This Week in Ford Racing - March 29, 2011
An interview with: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan
Roush Fenway drivers Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan were on hand at Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday afternoon to challenge NHRA legend John Force on his drag racing turf. The trio took time to talk about their seasons so far on the NASCAR circuit headed into Sunday's short-track race at Martinsville Speedway.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, has posted back-to-back fourth-place finishes and sits in a tie for ninth-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings heading into this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR POSITION AFTER FIVE RACES? “The last two have been good. The last three have been our best runs. At Vegas we performed really well. We didn’t run good at Phoenix, Daytona – it’s just the way Daytona and Talladega are gonna be for a while. I don’t think they really count for much, except for trying to get the best you can out of it, but we ran really good at Vegas. Except for having that flat tire, I thought we were real competitive and had a car that I thought could have won, and then the last two weeks have been pretty good. You always want to be doing better. Unless you’re winning every week, you want to be doing better, but I think, certainly, we’ve improved a lot since probably mid-season last year until now. It feels like we’re going in the right direction at least.”
YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT IN-RACE IMPROVEMENTS BEING A KEY THE LAST TWO RACES. HAS THAT BEEN A STRENGTH? “The last couple of weeks it has been better and at Vegas it was probably a little bit better too because there have been times the last two weeks where we got the car a lot worse in the middle of the race and then got it a lot better at the end, which is encouraging. The highest we ran each of the last two weeks was the last lap, so that’s what you want to be able to do every week. When you adjust wrong for the last run, like at Homestead last year when we were running in the top three or four and finished ninth because you adjust wrong on the last run, that’s discouraging and it’s hard to be a contender that way. It’s nice when you can get it the other way.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A TOP-10 TEAM? “Yeah, I feel like we’re a top 10 team at this point in the year. There have been a lot of different race tracks and we’ve run good enough to be better than 10th every week. Like I said, you have to throw out Daytona. We had a bad finish that took us down in the points, but I feel like we’re not where we probably want to be as far as contending for wins every week and maybe a championship yet, but I feel like we’re certainly a top-10 contender today.”
IS MARTINSVILLE THIS WEEKEND A BIG TEST FOR YOUR TEAM? “I don’t know if it’s a big test for our team. It’s probably not our best track, but, statistically, it’s probably not our worst either. It’s just one that I get aggravated at and probably don’t use my head as much as I should at times. It’s probably more of a Matt thing trying to be patient and not let my emotions get the best of me. It’s just one of those frustrating tracks. You can never get away from anybody. You’re always either getting run in to it seems like or running into somebody and there’s only kind of one lane. It’s just one of those tracks that gets real frustrating. There’s just not a lot of room to work sometimes.”
DO YOU FIND IT ODD THAT THE 24, 48 AND 11 ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE THERE? “I don’t know. I never really thought about it to be honest with you. Those guys are real good there, but they’re real good at a lot of places.”
WILL THE SCHEDULE WITH NO PRACTICE ON SATURDAY HAMPER DRIVERS AS FAR AS FINDING A RHYTHM ON SUNDAY? “I don’t think it’ll matter for the race on Sunday at all. I think for qualifying it might a little bit. It might be hard to get done at four or five o’clock on Friday and then just get in the car and qualify on Saturday. That might be a little more challenging, but I don’t think it really matters for the race. I’m not a huge fan of that schedule. If we’re gonna be there on Saturday anyway, it would be nice to get on the track and practice a little bit, or if we want to condense the schedule maybe do all the practice and qualifying on Saturday and then impound them or something. I don’t know, but it does seem kind of silly to not to anything on Saturday and come in and make everybody sit around all day to do two laps and go home again, but that’s how the schedule is set up.”
I think we’re a lot more competitive on power than probably what we were at the beginning of last year.
IF YOU’RE OFF ON SATURDAY WILL THAT PUT YOU FURTHER BEHIND SUNDAY? “I’ve never really qualified well at Martinsville, but you want to qualify good there if you can.”
YOU HAD A CHANCE IN THE SPRING RACE LAST YEAR. IS THERE EXTRA MOTIVATION? “No, not really. I just had several things happen the last two laps that I wish I could have over and do different again and some of the things we probably got fixed, but we did run pretty competitively. If they hadn’t thrown that last caution right before they were gonna throw the white, we would have finished second, which would have tied our best finish ever there, so we’ve performed a little better, I just didn’t make the best decisions the last couple of laps.”
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENT? NOT MESS WITH THE 24? “I don’t know if that was totally it. What really cost us at the end was going down the backstretch after I got under him and thinking about going into turn three and racing him, and then at the same time Denny is coming through on tires and my spotter is yelling, ‘Inside, inside, inside,’ like four times, so I lost track of where I was and drove into the corner too hard and at the same time he got me in the right-rear and it ended our day, whereas I certainly would have slowed up for turn three earlier and not worried about what was going on inside of me because you can’t really get through there three-wide without everybody spinning out anyway, so I would have maybe done that different. There were a lot of circumstances that led into that, but, certainly, after you have something happen you try to learn from it and try to be smarter the next time.”
