Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, has one Coca-Cola 600 championship on his resume with that coming in his rookie season. Kenseth spoke about this weekend's race, which figures to have more pit stops with a smaller fuel ...
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, has one Coca-Cola 600 championship on his resume with that coming in his rookie season. Kenseth spoke about this weekend's race, which figures to have more pit stops with a smaller fuel cell.
MATT KENSETH -- No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion
WITH WHAT WE SAW ON SATURDAY IS THERE ANYTHING GOING ON BETWEEN YOU AND TONY? "No, it was just a racing accident. I didn't leave him enough room to get in there. I didn't know he was in there until it was too late, so that was my fault and he didn't get out of the gas. If it had been a normal race he probably would have got out of the gas and gave it to me, which I still think he could have, but yet I probably should have gave him room at the start-finish line, so it was as much my fault as it was his or more so. I probably didn't give him enough room to get down through there and honestly didn't know he was inside of me until I got down in the corner, but then just moved up and just was going too fast and there wasn't enough room to get through there." HAVE YOU TOLD HIM THIS? "No, I haven't talked to him."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN SATURDAY FOR THIS WEEKEND? "I didn't think we ran that good last weekend. We ran OK and ran as good as we normally do at this track, so it's a real hard tire. There are a few guys that really have it figured out and then there are some of us that struggled, so you really have to stay on top of your car and not have it too tight, but yet when it's real loose it's hard to run very fast, too. It's just hard right now for us to find the balance."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S SUCCESS HERE? "I don't know, nobody's beat him in three years or something so he's been unbelievably good here, but you know, really, Jimmie and Chad and that whole group is really good everywhere. They've just had a phenomenal record here, though, and that's pretty cool. The most impressive thing, I think, that a lot of people probably haven't thought about is they've won three 600s in a row and its three different surfaces, or I guess it's three different surfaces with the all-star race last week. So that's pretty impressive to change the track twice and still be the guy to beat is pretty amazing."
DEI WAS THE TEAM TO BEAT AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA FOR A LONG TIME. IS IT THE SAME FEELING WITH JIMMIE AT THIS TRACK? "Well, sort of but that's kind of different. The restrictor plate races is almost all car. Yeah, you've got to be good at drafting and other things, but I've also seen guys win races in good cars and then get in a bad car and they're in the back. Restrictor plate stuff is a lot more about the car, where this is more of a team effort. It takes a lot from the driver and takes a lot from the crew and the team getting everything set up right and doing a pit stop -- the whole deal."
HOW MUCH PRIDE WILL THERE BE IF YOU CAN BEAT JIMMIE HERE? "I don't know if you think about it that much, unless you're racing him for the win, but if somebody else wins and he runs sixth or seventh, I don't think anybody is really gonna necessarily think about beating him as much. You usually think, if you do win, about the guy you beat to get the win."
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO BEAT HIM? "I'm not the guy to ask. You probably need to ask somebody that was a little closer to him Saturday. I don't think we've really got a handle on the place yet. The Busch car was real good in the test, but our Cup car wasn't real good in the test. It was better last weekend, but it wasn't nearly good enough to challenge for a win, so I might not be the guy to ask about that yet."
DO YOU NEED TO TRY A DIFFERENT LINE OUT THERE WITH THIS TIRE? "I think the fastest way is around the bottom because it's new pavement and that's the shortest way around the race track, so I really think that's the fastest way. But it was pretty impressive last week how Jimmie was able to make the second groove work outside of Kevin. That was a great race they had for the lead there for those two laps. The groove is definitely on the bottom, but there is a little bit of an outside -- better than what there usually is when you first pave a track and I think it'll be a lot better if we get a little softer tire or something for the fall."
SO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE TWO GROOVES ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE 600? "I think so. I thought in the all-star race there was two grooves. The second groove is slower than the bottom groove, but there was two grooves. With this tire being particularly hard, sometimes it was hard to be on the bottom because the car would get real close to you from the outside and make your car real loose on the bottom, so that kind of made it two wide. The guy on the outside had to really get on the guy and then try to make him loose and try to hurt his handling like that, but there was closer to two grooves than most tracks after they pave it."
DO YOU THINK THE GUY ON THE OUTSIDE IN THE 600 WILL DO THE SAME THING AND TRY TO SQUEEZE THE GUY DOWN LOW? "I don't think it'll be as bad as what it was in the all-star race because whenever you squeeze a guy down low you know they have a chance of wrecking and if they have a chance of wrecking, they're probably gonna take you with them so I don't think you'll see quite as much of that."
YOU GUYS MIGHT BE PITTING EVERY 18 MINUTES. WHAT'S IT LIKE FROM A DRIVER'S STANDPOINT? "I don't know. I think we're overkilling the small fuel cell. I know there is gonna be a lot of pit stops for a 600-mile race with these cars and big carburetors and all that stuff. Pit road is gonna be busy. You have to be real careful on pit road. I think you have as much chance of getting yourself in trouble getting on and off pit road, especially under green flag, as you do actually on the race track so it's definitely something you're gonna have to pay attention to."
