MARCOS AMBROSE, No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing Have you tested with the new spoiler? "We ran the new spoiler at New Smyrna (Fla.), just at the short track. I really didn't feel much difference to it. Aesthetically, it looks a...
MARCOS AMBROSE, No. 47 Kroger Toyota Camry, JTG-Daugherty Racing
Have you tested with the new spoiler? "We ran the new spoiler at New Smyrna (Fla.), just at the short track. I really didn't feel much difference to it. Aesthetically, it looks a little nicer. The fans were calling out for it, NASCAR has been listening and they're on their front foot trying to make the sport better for the fans and make the racing high quality."
Do you feel added pressure racing with a country of fans? "You can't put any more expectations on your own shoulders than what you do yourself. I answer to myself first, and I set myself high goals. I appreciate being known around the world, especially spreading the word about NASCAR -- how great the sport is. It's a great sport. I love it. I think it's the best form of racing in the world. We have really tried giving Australia, in particular, spreading the message. I think NASCAR has had a huge increase in following. And I have noticed it, anecdotally, when I go home. I went home in the off-season and saw a huge shift in how many people were tuning into NASCAR and knew about it. They knew the drivers, they knew the tracks, they knew the formats and that has come a long way in the last 12 months. I'm pleased I could play a part, and hope to continue to do so."
How excited are you for 2010 after the success you had last season? "It's really exciting for us. There's a lot of hard work to be done, so we can't get carried away. We just want to build on what 2009 was -- 2009 was a great year. We really finished the year well and strong with some great results. There is no guarantee of success in racing, so we have got a lot of hard work to do. We just have to be cautiously optimistic and keep our expectations in check. It's easy to get carried away in your second year and lose confidence and motivation because it's not going your way, and we're conscious of that. We just want to get off to a solid start and build a good base to start 2010."
Do you see your team as one to beat this year? "I wouldn't say that. There are a lot of great teams and great drivers out here, and it's just a matter of who's hit the combination the best. I feel like we can contend for wins any week. Whether we string together enough races to contend for the Chase, we'll find out. I'm just trying to manage expectations. There's a lot of talk about our team really improving and getting better and better. We just have to be careful and consistently finish. If we can consistently finish and eliminate bad days, then we should be in the front half of the field and we can work towards the front from there."
How good are the NASCAR drivers on road courses? "They're very good. Now the level is so high in the Cup Series, anybody coming in that is a road race expert is not necessarily going to run at the front because the quality is already very high. It's a tough race. It's as tough a road race as you'd ever find. There are tougher road races in NASCAR than any normal race because the cars are very heavy, they don't handle well, they've got a lot of horsepower and the drivers are very good."
How does your team try to improve at tracks you have found difficult? "There are certain race tracks that we go to that have certain characteristics as others, but some you run well at and some you don't. You can't focus on places that you run bad at. You just try to apply the knowledge that you learn from the year before and previous trips to get better. You're always moving forward."
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Is NASCAR's new rule regarding bump drafting going to allow drivers to be more aggressive? "I'm not sure -- we'll see how it plays out. Us drivers, we race as hard as we can every lap as it is. We try to keep it clean between each other because we know we don't want to have those off-track battles and going back and forth between people. It's just trying to get out there and race and make everything happen. We want to try to win races for our sponsors and for our manufacturer and everybody that supports our racing."
Can you beat Jimmie Johnson any race weekend? "We have to have cars that are capable of winning all 36 races. We've been fast at places here or there, but have struggled at other places there so we have to make sure that we can get out there and run well every single week and be able to contend every single week for a top-five finish. If you're running top-five towards the end of the race in every single race, you know you have a shot to run well or try to win that race. Jimmie (Johnson) can do that and right now, we can't and we have some work to do to try to get to that point."
What can Kyle Busch do differently to beat Jimmie Johnson? "As far as what I can do different, I can try to communicate better with the crew chief, try to give him some more feedback on what the car is doing, what we need to do, what I'm feeling, what I'm not feeling that I need to be feeling in the car. Of course, trying to stay more even-keyed during the race and not getting so hyped up when things go wrong or when we miss a lug (nut) or you have to come down pit road -- just kind of going forward and moving around and getting back to racing."
Can you calm yourself down in the race car? "I have recently, yes, actually. We had problems late last year on a couple pit stops on the Nationwide and then in the Truck stuff, too. It's over, it's done with, you're not going to fix it and you have to move forward and try to come back through the field and come back towards the front."
Can you win a championship in the Sprint Cup Series? "I'm glad I could actually win a championship last year and say, 'Yeah, it can be done, I've done it.' I just haven't done it at the level that I need to do it yet. We need to get ourselves in position to do that this year. By keeping myself in that position and getting the team in that position and rebuilding towards finishing in those top-five and top-10 spots more often -- then it will get done."
Do you feel like the last two Daytona 500s were missed opportunities for wins? "It's missed opportunities, for sure. We had the opportunity to win both of these races last year, both of the July races in the last two years and so we just want to come back out here and do what we did the whole time before and just run the best we can and try to win the races. Keep ourselves in the position we can, that we know how to do. Last year I was minding my own business, riding on the top side and a wreck came flying across the race track right in front of me -- I had nothing else I could do. Those instances happen I guess and you have to go on and move forward."
