Dodge drivers put uncertainty aside as they qualify at Loudon

Hornish and keselowski qualified in New Hampshire amid all the questions surrounding the suspension of Almendinger.

Sam Hornish Jr., Penske Racing Dodge
Sam Hornish Jr., Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T) Qualified 24th

HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING LAP? “Not quite as well as I would have liked for it to have been. We were a little bit too tight in the center of the corner, just couldn’t roll the center like we needed to for speed. All in all, I felt like we were really good our second run of practice and we just never quite got the car right again. We’ll see how it shakes out. Hopefully, it’ll keep us in the top 20. We’ll be close to being able to do that.”

THIS IS THE SECOND WEEK IN A ROW IN THE 22 DODGE. HOW IS THE TRANSITION PROCESS GOING THIS WEEK COMPARED TO LAST WEEK? “It seems like we’re always rushing a little bit, unfortunately. I’m either trying really hard to get down to Daytona or we’re a little bit behind in the qualifying line, just not a lot of time to sit in the car and think about it before it’s time to go. I’m really proud of all the effort that everybody has put in to be able to make this work. It’s been a lot more work for everybody other than me but at the end of the day, just doing the best that we can right now to make sure that we’ve got an opportunity for Sunday. This is one of my favorite tracks. I’m glad that we’ve got some time to practice it this week versus just coming in and doing it on Sunday.”

IS THIS A TRYOUT FOR NEXT SEASON? “I don’t know how I should really look at it. I’m trying to just not be disappointed about our qualifying run, be happier about that. I would like to have found a little bit more speed because we ran faster on our mock qualifying run than we did on our actual qualifying run. I’m going to go out there and try to do the best job that I can. We’ll take what we can get right now. This is an opportunity that I wasn’t thinking that I was going to have. I’ve got to go out there and have a good run but the first thing is these guys are also running for points and we want to go out there and be smart, have a good day and see if we can’t figure out how to get the job done.”

ARE YOU WORRIED THAT THIS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR FOCUS ON THE NATIONWIDE SERIES? “You know, a lot of people are talking about that and I think the big thing for us is that we’ve just got to keep doing the same things that we’re doing over there. If we get to the point where we feel like it’s taking away at all, we’ll make an adjustment but I think having the opportunity to have more track time never hurts. And I feel like our Nationwide car is pretty good. I don’t know if we’ve got a winning car but I feel like we’ve got a top-five car for sure. If we can make a couple small tweaks on that tomorrow and be smart out there on the racetrack, hopefully we can get out of here with another top five.”

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE A DARKHORSE FOR THE NATIONWIDE CHAMPIONSHIP? “If you looked where we were at a month ago, we were a little more than 70 points out. The fact that we’ve closed that door a little bit and just continue to be consistent, that’s what we need to do. We knew that the plate races were going to be a little bit difficult for us so we were happy to get out of last weekend only losing a couple of points to those guys. I feel like the places that we’re going to make it up are the road courses, the flat tracks and we’ve got a couple of those coming up over the next few weeks. I’m really excited about getting out there and getting the opportunity to run tomorrow. I guess we’d rather be the underdog and be the one that doesn’t have to answer all the questions and sneak up on it a little bit.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST ADJUSTMENT THIS TEAM HAS HAD TO MAKE WITH YOU COMING OVER NOW AS THE DRIVER? “They needed to get (driving) suits made and stuff like that (smiles). I mean, it’s just some little things about how I fit in the car and some things that I might like that are different than what A.J. (Allmendinger) likes. Probably the most difficult for everybody at Penske Racing right now is the uncertainty of not even really knowing where anything stands at this point. We’re just trying to get through these next couple days, regroup, think about it and figure out exactly where we are and where we need to be. All in all, it’s just a tough thing. I’ve answered a whole bunch of questions and I don’t know any more about it than what you guys know. It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody here because it just takes away from the program as a whole because everybody is focused on something that is not productive for us.”

