Bristol II: Winning team interview

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion "We had a great run, obviously, but we had to work at it pretty hard tonight. We started the race and didn't have the car quite right. We could comfortably run in the top five, which was really...

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion

"We had a great run, obviously, but we had to work at it pretty hard tonight. We started the race and didn't have the car quite right. We could comfortably run in the top five, which was really great, but the 31 had us most of the night. He was a lot stronger when he was out front and we had to adjust on it all night. I'm so fortunate to have such a great team. They gave me great pit stops again at the end and we made all the right adjustments and got it right when it counted. Getting out of the pits ahead of Kyle Busch was key and maintaining our position that last pit stop - they did that for me and, like I said, they made the right adjustments and had the car good when we needed it to be. It looked like we were gonna be nothing for the 31. We had our car pretty good and he would just drive away. I didn't really know what to do to fix that. I think he got off on a pit stop a little bit and his car got tight and he couldn't get back up there."

JACK ROUSH , Car Owner - No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion

"It's a great weekend, a great night. I'm in awe as I sit here. I've got two things on my mind. One is how wonderful it is that my time in life in this business to be surrounded with the great people that I'm surrounded with. Matt, Robbie and Chip have of course led this team to do what it was able to do tonight. Matt just reminded me that this was his chassis number 89. What year was it built, Matt?"

KENSETH: "We either built it at the end of '99 or real early in 2000."

ROUSH: "And we're at about chassis number 340 roughly right now at Roush Racing for our Cup cars, so it's an example of what can happen with the car of today. I don't know how the car of tomorrow is gonna be better in that regard, but if you continue to update them and if you're lucky and they don't get bent you can keep running them, but the guys have done a great job with the car. The Fusion aero package is obviously good. I'm glad to be here with DeWalt and all the sponsors, but the other thing that's on my mind is my heart is heavy for what happened to Mark Martin - pitting outside the box on the first pit stop. Of course, Jamie McMurray had, I think, a similar problem later where they pitted outside the box. I think that's what I heard. Greg Biffle was just off a little bit tonight. I don't know that he was involved in anything that hurt him, but we're tenth with Mark in points right now. He's got 90 points over Kasey Kahne in eleventh, but, certainly, we're in jeopardy there. It's gonna be really, really hard for Greg and for Carl to make it in, so my heart is heavy with that. But I couldn't be prouder of what we've been able to do at Bristol this weekend. It's one of my favorite places. When people ask me, 'I want to go to my first NASCAR race. What is the best track to go to?' I always say, 'Bristol.' Jeff Byrd and all the guys down here do such a nice job. They really put on one of the best shows in all of stock car racing and it's great to be here with all the fans that are all charged up. I'm glad I don't have to race them to get out of here tonight. I'll be here tonight watching the tear down things, but Matt Kenseth is at the top of his game. I was able to make that statement last night and it never proved more true. He didn't have the absolute dominant car, but he kept it in there and kept working at it and noodled at it and noodled at it and they had to take it from him at the end, and with the job they did on pit road they couldn't do that."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE STEWART LAST YEAR WITH HIS RUN GOING INTO THE CHASE?

KENSETH: "I feel like we're definitely a contender, but in this business you've got to prove your worth each and every week. What you did the first 26 races is important, but it's not as important as what you're gonna do the last 10, so we're in the chase. We're only seven points behind Jimmie. I would love to be able to lead the points going in. Of course it's only five points, but it's still five points, so I feel right now like my team is operating at a championship level. That's tonight; that's last week. We've had ourselves a few weeks this year where we didn't, so it's really important to keep that up each and every week. We have been taking it one race at a time and putting forth 100 percent effort each and every race and we're gonna continue to do that the next two weeks and continue to try to do that throughout the chase. But, like I say, we've got to do it. We've got to do the work. We've got to do it each and every week and not make mistakes and put together good runs like that."

WERE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW FAST YOU PASSED JUNIOR AND WERE YOU CONCERNED HE MIGHT COME BACK ON YOU?

KENSETH: "Yeah, there's always a concern that people are gonna catch you, but the reason I passed him so quickly is he almost spun out. He got real sideways and almost spun out and basically stopped. That's how I got by him so fast, but he had, when I watched the cars around me in the previous couple runs, he was about the same or a little better for about 25-35 laps. >From about lap 50 to 90 in the run, we were just a little better than him and could get away, so I felt pretty good if we were in front of him, that we'd break even for a while and then I thought we'd be able to pull away, but I did notice the 5 was better on a long run those last couple runs - a little bit better than we were. So if I was in front of Jeff or Dale Jr., I felt OK. They were quicker in a short run, but I felt like in a long run we had a pretty good car and we actually had some long runs tonight and at the end of all of them we were running second and third and were able to run down the guys in front of us slowly and get to them before the run was over."

