This Week in Ford Racing November 11, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus, clinched the first NASCAR Winston Cup championship of his career, and the first for car owner Jack Roush, last weekend with a...
This Week in Ford Racing
November 11, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus, clinched the first NASCAR Winston Cup championship of his career, and the first for car owner Jack Roush, last weekend with a fourth-place finish in the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at the North Carolina Speedway. Kenseth and Roush spoke about their championship season along with crew chief Robbie Reiser, during the weekly NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus
YOU'RE IN HOMESTEAD, ARE YOU TESTING YOUR NASCAR BUSCH SERIES CAR AND CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE TRACK? "Actually I haven't been on it yet. The guys were kind of late getting going so I'm anxiously waiting to get out on the track and see what it's like. The guys were late getting parked and getting the tires and everything sorted out so they're just waiting for me to get back there and we'll be ready to go check it out.
LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP SO FAR. HOW'S IT BEEN SINCE YOU CLINCHED SUNDAY AFTERNOON? "It's been busy. Sunday was pretty late by the time we got home and had a few people over to celebrate a little bit, and yesterday we went and did some things in Chicago and went to the Packer game after that up in Green Bay so it's been a busy day and a half, but it definitely feels great. It hasn't really sunk in all the way yet but it's a great accomplishment for my team and I'm just really proud of those guys for everything they've been able to do this year."
EVERYTHING HAS GONE RIGHT FOR YOU UNTIL THE FINAL SECONDS OF THE GAME LAST NIGHT. (laughing) "Yeah, it was a fun game to watch. When they came out after halftime it looked like the defense was having a tough time keeping up with them and Philadelphia kinda got their number, so I was a little disappointed they lost for sure. But it was really cool to go to the game. I got to stand right on the sidelines pretty much by the Packer bench and that's a view of a football game that I've never been able to see before, so it was really cool.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS SEASON. IT'S ONE THING TO BATTLE FOR THE POINTS, BUT TO TAKE THE LEAD SO EARLY IN THE YEAR AND THEN HAVE TO HOLD EVERYBODY OFF HAD TO BE MENTALLY TAXING ON YOU. WHO DID YOU LEAN ON THE MOST DURING THIS SEASON TO HELP KEEP YOU EVEN KEELED AND NOT JUST GET OVERWROUGHT WITH WHAT COULD HAPPEN? "Probably my wife, really. We always talk when I get home from the races and all that stuff. There's been times during the season when it was kinda relaxed and our lead seemed pretty good and everything seemed to be going good and there were times when we got off a little bit and haven't been running as good or whatever and we lose some points and it would be a lot more nerve-racking. It was kind of nerve-racking being out front all year, but on the other hand I'd rather be the guy in front than being the guy behind trying to catch up all the time. When you are in the front you can kinda control your own destiny a little bit better and just worry about your own car and your own finishes and see how it works out."
WHEN YOU TOOK THE CHECKERED FLAG SUNDAY DID THE EMOTION FEEL LIKE YOU DREAMED IT MIGHT FEEL WHEN YOU REALIZED THAT YOU WERE THE WINSTON CUP CHAMPION? "It hasn't really sunk in all the way, but definitely 10 or 15 laps to go when it looked like we were going to finish there and wrap it up was definitely an emotional time for myself, our team and everybody. I haven't really had that much time yet and it really hasn't sunk in 100 percent yet what we really accomplished this year."
IT SEEMS LIKE THIS SEASON WAS MARRED BY POOR BEHAVIOR ON THE TRACK BY A HANDFUL OF DRIVERS HAVING CONFLICTS AND THROWING A PUNCH AND RETALIATING THE NEXT WEEK. THE FACT THAT YOU REALLY WEREN'T INVOLVED WITH THAT, WAS THAT JUST CISCUMSTANCE OR COINCIDENCE OR DOES THAT SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR PHILOSOPHY ABOUT RACING OR YOUR APPROACH TO DRIVING? "I definitely try to avoid conflicts, but there's going to be times on the track when you have a run-in with somebody or you think maybe somebody did you wrong or they think you did them wrong and you're not totally going to agree about anything, but everybody handles their temper and their emotions in a different way. I'm definitely not perfect when it comes to it, but I just choose to think about things and sit down for a few days before I do anything rash or say anything bad that I regret saying or acting a way I'd regret acting and look silly in front of millions of people. That's something I try to think about and try to control my actions and really think about what's going on first."
