Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship last weekend at Rockingham. He discussed what the past week has been like during a Q&A session prior to Saturday's practice...
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship last weekend at Rockingham. He discussed what the past week has been like during a Q&A session prior to Saturday's practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus
YOU HAD A LITTLE SPIN AFTER WINNING LAST WEEK?
"I did a little one in the grass. Like I said, I didn't want to tear too much up. I like to celebrate like anybody, but I don't believe in tearing all that stuff up and wrecking all that stuff because somebody has to fix it and somebody has to pay for it."
WHO DID YOU ADMIRE GROWING UP IN RACING?
"I always admired Dale Earnhardt a lot and I like watching Tim Richmond race a lot because those guys got everything there was out of a race car. It seemed like all four tires would be smoking and they'd just be driving the heck out of it, so I always admire anybody that gets everything they can out of their equipment and plays the game no matter what it is as hard as they can for the love of it. I always admired them and then when I moved down here, Mark Martin has taught me the most about my driving style. I probably tried to copy his driving style more than anybody."
ANY OTHER HIGHLIGHTS?
"There are a couple of things. Winning Las Vegas was cool because it was only the third race of the year and we ran really good the first four or five races, so winning Las Vegas was really cool. I thought it was really neat when I wrecked the second car at Kansas at how good a job the guys pulled together and fixed that car. They brought us from 43rd to 36th or whatever and gained us those twentysome points. That could have been really important at the end of the year and they worked really hard to get that done. They never really hung their head, they just worked on it hard and that was a highlight for me too."
YOUR BIGGEST HIGHLIGHT?
"When we won Las Vegas was probably the best one because we won. I think whoever wins usually has the most superior car. There are times when you have the best car and you don't win, but I think that was one of the races where we had the best car and were able to win."
HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT KEEPING THE MOMENTUN FOR NEXT YEAR?
"No, not yet. I'm sure that will be Robbie's Monday morning meeting, but not yet. We still have another race to go, so until the racing gets over it's hard to really say that because we still want to run good this week. We've already had three cars built and in the wind tunnel and been working on it really hard. I'm sure we're gonna work real hard over the winter and do some testing. I think we're allowed more testing next year, I believe, so I'm sure we're gonna use some of that more in the winter and try to get ready for the year."
ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT FORD GETTING THE NEW CYLINDER AND NOSE AND TAIL?
"Yeah, I don't know if it will be a big difference, but it's gonna help. I think we've been a little bit behind all year. If you look at the average numbers from a Ford, I don't think we've been nearly as competitive as we're capable of, especially as competitive as we were last year. I think we've been a little behind ever since the start, which we should be a little bit behind. The Chevy designed a brand new car and whenever you make something new it should be better than what was old and we haven't had a new car for a couple of years, so I think it'll help."
HOW DO YOU IMPROVE IN THE OFF SEASON?
"You just try to make the stuff better. We have that new car and we've got new rules, so we've got to work on that with that shorter spoiler. Hopefully, we'll make our engines better and make some more power and just do some testing and try to stay on top of it and try to get better as a group - try to get all five teams better and working better together and building more cars and trying to figure out what's best."
"I think we need to improve in the aero part. I think we need to improve our downforce, which the new car should help a little bit. I think we've been off in that for a while and I think you see that a lot, especially when we race on new tires. It seems we're a little off with that and, hopefully, we can improve our motors. You can always improve there. We know we're still a little bit off in that area. We can see from the chassis dyno results that we still need a little improving there and the more the cars get closer to being the same, the more that's gonna be important. I think those are the two biggest areas we need to work on."
DO YOU THINK ABOUT RACING 24/7?
"I sleep at night, so it's not 24 hours for me (laughing)."
DO YOU DREAM ABOUT IT?
"Sometimes I do, but the dreams aren't always good (laughing). Really, it's always on your mind somewhat. I'm not always looking at the wall and figuring out what springs I should have run last week, but it's definitely something that's always on your mind and something you have to put a lot of time into. I think you always need to be thinking about what the next step is that's gonna make your team or your car that much better than what you have right now. I think you always need to be thinking about that or the competition is gonna pass you up. Even if you win the race one week, you go back there four months later and you can't even run the same setup anymore. It just doesn't work, so you always have to be thinking about what that next thing is that's gonna get you on top."
