Todd Kluever and Danny O'Quinn, Jr., Roush Racing's Busch Series rookie contenders, were the guests during the weekend's final Q & A session inside in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center. Kluever, who spent last season in the Craftsman Truck Series, will compete one year behind the wheel of the No. 06 Ford Fusion in the Busch Series before taking over for Mark Martin in the No. 6 Nextel Cup Ford in 2007. O'Quinn enters his first year of NASCAR competition after running select races in the ARCA Series last year. Both drivers were participants in Roush Racing's Gong Show talent search, with Kluever competing in 2004 and O'Quinn competing in '04 and '05.
TODD KLUEVER-06-3M Ford Fusion - BESIDES THIS WEEKEND'S BUSCH SERIES TEST, YOU WERE ALSO HERE LAST WEEKEND FOR THE TRUCK TEST. COMMENT ON THE TWO WEEKENDS OF TESTING. "I was really just here hanging out and helping the two news kids (Erik Darnell and David Ragan) in the truck program. I really didn't want to come. To be honest, it's not very fun to sit around for four days and watch trucks go around the track when you're not getting to drive. Mike Beam (crew chief, No. 6 Ford F-150) asked me if I would come down and help out and I really respect Mike; he's a great guy. I had the opportunity to work with him halfway through last season, and I pretty much look at him as the guy who came along and saved my career for me because it wasn't looking so good up to that point. I'd do anything and everything for that guy, so I just came down here and helped out. Back here this week with our 3M Ford Fusion, unfortunately, it's not very good. We're struggling a little bit. We need about three to four tenths. Danny (O'Quinn) has them, though, so that's the good part about having a teammate. Mine was the first car built out of the three new ones we built this year, and Danny's was the last, and obviously every car you build you get better and smarter. Danny's car is really good, and we'll go home and cut mine apart and make it like Danny's and come back. Really, I'm not too worried. We're making sure we've got what we need to know so when we come back we know improves it and what hurts it. We'll just have to go home and change the aerodynamics a little bit to get speed."
WHAT IS THE LEARNING CURVE YOU FACE GOING FROM TRUCKS TO BUSCH? "I think the experience in the trucks will help me at Daytona, especially with the Busch car because the aero package they run is similar to the way the trucks draft and soak up, so I have a little bit of experience with that. Otherwise, I think just the experience on the race tracks that we'll be going to. I really haven't found the words to explain it yet, but I guess I come into this year with my eyes a little more wide open. I know what to expect and I know what the year will bring. Any time you come into a new situation, even though you think you're prepared for it, you come in a little bit blind and you don't really know what to expect all of the time when things start happening. It's easy when you're running good, and if you struggle, answering all the questions about why and what's going on, there's a lot of people that put a lot of money into these teams - car owners and sponsors and everybody included and a lot of guys at the shop and on your team. It's high pressure and that's a hard part to handle when you're new coming into this deal. I'm coming into this year a lot more wide-eyed. I know what to expect, and I'm excited about going to some of these race tracks that the trucks only ran once at. We don't go the second time around like the Cup cars and the Busch cars, so I'm excited to go back to some of those places. I'm excited to go to some of the new places, and I've got a really good team and I'm fortunate about that. I'm excited for a good year."
TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE AT DAYTONA. "I actually have been coming to Daytona since 15 or 16 years old. I used to race dirt-oval motorcycles, so I used to come down for Bike Week every year. We did that up until I was probably 21 years old, coming down here every spring racing motorcycles. I would actually come here to watch the Super Bikes or the Motocross races during Bike Week more so than any of the car stuff that was happening. I think my first lap here was in the truck test last year, and then we came back and ran the ARCA race. I've only raced here a couple of times, but I think I've seen about everything that this place can throw at me. I've barrel-rolled down the backstraightaway six times, had a car on fire, and I wrecked in practice. I've wrecked in the race, in the truck race, so the only thing I have left to do is finish one."