IS THAT AN APPROACH YOU'VE LEARNED OVER THE YEARS? "I think when everybody starts they have their times when they're not so cool, calm and collected and probably lose their temper and have things go bad. When I raced with my Dad a lot he would get real worked up about things and racing at the local levels he'd actually like to yell, get mad and run over by people and stuff and I was actually trying to calm him down, so I think I saw some of that. Then a guy I used to race against up in Wisconsin sat and talked to me about how to act and not to act after a race or when things happen and to think about things before you do them and that helped a lot."
CAN YOU TAKE US BACK TO THE FIRST TIME YOU MET JACK ROUSH WHEN YOU GUYS WERE TALKING ABOUT YOU COMING TO RACE FOR HIM AND HOW THE RELATIONSHIP HAS EVOLVED OVER THESE LAST THREE OR FOUR YEARS. "When I first met Jack I actually met Mark Martin before I met Jack and Mark had a meeting set up for me to talk to Jack in Dover about getting signed up and someday driving for him down the road. I met with him up in the lounge in the trailer and I'm a little on the quiet side when I meet new people and I didn't really know what to say to him. We sat and talked for about 10 or 15 minutes and that was about it. They got me under contract and I started testing with Mark and hanging out with Mark a lot and doing stuff, and honestly after that Jack probably didn't sit and have more than a one or two minute conversation with me for two or three years. But over the last couple of years we've gotten to know each other better and I've gotten to understand him a lot more than I did before and I think he understands me more than he ever did before. It's just been something that's taken some time, but over the years I definitely have a lot of respect for Jack and for everything he's done."
YOU THINK THIS WILL PROBABLY PUT TO REST THIS INSANITY THAT NASCAR IS JUST A REGIONAL SPORT? I MEAN YOU'RE FROM WISCONSIN, LAST YEAR TONY STEWART WAS FROM INDIANA, AND STILL THERE'S PEOPLE WHO THINK THAT THE SPORT IS BASED IN THE SOUTH? "I think the cool thing about NASCAR Winston Cup racing is as far as where the teams are and where the employees and the drivers and basically where everybody lives and works is the southeast, but crew members and drivers and everybody else come from across the country and there's not one spot that's a hotbed where you hire all your people from. On our team we have people from Wisconsin, people from the northeast, people from Florida, people from all over the place, they're not just all from North Carolina. I think that owners and sponsors and crew chiefs are looking for drivers and crew members not just in the southeast but from all over. They're trying to find the people that are the best in their region wherever that region may be."
THIS IS A PRETTY SIGNIFICANT CHAMPIONSHIP - IT'S THE LAST WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP IN ADDITION TO BEING THE FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP FOR JACK ROUSH. "Yeah, it's pretty cool. To be the last Winston Cup champion is really neat. Winston has done some really great things for this sport and has elevated it to where it is today because of all the marketing and the stuff that Winston has done. It's sad to see them go, it's really cool to be the last Winston Cup champion, and it's pretty overwhelming and pretty awesome to be on the list of all the champions that have been able to do it."
WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO THIS OFFSEASON ONCE YOU GET HOMESTEAD AND NEW YORK BEHIND YOU AND YOU GET ALL THE QUESTIONS BEHIND YOU? WHERE DO YOU GO TO QUIET DOWN AND REFLECT ON YOUR SUCCESS THIS YEAR? "I don't know for sure. I think next week once all the racing is done down here I think me and Katie might go to the Bahamas for a few days or something like that. Other than that I don't know what I'm going to do this winter. I really want to go on a snowmobile trip somewhere so that's one of the things I'm going to try to find time to do."
ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE RACE (TONY) STEWART CAME UP AND GOT YOU FROM BEHIND. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? DID YOU SWALLOW HARD AND START LISTENING TO THE CAR? "Not really. Usually when you get hit from behind there's not much back there to hurt unless you get hit really, really hard, so we just came in to fix the body to make sure we didn't have a problem there. Probably the last few weeks it's partially my fault because when I see an accident or a wreck ahead or smoke or whatever I react a little quicker than I normally would and get on the brakes harder than I normally would to make sure I don't drive into the wreck. That's a bad habit I had when I first moved down here. Of course it's a little different now because you can't pass under yellow, but back in Wisconsin when the yellow came out everybody just slowed down right away where down here everybody just kept going for a little while because you still race back to the flag. So when I see a wreck I probably jumped on the brakes a little too early and tried to make sure I slowed down plenty and just didn't give him enough time to slow down."
YOU ALSO HAD A TEAMMATE BLOW AN ENGINE WITH A LOT OF SMOKE. WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU SAW THAT? "Well, I saw the smoke and pulled back onto the track and was able to stay on the lead lap, so that was a good thing. Then when I came around on the next lap and saw that it was Mark (Martin) and that was a bad thing because whenever a teammate breaks a part or a piece or something like that you're always scared that you could be the next one."
WITH THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THIS YEAR, WHAT HAVE YOU AND THE TEAM LOOKED BACK AT AND ASKED THE QUESTION, 'WHAT COULD WE HAVE DONE BETTER OR DIFFERENTLY?' "Well, every week you look at that, really. Every week after the race we have a meeting, me and Robbie (Reiser) and our engineer and a couple of the car guys and the shock guys, and we try to talk about what went right, what we did that was a positive change with the car, what we did that was a negative change and what we could do to come back next time and be better. So really we've got pages and pages of stuff that we want to make better and want to do better. I don't know if there's one race I can look back at and say I wish we'd had done something different or better. Every week, even if you win, there's things you look back on and things in the car or in how we called the race or in how I drove something or set something up that we might want to change. Overall in the program I think we're hoping to get our bodies a little bit better. With the new nose and tail hopefully we can get our bodies a little bit closer to what the Chevy has right now and get a little bit more balance and a little bit more downforce. I know they're working really hard on the engines to pick them up and get us some more horsepower there, so those are the two biggest things we're trying to work on this winter to improve our program."
WERE THERE ANY CONVERSATIONS WITH TONY STEWART TOWARDS THE TAIL END OF THIS SEASON AS YOU WERE GETTING CLOSER TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Well there was after we had a couple of bad weeks. Tony just called me up and just basically gave me some advice and told me to relax and enjoy it and do the things you normally do and just show up at the racetrack and do your job. That was good advice and that was helpful because after we had those two bad weeks at Talladega and Kansas where we lost a couple of hundred points in two weeks and we didn't want that slide to continue."
I KNOW YOUR DAD WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING YOU TO START YOUR CAREER. IS THERE ANY ADVICE HE'S OFFERED AS YOUR CAREER HAS PROGRESSED OR ANYTHING HE'S DONE THAT HAS HELPED YOU IN LEADING TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD, CULMINATING WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP. "Well there's tons of things that my Dad has taught me and advice he's given me through the years. Obviously more six, seven years ago than right now because he'' not around it as much as he used to be. But he still gives me advice and has a really good eye for watching practice and having a good idea of how good we're running compared to our competition. That's one thing he always seems to do. But being my father, obviously he's taught me a lot of things over the years that I think helped build my personality and work ethic or how I approach things. Without him starting me in racing I'd never, ever be sitting where I am today, and I'm really thankful for how we started racing together and had a lot of fun doing it."