WHAT ARE YOUR REALISTIC GOALS HERE ON THE CUP SIDE? “I don’t really have a goal yet. Last week, I just didn’t want to tear up the car. That tire came apart about halfway through the race and that got to be the first caution. It doesn’t really matter what my goals are. My goal for this weekend is to go out there have a smart, clean race. Love to finish on the lead lap. I know if we do that, we’ll be in the top 20. I ran well here in the past, got a couple top 10s. There’s good opportunities for us in the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge this weekend but the big thing for me is just to make sure that we get these guys some points, we take care of the equipment and try to do the best that we can. I’d be happy if we finished in the top 10. I might be disappointed if we finished outside the top 20.”

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN AT INDY IN NATIONWIDE? “It would sure mean a lot. I really like the flat tracks that we run at. I’m looking forward to going to Indianapolis. I haven’t been there in almost two years. I always enjoy going to the speedway just for all the sentimental reasons, mostly the things I remember as a kid going with Dad and my Mom and having a good time. We’d love to be able to add something to that. At the end of the day, we just need to go out there thinking about points. I’d love to win but I don’t think we’re going to throw away the points if we’re running second on the last lap to try to make something happen but you never know.”

WHAT’S GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THERE FOR THE NATIONWIDE CARS? “I think that it’s going to be a lot like what the 500 was in the fact that these Nationwide cars have so much drag on ‘em that there’s going to be two and three-wide running down the straightaways and everybody is going to have to figure out how to file into the corners.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU THAT THE TEAM HAS CONFIDENCE IN YOU TO PUT YOU IN THESE TYPES OF SITUATIONS? “I don’t know, it’s like we either move really slow or we jump off the deep end. And I’m not saying that in a negative way. It’s like the last couple years for me, I’ve filled in for Brad (Keselowski) when he hurt his foot and done a lot of testing for the teams. I’m honored that they put me in the car and that Shell and Pennzoil also decided that they wanted me in the car. We’re going to do the best that we can to represent them. You never know what happens and there’s always a reason for everything, so I just feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to run these two weeks. If we get an opportunity to do more, that’d be great. If not, I’m going to take it as I learned a little bit more than what I would have sitting at home or doing a TV show. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can and not expect too much out of myself but I want to go out there and I want to run well.”

“I really haven’t had much more than I one-year contract since I first came over running on the NASCAR side, so every year is kind of a make or break in some ways. I look at this year as this was a great opportunity having Alliance Truck Parts come on and be our primary sponsor and having the Wurth group jump up and be able to give us the opportunity to run full-time, you know, to run for the championship. I thought we were going to be a little bit better starting the year but it appeared that we lost a little bit in what we had completion-wise toward the end of last year to where we started off this year and we’ve had to work on the cars. The biggest thing that I look at is what’s Brad doing? Brad has obviously won three races over here on this side. With the exception of the first couple of races of the year, we ran real close to Brad all year, finished right in front of him, right behind him. I know as long as I keep up with him and beat him that I feel like if I get the right opportunity on the Cup level, I can do some good things over here too. I try to judge myself off of him and I’ve learned a lot from the last two seasons, being able to sit back and to watch. If I can take anything away from it, to just learn a little bit more, that’s a great thing to be able to go out there and do that.”

YOU ARE A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER AND HAVE A LOT OF LAPS AT INDY. IS THAT AN ADVANTAGE GOING INTO THAT RACE? “Compared to Ricky (Stenhouse) and Austin (Dillon) they don’t have any time but Elliott (Sadler) sure does as far as that goes. Some of the races that Austin has been to, his first time at a track this year, he’s run really well at. I’m not going to take it anything other than we’ve got to go there and do the same thing that we do every weekend. We’ve got to be smart about how we use our tires in practice. We’re actually at a little bit of a disadvantage going in there to Ricky and Austin. We’re going to have to consolidate it and be smart about how we go out there and practice.”

Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T) Qualified 22nd

“We certainly feel good about where we’re at. I wouldn’t say we’re content but we’re happy to be where we’re at. We want to get more wins, continue to show consistency and move our program forward. You know, get the ball rolling and carry some momentum into the Chase. It looks pretty good that we’re going to be in it, so I’m proud of that but I just don’t want to be in it. I want to go out there, make a run and have a shot at winning it. We’ve got some work to do to make sure that we’re consistent and fast enough to do that. That’s where we’re at.”