WHAT DRIVER HAS BEEN THE MOST HELPFUL TO YOU SO FAR AT ROUSH RACING? "I would say personally for me it's been Mark Martin. Even when I went through the Gong Show audition, I believe Mark was one of the main reasons why I was given my opportunity. Even though he's from Arkansas and I'm from Wisconsin, he spent a lot of years racing in Wisconsin for the same guy that I drove for. We walked the same kind of footsteps with family-owned teams and struggling to get to races and things like that. We just have kind of a connection. He helped me out and he's a guy I can call up if it's personal, or on the track, off the track or whatever; he's always there to give me advice. I have a lot guys. Matt Kenseth has been really good to me, and Carl has been great to work with. I was really fortunate coming in as a rookie that I had the opportunity to work with Ricky Craven, even though he's not here now. He was a phenomenal guy just a mentor, getting me on the right page half of the time and telling me what I need to be worrying about and what I don't need to be worrying about, and things like that. He was a great guy to work with. I've only been here a year, so I really don't feel like I can coach, but I can help as far as different situations that will arise for these guys throughout the year. The things that I went through and had somebody point me in the right direction or tell what me what I need to do. Me and Danny competed against each other for a job the year I won the Gong Show, so I don't think I really have the right to coach him or tell him how to drive because we competed for the same job. But, as far as something coming up in the shop or problems that might arise or things like that, I can definitely show him the way and try and help him fit in a little bit at the shop and things like that. The things that are really important to just get your team to jell right and all of the guys in the shop to jell right with you. That's kind of what I've been doing right now."
TALK ABOUT YOUR FUTURE AT ROUSH RACING. "I'm scheduled to take over the AAA Ford Fusion next year when Mark retires, so my timeline is a full Busch schedule this year with seven Nextel Cup races, and then next year I'll do double duty. I'm really excited about that because the future has been laid out for me. I guess it's mine to lose now, but I'm just really excited. If we can run like I know we can run this year with the 3M team, it will be a pretty smooth transition I think into the 6 car. They'll be some big shoes to fill there, but I've always said that as long as people let me be Todd Kluever in the 6 car and don't expect me to be Mark Martin I'll be OK. There's never going to be another Mark Martin and I just hope people understand that when I get in the 6 car."
THERE IS A LARGE ROOKIE CLASS THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU STACK UP AGAINST THEM? "It's going to be a great rookie class this year. You've got Mark McFarland in Dale Jr.'s car, which is obviously going to be some pretty top-notch stuff there. I know it's JR Motorsports, but there has to be some kind of connection there with DEI, and you can look at how strong Martin Truex ran last year, so you know that their stuff is going to be good. Burney's (Lamar) with Kevin Harvick, and that stuff is obviously going to be very good. Kevin is a smart man and I'm pretty sure that he understands what they need to win races and I'm pretty sure that his Busch teams will get it. Then I have to race against Danny, who is going to have absolutely as good of stuff as I'm going to have, so it's definitely to be tough, a lot tougher than what I went through last year in the trucks. The truck battle started out to be a pretty good rookie class, but for whatever reason it started to fizzle out. It's going to be tough. I'm not going to say that I'm better than those guys or anything like that, but I just think that I have a little more experience, which maybe will help me, especially at the start of the season when these guys are starting to understand what they're getting into. That will all even out as the season goes on, and by midseason that will all be evened out, any advantage I have will be gone and it will just be the team that jells the best and can produce the results."
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS RACING 35 TIMES IN A SEASON, COMPARED TO THE 25 LAST YEAR? "Personally for myself, there were a lot of times last year in the trucks that I got frustrated having three weeks off at a time. I think, for me, the longer schedule is going to be great. It's so hard, every time we got in a position where we got some rhythm going with my truck team or got some momentum built up, you end up sitting for three weeks. That's a frustrating situation when you've run good the last two weeks and you're excited about going the next week and you have to sit for three weeks. I think the Busch Series schedule being 10 races more is going to be a lot better for me. I'm a single man and I don't have any children. I don't have any reason to be at home, so being on the road racing cars is plenty fine by me."
AT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE SEASON? "For me there is a learning curve, obviously, of getting into a car as opposed to a truck. For me, I think having some experience, and if you look at what Martin Truex did as a rookie or Kyle Busch, Reed Sorenson or Carl Edwards in the Busch Series, not that those guys aren't great drivers, so don't mistake me here, but I believe we should be able to do somewhat close to that. I think we should be able to win races this year and we should be able to at least contend somewhere for a championship. I look at the equipment that Carl had last year, and knowing that I'll have the same equipment, personally, that's what I expect myself to do. As for Jack, he hasn't really put any pressure on me. Obviously, there's pressure there to perform seeing how I'm slated to take over the 6 car, but that's in the future and I can't worry about that now. I'm just worried about this year, and whether I'm slated to take over the 6 car or not, I'd still want to be as competitive as I can be this year. I'm just looking to win races and contend for a championship."
