Michigan II: Ford - Jack Roush interview

This Week in Ford Racing August 12, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Grainger Taurus, is 21st in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings going into this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway. Biffle, who...

This Week in Ford Racing
August 12, 2003

NASCAR Winston Cup

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Grainger Taurus, is 21st in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings going into this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway. Biffle, who won his first series race at Daytona in July, was a guest on this week's NWC teleconference, along with car owner Jack Roush.

JACK ROUSH , Car Owner - No. 16 Grainger Taurus:

WHERE IS ROUSH RACING AT THIS POINT IN TIME? "On a good day I've got four losers and I find that I spend more of my time working on the things gone wrong and agonizing over the missed opportunities than I do celebrating the things gone right. So it has not been a year that is that much different from any other year. We've got ample things to improve, to optimize the best opportunity for each driver and each program and each sponsor to do as good as they can. Greg is doing a nice job and putting a program in my program like the Grainger Winston Cup program this year, I insist on compatibility with our other programs. That means the crew chief, the truck driver, the tire changers - the line of tire changers throughout the company - the people that are added need to be acceptable and respected by and have the support of their peers. We built a new team around Greg with folks that are well-respected and accepted for which the rest of the company is trying to help and to help realize success. That's taken a little longer than it might have if we had taken anybody that was out there that had experience that would appear to be attractive. We have had a weaker team this year by virtue of the effort to integrate it to the rest of the program than we would have if we would have just gone for a stand-alone team without trying to draw strength for the rest of our program. So that's a frustration for me and it's a frustration for Greg. Greg has been capable of doing a better job than we've been able to support with the cars that we've built and with the strategies that we've called sometimes and some of the rest of it. Having said that, Greg is 21st in points right now. He moved back from 20th. Mark Martin in his first year with me finished 15th, so we've still got room to get Greg to 15th and getting him closer to the top 10 is not out of the question. He is leading in the rookie championship and he has won a race, and he started on the front row last weekend so that was good. Greg's glass and the 16's glass is definitely more half-full than it is half-empty, but we've got some more work to do. The 99 has been near greatness. He led at Watkins Glen as Greg led at Watkins Glen and based on the way pit stops fell, based on cautions and the fact that they had a transmission problem - the car was jumping out of second gear - we missed another opportunity for Jeff to win his first race in a while. We're anxious to get that going. Mark had an OK race at Watkins Glen and he's had a fair year. We were hoping to put him in championship contention this year and, based on a mechanical problem or two at the beginning of the year and some other things that have frustrated him with the selection of cars and setup information that was applicable to his program, we haven't done what had hoped to. The 97, Kurt Busch, is having an awesome year. He and Jimmy have started off the year and thought they were gonna win the championship this year and I hoped that they could and would, but they had some mechanical problems that were struggling to miss and some other issues that have hurt the program, so where he stands in points at eighth is commendable and acceptable and we'll build on that for next year. The 17, that program speaks for itself. They haven't had any mechanical issues. There has been only one race that when we looked back on Monday morning and asked, 'Could we have made a different strategy that might have been helpful?' And there has been only one occasion of that, but the rest of it has been perfect. We've won our races and been leading in top-10s and equal in top-fives to anybody else. Anyway, for Roush Racing there are a lot of things for me to do in terms of trying to improve, but there's a lot of success and a lot of hope and expectation of things being really good for all of our drivers and all of our programs in the future."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SPONSORSHIP SITUATION AT ROUSH RACING? "We've got a sponsorship to finalize for the 99 car. I talked to Geoff Smith, our president, this morning and he tells me there are four companies that we'd be very proud to be affiliated with that don't have conflicts with other existing sponsors that we're in negotiations with and I hope there will be an announcement soon. I'll say it's not imminent. I don't think we're in the closing stages of it, but we're certainly very encouraged that there's gonna be the kind of support for the 99 program last year that we've enjoyed in the past and that we require to go forward."

