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DEARBORN -- There wasn’t any activity for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last week, but that didn’t stop Richard Petty and AJ Allmendinger from at least getting to a race track. Both took part in a photo shoot for a series of webisodes, which will be posted to www.43fiestas.com as part of the latest Ford Racing sweepstakes promotion called ’43 Fiestas’. In between takes, the two Richard Petty Motorsports members answered some questions about where the organization stands and what its goals are for the rest of 2010 and beyond.
RICHARD PETTY, Co-Owner – Richard Petty Motorsports
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT NEXT YEAR? ARE YOU STAYING WITH TWO CARS OR WILL YOU TRY FOR THREE OR FOUR?
A. Right now, we’re happy with two cars. Hopefully, I think we’ve got everything squared away on two cars, so, right now our main focus is gonna be on two cars. If something falls out of the sky, then naturally we’re open.
Q. IS THERE FULL SPONSORSHIP FOR BOTH CARS?
A. As far as we know, yeah. They just signed in with Stanley last week with Marcos driving the car and, as far as we know, they’re pretty happy with Best Buy. We’ve got everything but the contract right now, so we feel real confident that they’re gonna come back and do the same thing they’ve been doing the last couple of years.
Q. HOW DO YOU LIKE HAVE TWO YOUNG, HUNGRY DRIVERS SET FOR NEXT YEAR?
A. I’ve been through a bunch of this stuff and a lot of the things that I’ve done over a period of time I’ve gone back and said, ‘Okay, this guy drove before and I know what he can do, so let’s put him in the car because we know what we’ve got.’ Then when you start out with a couple like we’ve got now, you don’t know what you’ve got, but you have a chance of going forward with them, so, I think from that standpoint to get RPM to grow, we need to start with growing people so they can grow with the organization.
Q. WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE GOING AFTER MARCOS?
A. It was just one of those things that happened. Marcos was a little dissatisfied with where he was at. We were looking for someone to replace the 19 driver and it’s just one of those deals where you just walked up together and, all of a sudden, it came up. I don’t think we pursued him anymore than he pursued us. It’s one of those things that just happened and I always look at things like that as fate. If it’s supposed to happen, it happens and that’s one of the things that came together.
Q. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT HIM AS A DRIVER?
A. He is a fierce race car driver. In talking to him, he’s got the road courses down pretty good. He says he still knows he’s got a lot to learn running around the oval tracks, so he’s in the learning process. He’s come back and said, ‘Okay guys, I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna do everything I can. If it don’t work, I’m going home.’ So you know good and well that he’s gonna put everything he’s got into it because he doesn’t want to stay around just to run and be running. He wants to win races.
Q. WHAT IS THE STATUS OF KENNY FRANCIS WITH THE ORGANIZATION RIGHT NOW?
A. You’ll have to talk to Kenny. It’s really in Kenny’s court. We’ve talked to him and told him what our strategy was for next year and it’s just gonna be his decision. You can only hold people so long. You tell them, ‘Okay, this is the deal. Here’s a contract. If you like it, sign it. If you don’t like it, you’ve got to do something else.’ So he’s in the process right now of just trying to figure out what he’s gonna do next year.
Q. HOW HAS THE RELATIONSHIP GONE WITH FORD AND ROUSH FENWAY THIS YEAR?
A. So far I guess it’s gone pretty decent. We get together every week and say, ‘Okay, what did you do last week and what are you gonna do this week.’ They’re using a bunch of our strategy and we’re using a bunch of theirs. They started using some of the things we’ve used that I think has kind of helped them in the last three or four weeks. Everybody thought they had the best deal and we go over and look at what they’ve got and we still think we’ve got the best deal, but I think together we’re looking at a situation where this is Ford Racing. Ford comes in and says, ‘You guys have got to work together because this is our team. They’re not looking at the Roush Fenway team or the RPM team, they’re looking at both of them as their team. They’re not on either one’s side, so, from that standpoint, we’re kind of forced into working together, but so far it’s been really good. Jack’s been really open to a lot of different deals. We’ve got to get some of the people who work for him to be a little more open and I think it will work better.
Q. HAS THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS CHANGED YOUR MIND AT ALL ABOUT WHETHER YOU NEED THREE OR FOUR CARS?
A. It works different ways. Right now, being that we have the affiliation with Roush Fenway it’s sort of like you’ve got Tony doing his thing with two cars and doing pretty good. From that standpoint, he’s still feeding off the four cars of Hendrick and even with two cars, we’re gonna feed off of four other cars, so you’ve really got a six-car team as far as building the cars and doing your engineering on the cars and building your cars, so the cars are at least equal. Then you leave it up to the crew chiefs and the drivers to beat everybody else.
Q. A LOT HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT KESELOWSKI AND KYLE BUSCH. SOME WOULD CALL IT A FEUD. IS THAT A FEUD? WHAT IS A DRIVER FEUD?
