Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion, currently holds down second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings behind Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle. Kenseth, a two-time winner in 2012, held a Q&A session Friday morning at Darlington Raceway with reporters.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING AT DARLINGTON? “I think most of us like coming to Darlington. It’s got a lot of history, obviously. It’s a very challenging track and I love the race track. It hasn’t really love me the last few years, but I’m looking forward to getting on the track today. Carl had a dominating run here last year. We really struggled last year, so we’ve been working hard looking at notes and trying to figure things out to be better this time around. I’m looking forward to it."
HAVE YOU SEEN THE NASCAR BULLETIN ABOUT THE CHANGES TO THE CAR? “I have not seen the bulletin. The side skirts being shorter, is that the one you’re talking about? (Yes) I haven’t seen the bulletin. I heard from somebody that they did that. We actually tested that for NASCAR at the Michigan tire test, so it didn’t seem like a real big deal. I think they’re just trying to make it a little easier to pass, take a little bit of downforce and sideforce off the cars so the lead car doesn’t have quite as big of an advantage. I think that’s their thought process is to try and make it better for the guys not in the lead."
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THE TRACK HAS WEATHERED? “I’m not sure. Just looking at it, I think it looks more gray than I remember last year. This new pavement that they’ve been using at all these race tracks when they repave them is so good that it doesn’t really give up much grip and doesn’t really wear out very fast. I don’t know how many years exactly it’s been since they paved it, but, so far, every time we’ve raced on it you can hardly tell it’s a year older. Hopefully, it’s gotten a little more slick and the tires have a little more grip for this track and drops off a little more. I think that will help the passing a little bit, but the real answer is you don’t really know until you get out there."
DO YOU THINK DALE JR. BEING UP IN THE STANDINGS WILL HELP FANS COME TO THE TRACK AND WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET RATINGS UP ON TV? “I don’t really know the answer to either one of those questions, but I know that Dale Jr. is obviously extremely popular and has been voted the most popular driver for many years. I think whenever the most popular driver has success and can win races and do those things, obviously, it gets the fan base energized. He’s had a great season. He’s been knocking on the door to get some wins. He’s right up there in the points, so I don’t think it’s gonna be long. That team seems like it’s really starting to hit its stride.”
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS BEEN STUCK ON 199 WINS SINCE OCTOBER. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT AND WHAT MIGHT BE GOING ON? “Yeah, I really feel bad for those guys. They’ve only won five out of the last six championships. Those guys are really on a tough run. I hope they get it straightened out (laughing)."
YOU’VE HAD A GOOD PIT CREW THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. HOW MUCH TURNOVER DO PIT CREWS GO THROUGH FROM YEAR TO YEAR? “It’s been a really long time since we’ve been together, so obviously there has been some turnover with guys retiring and stopping the over-the-wall part. But I have always been really fortunate to have a great crew that’s worked really hard at it, and I think that really starts more at Roush Fenway Racing with the pit crew coaches and Robbie (Reiser) originally organizing that deal. They work really hard at it. It’s a performance business. I think everybody on pit road has gotten so much better than they were six or seven years ago. It’s hard to have a big advantage. Track position is more important than it probably has ever been, so we put as much emphasis on that as you do in the race car. You really have to work on your pit stops as much as anything else. Those guys work really hard at it and I think they do a good job."
DO YOU HAVE ANY INPUT ON WHO GOES TO WHICH TEAM? “No, not really. Jimmy watches over those guys. Robbie, the pit stop coaches, all of those guys look over it and they try to get the best guys for the position as far as not only speed, but the accuracy part as well – not letting tires roll across pit road and not leaving nuts loose or dropping the jack before it’s full – all those kind of things. Everybody over the wall, except for one guy, are the same guys we had last year. It’s a group that’s been together. There are a bunch of moving parts to that deal. You’ve got to have a group that works good together. You might have the fastest tire changer somewhere, but maybe they’re not in sync with the tire carrier and the jackman, so I think keeping that group together and keeping them trying to improve is always an advantage."
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO FIGURE OUT DARLINGTON? “I’m still working on it, honestly. I think it changes a lot. We only come here once a year, so you don’t know what you’re gonna have when you get on the race track as far as the tire-track combination and grip – setups change – so I think it’s really a moving target. The track doesn’t even resemble the track before they paved it and before they put up the SAFER barriers. It has so many changes. When they put up the SAFER barriers that was a huge change because it took away so much room, and then when they paved it that changed the whole ballgame again. It really didn’t drive like the old Darlington at all. It didn’t get slick. It drove more like a Charlotte or something like that, but with a much narrower groove, so it’s always changing and you’re always trying to keep up with those changes and always trying to learn and get better."
DO YOU LIKE DRIVING AT DARLINGTON? “I really enjoy it and appreciate it. I was riding my motorcycle down here last night and I was thinking – I really enjoy the couple hours of quiet time – and I was thinking about how cool it was the first few times you came here when it was Labor Day and it was always in the ninties and you were just sweating standing there, and then you had to get in there and drive 500 miles. The track would slow up so much and it seemed like it was almost a five-hour race and you were just totally done and spent when you were done with the race. I always remember how special that event was and being part of that, so I’m glad we still get to come down here. I’m glad the Southern 500 is still alive, but I spent some time thinking about that last night and how cool that was because it was a race you always looked forward to, but you were always making sure you were in shape and drinking a lot of Gatorade, and you were hydrated, and everything was right in the car because it was always a marathon, and it was always hot, slick and treacherous.”
HOW IS DANICA VIEWED BY OTHER DRIVERS IN THE GARAGE? “It would probably be better to ask somebody that has raced against her. I haven’t run any Nationwide races and the only time I was on the track with her the same time was at Daytona and she got caught on in a crash on the first lap or something, so I haven’t really raced with her or interacted with her. I don’t really know her that well, so that would be a tough question for me to answer."
HAVE YOU EVER SPOTTED FOR SOMEONE BEFORE? “I have spotted a few times for my son (Ross) and I gave up. My son is very polite and quiet, but I don’t like the abuse at all and spotters get a lot of that usually. It’s a lot harder than it looks and being a driver it’s really hard for me not to talk too much, and I don’t really like heights, so I don’t really have a lot of interest in spotting."
YOU HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT MONDAY. CAN YOU CLARIFY THE WHOLE CAR NUMBER SITUATION? ARE YOU GOING TO BE 17 NEXT YEAR? “I probably can’t tell you that. I didn’t write the release. You need to ask the people that wrote the release. I was as surprised as you were to read some of it with the way it sounded.”