Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush held a Q&A session in the Homestead Miami Speedway infield media center prior to Saturday's two practice sessions and discussed a variety of issues. MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Taurus DO YOU CONSIDER THIS YEAR A...
Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush held a Q&A session in the Homestead Miami Speedway infield media center prior to Saturday's two practice sessions and discussed a variety of issues.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Taurus
DO YOU CONSIDER THIS YEAR A SUCCESS?
"I think the first two-thirds of the season, at least until probably June or July, was a success. We started off real strong out of the box. I was able to win a couple of races, win the all-star race, and it seemed like we had some momentum. But shortly thereafter we just haven't done as good of a job for whatever reason. I made some mistakes as a driver that got us behind and we made mistakes as a team that we typically don't make and it hasn't really been that great of an end of the year, especially the last six or seven weeks have been pretty bad. So, hopefully, we can turn it around this weekend and get our stuff going again for next year."
JACK ROUSH , Car Owner - No. 17 DEWALT Taurus
DO YOU CONSIDER THIS YEAR A SUCCESS?
"I'm not a Jayski watcher, but when I heard that Jayski had come up with the notion that NASCAR was gonna revise the point system and basically wipe out the lead that Matt had last year with 10 races to go and start over within 50 points, I normally don't call Mike Helton on a Monday, but I made an exception and I called him on Monday. I said, 'Mike, I don't know what you're thinking. We've got a brand new Taurus. We haven't had a revision to our Taurus since '97. Our engine is dated. We haven't had a cylinder consideration since '92 and you've let Chevrolet revise theirs twice and gave Dodge everything that the Chevrolet had when they came on the scene. We haven't lost any people on our 17 team. I don't know what you were thinking. We're gonna put five of these Roush cars in the top 10 and you're gonna say we're predatory.' So it was my goal and my expectation with our new Taurus and our new engine program and our new cylinder head, and coming off Matt and Robbie's momentum from last year, that we would do better than the three. I look at what some of the other major well-funded teams have done, I didn't mean to say major in the sense except for the fact they've got adequate funding and good people working on it, but you look at how some of the other teams have fared that have the same access to resources that we do, I guess we've done OK. But it's not enough for me."
YOU MIGHT PASS THE TORCH TO KURT ON SUNDAY. THOUGHTS?
"Sunday is gonna be an interesting race and Kurt has done a really good job all these last 10 weeks of handling that pressure and doing good with what he's given. When he had his problem at Atlanta, that would have been an easy time for him to snap and lose his head and not do well, but he's done a great job handling that pressure and staying where he's at and he showed that this weekend when he stepped up and took the pole yesterday. That was pretty awesome. It's his only pole of the year and just shows you that the pressure is really not getting to him because he didn't mess that up. So I thought that was pretty cool. I think he's obviously ready to go racing. I think Jimmy Fennig is a great leader. He's a great crew chief at Roush Racing and has brought Mark Martin so close so many times. He's won a lot a races, so there's some experience there, too. I think they're in the driver's seat right now. I think they'll go out and do the things he knows how to do and, hopefully, he'll have a trouble-free day and bring it home."
THOUGHTS ON HOW KURT HAS HANDLED THIS CHASE?
"I told him two weeks ago that I thought it was important for all of us to get our heads straight and be prepared to lose this thing. The way we have ourselves, we've managed to let Jimmy Fennig continue to lead the team as he has from the pits with all the things he sees and with all his experience. Jimmy Fennig is an unsung hero at Roush Racing. He doesn't do things that create a personal image away from the driver or away from the sponsor or away from the team. He's the trooper that's back there doing everything that he can everyday. It wasn't clear to me and I wasn't thinking about it, but somebody was questioning me last week about what he's seen and what he's done and, of course, he worked with Mark Martin as a crew chief and as a mechanic before that with his ASA cars and some of the things that went on in Wisconsin before he got involved with me and with Bobby Allison. But, anyway, the only two owners in NASCAR Cup racing that Jimmy Fennig has ever worked for is Bobby Allison, which seemed forever. I never thought we'd get him extricated from Bobby and then Bobby finally quit and Jimmy considered a move. He was the last guy to turn out the lights and then of course then he was committed to Mark and now to Kurt, and whatever is next, I regret the day when Jimmy is gonna say, 'This is too much pressure and I'm gonna want to stop doing this.' I'll regret it along the same lines of my regret for Mark saying he wasn't gonna go forward and continue to chase championships."
CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY THINGS HAVEN'T GONE LIKE LAST YEAR?
"Well, several things. I've probably made some mistakes that I typically don't make - like the Dover pit road thing. Things like that when you know you should do things that are smarter and don't make a mistake. That's probably been one thing. I'm not a big believer in luck, but sometimes things just go right and sometimes they go wrong. This year when we had the things go wrong, we couldn't turn it in to be something right. You've seen that with Kurt this year. I mean, in this chase he's spun out three times in front of the whole field and nobody has hit him. That's things going right. Sometimes you have that on your side and sometimes you don't. I can't blame a lot of that on that, but we have had flat tires and things like that happen, but, basically, we haven't had our cars running good enough. Our equipment is better than it's ever been. We've got better stuff to work with than we ever had, but we just got behind in the middle of the year, I think, aerodynamically and the 6 and the 16 and them guys really got running good in the middle of the summer and it seems like we've spent the remainder of the year figuring out what we needed to get caught up to them guys and, so far, we haven't really got it to what we had in 2002 and through the beginning of last year and the beginning of this year, yet."
HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED BEING THE CHAMPION?
"Life hasn't really changed how you approach races or the fun you have racing or the things you like to do or anything like that. The thing that changed this year that I'd probably do a little bit different, hopefully if and when it happens to us again, is that I probably did a little bit too much stuff last winter and even during this year as far as appearances and scheduled myself and probably spread myself a little too thin, which probably didn't help things. I don't know if it really hurt things, but it didn't really help things. It definitely had me wore down at times more so than I wish I was or what I have been in the past, so that's probably the biggest difference is there are a lot of opportunities to go do different stuff. A lot of it, you have to do, but some of the stuff you didn't really have to do. If I ever did it again, I'd probably cut back on that because the schedule keeps getting bigger. We did all of our tests at the end of the year.
"If we do it again, we're gonna have to do things probably a little bit different - the way we did our test schedule and things like that because, not necessarily just myself, but I could really see the team run into the ground this year and I've never seen that before out of our team. I've always seen energy and enthusiasm and ready to go to the track. The last five or six weeks I've seen dragging and wanting to get it over and it's hard to perform when everybody is like that and that's something we need to address this winter is how to make it where everybody still has energy at the end of the year. The schedule is not getting any better. It's gonna be worse next year. They've added two days of testing and added a west coast race and didn't change the travel schedule, so it's gonna be worse next year and we've got to figure out how to manage that, I think, a little better."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN KURT FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR?
"The main thing I see that Kurt's got going in 2004 over 2003 is one more year's experience. When he came to us in 2000 in the truck program, he had less than 70 races on his resume with cars that were more than 2000 pounds. That speaks volumes. He was just a baby and just getting started. All the things that happened that are contentious on the race track, among people that have got the space that don't want to share it, those things were new for him. All the pressure from the media and being under the microscope. That was all new. He's an incredibly quick study. He adapted to the cars quickly and, of course, that was the thing that allowed him to win the gong show in '99 before he got in the truck in 2000. Everytime something bad happens to him he resolves not to let it happen again. He's not hard-headed that way and everytime something good happens, he writes that down and you're gonna see more of that. Maybe this year he's been a little more open, not that he wasn't open before, but he may be a little more open to appeals that the people around him have made, myself included. Things like, 'You haven't seen this before. We can anticipate this is going to be a problem. Here's what you need to do about this. Think about it because when it comes up, you need to be ready.' We may have, through looking at what we - and I'm talking about Jimmy Fennig and Geoff Smith and myself and all the other drivers on our team - have tried to help him and he's accepted it in a good kindly spirit and, as Matt said, he's been incredibly lucky.
"I was down rubbing Robbie Reiser down a little while ago before I came in here and I said, 'Robbie, how would you characterize your year and what's happening,' because he gave me his views on it, which I won't get into unless I'm asked specifically, but the thing that's clear to me is that we had a fairytale year with the 17. The car was old. The engine wasn't great and the performance on an average day wasn't as good as some of our competitors, but Matt did an incredible job. Our Goodyear tires kept their air all the time when it was important, unlike Talladega for the 17, the caution didn't come out at the wrong time. We didn't have a problem last year until we really had the thing won and then we started experimenting and taking chances that we wouldn't have otherwise taken, but, anyway, I think we had to give some of that back this year. I'd much rather have it, as bad as it is, to endure a year like this, I would much rather have a year like this preceded by a year like we had last year for the 17, rather than have the averages. The averages would be really bad."
RECENT PAST CHAMPIONS DALE JARRETT, BOBBY LABONTE, TONY STEWART AND YOU HAVE HAD DIFFICULTY THE FOLLOWING YEAR. IS THERE SOMETHING TO THAT PATTERN? HAS THE CHAMPIONSHIP BECOME SUCH A BURDEN THAT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR A TEAM TO COME BACK THE FOLLOWING YEAR AND SUCCEED?
"I think there's things that can happen that didn't necessarily happen to us. I think in a lot of their cases, at least if I remember correctly, that they lost a lot of people after a championship year. People just leave and go other places, and they hire team members away, and I think that hurt maybe some of them teams. I think these days it's very difficult to win races and win the championship, and I think it's more and more competitive than what it ever used to be. There's not one or two or three guys you're gonna watch all year that you're pick out at the beginning that have a chance to win a championship. I mean, there's 20 or 25 teams and guys that if everything goes right they might be in that position. It's just more competitive than it was before. I think a really god team fives years ago, in 1998 when you look at the 6 and the 24, them guys could have a bad day and run fifth. Not anymore. They can have a bad day and either one of them two teams could run 25th or 20th if they have a bad day. And I think when it goes like that all the little things are more important and the luck's more important. It's just tough to repeat it. I know for us, I touched on before, there's probably things we'd do different with our testing schedules and maybe with my schedule or some of the other things all the team had to do. I think maybe some of that gets to you more than you think it would, but I don't really don't think that hurt our performance a lot, I just think it's tough to stay on top of your game all the time. You know, there's rules changing and all the cars are close to the same speed. It's just tough for one or two teams to be able to dominate."
Continued in part 2