WITH THREE WINS, DOES THIS PUT YOU IN A GOOD SPOT THESE NEXT EIGHT RACES BECAUSE ALL YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT ARE WINS? “Absolutely. I would say I felt that way beforehand and now I can just really feel that way. You know, I think everyone has a little different approach to the season. My approach from last year was to just win races and the rest will take care of itself. And I’ve had that approach since the season started and will continue to have that approach until it really matters which is in the Chase as far as consistency is concerned. If you have wins, you’ll find the consistency. I’m not concerned about that but I like having those wins and feeling immune. I would rather be ninth or tenth with three wins than be fifth or sixth with zero wins. Either way it plays out, if the Chase starts and I fall out somehow, which again that’s doubtful, I would have the same amount of points as someone who is fifth or sixth with no wins so I would at least like to take my chances and have them bonus points. That’s kind of my perspective as the season starts but everyone has got their own.”

A YEAR AGO, YOU WERE 21ST IN POINTS BUT YOU STILL MADE THE CHASE. HOW DO YOU NOT POINT FINGERS WHEN YOU ARE STRUGGLING LIKE THAT? DOES IT TAKE A SPECIAL TALENT NOT TO DO THAT? “Well, I think that everybody’s situation is different. For us last year, I knew the situation. As far as Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and I, it was our first year together in the Cup series. I felt comfortable as the year developed we’d continue to grow together. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t nervous leaving Loudon ‘cause I was last year with where we were in points. I also felt like the best was still yet to come and that we could make something happen. So, you know, I think that situation gave me the mentality of hope that I needed to look forward and to continue to believe. But you know Jeff’s (Gordon) situation could be different. I don’t know enough about Jeff’s situation with his group and so forth. Obviously, they’ve been together for a little while but I would say the great thing about this system in general is that wins are rewarded. On any given weekend, you’ve got a shot at winning, especially when you’ve got a car like he does and a team like he does at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m not sure what his mentality is but I know I wouldn’t give up.”

YOUR CREW CHIEF PAUL WOLFE HAS RACED HERE IN THE K&N SERIES EAST. HAS HE TAUGHT YOU ANYTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE TO HELP YOUR PERFORMANCE? “Absolutely. Paul love coming out here and I think he’d tell you that this is probably one of his home tracks so to speak. So I think he takes great pride in his performances out here. I can’t remember if he’d won a race here or not in that East series that you talked about but I knew that he was really competitive. I think there’s a whole click of racers; you know, you’ve got (Tommy) Baldwin, (Frankie) Stoddard and I think Kevin Bono all from this area. Slugger Labbe, I think, is from this area too somewhere. They all seem to come here and run just a little bit better so they must know something.”

GIVEN THE UNCERTAINTY WITH THE 22 CAMP, HOW DOES THAT IMPACT THE ORGANIZATION, YOUR TEAM AND YOUR RUN FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? “Well, I think uncertainty is a good word because I’m uncertain myself about how it’s all going to unfold. It’s certainly not something that if you wrote down on paper you’d want to happen. It is what it is and we have to figure out the way to minimize the distraction. You know, as far as those things are concerned, I’ve got to rely on Roger (Penske) and everybody at Penske Racing, whether that’s Tim Cindric or all those guys, to walk around it and minimize the collateral damage. Certainly, it’s not an optimal situation but we’re going to work through it.”

YOU HAVE TO BE IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS TO GET THE BONUS POINTS. WHEN IT’S CLOSE, DO YOU PLAN DEFENSE OR OFFENSE? “I don’t plan on letting it become close (laughs). It only becomes close when you play defense. We’re going to keep pushing ahead. I have a team that I feel like if we do all the right things, we will drive away from tenth. I hate defense.”

YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EYE IS NOT ONLY GETTING TO THE CHASE BUT WINNING THE WHOLE THING. DO YOU LOOK AT WHAT TONY STEWART DID LAST YEAR AS AN INSPIRATION FOR THAT AND THAT THERE IS NO GAP TOO BIG TO COME BACK FROM? “Yeah I would say that there is no gap that’s too big. I would say that I’m motivated by winning. There’s always to some degree that consistency is more important. Obviously, Carl (Edwards) didn’t win a single race in the Chase and still managed to finish with the same amount of points as Tony. So there’s a strong argument to be made for the importance of consistency but we’re not in the Chase yet. We’re outside of it by a few races and the model before the Chase starts to me is based on wins. The model once the Chase starts is based on consistency.”

