An interview with: MATT KENSETH DREW BLICKENSDERFER JACK ROUSH KERRY THARP: We're going to go ahead and get started with our post race Daytona 500 championship team. That's the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. Your driver is Matt Kenseth. Your crew...
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: We're going to go ahead and get started with our post race Daytona 500 championship team. That's the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. Your driver is Matt Kenseth. Your crew chief is Drew Blickensderfer. Your team owner is Jack Roush.
We're pleased to be joined right now by Drew. Congratulations. What are your thoughts and emotions on being the crew chief for the winning car in the 2009 Daytona 500?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: It hasn't sunk in yet. Thank you. It's pretty surreal to have the chance of being associated with a team like the 17. When I worked at Roush/Fenway before on the Cup side, you kind of looked over at them as the model team in the series. They had just won the championship, or were about to win the championship. So that was the team you wanted to be involved with.
Then getting to work with Matt on the Nationwide side and being able to come back to him and lead the team is pretty amazing.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Drew.
Q: Drew, the way you finished the second half of the year last year with Carl, come out and win this race, what do you do for an encore?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Honestly, I haven't thought about it. You kind of get swept up into this windstorm of going to a different shop, even though I'm at Roush/Fenway still, doing the COT thing. It's kind of consumed me since the season ended at Homestead. So I haven't thought about that too much.
You know, I'm very fortunate, obviously, to be at Roush/Fenway and have two drivers like Carl Edwards and now Matt Kenseth. I know I'm blessed with that. I'm thinking about that.
But the success last year is kind of over with, especially since we only finished second in the points, and it's on to this year.
Q: You had that smile on your face yesterday afternoon. You knew you had a pretty good piece. Did you at that point think, Yeah, just maybe?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: You know, I really did. I think the two runs we made during practice yesterday, I know we put more laps on the car than anybody else. It was fast. He made comments afterwards that it was as fast as certain cars that are your benchmark when you're plate racing.
So I thought, you know, if we ended up in the right line at the right time and everything goes well, this car's capable of winning. I know he is. The pit crew is. So I really thought we had a chance.
If you would have seen me the previous 10 days it wouldn't have been that smile. It was a rough, rough week and a half leading up to yesterday when we got this backup car out and got to put laps on it.
Q: Have you given any consideration to retiring undefeated?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: That's what I told them out there (smiling). I said, It can only go downhill from here. I was fortunate enough when I went with Carl last year, we won our first race at Milwaukee, first race out. I knew the next week at New Hampshire it was going to be downhill. I'm thinking if we don't win the first practice at California, it's a failure (smiling).
Seriously, I think Matt and I have similar personalities, where you're a perfectionist. I thought yesterday our car was good, but not great. Always can get better. I thought today our car was good, but not great.
So I am looking forward to California actually now that you say that.
Q: Drew, you know you got rain coming, you got cautions, you're in second, whatever. Your guy tends to be pretty even keeled, but did you have to calm him down? How did he react? What did you have to say to him?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: You know, I think he realized he got a little excited himself. As soon as we took the lead, from nowhere I heard a Matt Kenseth kind of scream that said, Rain, rain, rain, rain. That's very uncharacteristic of him.
So when the caution came out, he said, What's it look like? How's the radar? I said, It's here. It's going to be here. It's going to rain for a couple hours. He said back to me, Let's just stay calm here. I think that was him catching himself thinking, Okay, this could be a good thing here.
But he's so calm, cool, kind of ice cold that you usually don't have to say anything to Matt to calm him down.
Q: Did you lose your primary car in the 150?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Yes.
Q: That was like a month ago.
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Seems longer now. We lost a car in the Bud Shootout, then another car in the 150. Our car in the 150 seemed to actually have really good speed. Might have been a blessing in disguise.
Didn't seem to handle too well in the 150s or in practice before that. But, yes, we lost a car Thursday.
KERRY THARP: We're also pleased to be joined by car owner Jack Roush.
Jack, congratulations on winning the Daytona 500. Your thoughts?
JACK ROUSH: Thank you. I'm pleased to be here with Chip Bolin and with Drew. I don't know if Drew deserves this. I had to wait over 20 years, Drew, just so you know. This is Drew's first race as a crew chief.
You know, Chris Andrews gave us a great engineering package behind of cars. Robbie Reiser managed everything in the shop, managed Drew, and sometimes managed me, to my dismay. So there's a lot of good people that formed the organization that helped make this possible.
But, of course, Matt is at the center of it. Matt Kenseth is as good at this business as anybody has been. And on days when he can't do what he needs to do, it's because I haven't given him the tools. Last year I let him down by not being able to do for him what I needed to.
But, you know, Matt should have won last year. We made some changes. Promoted from within the company. We moved Robbie Reiser off his program and didn't manage to get the organization of his team right.
If you're just off a hair in this business, you can't quite get it done. That was the year we had with Matt last year. Matt did everything he needed to do, but we didn't get it right for him.
Over the winter Drew came on board. Chip stepped into the role of being the senior engineer for not only this team, but for the entire group. As far as team engineers are concerned, boy, they got the magic back. They had the speed in the car, had depth in the organization.
I'm not sure, Drew, was this actually one of the cars we sent back to the shop that got freshened, or is this a different car altogether?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Different.
JACK ROUSH: We sent one of the cars that had some damage. Thought we might see it again.
I need to count my fingers after I shake hands with these guys, after a meeting, because generally there's an extra car or some extra piece of hardware attached to one of them that I wind up losing track of.