YOU GREW UP IN A STATE KNOWN FOR WINTER AND EXCEL IN A SPORT KNOWN FOR SUMMER. WHAT'S COLD TO YOU AND WHAT'S HOT TO YOU? "That all depends. I've been snowmobiling in Wisconsin where if you're dressed properly I've been sweating like crazy when it's 10 or 15 degrees outside. I think when it gets under 10 it's really cold for me. But on the other hand if you're from North Carolina and you're used to it being 70 and 80 and it's 40 degrees it feels cold too. It just all depends."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT YOU'VE ACCOMPLISHED AND IT WAS MARK MARTING WHO SAW THE TALENT IN YOU, HOW MUCH DO YOU FEEL YOU OWE MARK? "I feel like I owe him a lot. I have a different way of looking at it. I think that the way we got here by racing, we started racing at the local levels as much as my Dad and I could afford and there's been several car owners, sponsors crew members, people that have given us their time and money and let me drive their cars at all different kinds of levels that I never would've been able to afford to do without them. Each and every person all the way up the ladder from the first guy who let me drive his late model all the way to Jack Roush and Mark Martin to drive their Cup cars had been a huge part of me getting to where I am. I think without any one of those people I probably wouldn't have made it, so I feel like I owe all of them. But definitely once I got to the Busch Series Mark Martin helped me tremendously. He gave me tons of advice for the Busch Series, kind of gave me the do's and don'ts and really kind of helped me get my feet on the ground in Busch Series racing, and got me hooked up with Jack, who gave me my first opportunity to drive a Winston Cup car and got us into a full-time Winston Cup program eventually. I don't know what it was that caught Marks' eye, but he really has been a huge supporter of mine and has really, really helped me and has always stood behind me."
CAN YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST EMOTIONS IN THAT FIRST BUSCH RACE THAT YOU DROVE FOR MARK AND JACK AND THE MOMENTS BEFORE THAT WHAT YOU WERE FEELING? "Actually I never drove any Busch races for Mark and Jack. I was driving for Robbie Reiser, but at the time Mark got me hooked up with Jack Roush and I got a testing contract with Jack and I'd go with Mark testing and I'd hang out with Mark and Mark and Jeff Burton both, who were racing the Busch cars, would help me with my Busch car at Reiser's. They'd give me set up advice or give me advice about a line or maybe how I'm driving the racetrack, more of that kind of thing."
IN THE CENTENNIAL YEAR OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY, WHAT WILL IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE THAT DEWALT TAURUS PARKED OUTDSIDE THE WALDORF IN DECEMBER? "It's going to be really cool. Ford won a championship in '99 with Dale Jarrett and it's really cool to bring a championship back to Ford, so that's really good. Another really cool thing is the making that new GT, maybe it'll move me up the list a little bit more to get one when they start being produced."
DOES IT EVER SURPRISE YOU WHERE YOU GET RECOGNIZED? "Sometimes, but to be honest I'm not real recognizable in public. I'll go places with other drivers and they'll recognize them right away, but people don't recognize me that much usually. A few people did at Lambeau Field, which I kind of expect because it's up in that area, but it was really fun to go up there. It's kinda like a race fan going to Daytona and being able to walk on the track. We got to walk on the field and watch the game, so that was a really cool thing."
DID YOU GET TO TALK TO BRETT FAVRE OR ANY OF THOSE GUYS? "Yeah, I got to meet Brett and talk to him for a little bit , so that was pretty cool also. Those guys, when you see them on TV and watch them play is a lot different than actually meeting them in person, so that was neat."
YOU DON'T GET A SENSE FOR THE HITTING, BUT YOU WERE RIGHT DOWN ON THE SIDELINES FOR THE GAME LAST NIGHT. "Yeah, they hit pretty hard. It was pretty cool because the field was so wet and slick and they slide a long ways when they hit and they were hitting pretty hard, that's for sure."
HAD YOU EVER MET OR HAD ANY DEALINGS WITH THE LATE ALAN KULWICKI? "I never met Alan at all. He was racing late models up in Wisconsin before I ever started and he left and moved south to pursue his Winston Cup career. By the time I got south and started racing Alan was already gone, so he's a guy I never really met. I saw him race one time up at Slinger when I was up there racing a Sportsman car, he came back for the Slinger Nationals, but I never got to meet him and talk to him or anything like that. I admire what he was able to accomplish and the stories that I hear and the things I remember seeing on TV, but other than that I never got to have a relationship with him."