WERE YOU SURPRISED WITH THE WAY THE SPONSORSHIPS HAVE GONE THIS YEAR WITH THE NAVY AND CITGO? "The Navy went as far as they committed to go and they decided, in the wisdom of their marketing agents and in their strategies that they wanted different venues and different strategies than we were able to avail through our truck program. They had their sights set on a Busch program that would be affordable to them and would be able to be started and stopped when they wanted and we didn't have one of those. The Navy needed to go down the road and we needed to be on to what was next. The CITGO situation, CITGO has been in the sport for a long time. They've got new management. They've had some problems in Venezuela that have been well documented in the news and it's not surprising to me that there has been a reassessment of their priorities and a termination to pursue some different strategies. I think the Winston Cup program and the Winston Cup fan is still more important to them in their convenience stores and their gas stations than anything else they can do, but I don't manage that company. I respect the people that do and we've enjoyed the association and we wish them well. By the same token, there's ample interest - we think - to be able to replace them and be able to go on in the years that lay upon us."

CAN YOU ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF SAFETY WORKERS AND SHOULD THERE BE A PERMANENT CREW? "I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines and be on the outside of that and be drawing conclusions that are not based on the best information on what they should do. I have confidence in NASCAR's intention to operate the series for the drivers and the fans and for everybody involved as safe as possible, given the element that there is an element of danger and risk and excitement associated with the speed and the contacts the cars have with the environment of the race track and one another. I believe NASCAR's intention is to primarily, first and foremost, to make it as safe as it can be and, secondarily, to have everybody feel as good that are operatives and involved in the risk taking and risk making, to have them feel as much involved with the decisions and with the wisdom of the decisions as it can be. When it's time for NASCAR - if and when NASCAR decides that the interest of the drivers and the best interest of the fans is such that they should travel, I think they'll do that. In the meantime, I think that we've got a safety program and a response program that's second to none."

HOW DO SOME CARS GET BETTER FUEL MILEAGE THAN OTHERS? "I'd really rather not answer that question, but I'll answer it and then I'll answer another question that I think is really more germane. Aerodynamics is a small factor in fuel economy consideration. If a car has more downforce and more drag, it can use a bit more fuel. It will use more fuel than that if it is well hooked up on the race track. If the driver and crew chief have the right springs and bar in it and you can have the maximum amount of wide-open throttle time based on not having to wait to get back in the gas, aerodynamics plays a part in that but not a major part. The springs and the bars and the other things are more important. The principles of how an internal combustion engine works are such that for drawing air, which is about twentysome percent oxygen, for every 12 pounds of air it takes about one pound of fuel to make a fire and to make a engine run. If you really thrift that, you can push it up to about 13 pounds of air to one pound of fuel. Beyond that, it won't ignite. It won't make a fire. If you go down to 11 pounds of air to one pound of fuel, now you have a much more rich mixture burning with more fuel and not as much oxygen as is ideal. So you're looking between about 11 pounds of air for a pound of fuel to 13 pounds of air to a pound of fuel. When I'm out close to the edge and when I'm doing what I need to be doing, I'm putting about one pound of fuel for 13 pounds of air and the teams that are out there get confused about what's going on and guess about their fuel mileage. They're operating in the 10.5 to 11.5 area and there is just some work they need to do to go get the engine to run even enough so they can take and get the mixture right.. The thing that winds up happening because we're not fuel injected, you don't have all eight cylinders the same in a carbureted engine so you may have one cylinder that wants to run at 10:1 compression and the one next to it wants to run at 14:1. Well, you can't lean it down in that corner for those two cylinders with a four-barrel carburetor to get the 10:1 leaner because if you do, you'll burn up the one that's already too lean. So my effort is to come back and work with the carburetor and work with the manifold so they don't have great disparity between the cylinders that are fed by each of the two ports of the carburetor. Then I can come back, if I use a flow vent, which I do, and understand how much fuel has gone through the various ends of the carburetor, then I can go for the kind of balance that gives me pretty much throughout the engine an even 12.5 to 13:1 air-fuel ratio."