AT NEW HAMPSHIRE IN THE CHASE ERA, IN EIGHT OF THE CHASE SEASONS, THE CHAMPION HAS WON HERE FOUR TIMES ON HIS WAY TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP. IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT MAKES IT A GOOD BAROMETER FOR A TITLE CONTENDING TEAM? “I didn’t know that stat. In general, I think it speaks to strengths of teams because, you know obviously, you’re coming back to Loudon for a second time and a list of other tracks for a second time whether that’s Martinsville, Dover, Texas, etc. And those are all repeat appearances in the season. They are in the Chase so it shows to the strength of a team that’s able to get better or continue their performance at those tracks that you’re coming to for the second time and that’s really important in the Chase. I would say that’s probably more the rationale than anything specifically about Loudon. I don’t think there is any other track that’s like it in the Chase or really throughout the season, there’s nothing like it. That’s not a bad thing.”

HAVE YOU TALKED TO A.J. AND WHAT’S HIS MOOD? CARL EDWARDS SUGGESTED THAT MAYBE DRIVERS NEED TO UNITE AND HIRE THEIR OWN TESTING COMPANY WHEN YOU GUYS GO IN FOR THE TEST. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? “I haven’t spoken with A.J. I don’t know anything more than what you guys know. I assume that if A.J. wanted me to know more, he would call me or tell me or text me or whatever or someone from his group would. So I’ve kind of taken that as a signal for him not wanting me to be involved which is okay. So that’s kind of where I’m at there.

“I’ve read all the same things, listened to what everybody has had to say and there’s a lot of different takes on what it means. You know, I think I have different views than most everybody else does on it. I’m certainly not supportive of Carl’s idea. I don’t think that there’s a place for things like that. I don’t think we need more politics involved in the sport and that’s what groups like that bring in. I think it’s a greater question to me of when I look at the issue at hand with A.J., there have been some people who said it doesn’t matter what it was. I disagree with that. I think it does matter what it was. It does to me. It might not to everybody else but it matters to me what it was because there’s always going to be that level of uncertainty that I have over any athlete or driver that performs at these levels and what they’re taking or not taking. It’s so difficult to give a great explanation of how I feel about it but I think that I want to believe that any performer or athlete out there would not be dumb enough to take a drug that is against the law, illegal. It just stands to reason that if you’ve made it this far in the sport that you’ve had the knowledge to not do anything that dumb. But I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s what it was. I hope it wasn’t. I hope it was something simple, you know, a stimulant or whatever release he put out. If that’s the case, it does make a difference. It makes a huge difference because it’s my personal belief and I’ve gone through the injuries and so forth. I think you guys saw that last year. It’s my personal belief that nothing should be allowed, nothing. I don’t feel like you should be able to take Flintstone (vitamin) pills. It’s my personal belief. I think you’re race car drivers; you should have to overcome it. I think it’s a bunch of bullshit that people are allowed to take supplements or any of those things. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think any athlete should be allowed to take that but that’s my own personal beliefs. But where the gray area comes in is what is allowed per the law is not necessarily allowed per whatever drug codes through all these sports. That creates another set of issues. That’s why I think nothing should be allowed.