DANNY O'QUINN, JR.-50-World Financial Group/Stonebridge Life Insurance Ford Fusion - YOU WENT FROM COMPETING ON ROUSH RACING: DRIVER X TO EARNING A FULL-TIME BUSCH RIDE. TALK ABOUT THAT PROGRESSION. "It's pretty unbelievable. Growing up all through my life, this is something I've always wanted to do, and just to get a chance to do this is unbelievable. Back when the Gong Show started two years ago, I competed in it and they (Roush Racing) helped me out and got me in some ARCA cars last year. Coming back through it again this year, we all thought that there was going to be one guy to come out of this and he's going to be in a truck, so it's going to be that much tougher, but it's pretty crazy how things turned out. Jack (Roush) decided to keep a bunch of us and here I am in a Busch car, and I can't be happier. The test is going real well, and like Todd said, my car is really performing good. It got built last because our deal came along later, and it really paid off, and we're going to go back and transfer some of the data amongst all of our teams and see if we can't get all four of them up front."
TALK ABOUT JUMPING RIGHT INTO BUSCH SERIES COMPETITION? "This year is going to be a totally different jump. Todd, having run in the truck series, he's gotten to go to a lot of these tracks, but for me, it's going to be pretty new all around. I ran six ARCA races last year, and those are the only six speedway races that I've ever run. It's going to be a lot of work and I think we're up for the task. The neat thing, our crew chief (Dan Blickensderfer), he's a new guy. He's been the car chief for Mark Martin the past few years, so he has a lot of knowledge coming from that. Plus, all of the teams work together, so I can go talk to any of these guys and get a little bit of information and driving tips. We've got such great drivers to work with and teammates there that it's just unbelievable. I know when we went out here to make the first few laps, I went and talked to Carl Edwards for a few minutes and he wasn't hesitant at all to tell me everything he knew about this place. That's what makes it so great, and like I said, we've all got the same cars and things, so everything transfers over good. The biggest thing for me is just getting out there and making laps to start the day because a lot of these places are going to be new for me. I think if we can just get out there and do that, and then work on our setup a little bit after I just make a few laps and get used to the track, we'll be all right."
DID YOU ENVISION YOURSELF MAKING IT TO THIS LEVEL WITH A CAR OWNER LIKE JACK ROUSH? "I think everybody as they're going up through their ranks, it's always your goal to make it to the Nextel Cup Series. It's just like my parents and everybody who's been around me, with hard work and determination I think you can eventually get here. It's always in the back of your mind, 'Man, am I ever going to get that shot?' But, that's the cool thing about Jack Roush, he gives you a fair shake when you go out to perform in one of his vehicles. He took 25 of us and put us all in a truck and let us stack up against each other. That's what I like about it because I think deep down each driver knows he can do it, and it's hard, but a lot of times you never get that opportunity to go out there and prove yourself, and that's what I really appreciate about him. He gave someone like me and Todd a chance to go out here and do this."
TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE AT DAYTONA. "The first lap around Daytona is pretty crazy. Everywhere that I've ever been, I'm used to having let off the gas and use the brake. I haven't been on that many speedways, so going around here for the first lap I was kind of hesitant. I'm like, 'For the first lap, guys, am I going to need to lift out here or what?' I saw that they were getting up there pretty close to the wall, and they're like, 'You're not going to have anything to worry about; just hold it to the floor and stick your foot up under the clutch and don't worry about the brakes.' It's pretty crazy going around there wide open. The cars handled really good out there by themselves. I haven't got to draft yet, and I'm pretty sure that's going to be a whole new task, but I'm looking forward to it."
THERE IS A LARGE ROOKIE CLASS THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU STACK UP AGAINST THEM? "I've looked at the list of all the rookies this year, and I haven't had a chance to go around and talk to a lot of them because my deal kind of came about late here and I'm trying to get as much time as I can here. I watched a lot of these races on TV, and I know most of the guys' names and things, so I've kept up with them and it's going to be an unbelievably tough year, especially going for the rookie of the year. I know it's going to be a tough task. I just saw Burney in here a few minutes ago, and he's a great racer along with all of those other guys. I've raced with Joel Kauffman some, and I think it will come down to whoever puts themselves in the right place at the right time. We're all in good equipment and I know each one of them is going to be very tough, but I think we're up for the task. We want to win that rookie-of-the-year title, and that's one of our main goals this year. I think we can do it, and I know Todd is going to be running for it and he's my teammate, but we're both given the same equipment and it's up to us to make the best with it."
