This Week in Ford Racing Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is one of two drivers to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup every season. As the 2009 season approaches, Kenseth will be looking to keep that streak...
This Week in Ford Racing
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is one of two drivers to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup every season. As the 2009 season approaches, Kenseth will be looking to keep that streak intact with the help of a new crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer. That was one of the topics Kenseth addressed at the recent Lowe's Motor Speedway media tour.
"The goal is to try to win a championship and to be able to do that you have to make the chase, so that's been the good parts about our season, but we haven't quite been able to do what we wanted to once we got in."
DO YOU REALLY JUST CONCENTRATE ON THE FIRST 26 RIGHT NOW OR CAN YOU LOOK AT MAKING CHANGES FOR THE CHASE? "Really, you take it one week at a time. If you run good every week and you finish good and you can win some races, you're gonna make the chase. So it's really about taking it one week at a time. We're thinking about the Daytona 500 right now. We've got Drew in there as the new crew chief and we've changed some things around on the team, so, really, we're looking forward to the Daytona 500 and going there and trying to win."
WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SO CONSISTENT OVER THE YEARS? "I think it's really about the team. I've got a great group of guys behind us that prepare fast race cars. Doug Yates and those guys have done a great job at the engine shop of giving us really good horsepower and really good reliability. We didn't drop out of any races for engine reasons or mechanical reasons last year, so just having good, reliable stuff and fast cars has been the big thing."
DO YOU CONSIDER LAST YEAR SUCCESSFUL? "It was a really trying season. You look at the numbers and it was probably our worst season since 2001. To me, it was a disappointing season. I think we know we can do better than that. We've got a better group than that. We've got better equipment than that. I think we really underachieved most of the season last year. The bright spot was we made the chase, but we didn't win a race for the first time in seven years or something like that and finished out of the top 10 in points for the first time in like seven years so, to me, it was a disappointment."
HOW MUCH DOES THAT STICK IN YOUR CRAW? "You go out every week trying to win and, certainly I think I've said it after almost every win is that you never know when your last one is gonna be. You have to enjoy it when it happens because this sport is really hard and it's really hard to get to Victory Lane."
TALK ABOUT YOUR LAMBEAU LEAP? "That was kind of fun. I actually went up there to do a photo shoot for ESPN the Magazine and we were doing still photos. I actually did it about 10 times, believe it or not, and I had no idea Fox was gonna film it and put it on during the game, but it was fun. I get embarrassed pretty easily so I'm glad I didn't fall off the wall. I pretty much made it up there every time and did all that, so it was fun. It would be more fun to be a part of the team and do it for real, but it was cool. I always love going to Lambeau. I have a lot of friends up there and it's a good time."
THE COMMISSIONER OF YOUR FANTASY LEAGUE WASN'T IMPRESSED WITH YOUR FORM. "It's higher than it looks. It's pretty high and I'm not real athletic. I'm not very tall and I can't jump very high, so that was pretty good for me considering there was no step to jump on or anything."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE BUD SHOOTOUT THIS YEAR? "It used to be more of a specialized group. You had to do something the year before or you had to do something besides being the top six in your manufacturer, so it takes away a little of the uniqueness, but it'll be a great race because the more cars you get in the race at a plate race, the more exciting that it is. It'll be exciting. I'm looking forward to running the race and getting the practice in."
CONSIDERING HOW YOU QUALIFY, THOUGH, IS THE CHANGE A GOOD THING FOR YOU? "Yeah, I mean I always want to be in it, but yet it was cool to see if you could win a pole. That was one of the more important things about winning a pole, the races are 400 and 500 miles long, so does it matter if you start first or ninth? Not really, the bonus points and being in the Bud Shootout was always the big deal about getting the pole, but, yeah, certainly, I think I've only been in one or two, so the different format does help me."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE LACK OF TESTING? "I think for us at Roush Fenway, it will probably be somewhat of an advantage not testing. We didn't test a lot last year or the year before and we ran pretty well. We have a lot of teams and a lot of information to pull from and really the simulation and some of the stuff we do at the shop, how we figure out our setups, I don't think it will really hurt us with not being able to test."
HOW DOES ROUSH FENWAY KNOCK HENDRICK OFF THE TOP? "It's tough to beat Jimmie. Carl was able to beat everybody except for Jimmie there at the end, so I don't think it's necessarily the organization. It is the organization, but it's really the Jimmie-Chad combo. They've really been the guys to beat for quite a few years now."
WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING ON THE 17? "We just keep working on it. We made some changes on the team - roster-wise - obviously this year looking for some chemistry within the team - not just me and the crew chief, but really within the whole team to try and give it a spark and try to improve it, so hopefully we did that."
