BUSCH: Kluever, Ragan Preseason Thunder - Ford interview

NASCAR Busch Series testing continued today at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for next month's Orbitz 300 season-opener with 39 car-and-driver combinations turning laps on the 2.5-mile speedway. Two of Roush Racing's Busch Series ...

NASCAR Busch Series testing continued today at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for next month's Orbitz 300 season-opener with 39 car-and-driver combinations turning laps on the 2.5-mile speedway. Two of Roush Racing's Busch Series teams attended the first three-day test session with Todd Kluever and David Ragan turning laps in their Ford Fusions. Todd Kluever, driver of the No. 16 Ford, will share driving duties with Greg Biffle this season, while David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 Ford, will compete full time in 2007. Both drivers spoke about the upcoming season during the lunch break at today's test session.

TODD KLUEVER-16-3M Ford Fusion

IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT YOU WOULD BE SHARING DRIVING DUTIES WITH GREG BIFFLE THIS SEASON IN THE BUSCH SERIES. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AS YOU PREPARE TO RUN A PART-TIME SCHEDULER THIS SEASON? "My own expectations are really high. We need to win a race this year. We need to win at least a race, if not two or three. Last year started off horrible, and we actually finally figured it out a little bit there towards the end. Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to keep that team together to see what we can really do this year, but this is definitely the year that I need to get kinda turned around. Eddie (Pardue, crew chief) and all of these guys are great, and I'm really looking forward to having some experience with Greg (Biffle) here and driving some of the stuff that he's driving and just getting the chance with these guys. They're a really good team and they won a race last year, so I'm excited to be with them."

WAS IT DIFFICULT TO FIND THE POSITIVES OF RUNNING A PARTIAL SCHEDULE IN THE NO. 16 BUSCH CAR? "I'm not going to lie, obviously I'm not happy about not running a full season, but I have to look at it from the standpoint that these are really good cars and this is a really good team. I'd rather be with a really good team with really good cars than in something for 35 races just to be there. We just really need to make the most out of the races that we end up with, whether it's 16 or 19 or 22 or whatever it ends up being. I just need to make the most out of every opportunity."

AT THIS POINT LAST YEAR THERE WAS AN INDICATION THAT YOU WERE GOING TO DRIVE THE NO. 6 CUP CAR. IS THERE LESS PRESSURE THIS YEAR KNOWING THAT YOU ARE NOT AUDITIONING FOR THAT RIDE? "There's always pressure. The pressure that I put on myself is always huge, but I've raced for 15 years and it's always been the same pressure. I think expectations were there, and between me and Mike Kelley (crew chief, No. 6), we got along great last year and we just struggled a little bit. I don't think our season went nearly the way that either one of us wanted it to. Mike came from a championship-winning Nextel Cup team with the 97 and I was used to running in the front on the truck races with Mike Beam and those guys, and we really just struggled last year. The real positive about last year that I really hold my head high about for me and Mike is that we never gave up and all of my guys never gave up, even when it was five races to go in the season and we were running horribly. We were still trying to turn our season around and I think it showed with the way that we ran toward the end of the season. It was so much better than how we had run earlier and it showed that my guys never gave up. They could have and they didn't. I come into this year with high expectations for myself and there's always pressure, so you have to deal with that, and nobody puts more pressure on me than myself. Like I said, this is my year to turn it around and make the most of every opportunity, and hopefully win some races."

IS IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR A YOUNGER DRIVER TO BECOME ESTABLISHED IN NASCAR RIGHT NOW COMPARED TO A FEW YEARS AGO? "The frustrating part of last year, and I talked to Burney (Lamar) about it was that we ran our rookie season in a year that there was 12 or 14 guys that were doing double-duty. Those were quality cars, too. Well, I believe that last year that there was anywhere from 18 to 22 Cup guys in a race. So, if you ran in the top 10, I thought you were doing something as a rookie. It wasn't the Busch Series of a couple of years before where I thought that a rookie was going to come out and win a couple of times, like Carl (Edwards) did or Reed (Sorenson) did in their rookie years. It just wasn't going to happen last year. Unfortunately out of all that, I think expectations were that it should still happen. I guess looking at my rookie class from last year, I'm lucky to be here in a part-time schedule. I hate it for Danny (O'Quinn) and I hate it for Burney. Danny is a great guy, a really good teammate and a really good friend, and me and Burney became pretty good friends, too. To know that neither of those guys are here right now, I think it's really unfair. Danny was the rookie of the year last year and doesn't have but a couple of races this year. I think it's a shame and that's the downfall of having all of the Nextel Cup guys in the races. That's the downfall of having so many Cup drivers in Busch races. It's frustrating that way."

WITH FEWER NEXTEL CUP DRIVERS RUNNING THE BUSCH SERIES FULL TIME, WILL THIS YEAR BE DIFFERENT? "I think you're going to have a little bit of an opportunity at the standalone events to shine a little bit more, but that's just kind of a product of the way the Busch Series is right now. Don't get me wrong, it's great to race with those guys and it's great to learn from them and it's great to have those guys in the race, but you're also cutting off a little bit of the stepping stone to where everybody wants to get to."