TODD BODINE WAS QUOTED AS SAYING HE THOUGHT THERE WERE AS MANY AS 16 CARS USING TRACTION CONTROL. DOES THAT REALLY EXIST? "I have great respect for Todd. Todd drove for me on two occasions, once as a backup for Jeff Burton when he was injured and once in a truck program. Todd does a good job and he could drive for me again, but, having said that, I suspect that somebody caught Todd when he was frustrated because he was running 17th and there were 16 cars in front of him and he was doing the best he could, and made an argument or rationalization that they must have something he didn't or they wouldn't be beating him. I think the quest for traction control as it relates to Winston Cup at the highest level has been primarily a snipe hunt. I think there have been people that stand on the side that say, 'If you hold your brown paper bag out here and point it in this direction and you hear something click three times and you close the bag you're gonna have a snipe. I think that cutting all the ignition boxes apart and all the inspection of wheels and tires and brakes and all the other things NASCAR has done on thousands of occasions on hundreds of cars has not yet yielded one incident of traction control. My cars have been checked, I'm sure, a thousand times for it and it's just not out there. Now that's not saying that if they weren't checking that somebody wouldn't bring it, but, right now, you couldn't get it in and you couldn't get away with it. The only shot you would have was if you had a 40th-place car that finished 20th with that device because you wouldn't get inspected. But if you're gonna get inspected, they're gonna find it. There are some other things that I think are subject to getting around, but I'm not the least bit concerned about traction control based on the way Steve (Peterson) and all the guys in the inspection process maintain vigilance over it."

DO YOU THINK THE AVERAGE FAN CAN FOLLOW THE FUEL MILEAGE PART OF RACING AND DO YOU THINK IT'S IMPORTANCE THAT THEY DO UNDERSTAND IT? "First of all, I think the discussion and general subject of fuel mileage is primarily the subject of editorials. You guys can make as much or as little of it, make it as well understood and explained or leave it in a cloud or a fog if you're inclined to do that. With NASCAR restricting the amount of fuel that goes in the car and NASCAR limiting the way that you can measure the fuel that the car uses - there's no fuel full meters and there's no means to exactly and precisely know how much is used - it adds an element of excitement and an element of risk and an element of uncertainty that I think makes the racing more interesting. The thing that would be bad is if NASCAR took a position that they would always throw a caution and never let fuel mileage be a factor given with the way they've got the rules orchestrated. They could make a determination not to throw a caution for debris based on the fact that not everybody had stopped for fuel and some people would be caught. They could do either of those things and I don't think they do. I don't see evidence in recent years that they play favorites on who gets caught on fuel and who won't. In the final analysis, whether the fact that somebody like Greg races for somebody like me and is able to stay on the race track longer than somebody like the DEI bunch, that have their priorities in their programs elsewhere and have on a given day the fastest car not be able to win the race because they hadn't worked as hard on their fuel mileage - whether that's good or bad - write your editorials. I'll enjoy seeing what everybody thinks about it."

FROM A CAR OWNER'S PERSPECTIVE, HOW DOES BRISTOL RANK? "I have at least one brown paper bag that's large enough to fit over my head with comfort. Every 15 seconds for each of my cars there's some kind of - I'm gonna save life and death for the car, not for the driver or the fan - but there's a big of anxiety associated with every corner of that race track for every car for every lap. I hyperventilate. I get so excited in watching it and trying to anticipate and react to things or see to it that my guys react to things as well as they might, that I just about OD every time we go there. It is the most exciting race track we go to from the point of fan interaction and the things that can happen on the race track that can cause an impossible dream to be realized and to have the contention served up where everybody can enjoy it in a very wholesome way. I think Bristol is a great place to go. Having said that, in the early years with Mark and in the more recent years with rookies like Greg, I encourage them not to take their best car. In fact, if they're down on their cars, I encourage them to take a donor car or an old show car or something (laughing). We generally don't have to resort to that, but it's an exciting place. It uses up a lot of parts and I think it's a very important part of what we do in NASCAR and it needs to be balanced against some of the other places that don't have that level of contention."