Is Daytona the biggest race of the season and most frustrating to get involved in an accident? "It is, especially when you have dumb situations happen sometimes. It makes it even more frustrating because it is the biggest race of the year. I guess last year rain was coming, people were worried about it and stuff like that. I remember, I think it was three years ago we raced in the rain all night. It's just about trying to be smart through the whole race and not letting getting behind get to you and just trying to make it back up."
Is the Shootout more important with no testing at Daytona? "We'll use it like that a little bit, especially with the practices and stuff like that. We'll try to utilize as much time as we can on trying to get the car set-up and trying to learn something that we can use to go forward into next week. Anything past that, the race and all that, it's just about getting back into the car, getting the feel again, getting the guys used to pit stops and stuff like that."
What are your expectations for your Truck team? "I've got myself driving, Brian Ickler and Tayler Malsam, so we've got three of us that realistically we would all like to at least get a win. I feel like I can get some wins, but our biggest project is to try to make Tayler Malsam run well and make him successful and of course Brian Ickler, too. I'm real optimistic this year, I'm real proud of the way things have worked through the off-season with our trucks and getting our equipment ready. We just had our Daytona truck in the (wind) tunnel two days ago, it turned our pretty well, not as good as we wanted, but pretty good. I'm not going to say we're going to qualify up front, but I think we'll race good."
What have you learned about being a team owner? "I've learned about 30 new lessons in just the last 30 days. It's been crazy. Just the way that NASCAR works, all the things you have to deal with on that front. All the stuff you have to deal with as a team owner with all the personnel with trying to structure an organization with people, the command order of how things need to come down and stuff like that. Building a lot of things, besides race trucks, but building a lot of things has brought a lot to my attention."
Do you have a strategy to win this race in the closing laps? "When you're leading you try to do what you can and I thought I had the race won when I got the lead in July here, but that didn't happen. I haven't figured out how to get by a guy by myself on the last lap in the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series here for the past two years. There are still some things that I need to work on and learn and try to figure out. Until I get it figured out, I don't know what else different to do. I've seen the tape and I've looked at the footage and I know what I could have done differently, but the only way I could have done differently is caused a wreck. I don't want to cause a wreck, but I guess if I want it that bad and it comes down to it then maybe I will."
What do you think of the changes with the NASCAR rules and allowing the drivers to have the law in their hands? "I don't know how much we're actually going to get in our hands, but I think anything for the sport as far as a directional change or something is positive. The fans want to see different things, left and right, a lot of things we've done over the past. The winner here with the restrictor plate change, with the spoiler coming on later in the season that's all fan- induced. They wanted to see some better racing, some more excitement. I think their excitement may be crashes and hopefully we can keep everybody safe in that respect. I feel like it's something that NASCAR is actually paying attention to and doing better for the sport."
Do you think you are more aggressive because you haven't sustained a big wreck? "I strongly disagree with that. I had my wreck at Talladega a couple years ago in the Nationwide Series. I wrecked at Daytona last year where the roll bar that's just above your head was two inches away from my head and it actually hit the wall. Two more inches and something catastrophic could have happened. I've wrecked at Texas a couple times really, really hard and I banged up my knee, my knee still bothers me today. Trust me, I've had plenty of hard hits. Joey Logano showed it last year. He rolled at Dover (Del.) and the following week he went on into Kansas and ran well. It doesn't shake us up for long."
How do you settle for a top-five finish while maintaining your aggression? "It's very hard to do. In Homestead (Fla.), I was racing for the win with Denny (Hamlin) and trying to get up to him a little more, but couldn't quite get there. I ended up getting into the fence a little bit and fell back to eighth. At least it was eighth instead of falling back to 25th or something. It's hard because you want to win races, you want to win every single one you get in. Just last week at the Super Late Model race, there was a race before it like the Nationwide and Cup race and the Nationwide-type race, I spun a guy out trying to go for the win with seven laps to go and got put to the back. I ended up coming back to finish fifth, but I was trying for the win."
Do you have a clean sheet of paper going into this season with Brad Keselowski? "For sure. Last year was last year and ultimately I feel like I've probably given him more press than what he deserves. We're parked beside each other so maybe he'll make me dinner and send it over. I was really looking forward to doing the basketball skills challenge with him at the Charlotte Bobcats game, but I saw highlights and that wasn't pretty. It's a good thing he can drive, that's for sure, he's got some talent there."
How did you injure your knee? "I was playing basketball at Birkdale (Huntersville, N.C.). It was just a pickup game. I play every Monday and Wednesday at lunchtime. I play with the same guys every time. Unless you understand basketball it's tough to say, but when you do a cross-over it is kind of when you juke one way and go the other and you'll see it a lot with running backs in the NFL and a lot of them get injured that way. Basically, it's just a juke one way, a split to go to the other and my knee didn't hold that pressure. I don't think it had anything to do with the surgery we had on the other knee the previous four weeks before that. I think it was just a freak thing that anybody in my position probably would've had the same injury."
Will you have surgery on your knee at the end of the year? "Yeah, if I ever want to play again I have to get it repaired. The only thing I've got to think about is maybe I can rehab and make it to where it's strong enough to where I can just wear a brace when I play sports from now on. But, I think they said if you really want to be back to 100 percent you're going to have to get surgery. There's going to have to be a couple of screws put in there and attach that ligament back. I think without a doubt I'll just spend next off-season on the couch. I think it's going to be for the better in the long run."
Continued in part 2