Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, held a Q&A session in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center after morning practice concluded. Kenseth spoke to reporters on the second day of a three-day test session for next month's Daytona 500.
MATT KENSETH -- No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? "It's the biggest race of the year. I think as anybody growing up being a stock car racing fan or especially aspire to be a driver, the Daytona 500 is the biggest race. That's what you dream about as a kid, so the 50th running is obviously probably gonna be the biggest Daytona 500 there's been and we're putting a lot of work and effort to try and bring a competitive car and, hopefully, we'll have a chance at it."
WHAT'S IT LIKE STARTING THE SEASON WITH A NEW CREW CHIEF? "It's really not that weird. Chip has been there. He was our original team engineer in '99 when we put this thing together and ran a five-race deal in '99 and started full-time in 2000, so he's been there a long time and we know each other well. We didn't really make too many other changes on the road crew, so it's really not -- so far anyway -- that different than what I'm used to. Chip actually did the 500 last year too, so he's kind of, I think, maybe a little bit ready for it."
WILL THIS CAR BE READY FOR THE 500 WITH ONLY ONE RACE AT TALLADEGA UNDER ITS BELT? "I don't know exactly what to expect. We'll probably know more after we draft this afternoon, but I think the car is ready. We ran a lot of races with them last year. I don't know the exact number of them, but we've been to a fair amount of race tracks and kind of got a jump on it at Talladega, so it's different than our other cars obviously, but yet it's still a stock car. You're still trying to do all the same things to it, you're just trying to figure out how to do it better than everybody else. There are different areas you can work in and different areas you can't work in from before, but, overall, I don't know if it's gonna make the racing that much different."
IS A DAY AND A HALF ENOUGH TIME FOR DRAFTING PRACTICE? "Yeah. Like I said, there's only a few areas you can work on the speedways anyway. You can work on your front springs and bump stops and sway bars and stuff, and that's really about it. They mandate the rear springs and shocks, and there's not really a lot you can do on the bodies. They're pretty much locked in pretty tight, so there's not a ton of stuff you can work on, so I think a day-and-a-half is plenty. When you come back down here there's more than enough practice to get ready to go run the 150s on that Thursday and get ready for the 500, so I think practice time is not gonna be a problem."
IS ROBBIE'S INFLUENCE STARTING TO MAKE AN IMPACT AND HOW DO YOU THINK HE'S ADAPTING? "Well, just getting back from the holidays and doing the first test and all that, I haven't spent as much time at the shop as I do during the season or even as I do during the next month getting ready for Daytona. There are definitely some differences around the shop. Things are definitely getting run different than what they did before. I haven't noticed a change as far as performance or morale or anything like that yet, but certainly I think he's dragging it in a different direction and I think we'll definitely be better in the long run. I haven't really got a chance to talk to Robbie a whole bunch the last month or so. I saw him over the holidays and that's been about it, so he's been pretty busy and pretty overwhelmed and pretty stressed out I'd say to say the least, so I think it's been a little bit more than what he was thinking at first when he decided to do it."
CAN YOU COMPARE WHAT IT'S LIKE WORKING WITH ROBBIE AND NOW CHIP? "It's different. Chip has always been kind of the technical side of the team or Robbie's brain or my brain or however you want to say it. He's always been the engineer holed up in the back and looking through numbers and testing stuff and doing all that, and that really hasn't changed. We haven't really changed his role that much, so it's definitely a lot, lot different. Robbie was more the organizer and hands-on guy and all that kind of stuff, where Chip is still trying to do the engineering and trying to figure out how to make the cars go fast as well as trying to take over a lot of the duties Robbie did day-to-day, so it's a little different approach. The 99 set their team up different, the way ours is set up and I think the 16 is also, so we're kind of trying a different thing where the crew chief works more on the car and less on the people, and then we've got a person back at the shop that helps organize a little bit of the workload and takes care of the people and do that type of thing."
