF THE 43 TEAM. TALK ABOUT THAT. “It is kind of a strange deal. If you look back at my history, I spent a lot of time at Yates and Evernham and it is kind of a combination of both those places. The majority of the people there I know and get along real well with. I have been around Aric a little bit in the past and I know he is a really good race car driver. I have seen that personally. Not only that but he is a good guy. I am looking forward to it. I have long relationships with a lot of guys there at the shop, including working side by side with Todd (Parrott) and I am looking forward to trying to make a difference there.”

DO YOU THINK IT TAKES SOME TIME TO GET YOUR CARS ONLINE, SO TO SPEAK, OR CAN YOU HAVE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT? “What I am looking at here at Talladega I am kind of just fitting in this week with what was there. All of the stuff ran really good at Daytona so I am not really that focused on that. The first things that I need to work on, rather than the equipment, are the procedures. Making sure we execute without mistakes and build confidence in Aric and confidence in the team before we can look at moving forward. We don’t have a lot of time to start moving it forward but we need to make sure we are executing properly. We know we have the same equipment as the Roush guys and the same resources and we see those guys running good each week. We aren’t coming in to rebuild the organization on day one. I am looking to share some experience and slow grow it. Here in a couple weeks, come next week at Darlington that is a big deal. We’ve got some information to fall back on and hopefully we can get some top-20 or top-15s. They have been pretty erratic. I am looking to smooth things out and progress over the next five or six weeks.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED – WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN GONE AND CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA OF HOW PRECARIOUS A JOB IT IS TO BE A CREW CHIEF IN TODAY'S BIG LEAGUE RACING? I CAN’T IMAGINE HOW YOU DIDN’T HAVE A JOB IMMEDIATELY WHEN THE DEAL FELL APART WITH DENNY (HAMLIN) “Yeah, that was pretty bothersome for me because there were a lot of shifts and the timing of that was not good. That is why you haven’t seen me for a little bit because there wasn’t anything at that point. Nonetheless, I took full advantage of that, to answer the first part of your question. Through the winter and into the beginning of the race season I have never been able to spend time at home with family and friends and do things. We took four or five trips with family and it was awesome. As late as Saturday I got a call and I was in L.A. and they asked if I could be in the shop Monday morning. We’ve just been having a good time traveling and spending time with the family. I have actually been working in the garage a lot and have grease under my fingernails. I can actually still work on cars. I’ve just been having fun. The difficult part of this is that it is so technical. 10 years ago making a change midseason wouldn’t be that big of a deal but there are so many reasons for evolving to where you are in this sport. I am the guy that is on the steep learning curve even though I’ve got the experience behind me and a good record behind me. It is very difficult to come in and be able to take advantage of your resources from day one.”