A. For a feud, it has to last a little while. One battle here and then five or six weeks later there’s another little battle, that’s not a feud. A feud goes on when there’s three or four races in a row where they’re beating on each other. If you look at Keselowski and the guy that drives the 11 car, Hamlin, in the Nationwide deal last year. He said, ‘I’m gonna get him,’ and he got him. That winds up being a feud. They really got at each other, but I don’t think Kyle’s paying a whole lot of attention to him. I think it’s a one-sided feud from that standpoint.
Q. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BETTER FEUDS YOU’VE SEEN?
A. Our big deal was us and Allison. It was a little bit in one year and then a little bit more the next year and then it finally came to a head in the early seventies, I think. There were three or four races – Martinsville, Wilkesboro and a couple other races – that was a feud. We were trying to knock each other out of the race and still win the race. Of all the feuds, I imagine that’s the biggest feud there’s ever been as far as racing is concerned. I’ve had run-ins with Cale. Cale has had run-ins with Waltrip. I think it’s just more competition than it is a feud. I don’t think the drivers look at it like a feud where, ‘I’ve got to get him or I’ve got to beat him. I’ve got to go out and try to beat everybody.
Q. BUT BOBBY ALLISON WAS DIFFERENT?
A. With Allison that was a completely different situation. I was trying to win and he was trying to win and we knew if we beat each other we were gonna win the race, so it got pretty bad there for awhile.
Q. HOW DO YOU END THOSE? DOES THERE HAVE TO BE AN UNDERSTANDING?
A. You just meet in the hauler and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to stop this before we hurt somebody or hurt ourselves,’ and that’s basically what we did. We just sat down one day and said, ‘We’re tearing up too much equipment.’ He was tearing up Junior’s equipment and I was tearing up my own equipment. ‘This has got to stop.’ Plus, we were fortunate in that the crashing and stuff we had done we just crashed each other, but anytime you’ve got that much going on and us being mostly at the front of the pack anyway, then you’re gonna get other people involved that are innocent. We just called it to a halt and went on down the road.
Q. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT AJ’S SEASON AND HOW YOU THINK HE’S DONE?
A. He hasn’t done too good. We’re really disappointed in not being a lot more consistent than what he’s been. Some of it has been our fault and some of it has been his fault and some of it has been circumstances. Like I’ve always told you, whether it was at Petty Enterprises or Lee Petty way back, you’ve got to have consistency. Right now, I don’t see any team being as consistent as what I think it would take to win a championship, but somebody will go on a roll and get that part of it, but with AJ’s deal we’ve got to get him more consistent and we’ve got to get our crew more consistent.
AJ ALLMENDINGER – No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford Fusion
Q. AT WHAT POINT DO YOU START LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT YEAR?
A. You’re always looking at this year and next year. You can’t look just toward next year and focus on that because then you kind of throw away the rest of the year, but in our own heads as a company at Richard Petty Motorsports, for me, that’s what I’m looking at. We’ve got to put together all the right pieces that are the strongest amongst the whole company and try to put them together and make the race team strong. Whatever those pieces are, I don’t know. That’s what we’ve got to focus on, but that’s my goal. I want to go out there and finish the year really strong and have something that when we go to Daytona next year, we know that we’re there to go out and contend. Last year, going into this year was tough because we were making the transition to Ford. We were making the transition to a new building and an alliance with Roush Fenway. There were a lot of things there that it’s tough. This sport, you can’t make a lot of change and expect the results right away. Even if you look at the 9. They’ve been together as a race team six or seven years and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’re gonna make the chase, so it’s a tough thing. That’s what I look at. We have all the pieces in place now. We have the tools. Ford gives us the tools. Richard Petty Motorsports builds great cars with the alliance through Roush Fenway and now we’ve just got to put them together and have something really strong going into next year.
Q. HOW DO YOU SEE THE CONNECTION WITH ROUSH GOING FORWARD? IT SEEMS MANY THOUGHT YOU WOULD BE GOING TO THEM FOR INFORMATION AND HELP, BUT THEY’VE COME TO YOU AND ASKED FOR SOME HELP. HAS IT BEEN A MUTUAL EXCHANGE TO THIS POINT?
A. It has, and I think everybody on the outside looked at it like that because, obviously, Roush is such a big company, but, for us, we knew we had good cars at the end of last year when we switched to Ford those last three races. We had two top-10s and a 12th or something like that, so we knew we had good stuff and it’s just a matter of everybody aligning themselves and figuring out where they belong inside the company and how to work together. At the beginning of the year, we were a little bit behind and they helped us. In the middle of the year we kind of helped turn them around and now we’ve got to look back towards them to help us out because they’re running strong again. That’s what you want. You want people running strong and next year I think it’s just really gonna be the same thing. If we can make all the race cars strong, that’s the key.