“So at the end of the day there are things that are still allowed and who gets to pick and choose what they are I don’t know. I don’t understand that process. I know my own personal code of avoiding it is to take nothing at all. I can still tell you when you go in that room to have a drug test taken, I’ve never taken drugs in my life. I’m scared shitless of it. It’s honestly a phobia of mine. But I go in that room and I’m still scared because you know that if something goes wrong, it’s a death sentence for your career. It’s over. And you know it’s in human hands and by the very nature of being in human hands, there is potential for error. I’d like to sit here and believe that it’s gone through all the processes to make sure that it was done right and that no one would go out on a limb and risk someone’s career if it wasn’t checked, checked and back checked. But I also know that the course of history shows that humans make mistakes even when they check, check and recheck. That’s why airplanes crash. That’s how things go. There are plenty of redundancies in the airlines and they still find a way to crash. So there’s mixed emotions for sure on my end. I wish that the pool of athletes that compete and make money like we do, whether it’s here today in NASCAR or the NFL or even the Olympics, it would be my preference that you were allowed to take nothing and that it was you’re job to just do it, to just go out there and perform throughout the pain or whatever it is that ails you. But obviously that’s not the situation. Until we get together as a group or as a society and make that a position, there’s always going to be this gray area to where we’re asking ourselves what supplement is right and what’s not, you know, what’s okay and what’s not. I laugh out loud when I read this list of people who say ‘Well I have my supplements checked’ like there’s some special list of supplements that are okay but these aren’t. What kind of world is that? That’s terrible. Nothing should be allowed. Because then it just comes down to who you’ve got for a doctor or a lawyer that says that this is okay and this is not. And I think that we all know that you can get a doctor or a lawyer these days to say you’re okay with anything you do. It reminds me of an old Jeff Foxworthy joke about the difference between, you know, kids and senior citizens. You worry about drugs with both of them. The only difference is that one is legal and one is not. I can remember having grandmas and so forth that took drugs that would knock you out and then couldn’t even stand up. They were all legal you know. They might not be legal in this sport but you still have to wonder about those things. So I’m sure that I have different views than everyone else. I don’t think there needs to be any committee that approves drugs or supplements or whatever it is. I just think you shouldn’t be allowed to take anything. You should just man-up and drive the damn race car.”

“I believe that there are people that have taken drugs and drove race cars before. I’m sure that’s happened before. I think when you get to this level, there have been so many systems to check and recheck you’d like to think somebody has made it that far, that their not dumb enough to take a recreational drug but things happen. I’m not going to say it never happened and that could be what it is but it certainly does make a difference what he took in my eyes.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE A.J. RIGHT NOW? “If he asked for it, man, I don’t even know. I don’t know where to start. You know, I hope that he’s taking some time to spend with his family and finds what he needs within himself because no matter what the outcome is, it’s going to be a long road.”

DO YOU THINK HIS REPUTATION IS BEYOND REPAIR? “Whether it comes back positive or negative, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s still a death sentence. Within this sport, we rely on sponsors and reputation. And it seems like those headlines for the corrections section in the newspaper is always in a much smaller print. I don’t know if you noticed that or not (laughter); much smaller print. I don’t think that’s any different for the rest of society.”

WHEN IT COMES TO SUPPLEMENTS, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE DRIVERS THAT TAKE THEM HAVE BENEFIT OVER YOU? “Absolutley, yeah, without a doubt.”

SOME DRIVERS TAKE THEM AND TAKE THE ONES THEY FEEL THE NFL USES AND THEY FEEL THAT’S SAFE. FOR THOSE LIKE YOURSELF THAT DON’T TAKE THEM AT ALL, ARE YOU AT A DISADVANTAGE DRIVING A RACE CAR? “Well, it stands to reason, yes. You would think that medical science has created these items to make a gain, not just to take ‘em. I’m sure there’s ones out there that just taste good. I’m sure there’s ones out there that create a performance advantage. I’m scared shitless of them and I don’t take ‘em because that moment where this could potentially happen to you, I know what kind of death sentence that is. I would rather work harder and overcome it than risk the potential for having a moment where you don’t pass a drug test.”

WERE YOU GUYS SHOCKED BY THE RESULTS? “I don’t know how you couldn’t be shocked. I wasn’t cheering about it, how about that. You know it’s a tough thing to see. As a race car driver, to me, it’s like watching somebody get killed ‘cause you know what it is to that person’s career. It’s a devastating moment.”

WHEN YOU SAY IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHAT HE TOOK, DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE BECAUSE HE SHOULD GET DISPENSATION IF IT’S A STIMULANT VERSUS A NARCOTIC? IF IT’S A CERTAIN TYPE OF SUBSTANCE, HE SHOULD GET LEEWAY? “What I’m saying is the difference between a recreational drug versus whatever you want to call it, a supplement, stimulant, etc., one is legal and one is not. Society has obviously made a case for one that it has not for the other. That means the sports world is in limbo trying to decide between the two as well. We don’t seem to have an answer.”

Source: SRT Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Interview
Tags allmendinger, dodge, hornish, keselowski, new hampshire, penske