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Jan 10, 2014 - 06:35 PM
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2014 Daytona Pre-Season Thunder Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Mike Kelley
Posted by: ASkyler on Jan 10, 2014 - 06:35 PM
2014 Daytona Pre-Season Thunder Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Mike Kelley

Perhaps the most significant change to the 2014 NASCAR roster for Ford Racing is the addition of Mike Kelley as crew chief for the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing car of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kelley and Stenhouse parlayed their chemistry into a pair of Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012 before Stenhouse made the jump to Cup racing in 2013. Now, after a year apart, the pair are reunited and Kelley talked with Ford Racing about being back in Cup racing.

MIKE KELLEY, crew chief, No. 17 Ford Fusion - WELCOME BACK TO SPRINT CUP RACING. "Yeah, it is good to be back. I was over here for six or seven years and won a championship with Jimmy Fennig and Kurt Busch in 2004 and felt like we had a better shot at winning one in 2005 and it just didn’t work out. Jack (Roush) moved me to the Nationwide garage in 2006 and I have been over there. We had a decent run and won a couple championships with Ricky in 2011 and ’12. Probably the most memorable year was in 2010, his first year. We went through some ups and downs, trials and tribulations, and made a really good effort at the end of the season to overcome the largest deficit ever by a rookie to win Rookie of the Year. That gave us some insight into how 2011 would go. Nobody looked at us as being a challenger for the championship that following year so we kind of went and did it under the radar. Now I am given the opportunity by Jack and Robbie (Reiser) with Ricky’s blessing to come work with him again."


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COULD THE SEPARATION LAST YEAR HAVE BEEN A GOOD THING? "I think it might have done us both some good. I learned some things working with Trevor (Bayne) that I hadn’t had to deal with and he learned some things working with Scott (Graves) and maybe it made us stronger for this year. I am really excited to be back with him this year."

YOU GUYS OBVIOUSLY HAVE CHEMISTRY TOGETHER. DO PEOPLE MAKE TOO MUCH OF THAT OR IS IT REALLY IMPORTANT? "You know, I will tell you what. I was kind of one of the guys going into last season that thought it was overrated. I would tell you a year later it is probably underrated. The thing is, I had a great relationship with Trevor and I know Scott and Ricky worked well together but I can also look people in the face today and tell them it was different. I still communicated a lot with Ricky. I still got the phone calls at midnight after a Cup race or he would get them from me after a Nationwide race Saturday night and we talked about things. We would talk about how his day went, how my day went. We communicated during the week a lot, so that never left. That is when I started realizing how important it is. When we started talking about putting this deal back together, not against anything I have ever done, but I solely believe we were doing the right thing in putting the band back together for 2014 in the Cup Series. It is going to be a lot of fun. I brought some of the guys with me from the Nationwide Series. I am excited to get going. We did a test at Charlotte. This test here is more about getting the team working together and making sure we have the parts and pieces so that when we come back here in February and start racing for points we are ready to go."

WHEN RICKY CAME CUP RACING LAST YEAR THERE WERE QUESTIONS ABOUT IF YOU WOULD COME. BACK THEN YOU SAID THE TIMING WASN’T RIGHT. WHAT CHANGED? "There were a lot of circumstances that led into my decision to stay in Nationwide. I had the opportunity to go with Ricky and it was hard. I tell my wife now that is was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made to let him go or me to stay back. I second guessed myself a lot about it. Not even as much for Ricky as for myself. I had kind of gotten to where I accomplished the goals I wanted to on the Nationwide side and you don’t want to go through the rest of your career or life wondering, "what if". There was a part that kept catching me that if I was going to do it I wanted it to be with Ricky and maybe I had missed that opportunity. I talked about it with my family during the long season last year and we came to a decision there that they wanted me to come Cup racing as much as I wanted to go Cup racing. They knew what Ricky and I had and how we felt about each other and our families. It goes beyond me and Ricky. He didn’t put pressure on me in 2013 to come with him because he is friends with my family and my kids and I am sure that was hard on him to not get what he wanted at the time. We talked and we knew that if the opportunity came about that I could come back in 2014 that it would take an act of congress to stop it. We got what we asked for, now it is our job to make it work."

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THIS RACE TEAM IN 2014? "There is a lot of pressure on the Cup side for sure to get our Fords and our team and our company running better than they have. That is not anything anybody doesn’t know. If you ask for something and you get it you better be ready and we are. We know it is a big step. Racing on Sunday is a lot different than racing on Saturday. That is the thing I keep trying to preach to my guys. I tell them that they might have been the big fish in that pond, but you just jumped into the ocean with some big sharks. We are going to come here and keep our heads down and mouths shut and let our racing speak for itself. We have goals. I am not naive enough to say we are running for a championship. What we are doing is running for an opportunity to be in a chase for a championship, get Ricky to where he is contending and our team is known as contenders so that by the time we get to Richmond we have an opportunity to be there."

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