HOW MUCH OF A TOLL DID THIS TAKE ON YOU?
"I tried to have it not to. That's probably a good question for my wife. Maybe it has somewhat. It's actually a lot of pressure, especially when we lost all those points those couple of weeks. It's hard to explain. There have been some weeks when I felt totally relaxed and I felt like we were in good shape and were in control of the championship, and then there were some weeks when I felt we weren't running up to our potential and weren't doing the best job that we could do and were maybe losing some points and I felt like maybe we were losing our grip on it. It just really depended on the week and how we ran that week and what we felt like. So there were some weeks when there was a lot of pressure and I was really worried about it, and there were other weeks when I was pretty relaxed."
THIS IS THE LAST WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP. YOUR THOUGHTS?
"I've thought about it a little bit. It's really cool to think there have only been 26 Winston Cup champions and we're one of them. I feel really great for what they've been able to accomplish - starting this team out from scratch in '99, for Robbie and for all the guys that have hung in there the whole time. The core of our group has been there for four years - four or five years. Some of those guys have been there since we started racing Late Models, so that makes me feel really good and that makes me really proud of those guys that they stuck it out. Even when we had a really bad year in 2001, everyone stuck it out. We didn't have anybody quit, we didn't get anybody fired. We kept our group together and tried to figure out, as a group, what we were doing wrong and how to make it better and we were able to do that. That makes me proud of those guys, that they worked that hard and never gave up on it."
THERE'S STILL SOME STATUS WITH THIS.
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. It hasn't sunk in quite all the way yet, but that is really neat. Winston has done a huge amount for this sport. Since I've been alive it's always been the Winston Cup Series and the Winston Cup championship and that's what I've always heard about and dreamed about, so to be one of them is pretty overwhelming."
TONY WAS ABLE TO RELAX AFTER HE WON.
"I will feel that, I think, when this race is over but Tony clinched it the last race. They were done racing until Daytona and they didn't have to go test for a month and a half and he got to think about it and enjoy it and maybe go on vacation and maybe get ready for New York. That's what we're all gonna be doing the next week. This week we still had to get ready to race because it was a week early, so I do have a pretty big sense of relief, but, on the other hand, you never want to go to the race track and not run to your potential and embarrass yourself and not run good, so we're still concentrating on this week because we've still got a race."
WHAT ABOUT NEW YORK?
"There are other things maybe that I'd rather do, but I think it's all what you make of it. That's never really been a big thing for me. I've never really felt that comfortable doing all that, but I think it's all what you make of it. There are a lot of really cool things I'm gonna get to do that I never, ever in my life would have gotten a chance to do if we wouldn't have won the Winston Cup championship, so I'm gonna look forward to it and I'm gonna enjoy it. I've got a lot of cool stuff planned and I'm actually looking forward to it this year. I thiink it'll be fun."
WILL YOU GO BACK TO CAMBRIDGE?
"Yeah, I'm gonna go back. I don't know when I'll have the chance, but we're gonna go back. We have an annual fan club party up there and I'm gonna go up for that for sure and see everybody."
DO YOU HAVE ANY HOLIDAY RITUALS?
"Not really. Christmas, there are a couple of traditions we always did. They start changing a little bit as you get older and get families and all of that, but we've always gotten together at my mom and dad's house on Christmas Eve. And then on Thanksgiving we have always tried to get together the last few years up in Wisconsin. Those are the two times we always get together."
ANY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS THAT STAND OUT FROM THE PAST?
"I had a lot of cool Christmas presents when I grew up. Probably the coolest thing when I was real little was when they first came out with those Tyco slot car tracks. I always had one of those and I always tried to talk my dad into racing me and I usually always beat him."
IS THERE ANYBODY IN YOUR PAST THAT YOU WISH WERE HERE?
"Probably a couple of guys. My dad's brother, my uncle Gary, was a real big part of my racing. Even though he's been gone for quite a while, he helped me when I was younger and taught me a lot of mechanics for the cars. He was almost like a second dad to me, so I wish he was around for it because he was always real proud of the racing. He raced himself a little bit. His son, Steve, raced quite a bit. I always wish he would have been around. He was never around to see me run a Busch race and I was wishing he would have been around for all of that. And Joe Sheer, who I raced against up in Wisconsin. I wish he was around to see some of it. He helped me a lot too, and gave me a lot of good advice when I was racing up and around there."