But we had a lot of depth and great cars. We had the Ford Fusion that did a super job. Matt deserved to win. As I said, it was my fault he didn't win last year. He's going to win a lot this year, and the championship, I hope.
KERRY THARP: Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. How does it feel to win the Daytona 500?
MATT KENSETH: Thanks, first of all.
To be honest, it really hasn't sunk in. I woke up this morning not really thinking I was going to win the Daytona 500. So, you know, especially when you come to a speedway, it's really more about the team than it is about the driver. It's always about the team. Really, they make the cars go fast.
I wasn't happy with my 500 car. Ended up getting wrecked in the 150s anyway. As soon as we unloaded this car, it drove much, much better. I kept complaining about it and they kept adjusting it all night. Did the right stuff at the end.
It's pretty unbelievable to be able to sit here and be able to actually be in the Daytona 500, much less win one. It's just a dream come true. KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q: Matt, you're a guy whose accomplishments don't always get the respect they deserve. Do you think they'll come back with rain tires and wipers next year?
MATT KENSETH: That's pretty funny (laughter).
You know, there's been a couple of occasions where we've had maybe not the best car, but close to the best car. At a few races I got shortened by rain that we didn't win. We certainly lost some on fuel mileage. I don't think we've ever won one on fuel mileage as far as the 17 goes.
I'll take it. I'm not going to think any less of the victory. A lot of races get won and lost like this. We raced almost 400 miles. We were in the right place at the right time. Had our car as fast as it needed to be.
It was really a team effort. Without that last really good pit stop, we would have been in the wreck. Actually, I said Kyle was right in front of me and got in the wreck, and Carl was right behind me and got in the wreck.
They did their job and got us up there when we needed the track position. After that, that wreck, I felt like we were the fastest car up in the lead group.
Q: Matt, you're not generally a very emotional guy. When you were on pit lane, they told you you won, you were pretty emotional. Talk about how that hit you.
MATT KENSETH: I actually am a pretty emotional guy. You guys just don't always really see it. It's kind of funny. Yesterday I was sitting in the motorhome telling Katie, it wasn't like a feel sorry for myself or pity party or anything like, that I was telling her, Man, I'm really getting fed up with not winning, with not being a contender.
It was actually starting to weigh on me more than we thought. We struggled all week, till yesterday, we got the car to handle good. It's not like I had a bad feeling about today. It's just we haven't been a serious contender for the championship for a few years. We've been able to win a race here or there, didn't win any last year.
Just to be able to put it together and actually win the Daytona 500, I don't feel like I'm the best really at plate racing. I feel like a lot of times I make mistakes, which is really frustrating. Don't get my car in the right place at the right time. To be able to put it all together, be able to win the race, is pretty overwhelming.
Q: Matt, when they brought you to pit road, you stayed in the car. A lot of drivers got out, were talking. What were you doing? What was going through your mind? Did you think you'd get back racing?
MATT KENSETH: Well, that's how I am. I hang out with my car with a cover over us in the back pew of church. That's just me.
Seriously, I just wanted to wait until it was either over or we were going to go race again. I was just kind of waiting for that. I didn't want to let my emotions get too high one way or another. I just kind of wanted to wait till it was over and then go from there. I was just kind of hoping it would keep raining.
Q: Matt, when Kevin pushed you past Elliott, with word the rain was coming, did you have an idea right then that that could be the pass for the win?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah. I mean, I really had it in my mind on that last restart when we were behind Elliott if I got around him, could hold it for a little bit. I didn't think we were going to pit again. I thought the rain was coming. Drew said it was coming. You could see the sky getting darker. It was sprinkling for a while.
When I got a run on Elliott, got in a position where he couldn't block it, I had pretty good momentum. Kevin saw I had the momentum and hung a left and went behind me. When I cleared him, it was big actually raindrops between one and two. I knew it was getting pretty close. Then they had the accident where they threw the yellow.
You didn't know if it was going to be the pass, but I knew it had the potential to be.
Q: Matt and Jack, you've won the Daytona 500. You've won a championship. Any comparison between the two?
MATT KENSETH: You know, winning a championship I think is probably the biggest accomplishment you can have in this sport. It's a long season: Nine months, 36 races. All kinds of different sizes and shapes of racetracks. You got to race and think about it and work at it for a long, long time.
Where this is one race, but this is the biggest race, biggest stock car race there is anywhere. To be able to win this race and put our names in history, being Daytona 500 winners, is also pretty awesome.
JACK ROUSH: I tend to get all tore up for the bad things that happen. Jamie McMurray got caught in one of the earlier wrecks and had a great car. Carl Edwards got caught in a wreck and damaged his car. So I was really agonizing over those missed opportunities more than I was starting to count my chickens for the fact that Matt was in the catbird seat and had a chance to do it.
I was surprised. I hadn't done the math. I knew that NASCAR would be willing to keep this thing going till midnight. I hadn't thought about the fact that it was going to take three hours, as I was told later, to get the track dry from where it was. You know, you look at three hours to get it dry, three hours of predictable rain coming. It's 7:00. The math really tells you that you're finished.
I was not focused on that. I was thinking that if it did get started, Matt would have to hang on, and that was going to be a challenge. And that David would be coming. He had a good car. David Ragan had a good car. I was thinking about what if it came back more and helping to get myself ready emotionally for what that was going to mean more than I was to really anticipate the rain shortened race at something like 7:00 p.m. when they finally called it.
We've been here for more than 20 years trying to do this thing. I even got so conditioned for being frustrated through it that I was almost not believing that it would happen. I will be black and blue for the next couple of days from pinching myself just to make sure I'm not dreaming.
Continued in part 2