DAVID RAGAN-6-Discount Tire Ford Fusion

HOW IS TESTING PROGRESSING FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW? "We're making improvements. One car is the car that Danny raced last year and one car is one Todd raced. They've done some improvements on them body-wise and got some more speed out of them. We're making some small gains on our single-car runs and I'm really just trying to get some more experience drafting."

YOU WENT FROM RUNNING A PART-TIME TRUCK DEAL LAST YEAR TO FULL SEASONS IN CUP AND BUSCH THIS YEAR. "Stuff happens pretty quick. This time a year ago, I was testing the 16 car for Biffle and that was just a dream come true to run a Busch car down here. I was just hoping that Jack and the guys would let me test a few Busch cars, and maybe even race one, and I ended up getting to race a few times and to really get some good seat time. It worked out pretty good, but I still have to continue working and keep climbing up the ladder."

RUNNING DOUBLE-DUTY THIS YEAR, HOW HAVE YOU PREPARED IN THE OFF-SEASON? "I really don't know what to expect. The Cup deal is a total new deal to me. A full-time program of any kind is going to be a new deal to me. I don't really know what to expect, but I feel like I trained good over the off-season. We've had a few good tests and I've been busy doing a lot of stuff for AAA and Discount Tire, two great sponsors that are going to be very active in their respective series. I've had a busy off-season and it's really not like we've even had an off-season. I feel like I'm still kinda in the swing of things from last year, and I'll just have to adapt as I go. I really don't know what to expect or what to prepare for, but I feel that I've worked hard - definitely over the last couple of months - and I'm prepared for what I can expect."

IT SEEMS THAT ROUSH'S BUSCH PROGRAM IS JUST AN EXTENSION OF ITS CUP PROGRAM WITH THE EXCEPTION OF TODD KLUEVER. "This is an excellent opportunity to go out and win some Busch races and contend for a championship. I know that all of the Busch teams here are Cup-level teams. We've got a lot of guys from the Cup side, guys that have had success on the Cup side to come down and lead these teams. My crew chief Mike Kelley was the car chief on the No. 97 championship-winning team. To see these cars and the way the teams are run, they certainly are Cup-level teams over here on the Busch side. And, that's what it takes to win nowadays when you have Childress and Gibbs spending a lot of time and money, so we had to step up our program as well. We have great race cars and I think they're going to be better than last year, and last year's were amazing. I think we're going to have a lot of success and surprise a lot of people starting here in Daytona."

DRIVING THE NO. 6 FORD IN BOTH SERIES, HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY FAN FEEDBACK? "It's pretty cool just to be in the No. 6. That's obviously a car in which Mark made a name for himself and the Roush brand. To be driving something like that, I feel like it's still Mark's car and I'm just borrowing it for a few years. Definitely, I know Mark is always going to be known as the No. 6 driver, and it's pretty cool just to be in that same kind of category as Mark. He's still a great friend even though he's not involved as much as he has been, or as much as I would like for him to be. I think I can still go to him and talk, and he'll be there when I need him and he's probably still one of the guys that I will lean on this year."

DO YOU FEEL THAT FANS ARE BEGINNING TO EMBRACE YOU AS THE NEW DRIVER OF THE NO. 6? "Yeah, I think it's an advantage for me to be driving something like this because I'll get some of the fans that are Ford loyal and Roush Racing loyal. I know there are a lot of his fans that will pull for him in his new car, but I think there's going to be some extra work for me to prove that I'm worthy of being in this car. I know that a lot of people question the call of putting me in that car or different things that Jack has done over the years, but Jack Roush knows how to run a winning race team and he's proven that year after year after year in any type of series that he's been in. I'm just glad to be a part of it and look forward to proving to the fans that I can get out there and get the job done. At the same time, I think once they get to know who I am they'll learn to like me, and I think six months from now hopefully I'll be a lot more known than I am today."

YOUR ROUSH RACING TEAMMATE CARL EDWARDS WON FIVE BUSCH RACES IN HIS ROOKIE SEASON, WHICH WAS ALSO HIS FIRST FULL SEASON OF NEXTEL CUP COMPETITION. ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AT THAT LEVEL? "My expectations for the Busch Series are pretty high. I really don't know what to expect in either series, but we've got great cars and great Roush-Yates engines. Mike Kelley and Jimmy Fennig are both winners and they're proven team leaders, and I think the only missing link is the driver. I think it's going to be up to me to be the key between these cars running up front and relaying messages between the crew chiefs and to get the cars running good. We've got high expectations, though, especially for the Busch Series. This is a team that is capable of winning races and running in the top 5 and top 10 every week, and I don't think there's any reason why we can't contend for wins and a top-10 finish in points as well as battle for rookie-of-the-year honors."

-credit: ford racing

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Drivers Greg Biffle , Jack Roush , David Ragan , Todd Kluever , Mike Kelley