WERE YOU ITCHING TO GET BACK TO THE POINT YOU TOOK THE FIRST CALL? IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT THIS JOB THAT MADE IT RIGHT FOR YOU? “Yeah, I will say that I was fully enjoying spending time. Obviously you have to get back at it. No, I did not actually jump at the first opportunity. There were other opportunities that I decided against. Part of what made this exciting to me is that the most fun I’ve ever had crew chiefing was the first year and a half with Denny. That was a lot of fun because of the role that you play. You work together and you fed off each other. I see that here with Aric. Hopefully I can be some experience for him and a leader and he is the youth, he can teach me some things as well. That was exciting to me, along with the group of guys that is there. It is a combination of guys that I have a lot of respect for and they have a lot of respect for me. It is my kind of racing.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED -- ARIC, YOUR WHOLE DEAL CAME TOGETHER SO LATE. AFTER NINE RACES THERE IS THIS CHANGE. WHAT DIDN’T WORK AND WHY IN THAT SHORT PERIOD OF TIME WAS IT SO APPARENT THAT A CHANGE NEEDED TO BE MADE? “First of all I am not here to bash Greg because he was a great guy and great crew chief and he has won races and will continue to win races. For me, just to have a fresh start. Greg had come from next door at Roush and he was pretty involved in what they had going on over there. To bring Mike in, who has had success with Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott before Denny Hamlin, then to go work with Denny the last few years and have that success there. To come in and play that mentor role like he did with Denny, that is something I am looking forward to with Mike. To have someone that can talk to me on the radio and kind of teach me along the way and mentor me and tell me what he wants and what he wants to do and make decisions and stuff like that. From the leadership standpoint, I think Mike is going to be a huge asset and I think I am looking forward to that. I am looking forward to being the guy that gets to drive the race car and let Mike tell me what to do.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED -- IF YOU ARE A CREW CHIEF IN NASCAR NOWADAYS IT SEEMS YOU NEED AN ENGINEERING DEGREE. DID YOU FIND THERE IS LESS A MARKET, DESPITE ALL YOUR EXPERIENCE AND TRACK RECORD THAT IT IS HARDER TO GET BACK IN THE MARKET IF YOU DON’T HAVE THAT? “Yeah, I think that thought can go really deep. The reason it is hard for a crew chief to move these days is because it is so difficult. Each organization has a history behind it of why they are where they are at. That is so difficult to learn that it is easier to promote from within than it is to go outside. I don’t think it follows the engineering degree by any means because the crew chief role, quite frankly, is a decision maker and not a trendsetter. You make sure you’ve got the right guys around you and you hone your skills on making decisions. The role of crew chief doesn’t require an engineering degree. It requires somebody that can lead and make decisions but have a good understanding of why you are making changes. I think the bigger part to that is the history inside each race shop which makes it difficult to change organizations.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED – YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PLACES THAT WERE FULLY FUNDED. WHAT KIND OF INPUT ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE WITH THESE CARS AS TURN-KEY AS YOUR OPERATION IS? “It is not turn-key at all. We are fully backed with the Roush organization right across the street. We’ve got as many resources as anyone out there. The cars are built there at the shop. It is not lacking for resources and that is what is exciting to me as well. You’ve got everything at your fingertips and it is a matter of what you do with it. I understand what you are saying but that is part of why I am here, because I have the backing and resources at my disposal.”

SO YOU WILL HAVE MORE OF AN INPUT GOING FORWARD THAN IN THE PAST? “I would call it equal.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED – “His first competition meeting Monday they were already asking questions. So yeah, he is going to have an impact not only in our organization at Richard Petty Motorsports but across the street as well.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED – WHAT KIND OF VETTING PROCESS IS THERE WHEN YOU GET PAIRED WITH A DRIVER LIKE THIS? “At Gibbs, Aric was driving some races and he would hop in the cars and run just as well as the other guys. I know that as far as the talent standpoint you see that. Some of the veteran guys don’t really do well with veteran crew chiefs because you are bull headed on some things. I look at this and sat with Aric and he is looking for a leader and someone to mentor him a little bit. I am looking for that role as well, but also you always learn something from someone coming in. I am looking forward to that.”

THIS IS A UNIQUE PLACE TO BE COMING RIGHT BACK IN. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES IT POSES COMING BACK HERE AT TALLADEGA AND WITH THE HEAT THIS WEEKEND? “I think you couldn’t ask for a better place to come back. Looking back to Daytona, all the Fords ran really strong there and that package is pretty buttoned up. Like Aric said, I came into the shop Monday morning and had been in meetings all week trying to get up to speed on planning and moving forward. I am pretty much, to this point, I will work practices and the race because obviously I am here to do that, but to this point on the preparation I haven’t had any true influence yet. I am looking more at Darlington and Darlington is going to be a challenge for us but we do have – I feel like the 99 was the best car at Darlington last year and we can fall back on some of that knowledge. They have have a couple weeks at Charlotte and Dover, which the 43 has been typically very strong at Dover, probably one of the top three cars. Then you have Pocono and Michigan and we get a day of testing those configurations. So the timing of this couldn’t be better.”