JIMMIE TOOK FOUR TIRES AND HARVICK TOOK TWO AT THE END. WHAT DO YOU FORESEE WITH ALL THE PIT STOPS SATURDAY? "I was a little surprised and maybe a little confused during the all-star race. Everybody pitted and got tires there at the end. I thought a lot of people would have just got fuel and took off. I thought old tires would have been just as fast, but I think every car got tires for the last segment and that really surprised me, so I'm not sure. They obviously have it figured out and we don't."
ARE YOU PARTICIPATING IN THE CAR OF TOMORROW TEST NEXT WEEK? "I honestly don't think we have one together, so I guess that's a no. We had one or two and all the rules changed. I'm not sure we have a current version, so that's a good question I really don't know the answer to, but if I am, nobody has told me about it." WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE? "Do I want to test them, not really. If that's for sure the package we're gonna race, eventually you're gonna have to test it and try to work on it and get used to it, but I don't know enough about it to know if the rules are set in stone and this is how we're gonna race, it's for sure, that's it and that's the end of it or what. I don't think they're going to any big tracks next year anyway, so I'm sure they're gonna do a lot more tests. I would be more interested in being on the back end of the test than the front end."
WITH TIRES AND THE PROBLEMS YOU GUYS HAVE HAD HERE THE LAST COUPLE DAYS I DON'T KNOW WHAT ANYBODY IS GOING TO LEARN FROM A CAR OF THE FUTURE TEST? "Yeah, that's a really good point. That's why I really would rather not do it (laughing)."
DO YOU WANT TO DO THE TIRE TEST HERE BEFORE THE OCTOBER RACE? "I don't know how all of that works with this new testing policy. That tire test, I think, is a big advantage and for some reason or another the Roush teams haven't been invited to any tire tests yet, so I don't know if that's all resolved or what. I think they're holding something over your head about not testing with other kind of tires or something. I'm not really sure what the deal is, so, as far as I know, no Roush cars have been invited to any tire tests, which seems a little unfair for gathering data, so I don't really know the answer to that."
THERE MIGHT BE 16-20 PIT STOPS. WILL IT CHANGE HOW YOU DRIVE THIS RACE? "Not really. The only thing I think it might maybe change a little bit is that the engine tuners might work a little harder to get fuel mileage than they would if you had a 22-gallon cell, but I don't think driving you're really gonna approach it any different. Pit road is gonna be busy. You don't want to run out of gas and everybody is gonna have to be on pit road pretty close to the same time, so it's gonna be interesting to see how it works out."
DO YOU WANT TO BE IN SYNC WITH EVERYBODY ON STOPS OR RUN YOUR OWN RACE? "I think with a 600-mile race and with these fuel cells, I think if you run more than five laps, everybody is gonna pit and at least fill up with gas because you can only run 30 laps or 35 laps -- whatever it is -- so I think if you run very long at all, you're gonna come and get fuel. I don't think you can take a chance not to -- be five gallons less than everybody and pit under green sooner and have a chance of being a lap down. I think when the yellows come out everybody is gonna be on pit road everytime basically and your green flag stops you're just gonna have to do when you're out of gas."
THIS SOUNDS LIKE IT COULD BE A FLUKY RACE? "It might be, but it might not be. It might just be normal, except we're on pit road twice as much. I don't know. There might not be any problem from it. You just never know."
HAVE YOU OR ROBBIE TALKED TO YOUR PIT CREW ABOUT THE IMPACT THEY COULD HAVE ON THIS RACE? "I haven't, but Robbie always takes care of that. They have a big impact on every race. Every race we've ever had and any good run they've had a huge impact on it -- all the pit crews do. You can't come into a race leading the run or being second or third and go out 15th and still win the race. It's almost impossible these days, so they have a big impact every race but they'll be a little busier Sunday night than most."
IS SHORT-PITTING AN OPTION? "I don't know the answer to that when the tires are all the same speed. I see an advantage to that at Darlington, but I don't see any advantage to that here that I can think of."
WILL IT STILL BE LIKE TWO DIFFERENT RACES STARTING IN DAYLIGHT AND ENDING AT NIGHT? "It usually is. This place is still real slippery during the day and it gets a lot of grip at night, so I think it'll still be like that, especially with the pavement being new. When it's real dark like that, it absorbs a lot more of the sunlight and changes the asphalt a little more, so I think it'll be a lot different at night than it will during the day."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT JIMMIE WINNING ON THREE DIFFERENT SURFACES HERE? "Yeah, I sort of touched on it before. I think that's the most amazing thing about all the races they've won here in the last three or four years is that the last three years the surface has been different every year and they've been able to win under every configuration and that's a pretty amazing feat." WHAT DO YOU THINK THE KEY TO THEIR SUCCESS HAS BEEN? "I don't really know, honestly. If I had some idea how they were figuring it out and what they were doing, I'd try to do it. They've just got a really strong team. They really run good everywhere. They have their time here or there where they maybe miss it, but they've really been the guy to beat for the championship the last three years in a row, in my opinion. Even though they haven't won one, they've been there. Overall, if you were to take an average of the year, they're probably the strongest team the last three years. They run good all the time no matter what the rules are and no matter what track we're at."