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW DREW? "We've run Nationwide Series cars for a couple of years together, so I already know Drew pretty well. There's not really a barrier there to get to know him, but I'm looking forward to it. Chip, I think, is excited that he gets to work on the cars a lot more than he's been able to last year and Drew did a great job turning Carl's Nationwide Series effort around last year. It was an eighth- to tenth-place car until Drew got there and he turned that thing around into winning eight races and almost caught all the way up and won the championship. Drew is really capable. I think he'll be a good leader. He's young. He's enthusiastic. It's his first Cup job. I think he's gonna really add some enthusiasm to the team and spark to the team and I'm looking forward to that."
HAS IT BEEN A STRANGE OFF SEASON WITH MORE DOWN TIME? "Yeah, probably too much. You turn the news on and it's depressing. I'm like, 'Gosh, I can't wait to get back to the race track so everybody can start talking about racing and the competition and who is winning' and doing all that, instead of all the rest of the stuff we've had to listen to the last two or three months, but, yeah, it's been a different off season. I've had a lot more free time than I've ever had before, but I've enjoyed it. I've been able to spend more time with my family and kind of hang out and get rested up, but I will say that I'm ready to get to the race track and get racing."
HAS THE MEDIA OVERBLOWN THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DAYTONA TEST? "Of all the tracks that testing would affect us, I think Daytona, it will affect us the least. Daytona, speedway racing, there are more rules than anywhere we go with the restrictor plate and the rear shocks and springs. There's really very little we can do down there. The aero rules are locked in so tight. It's not like it was a couple years ago where you'd have one car that would run a half-second faster than the other car you brought testing and it was real important to test different aero panels and all that stuff. You just can't do it anymore with the rules. Also when we get down there, there's a huge field for the Bud Shootout this year. They've got almost all the cars running, really, so we all get to race on Saturday night and get a feel for it, and then you've got a whole week of practice, the Gatorade races, and some more practice and the 500, so you have so much time during the week down here you should get time to test everything you want to test while you're down there to race."
WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS DO YOU FEEL THERE'S A SENSE AMONG DRIVERS THAT YOU ALL SHOULD ENJOY THINGS A LITTLE BIT MORE AND NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED? "I think there's always a correction period in about anything that you do. Certainly you can see that. There's always been years when there hasn't been enough rides for all the drivers that there is, that isn't anything new, but certainly talking like Bobby Labonte of all people, you wouldn't think he would have been in that situation and with his thing falling apart right at the end and him getting that ride, you can tell that he's relieved, but I think at certain times it's easy to take things for granted, but yet on the other hand I don't really think about all that stuff. I think about going and trying to win races. It seems like if you can run good and perform well, the sponsors are gonna see the value in that. The fans are gonna come and watch the races if they're exciting. I think everything works itself out if you can run good, put on good races and try to win races, so, really, that's all I'm thinking of. I try to block out all the outside stuff and just focus on doing our jobs like we usually would."
THOUGHTS ON LACK OF TESTING. "It's the same for everybody. With the way the testing was last year, it was the same for everybody because all the teams were there, so it's not like it was a few years ago where you could pick your seven tracks - you could go to let's say Dover and there would only be three teams that would test there, so you could get a little more of an advantage because you were the only ones on track with that tire before you got there because everybody else decided to test somewhere else. It wasn't really like that. I think we're all in the same boat whether we all get to test at the tracks or don't get to test, I think it's the same for everybody. Really, almost every team out there - there are very few exceptions - are affiliated with real big, huge, super teams and it seems like these days with the Roush Yates thing together and the Hendrick, Stewart-Haas thing together and everybody all sharing their information, so everybody's got big teams and can look at a lot of information and has a lot of stuff to look at."
WHAT DO YOU THINK DREW'S ADJUSTMENT WILL BE GOING FROM NATIONWIDE TO THE COT CUP CAR? "I don't think it's gonna be a huge adjustment. Honestly, in today's world, it's almost all engineer-driven anyway. We get sheets of paper every week that give you recommendations of what to put in the car and what we should run and these cars with all the rules there is very little we can do to the cars. Our bodies are almost identical. All of our car builds within our company are the same, so you've got a lot of stuff to look at and you've got a lot of teams to draw information from and to work with and talk with, so I'm not really worried about that part. Really, Chip last year did the first three-quarters of the year with no engineer. He did the engineering and crew chief duties, so I almost feel like we added a person. Chip gets to work on the car all the time and he's got Drew to help him out with the car, and Drew is gonna be calling races and doing all the crew chief stuff that maybe took away from Chip working on the car, and seeing what other teams were doing and keeping track of all that stuff."
IT'S THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. "Yeah. Like I said, it's almost like adding another person, so I'm not really worried about his adjustment period. He's really into it. He works really hard. He does a lot of research and he's been talking to all the other crew chiefs and engineers and looking at the cars and spending time getting familiar with these cars and the way we do it at the Cup shop."