ROBBIE REISER , Crew Chief - No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion

"Yesterday in practice Matt was pretty comfortable with the car and we didn't make a lot of changes. We tried to do a couple of things to make the car better, but we weren't able to do that, so we actually went back to where we were in the first practice and the car kind of ran that way all night long. We just made a couple of changes early in the race and then towards the end the track came around and stayed with it."

CAN YOU MAKE IT THREE NEXT WEEK?

REISER: "We've got to go do the work. You can't take none of this stuff for granted. Every week somebody works on their car and works real hard to get their things to run. Just because you've got a track record in the past and the cars seem to run well doesn't mean you're gonna go out there and be able to win. I think we've got to go prepare ourselves for California and Richmond and the next couple of races and be ready to go here and not worry about what we've done in the past, but what we've got to do in the future."

IS THERE A FEAR OF THE TEAM PEAKING TOO EARLY?

REISER: "I don't know. Right now I don't think we've peaked. We're just working up to our potential here. We've got a lot of great cars and a lot of great people working on this thing. I can't say enough about the guys on pit road and the people back at the shop that prepare these race cars and race engines and all the things we've got going. We've just got to do our job here at the race track and I think everything will fall in place, but I'm not worried about that at all. I think all of our guys are well aware that we've got a lot of races ahead of us and what we've got to get accomplished."

WHAT TO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY YOU'RE STARTING TO LEARN IT'S MORE ABOUT PEOPLE THAN EQUIPMENT?

ROUSH: "You can't win these races without competitive engines and without good support from a manufacturer like Ford, and without all the things in the car. We've got good horsepower. Doug Yates and the guys have given us great horsepower and great reliability. You've got to have all those things. Once you get that, it's necessary to have those things, but it's not sufficient. Once you get that, you have to have the people that have got it in their heart to work together and then the total result winds up being more than the sum of the parts. With the number of years that Robbie's got invested in Matt and Matt's got invested in Robbie - I don't know which one of them is ahead of the deal on that - but they've got a lot of equity in their relationship. With the investment Chip, our engineer has got, he's the best race team engineer we've got and he's been with out since he got out of school. He's got a big investment in us and those things are starting to pay a dividend right now in the way we're able to run week to week. I agree with Robbie. I don't think that we're in championship form, but I don't think we've reached peak yet. The challenge for us is if we reach our peak, is to be able to sustain it to the end of the year and I'm figuring that we can."

WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET READY FOR THE CHASE?

ROUSH: "We're gonna look at all of our resources, everything that we've got. If we've got an engine that we think would have the best prospect for durability and reliability - they're all the same - but if we've got the best valve spring and the best valve and the things that we know the most about of it in terms of part selection, we'll turn those things - Robbie will look at his control arms and all of his parts in his car and he'll think about the minimum risk he can have. There's a problem with any part. You've got an infant mortality problem potential for any part you put on the car, so you have to weigh putting new parts on against a part that's been run just a little bit. It may be the case that some of the parts that get run through some of these other cars may wind up on the 17 car if Robbie decides they've got less risk as we head in, but we've just got to work and just be sure that we can't look at this thing after it's over in December and say, 'Man, if we'd only done this or done that. We should have thought of this other thing.' We've got to think of it right now."

HOW DOES THIS YEAR COMPARE TO '03? IS IT THE BEST YOU'VE EVER RUN?

KENSETH: "It really has. It feels like '03 in a way that we're not making mistakes. They're really good on pit road. Our car has been prepared good at the shop. We haven't had stuff break. All of that stuff compares, but our cars have just been running so much better. In '03 we were slightly disadvantaged aerowise when we were transitioning over to a new car. As a whole, the Fords didn't really run as good that year, so '03 was a spectacular year for us. We were able to run in the top five a lot and top 10 a lot. We were real consistent, real competitive. We were in position to win a lot of races. We were only able to win one, but we were in position a lot. This season, man, there was a two or three week slump we went through in the Poconos and the first Loudon, where we didn't perform good enough to run in the top 10 or really be a contender, but, basically, each and every week we've been a contender and that says a lot for Robbie. Even in 2003, we were a contender everywhere except for the speedways and the road courses. With me driving we're still not a contender at road courses, but we've been a contender at every superspeedway race. I think we've had cars that have been capable of running up front almost every single week. Martinsville is a bad place for me and the Poconos and that first Loudon race. Other than that, I think we've had cars that have been capable of finishing in the top five each and every week and that's just amazing. Our stuff has just been running spectacular. We've been close to winning a lot of races. We've let a few slip away and it feels good to get a couple of them here."