WHY DIDN'T GREG GET AN OPPORTUNITY IN WINSTON CUP EARLIER THAN HE DID? "Greg raced as much as he could and he knew he wanted to be a race-car driver at a very early age. All he needed was an opportunity. He came once into the Southeast with a Busch car and was crashed out and he came one other time in a Sportsman car over at the Concord race track and they threw an early caution in the closing laps to stop him from passing and getting the big prize where he could stay. So he had two entrees that he was able to get organized and both times they were frustrated by people that did things to him or against him that really weren't fair and, because of that, he had to go back and do the best he could to earn his living and support himself in the Northwest. I called him as a result of Benny Parsons not giving me any relief until I found him a place. When I called him and said, 'Greg, we've got a spot. We've been negotiating with a driver that isn't signed up and we've got a sponsor that's ready to, and Benny Parsons says you're the man. Would you like to come?' With that, Greg padlocked his chassis in his race-car shop and he put his restaurant/sports bar into the hands of somebody that he trusted and in the matter of days he was back in Charlotte. He's only been back there to visit ever since. He wanted to be here. He wanted to be a part of it. He recognized that this was where stock-car racing was done at the highest level and it just took him a while to get in."

AS YOUR SENIOR DRIVER WHAT DOES MARK MARTIN MEAN TO YOUR TEAM IN TERMS OF BEING A LEADER AND ROLE MODEL? "Mark is an example to all the other guys for sportsmanship, for professionalism and for dedication to a program. He's there for all of them. On a given day he may feel that his effort on the race track was frustrated by somebody withholding something from him - I'm talking about one of my drivers - that he would have given them. On those and only those occasions does he exhibit frustration with them to me. His standards are pretty high and not everything he would do for one of his teammates, I would expect them necessarily to do for him in all circumstances. He gets a little cross-wired there and that's the only time. He's there to help them with their setups. He's there to help them with their relationship to the fans, to the sponsors, all those things that he's perfected that's made him the kind of a hero and the kind of the personality he is to the NASCAR community. He's anxious to help the others with that. If I find myself at loggerheads with a driver or a crew chief and I need a third party to step in for me to try to help me with my issue, or even to use as a sounding board to help me determine if I'm on the wrong side of an argument or a contentious consideration, I'll ask Mark - 'Hey, what do you think about this? This is what I see, do you see something different?' But, in the meantime, if it's something that involves a third party and if I'm on where I should be and if he agrees that I'm where I should be, he'll sit down with me with drivers and crew chiefs and make the appeal that I would make to try to get them to come around to our way of thinking so we could make the best of their opportunity, to take advantage of all the resources we have that they could use to be able to win with and be successful with."

SHOULD NASCAR BE MORE GLOBAL IN FORMAT OR STAY WITH WHAT'S WORKED? "First of all, let me say that I think our economy has gone global and the involvement of the manufacturers is more global now than it's ever been and, certainly, we enjoy a global following - not only with the Americans that are abroad either in the armed services or on business or on vacation. So we enjoy that following and that's a very wholesome thing. But there is, however, a practical limit of how many races we can stage and where the structures and the investments have been made to stage those races. I think that's primarily in North America. Today it's singularly in the United States, but I think that there's room for a race in Canada and, certainly at some point, a race in Mexico and I'll support and encourage the day when we can do those things. The cars themselves are really organized to be old track-type cars operating in closed circuits with left turns. If we were to think about having an ideal car that made the most sense for going left and right or primarily right rather than left, they would be differently configured cars than what we have. I'm not for pushing the technology or pushing the design of the cars so we could run more road circuits when we've got all these oval-track circuits that are built ideally to house large numbers of people, not unlike Bristol where you can have the greatest access to the fans to all the action on the race track. I don't think road racing is nearly as good racing to cut the chase as oval-track racing with enclosed stadiums and I think that's what NASCAR is about. But I do look forward to going to Canada and I do look forward to going to Mexico when we can find room in the schedule and still satisfy all the fans in the continental United States that have been either part of building facilities or those that are retired and have motorhomes to be able to follow it."

WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN ON THE WEEKEND OF FORD'S CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR FORD HAVE A TAURUS PARKED IN FRONT OF THE WALDORF IN DECEMBER? "On Ford celebrating it's 100th year as a successful automobile company, it's either the second or third time Henry Ford started a company. I think it was certainly the second incorporated time and it may have been the third, he was 40 years old when he realized this measure of success and was able to really get on his way. I have been on Ford's radar screen with doing things that they considered to be worthwhile through the dealer organization or with parts and cars and other things that they gave me, I've been on their radar screen for 36 years. So a big part of my life and a big part of the time that Ford has been successful, I've been racing their products and I'm very proud to be there for them on their centennial. I would hope to be around for a second one, but I'm not making any reservations on rooms or anything to celebrate that. The fact that Kurt, on the weekend of that celebration in Dearborn, that he was able to win the hometown race in Brooklyn at MIS, that's just an impossible dream. That's one of those deals where you have an eclipse and all the stars and the moons line up and you have this radiance that goes with it that is exceptional. Kurt and Jimmy have done a great job. Our program was not focused for doing more than we normally do. We do the best we can every week and it all came together. I thank my lucky stars that we were able to be there and help Ford celebrate in that circumstance."

WITH THE ADVANTAGE MATT HAS IN THE POINTS RACE, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THE NASCAR WINSTON CUP TITLE? "I'm gonna take exception to the fact that you said the advantage he has. I don't think Matt has any advantage. He's got a lead in the points based on the fact that he's been more consistent and we haven't had any trouble yet. The advantage is to the pursuers with the regard to their cars and their engines and that's the stuff of editorials. I'll answer those questions if there are any out there. As far as the idea of celebrating a championship with Ford Motor Company in front of the Waldorf or wherever, I will be honored and I'll be relieved it if happens for Matt this year because I'll feel like that whatever bad karma or whatever bad luck I brought on people that were clearly able to do that had ended and that somebody had won. Mark Martin has been of a caliber and certainly been in a position to have won a number of championships. Last year he was leading the championship in September and NASCAR gave Chevrolets and Pontiacs an inch of nose extension that dramatically improved their cars from an aerodynamic point of view. That upset the balance of competition and, if there wasn't already an advantage for the Pontiacs and the Chevrolets it was certainly shifted that way, and Tony was able to come back and amass more points from September through November and Mark finished second. That's not the first time that it's happened. Whether it's happened to me and Mark has been an innocent bystander, or whether it was a case where things just fell against us both of our doing, or whether either one of us could have done anything devoid, I'm not sure. But I will be honored and I'll be relieved if Matt can win this year and then maybe from that point on we can have our share of things going forward."

YOU SIGNED A FIVE-YEAR EXTENSION WITH FORD. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? "As I said previously, I've been racing Fords for 36 years and I haven't raced anything else in the meantime. Most of the time, Ford's commitment to me has been one year at a time and we've seen our way through that. We've made payments on our buildings and kept our hardware and our teams together and one year after another they've come back with an extension or with a continuation of their support and we've been able to keep going. We haven't been in Winston Cup all that long. We were drag racing first and then road racing and now Winston Cup. I enjoy the fact that they've given me an honor or given me the compliment of a five-year extension, but in the overall scheme of things five years is a little more than 10 percent of the time I've been involved and I expect to be there much more than five years. So it's not a big deal for me. It may be more of a big deal for some others. Certainly, Ford is making a statement that they mean to go nose to nose with Toyota or any other folks that would come in and presume to establish dominance that it's gonna be contested by Ford - that they're gonna measure the strength of the challenge that's made and they're gonna suit up for it. I enjoy being a part of a company that will do that as I've had confidence they would do anyway even without that public display."

Ford - Greg Biffle interview

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Benny Parsons , Jack Roush , Mark Martin