Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and has two wins this season after taking the checkered flag at Dover. Kenseth, who registered his first NSCS win in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600, spoke about that night and how he feels about the longest race of the season.
YOUR FIRST CUP WIN WAS THE COCA-COLA 600 IN 2000. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT NIGHT? “I remember almost everything about that race, to be honest with you. That’s one which will hopefully never fall out of my head. There was a lot of neat stuff. I think Dale Jr. won the All-Star Race the week before and he dominated the whole 600 and kind of got behind at the end with a set of tires or a change they made and it kind of opened the door for a few of the rest of us to have a shot at it. I think Dale Jr. had the dominant car that night. They got behind on their last pit stop or adjustment or set of tires and that opened the door for Bobby Labonte and me to race for the win. I was able to run Bobby down with I don’t know how many laps to go, but there weren’t a lot to go. We had a really good battle and I was able to pass him for the win. There was a rain delay in that race. It was really long and it was just a really cool race to be able to win, especially for your first one.”
WHAT DID THAT DO FOR YOU FROM A CONFIDENCE STANDPOINT AS A ROOKIE IN THE SERIES? WAS THAT A SPRINGBOARD? “I thought it was. We went to Dover and ran second or third and then from there the wheels fell off for about a year-and-a-half (laughing) until 2002. I think 2001 was probably one of our worst years because we weren’t very competitive as an organization, so it was nice to get that first win because there was a pretty good dry spell in between the next one, and then 2002 was a good year for us.”
YOU HAVE FOUR STRAIGHT TOP 10 FINISHES AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY GOING INTO THE 600. HOW DO FEEL ABOUT THIS TRACK IN GENERAL? “I feel like since they’ve paved it we’ve actually struggled a little bit at times. There have been times we’ve run really well and then there have been times where we struggled, but the 600 is probably my favorite event of the season. It’s obviously the longest race of the year and a lot of things go on, but I look forward to that. I think a lot of times we excel in the longer races, maybe more so than the shorter ones, so I look forward to that.”
DAVID PEARSON WAS INDUCTED INTO THE NASCAR HALL OF FAME ON MONDAY. YOUR DRIVING STYLE HAS BEEN COMPARED TO HIM BY SOME. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? “That’s quite a compliment. I don’t think I’ll ever accomplish what he has, that’s for sure, but it’s quite a compliment to be mentioned in the same breath because David Pearson is certainly one of the best this sport has ever seen.”
WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT RACING THE 600? “Just how long it is, I guess, and the changes the track goes through for adjustments. As competitive as it is today, you have to be good enough in the beginning to not get a lap down and be really fast at the end when the track is totally different than the beginning of the race. That’s always the challenge – to balance that out to be good at the beginning and the end.”
Everybody’s stuff is more durable than it has ever been ...
DOES IT FEEL LIKE THE LONGEST RACE OF THE SEASON FROM INSIDE THE CAR? “It depends how your day is going, honestly. If your day is going really well and you’re running it front, it maybe doesn’t feel as long. If you’re really struggling and you’re down a lap or two and you’re really battling your car, it can feel really long, so it really depends on the day. I’ve been in them before where it just seems like forever and I’ve been in them before when it doesn’t seem much different than a 400 or 500-mile race.”
CAN YOU HAVE A STRATEGY FOR THAT RACE? “You need to be there the last 100 miles and not break or not wreck. Everybody’s stuff is more durable than it has ever been and there are more cars that finish these races than there ever used to be. The competitive level is tough, so it really isn’t a lot different for me than a 500 or 400-mile race. I think you really want to be in at least the top 15 the whole race, especially at the beginning to make sure you don’t get lapped or if you have a problem you get too far behind. I think you’re gonna be racing pretty hard the whole time, really.”
-source: ford racing