IS THIS UNIFORMITY AMONG THE TEAMS WHAT YOU NEED TO COMPETE WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "Those guys are so good. They've always been good, really. You just have to figure out how to do things better than they do it. You've got to try to make your cars better. You've got to try to call races better. You've got to try to do the whole thing. You've got to work on the whole thing, from driving the car to setting it up to pitting it, to everything. We've just got to try to dot all your I's and cross all your t's and do everything the best you can to beat those guys. Right now, they're the guys you're looking at that are on the top that you're trying to knock off, so I don't think that's really any different than any other year. I think the main thing is they're trying to make stuff more of the same is because the current car, there are so many rules and regulations that you can't really build different cars. There are a lot of things you can't really do much different, so you should be able to make all the cars within the shop real similar and the setups should all work real similar, so we're just trying to get everybody kind of more on the same page than maybe what we did before because there are less things we can do to customize it to your own driving style and that type of thing."
DOES YOUR PAST CHAMPIONSHIP GIVE YOU A BOOST AT THE START OF THE SEASON? "It has somewhere in between little and nothing to do with the future, I would say. Gosh, it's already been five years or something like that. You take things from racing for points or going through the chase or mistakes that you made in the past or maybe things you've done right in the past, you go look at those things and try to hopefully get smarter and do things better because of that. But I don't think you have an advantage because you've won a championship before or not necessarily a disadvantage because you haven't. I think every year presents its own set of challenges and you have to learn to adapt to that, whether it's cars or rules or different crews or whatever it is. I think you have to try to adapt every year to whatever the situation is."
WOULD IT MATTER TO YOU WHETHER THE DAYTONA 500 WAS THE FIRST RACE OF THE YEAR OR THE LAST? "I don't know because I never really thought of it any other way. Growing up in Wisconsin, especially back then there was always a couple feet of snow on the ground in February. It was always cool because it was the first race of the year and it gave you something to get fired up about. It's all you heard about during January was kind of the Daytona 500. I always remember as a kid watching at the time the Busch Clash on TV and then next week was the Gatorade races and then the 500. All of the races weren't on TV back then, so I always remembered kind of getting amped up for that during the winter. It was a couple of months before our short track season would start up there, so it kind of felt like the start of racing season, so I've never really thought about it being anywhere else."
HOW HAS THIS CAR CHANGED YOU AS A DRIVER? "I think some of that is probably track specific, but certainly I've had more of an open mind this off season and even a little bit during last year when we ran this car and tested it and stuff and have tried to adapt my driving style to make the car do different things or make it run faster or make it feel the way I want. In the past you could adjust your aerodynamic balance depending on how you built it for your own driving style. Like Mark Martin and I liked our cars to feel the same, but we both had drastically different ways of getting there with the bodies and downforce and side forces and all -- things we used to be able to work on, where now you don't really have that luxury. What you have aerowise is basically what you have. There's really no adjusting you can do on that. With that being said, springs and shocks aren't always gonna fix that and you're probably gonna have to keep an open mind and maybe try changing your driving style or maybe the different things you do with the car to try to manipulate the car and the track and the line and everything to make the car do what you want it to do."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT FOR A DRIVER TO DO THAT AFTER HAVING SUCH A COMFORT LEVEL WITH THE OTHER CAR? "I think it's like anything when you get in a habit, whether it's either a good habit or a bad habit, sometimes that's hard to break and hard to change, especially the longer you've been doing it. But the Vegas tire test helped me a lot. I had to do a lot of things different at that race track than I did with the other car through the two days and looking at data and talking to Chip and making another run and seeing what our speeds were and what the car felt like, especially there because we were doing run after run after run with the same setup in the car but different tires, so you were able to kind of look at what you did different and the driver inputs and all the stuff on the computer. So that helped a lot and it's not really that hard, but there are certain things about the car where maybe you have to be a little more careful with it, or it's a little more temperamental, or you've got to drive a little slower to go faster -- that type of thing. So it's more of reminding yourself what you're in and if you overdrive it, you're probably gonna go slower."
-credit: ford racing