DO YOU FEEL SOME SATISFACTION BEING WHERE YOU ARE TONIGHT?

KENSETH: "Yeah, but not very long. You definitely have to enjoy it. That's one thing I've learned in this business. I haven't been around that long, but I've learned to enjoy it because things can turn on you in a big hurry. You can be on top of the world today and tomorrow you can be battling your guts out for 25th and not be able to do anymore than you can do. So you do have to enjoy it in that aspect, but our goal this year is nothing short of winning another championship. We're happy we made the chase. That was the first goal, but now that we've realized that goal, my goal anyway is to be leading the points going into the chase and try to win us a second championship. We're performing at a championship level and I think anything less than that would be a little bit of a disappointment for all of us."

IF YOU WIN THE TITLE DO YOU EXPECT NASCAR TO CHANGE THE POINTS?

KENSETH: (Laughing) "I'm not even going there. We've got so much work to do before I can even think about that. We're not even one week into the chase yet, so I'm thinking of it one week at a time. But I did hear they're reconfiguring Bristol and I hope they don't do that. I hope they just resurface it because it's a really exciting race. Yeah, it's a challenge. Yeah, it's bumpy, but, man, that's what gives it character. It's not just because we do good here, but it's a fun track. You've got your hands full and you've got to drive like crazy the whole race, so, hopefully, they don't change it too much."

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO GET MARK INTO THE CHASE AND CAN YOU COMMENT ABOUT A REPORT THAT QUOTES GEOFF SMITH AS SAYING THAT THERE IS NO WAY THAT MARK WILL BE IN THE 6 CAR NEXT YEAR?

ROUSH: "I've got an answer in two parts. The first thing is I have not been informed by Geoff that he's given up on Mark being in the 6 car next year. Certainly I haven't given up on that and it's pretty ironic that I had a meeting with Geoff this morning when I rededicated ourselves to make sure that we gave Mark as many options as we could have. I know one of the possibilities is him racing over with Boris Said and that group - the Simo group. They're in our neighborhood and we've helped them several times this year. There has been some discussion about Mark driving that car for a number of races next year. I told Geoff, I said, 'Before we decide that we'll let Mark move out of our camp and go run for somebody else for a number of races, we need to make sure that we've run that to Earth and we don't have a possibility ourselves.' So I redirected him on that this morning and then shortly after that I was approached by Wendy who asked me what my comment was on the report that Mark wouldn't be running. I hadn't heard that. Certainly I haven't given up on the fact that we can get him back in one of the Roush cars next year, and I would say that Geoff's report was premature at best. One of the other things I want to do here before we finish, I want to dedicate the trifecta that we've had here at Bristol to Sgt. Jeremy M. Hodge, one of our soldiers that was killed in Iraq this past year. Last week somebody gave me this band, a soldier gave me this band and asked me if I would wear it and I told him that I'd wear it the rest of the year, I'll wear it into the chase, but we're thinking of Jeremy Hodge and his family and all the people that have got so much at risk for our safety and our country's well-being and the things being done by our military."

HOW MUCH BETTER IS MATT AS A DRIVER NOW?

REISER: "I really don't know. Heck, we just do our jobs. The cars are definitely better. The team's performance is better. I'm sure Matt has learned some things over the years. We're together every day. I can't go back and say that he does this better or does that better, we're just more experienced. Our whole race team is more experienced and I think it shows. As you get older you get over some of the foolishness - maybe Jack don't, (laughing) but the rest of us get over some of the foolishness that goes on and we just do the best we can and Matt's doing a great job right now."

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO REFLECT ON WHY THINGS HAVE CHANGED IN A YEAR GOING FROM ALL FIVE CARS IN THE CHASE TO MAYBE ONLY ONE?