WHAT DRIVER HAS BEEN THE MOST HELPFUL TO YOU SO FAR AT ROUSH RACING? "I think it's just like Todd said, everybody at Roush is so helpful. This is all new for me, and here at Daytona is the first time that I've gotten to get in a car, so I haven't had a lot of time to go and talk to him about information at the track, but I've talked to Mark Martin some, and he's a great helper. Anything you've got a question about, he's there for you to ask him. He's really willing to sit down and talk with you, and Carl is also the same way. Like yesterday morning, I went and talked to Carl for a little while before I ever got on the race track, and just having guys like that, and like Todd said, Todd has only been here a year, but that year is very valuable to me because this is all totally new for me. I know I sat and talked with Todd for a little while just about how the cars are driving. It's kind of bouncy here, or it's a little free here, and is that normal for this place? Todd sat down and talked with me a little while about it, and that's very valuable to me having all of these teammates, especially with a team like Roush. They have quite a few teammates that I can go to and just sit down and talk to, and they're all great for that. Greg (Biffle) and Matt (Kenseth) and everybody there, and that makes my job a whole lot easier coming in here as a rookie."
HAVE YOU DISCUSSED A TIMELINE FOR YOUR PROGRESSION THROUGH THE RANKS AT ROUSH? "I think it's Jack's ultimate goal for each one of us to make it Nextel Cup with this team some day. I think that's the whole reason he hires us. As we know, we have a bunch of good drivers there and none of them are very old and ready to move up, so the timeframe, you never know how things are going to end up. Jack tries to promote within the team, and I think that's what's cool about him. He takes everybody, and he starts them out in the truck or Busch Series and tries to develop you up through the ranks so that one day when a spot gets open at Roush Racing you will be able fill it instead of having to go out and hire somebody from another team. That's Jack's ultimate goal, to have drivers there that he can use that are already in the system."
WHAT WERE YOUR PLANS FOR THIS YEAR PRIOR TO GETTING THE CALL TO RUN ONE OF ROUSH RACING'S BUSCH CARS? "Probably this year, had the Busch deal not come about, I probably would have run a few ARCA races, what we could afford on our own. Just to try to get me a little more seat time, and see where we could go from there, and probably just try to race every week no matter what it is. I think the key is just staying in something each and every week, no matter if it's a Late Model, Hooters car, ARCA car, or whatever it may be. You need to stay out there and get a little seat time, and keep sending out resumes and plugging away at it. That's really all you can do. You can't sit back and ponder on what it would have been or what it should have been. You've got to go on and go on with your life and forget about what happened and just look ahead."
DESCRIBE THE MOMENT WHEN YOU GOT THE CALL FROM JACK TO DRIVE THE NO. 50 FORD. "It was unbelievable when Jack called me and said, 'It looks like we might have you a sponsor here. Would you be interested in driving a full Busch schedule?' It's kind of like, 'What did you say?' It's hard to believe. Going through the Gong Show we're all sitting there thinking we're all going for a truck ride, and things worked out well for me and now I'm in a Busch ride, and I can't thank them enough. I don't even know that there's a word in the dictionary that can really justify how you feel when you get a job with someone like Jack Roush. It's one of the top motorsports teams in the world and it's just amazing to be a part of that."
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE SEASON? "The first few races I definitely need to get out there and make laps, but like Todd said, we're in top-notch equipment and I think we can go out and win races. I know Daytona is going to be my first race in a Busch car, but I'm coming here to win this race. We don't come for anything less. We may not win it, and who knows, we may not run worth a hoot, but I really think that we have good enough equipment. And, like Todd said, looking at what all of the other rookies have done in the past, I feel comfortable with my capabilities. The biggest thing for me is to go out there and run consistent, and if we can't win, get the next best thing we can whether that's second, fifth or whatever we can do. We need to just make sure we finish the races and don't put ourselves in crazy situations. I know that's going to probably the hardest thing being a rookie is going out here and getting yourself put in the wrong situation, and that's one thing that I feel I'm pretty good at not doing having run a lot of different series with a lot of drivers. I think I can come out here and adapt pretty well, and by halfway through the season or so I hope we're up in the points hunt. Realistically, I think we've got a good shot at contending for a championship also. I know that sounds farfetched, but I really think with the equipment and with my crew guys, I think we can really do it."