AFTER LAS VEGAS CARL SAID THAT FORD IS BACK. DO YOU SHARE THAT SENTIMENT? “I always try to look at my team, more so than I look at the whole organization, but it certainly seems like it. Carl has won three out of the last eight races and he was in the top one or two for a few races in a row, so, obviously, he’s in form of being able to be a contender to win every week. Even last week, they were off and he finished sixth, so they certainly have their stuff together to where, today, they’re a legitimate championship contender. We’re not running quite to that level, but it seems like we’re getting closer. It seems like, as a group, all of our equipment seems to be faster and our cars seem to be quicker.”
HOW DID YOU GUYS GET TO THAT POINT? “Everybody probably had different opinions on that. I think one of the things that has helped us a lot, I think at the beginning of last year we got behind when they took on the RPM thing and we were building a lot of cars – somewhat like a factory. It was hard to build really nice cars because we were building to get everybody cars first, so I think that they’ve made the cars way nicer from the beginning of last year to the end of last year. It’s just better quality cars. Doug Yates and those guys always do a great job with the engines, and I feel like them having a whole year to work with the FR9 and a whole off season, I think they’ve picked the engines up a lot. I think we’re a lot more competitive on power than probably what we were at the beginning of last year, just having a whole year to work with those engines.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, has moved up 11 spots in the last two weeks – from 31st to 20th – in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
WHY DOES MARTINSVILLE SEEM TO LEND ITSELF TO A COUPLE OF GUYS DOMINATING ALL THE TIME? “What happens is they figure out, ‘OK, I used this spring and those shocks, this swaybar, the truck arms are mounted here and we’ve won four races like that.’ Well, then they go back and they start there and just try this and that. They do little things. We’re there and we don’t even know where to start. ‘Let’s try the truck arms to the top, bottom, full-split, reverse-split. Let’s put 200s in the back, 400s, 100s – no rear bar, rear bar. How about this front geometry or that front geometry?’ They’re polishing on what they’ve won the last five races with.”
BUT FEEL HAS A LOT TO DO WITH IT, TOO. “Yeah, that has a lot to do with it. The car has a lot to do with it – setup, everything.”
YOU’VE GAINED 11 SPOTS THE LAST TWO WEEKS IN THE POINTS. HOW DO YOU FEEL WHERE YOU’RE AT? “We feel like we can make it to the top 10, but we know it’s not gonna move quite as fast now. We may be lucky to get one or two spots if we have a really good weekend, so it will just be a matter of time. Time heals wounds. We had two or three bad races and the only way we can get around that is to have several top-10 runs or a win and a couple seconds – something like that – and we’ll move up.”
DO YOU FEEL FROM A PERFORMANCE STANDPOINT YOU’RE THERE? “Oh, yeah. From a performance standpoint we’ve been there. From an execution standpoint and making the right decisions, it’s pretty obvious that that’s where we’ve had our problems. At California, we weren’t the best, but we had a top six or seven car. I’m not proud of that, but that’s sufficient enough to be able to get in the chase and continue to work on it. We finished 11th because the car didn’t run as good on the second-to-last run as I anticipated, but that’s still a decent day. It’s not anything to celebrate about.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT MARTINSVILLE? “I look at Martinsville as survival for us. That’s not our best track, but what is good is that we run better there in the spring than we do the fall for some reason. Whether the track has more grip or whatever the case is, I think that’s really what it boils down to is we run better in the spring, so going there I think we’re totally capable of a top 10. We finished seventh at Bristol, 11th at California and moved up 11 spots. We go to Martinsville and get a 10th or better, then we’re heading in that direction and we’re doing what we need to do.”
David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion, is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after five races.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MARTINSVILLE? “Martinsville is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. A lot of guys hate going up there, but I enjoy it. It’s close to Charlotte, so I can drive up there. It’s always good racing. The Martinsville race is long and mentally and physically it’s a tough race. It’s hard on the race car. It’s tough on us. We’ve got to be very patient all day, but I feel good about going up there. We were pretty fast in the fall last year. I feel like our cars are better today than they were then, so we’ve got high expectations for the weekend.”
DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE ON THE VERGE OF TURNING THINGS AROUND? “I think we’re two good runs away from being in the top 15. We look at the points and kind of dissect them and we’re not in a hole that we can’t dig out of. We’re not back there 35th or 30th in points. We can see where we want to be and that’s the top 10, top 12, so we’ve got to turn it around and we’ve got to get to that next level with top fives and top 10s. That’s what is gonna propel us up. Twentieth-place finishes are just gonna keep us 20th in points, so we feel like we’re there, we just have to keep our head down and working hard.”
IS IT JUST A CASE OF PUTTING THE WHOLE WEEKEND TOGETHER BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN FAST IN PRACTICE OR QUALIFYING, BUT NOT ALL THREE DAYS. “We’ve just got to do our jobs a little bit better all the way through the weekend, and that’s from me giving better information on Saturday, making better changes to start the race on Sunday. We’ve had fast cars in all five races we’ve run, so I think it’s there and we’ve just got to do a better job with what we’ve got. That’s on my shoulders, Drew, the pit crew – everyone. We can go from race to race and find one or two small mistakes that we made throughout the weekend and in this day and age, you just can’t win and be competitive doing that. The guys that win races are just about perfect throughout the weekend, so we’ve got to cut back on the mistakes, which we have. We’ve got fast race cars and I’m looking forward to this next four or five race stretch.”
-source: ford racing