WHAT CHALLENGE DOES THE DRIVER HAVE WITH SO MANY PIT STOPS SUNDAY? "Under green it's a big deal. You saw in the all-star race when we pitted under green they had a couple of cars spin out and wreck, and that was the first pit stop we did under green here so it's a big deal. It's hard to get on the pit road. The speed line is so far back that you have to get slowed up really early and that almost makes it worse on the track. You can't carry any speed onto pit road, so that means you're going that much slower in a groove that everybody else is in going that much faster. So it can get mixed up and there can be some accidents getting onto pit road for sure, so that's something to pay attention to and try to find a time to pit when maybe it's not quite as busy."
HOW CHALLENGING IS IT? CAN YOU TELL WHEN PEOPLE ARE SIGNALING? "It's harder and harder these days with the setups you run and big rear springs, even though the spoilers are shorter it's harder and harder to see them. Everybody is pretty good about that and you have a general idea. When you're getting down there on gas you know they're getting down there, too."
JIMMIE GOT A SPEEDING TICKET SATURDAY, BUT HE WAS ABOUT TO GET HIT FROM BEHIND. WAS THAT A BAD CALL OR NOT? "It's black and white. It's all computerized timing. If you're speeding, you're speeding. If you're not, you're not. That's a pretty good one, saying you're about to get hit from behind, but I don't think that's gonna cut it. It's black and white."
DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING SATURDAY? "I don't think I learned a lot. We were better than what we tested, but we weren't near good enough to win, so we probably did learn some. We maybe got a little better and maybe eliminated a few things we tried that didn't work -- a few things like that -- but overall it wasn't as productive as I hoped it would be. But we really struggled here in the test and, for some reason, our car has been struggling with this tire and the combination of asphalt and all that stuff. The paving job is awesome, but I've just been struggling with the combination a little bit. Our Busch car has been running really good, but we've struggled with our Cup car. We have gotten it a little bit better, but we've still got a long ways to go."
A LOT OF LONG TERM CONTRACTS HAVE BEEN SIGNED RECENTLY, INCLUDING YOU. WHAT CHALLENGES GO WITH SIGNING A LONG TERM DEAL? "I think it can go either way. The owner is taking a risk by taking the driver, too, because anything can happen. I think everybody in their own situation has to analyze the situation they're in and what they're comfortable with or not comfortable with and make their own decisions. I think the thing has worked. It kind of works in cycles it seems like a lot of times by us. We started off and had really good stuff and ran good, and then we didn't run good for a year and a half, and then we ran pretty good again. It kind of works in cycles and I think it's wherever somebody is comfortable and wherever they think that the guys will give them what they need to win."
ARE GUYS SIGNING LONGER CONTRACTS THAN A FEW YEARS AGO? "I don't really notice a difference. Maybe I don't pay that much attention, I don't know. I know Jimmie just signed that kind of long term deal, but if you think about it they had that big thing where Jeff signed his lifetime contract three or four years ago, so I think Hendrick has kind of been known for that when he gets a marquee driver like Jeff and Jimmie and he knows he wants them to stay there until they retire because they've done so much. What Jimmie has done in a few years is just incredible, so I don't blame either one of them for that."
THERE SEEMS TO BE A SHORTAGE OF DRIVERS FOR GOOD SEATS NOW. ARE THERE GUYS IN THE BUSCH SERIES THAT ARE READY AND JUST NOT GETTING A CHANCE OR IS THERE A SHORTAGE IN TALENT? "I think there are drivers all over the place that could do it and do a great job at it, I think it's just hard to figure out who that's gonna be. It might not be the obvious choice. It might be somebody that you don't even think of, and then there might be an obvious choice that might not do as good as they were expected. A couple of years ago you never heard of Denny Hamlin and he's doing great. I didn't know who Carl (Edwards) was a few years ago, so it's hard to say. There are tons of drivers out there, it's just trying to figure out who they are and where they'll fit in." ANYBODY YOU CAN THINK OF THAT COMES TO MIND WHO IS READY? "I haven't really thought about it. I've been worried about myself and trying to run good. I'm not looking for a replacement (laughing). That's the last thing I want to do is find more good drivers (laughing). There are a lot of talented guys. I don't have a good example for you, but there is a lot of them."