YOU MENTIONED HOW MUCH FOR IT WAS THE FIRST YEAR AND A HALF WITH DENNY. WAS IT FUN AT THE END? ARE YOU SURPRISED IT CAME APART AS FAST AS IT DID? ALSO COULD YOU TALK IN GENERAL ABOUT WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT ARIC AS A DRIVER? “You know, I am not going to say a whole lot about that other than to say a lot of outside influence made it not fun. The past couple of years truly weren’t that fun. It was best for both parties. I want to get something real clear. Me and Denny still get along and I text back and forth with him periodically. I love Denny to death. This is business. I never had any problems with Denny and I still don’t. In the organization you see things that you need to work on and if you are the only guy that sees them then you are the guy that is an issue. It just was time to go. It was time to move on. I don’t have any problems with Denny and I still have a lot of good friends over there. That is life. You move on and you continue on. As far as Aric, like I mentioned I have seen him run competitive and he came in at Homestead with Kenny Francis and he ran top-five and was one of the better cars at times. I have seen him be competitive in this series. To see that encourages me. On top of that he is a nice guy. You want to be able to have someone that you can work with and is kind of low key and I am fairly low key. I think it is going to be a good match.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED -- WHEN YOU AND DENNY CAME IN, YOU ALL WERE SUCCESSFUL RIGHT OFF THE BAT AND YOU PUSHED THE RIGHT BUTTONS AND MADE HIM A CONTENDER RIGHT AWAY. WAS THAT A UNIQUE SITUATION AND HOW POSSIBLE IS IT TO DO THAT AGAIN WITH ARIC IN A SIMILAR SITUATION AS A YOUNG GUY? “You know, that was special. That was very special. I don’t put any kind of expectations like that on this situation at all. You have to look back at times and appreciate things for what they were and I very much appreciate those times because those are not normal. I think I was there for a period of time when some other drivers were through that car and had the ability to get up to speed on the equipment and procedures before anybody expected anything. I had a head start on him at that organization so that when he came in I was on top of my game. This situation is a little bit different. He was here, I’ve got to be getting on my game really quick to be competitive. It is a little different situation. I appreciate those times when I look back at them but I don’t have those expectations moving forward here. I appreciate those times for what they were.”

ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED -- HOW COGNIZANT DID YOU HAVE TO BE ABOUT OVERHEATING AT DAYTONA? “At Daytona for us, we were one of the few cars that didn’t have any issues. Relatively speaking we ran cool most of the time. As far as that was considered I felt we had the preparation at the shop that the guys had done with the duct work and all that stuff I think they did a really nice job. Most of the Fords didn’t have any issues with that. A tip of the hat to Doug Yates and everyone at the engine shop. I don’t know what to expect. Today is going to be a learning curve in the first practice to see what we have for our water temp and to keep our eye on. That is the lifeblood of our race. If we go out and shoot a bunch of water out at the beginning of the race then we are in big trouble. We will keep an eye on that and see where that puts us.”

MIKE FORD CONTINUED -- WHAT KINDS OF THINGS CAN YOU DO WITH THE SMALLER GRILL OPENING AND DO YOU ANTICIPATE THEM GIVING YOU SOMETHING EXTRA SINCE IT WILL BE SO HOT THIS WEEKEND? “We are very well prepared to make change if change comes along. When you are regulated that tightly there isn’t much you can do but when change comes along we are ready for that as well.”

WHEN YOU REACH THIS LEVEL, IS THERE ANY GOING BACK FOR A CREW CHIEF? COULD YOU BE A CAR CHIEF OR SOMETHING? “I think that is an individual question. Some guys maybe, some guys maybe not. I think for me when I am done crew chiefing you won’t see me. The next step for me would be working in the race shop, that type of deal. My passion still is getting dirty. I like to get dirty and work on things and I don’t think that will ever change. I think each person would answer that question differently. To offset the struggles of leaving home and the travel it has got to be, for me the crew chief role fills that and makes it a balance. You are at the pinpoint of performance and that is where you want to be. That is how I would be.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags almirola, ford, petty