ROUSH: "I'd like to answer that question in two parts as well. The second answer will be totally unrelated to the question. Last year, we were extraordinarily fortunate based on the way things worked out. This business ebbs and flows. Crew chiefs and engineers and drivers will hit on something and last year if we were in Las Vegas working the slots we would have had all the pictures come up in the windows to give us the money. Every team was running at least as good as it deserved to run based on where we were with our team and some of them were running better than they might have to be able to get in. The idea of Carl Edwards being able to get in on his first full year was unexpected and it was probably unwarranted. He's an incredibly talented driver, but we couldn't have expected that in the first year. This year, things are working out as well for us. The Fusion is a better car than the Taurus was last year. Our engines are improved. Our management is in place. We haven't had a hole put in our management by a key crew chief or a key engineer or anybody else leaving. We've got the driver lineup that we wanted and we just haven't managed to capitalize on it. It will work in our favor if we stay at it and stay the course. In years to come it will be better. We've got to go through this year and realize the frustrations of not realizing our potential in order to be able to stand up straight and take the prize when they give it to us like they did last year and said all five of our teams were great and we were able to get in. It will be one of the biggest disappointments in my life - not just my racing life - but my life generally if we're not able to see Mark compete for this championship in what will likely be his last full year in Nextel Cup racing. Having said that, we'll soldier on with whatever we can. The prospects for the 17 winning the championship this year have never been better.

"I want to make a comment. I'm 64 years old and I don't remember a lot of things as well as I should, particularly the things that happened today. But I do remember what happened in 2003. In 2003 we had a Taurus that had not been improved since '97. In '97 we had the last revision. In 2004 was the first year with our new car, with our new Taurus and we had that Taurus in 2004 and 2005. But, anyway, we had a dated car that didn't have the downforce and didn't have the drag of our contemporary. We also had an engine that had not been improved since NASCAR solidified the cylinder head deal in '91 or '92. In the meantime, Dodge had come on and revised their thing once. Chevrolet had a totally different configured engine and our engine was dated, but as it stands today we've not only benefited from the improvements in the Taurus of 2004, but we've also been benefited by the Fusion, which is better than the Taurus was. With what Robert and Doug Yates are doing with the engines and with the fact we did get a new cylinder head two years ago, we're not where we need to be with our engines in terms of the size of the box that everybody else is able to work in, but we've got competitive horsepower. We didn't have that in 2003 and it was incredible that Matt and Robbie and the guys were able to go win the championship with a dated car and with the engine that wasn't competitive."

DID YOU TAKE IT PERSONALLY WHEN NASCAR CHANGED THE POINT SYSTEM AFTER YOU WON THE TITLE?

KENSETH: "Not really. I mean, maybe when I first heard it but the more you think about it, I think it's more of a compliment than anything. Plus, once we work in our system a little bit - if I take myself out of being a competitor if you are the point leader and this and that, it does add more excitement to the season. The season, I think, over the years has gotten longer. There have been more events added. We're on the road more. There's less time off, so I think that it keeps things exciting until the end of the year - compete with football a little bit and get the thing closed up. I think it works and I think it's good. When I don't run the Busch race and I sit on the couch and watch a Busch race and see that the leader is 500 points ahead of second and 1300 ahead of 10th you're like, 'Oh, that's really cool. Let's just watch the race to see who is gonna win. Who cares about a championship.' Whereas here it keeps it exciting and gets everybody talking about it. It keeps you guys talking about it for the last 10 weeks before the chase and then all the way through the chase to see who is gonna get their stuff running at the end of the year. So I think it's been a plus for everybody, and it's really not that different. It's 10 races where you have less time to recover from a mistake, but even Tony last year had a great and won a bunch of races, but in the chase he didn't win a race and he was real consistent and he did it the way that he won his first championship and we won our first championship. You've got to be consistent for those last 10 races. You've got to run up front, but you've got to be consistent and not make mistakes."

HOW GRATIFYING WOULD IT BE TO WIN IN BOTH SYSTEMS?

KENSETH: "For sure I think it would be cooler to win it both ways than just being able to win it one way, but I'm telling you, this sport is very difficult. I'm real thankful to be sitting up here and to win races and just to be a part of this and be able to compete for a championship. I mean, this is every race car driver's dream. It's a tough business and you've got to do everything right. It would be cool to win it both ways. If we never win it again, I'm real thankful for the year we did. I think this is probably our best chance to ever win one. I think our chance is much better as far as pure performance than what it was in 2003, so it's a great opportunity for us and we're gonna do everything we can to capitalize on it, but there are gonna be nine other great teams in there that could get it done too."

-credit: ford racing-

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Series NASCAR-CUP