Q. THIS MAY SOUND STRANGE BUT YOU ARE GOING TO BE THE SENIOR DRIVER AT RPM NEXT YEAR. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT TAKING ON THAT ROLE AND HAVING MARCOS COME ABOARD AS A TEAMMATE?
A. I’m looking forward to working with Marcos. He’s obviously a talented guy and he’s got a long history with Ford, so that’s gonna bring a lot of help and knowledge. He’s a fun guy to be around and he’s definitely gonna push me and that’s what you want. I look forward to that and whatever the number of teams we have, whether it’s two, three or four, we’ve just got to make sure that they’re solid teams and we have a lot of solid people inside the company to make those teams strong. I look forward to that and if I’m looked at as the leader of the team, I’m ready to take that challenge on. I just want to go out and make this company as strong as possible. I want to be as strong as possible. There’s nothing more that makes me mad than struggling. It wrecks my week. This off week, we’re gonna have some fun but it’s gonna be in my head. Unfortunately, I’d like to say it’s gonna be in the back of my head, but it’s gonna be in the front of my mind the whole time even when I’m trying to relax. I don’t relax very well, unless we’re running well. Everybody sees that and I think that’s why they enjoy me so much as a race car driver and on the race team is because no matter if I’m happy or complaining, I’m always gonna give everything I have. That’s no doubt. Nobody can ever doubt the commitment level I have to wanting to go out there and win. Sometimes that comes out in great ways and sometimes that comes out in wrong ways, but, at the same time, I’ll lead by example and I’ll always be the first one to step up and say, ‘Hey, that’s my mistake or that’s their mistake and we need to make it better.’ We win and lose as a team and right now it’s funny because I’ve never had a real season. This is my first real season. In ’07 I was missing so many races. In ’08 I was taken out of the car and missed a few races and then I was switching teams, and last year was just about survival, so this is the first true year I’ve gotten to experience the ups-and-downs of racing, where you get on a great streak and then you hit a lull and you’ve got to fight through it. All of this stuff is new to me when it comes to that. We’re in a lull right now and we’ve got to fight out of it, but if I’m looked to as the leader, I’m willing to take that risk and that challenge on and I’m excited about it.
Q. DO YOU LIKE SHOOTING COMMERCIALS LIKE THIS 43 FIESTAS PROMOTION?
A. This is gonna be fun. I’ve never met Ken Block personally, but I love rallying. I’ve watched him on TV a lot. I really enjoy when it comes to rallying and drifting and other forms like that, just seeing and meeting the guys that are so good at that aspect of it because it is still driving a race car, but it’s so different. For me, it’s fun to experience new things. A couple years ago when I was with Red Bull I got to experience drifting with Rhys Millen and that was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had. To see some of these talents like that and just how different it is compared to what I do is a lot of fun, so I’m happy working with Ford and being a part of the whole 43 Fiestas is really cool.
Q. HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR EVOLUTION AS A STOCK CAR RACER TO THIS POINT?
A. Going into ’07 if you would have told me that this was how it was gonna go, it was never expected to be like that but it’s hard. The Sprint Cup Series may be the hardest form of racing out there. The cars are so different to drive and setups are so critical on them and everything that goes with it. When I was at Red Bull in ’07, I don’t think the team thought they were gonna struggle as much as they did. I mean, Brian Vickers is one of the best qualifiers out there and he missed almost as many races as I did, so I think there were just a lot of pieces that if I could have looked toward the future and knew that was gonna happen, maybe we could have done it a different way. But I look at it as you’re given the chance and you can’t say, ‘No, I’m not gonna be in the Sprint Cup Series. I’m gonna turn it down. I want to go try and run trucks and start with that.’ It was a lot harder than I expected and the team struggled a lot more, and I think just to get to this point was a true sign of how much I wanted it, just because I’ve gone through a lot and it’s put a lot of stress on everything that’s been around me – my family and friends. It’s been very hard and that all goes back to wanting to be able to go out there and perform and win. I think there are times I still maybe overdrive the car when I shouldn’t because I didn’t get to learn those lessons early on because I was more about surviving than anything and trying to prove myself, and felt like every lap – and still to a certain extent – I feel like every lap I’m still out there trying to prove myself. Maybe I don’t have to now. Maybe I’ve got to the point where maybe I shouldn’t feel like that, but that’s the way I’ve always been. But for three years, I had to basically live and die by the sword. Every lap it’s like, ‘Okay, is this gonna be my last lap ever in a stock car or the Sprint Cup Series?’ And now it’s like, ‘Maybe I’ve got to roll with the punches a little bit better and I’m learning that, but there are still a lot of lessons I have to learn that, unfortunately, I never got that chance in three years to learn. Like I said, this is my first true year and I feel like I belong here. I feel like when we’ve got our stuff right I can show that I can go out there and run with the best of them. We’ve just got to do that on a more consistent basis now.