Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Fusion heads into Michigan third in the Sprint Cup points standings with just four races to go before the Chase begins. Kenseth, who was the last driver to win a non-Chase championship, met with members of the media prior to the first practice session Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
Talk about coming to Michigan International Speedway this weekend. “I am looking forward to being here for the second race on the pavement and having the tire issues worked out. We have one race under our belt and got to test here so we are looking forward to getting out there and seeing if we got our stuff a little better.”
Your thoughts on the NASCAR after the lap event in Las Vegas which was announced earlier today? “I think you hit it. That sounds good. We have a lot to think about before we get to that obviously. Ford does a lot there giving away vehicles so that is exciting for the fans but I am more excited about the race that is coming up. Hopefully we get to be a part of that event though. It is always fun. For the fans it is a laid back experience that you look forward to being a part of when the year is over if you are a part of the top-12.”
Does it bother you or Jack (Roush) more that you haven’t won here since 2008? More than it would at other tracks? “Not necessarily for me but maybe for Jack because it is close to Livonia where he has done all his work and Roush Industries and Ford and all that. For me it isn’t any more or less than any other good track that we go to. It has been one of our better tracks through the years so whenever you go to the tracks that you perform better at than others you want to try to take advantage of that.
You always hope that those are you best chances to win and you hope to win and when you don’t it is a little disappointing, especially if you feel like you had one of the better cars. It has been one of the better tracks for us overall and hopefully we keep that up.”
What are your impression of how the speeds will be different this weekend from June? “I think it will probably be similar to the race in June. I think it will be pretty close to that. We will probably be faster today in qualifying and practice but the race always slows up when you get all the cars out there racing. I believe the tires is fairly close to the same, it might be a little quicker than that. I thought that it was tough conditions to race in June but it made a really entertaining race. When someone got out of the groove on the restarts it made it exciting.”
Yesterday you were among the guys at the ford driver day event. What did you do? How was it? “We typically go up there every year and go to their proving grounds and their test track facility and all that and get to drive all the new products and beat on them a little bit. We got to go to the Dearborn Truck Plant yesterday. We spent pretty much the whole day. It is always a fun day, a long day but a fun day. It is always fun to go see the new stuff and abuse it a little bit.”
You have an average finish here of 9.3. Are the average finishes out the window with the new surface? “I think that changes all the time. The surface is the biggest change here in years but changing from the old car to this car was a huge change as well. I would say about the same as that. I think you look at the last race and I think we performed well, finishing third or fourth or something and I thought we ran pretty competitively.
I feel good about that. It is the same track. It is different but it is the same. That is a long-winded answer to your question. You somewhat throw it out the window I guess. It is not the same but yet things change every year and this is just a bigger change.”
Returning to a track where you won the previous race at that track, what is that like for a drivers confidence level? “I think it depends on a lot of different factors. Who you are. What year it is. How you are running. What changes have there been? It used to be years ago you would come back with the same stuff and run almost as good and just tweak on stuff a little bit. Times are changing. I think of Pocono.
Look at spring Pocono race, the guys that dominated that race, a few of the guys still ran up front but a couple didn’t. I look at this race like that because they are both new pavement races. Coming back a couple months later you would think things would be the same but you really have to keep an open mind. You have to put the last race behind you and keep working hard at it because things seem to change in a hurry for some reason.”
What did you notice about dale (Earnhardt Jr.) After he won this race in June? “I don’t know. To me I didn’t notice a huge difference but I am not his teammate and around him as much as those guys. I just kind of talk to him a little each week at the track. I think it had to be a relief and a weight off his shoulders whether he says it was or not. I think all year he has seemed much more confident and happier at the track. You could see it coming. It was only a matter of time.
Sometimes a guy gets a win and it is neat but maybe it was for other reasons where with those guys you could see they were running in the top three or four and leading laps and been right there. When you see someone run like that all year you know it is only a matter of time until they break through and get that win. Especially here where it was the site of his last win. I am sure that built a lot of confidence.”
Why aren’t you winning more races? Why isn’t Jack (Roush) winning more races? “Well, there are a ton of reasons why guys don’t win races. There is a lot of competition and great teams out there. We try as hard as we can to win every race I have ever entered in my entire life. It isn’t easy. We have to get our cars running a little faster and I have to do a better job finishing some of them off.
I feel like we are in position to win sometimes and variety of reasons prevents it. You are always wanting everyone to do better but at Pocono for instance, I went home and it was one of the only times I can remember not winning a race and feeling like this, but we went home and thought about what we could do better next time. I didn’t know. We had great pit stops, perfect strategy, we had two or three more laps of fuel than the 48 and knew the rain was coming and pitted after he did.
We had a perfect restarts, had ourselves in position and did all that stuff right and still came home with our best car wrecked and in 22nd. I didn’t feel there was one thing different that any of us could have done about that. I think you just keep working on it and keep racing as hard as you can and try to make your cars faster and hopefully the wins will come.”
It is a contract year for a lot of people including you. Have you noticed from talking to your peers that there has been a correction in terms of salaries in NASCAR? “No, I haven’t just because I don’t talk about that with my peers. I talk to them as much about contracts as I do with you guys. It is business and I try to keep that to myself and the group working on it with me. I don’t really audit the garage or ask anybody else what they are making or not making or what is going on there. I am probably the wrong one to ask about that.”
Follow up question inaudible: “I don’t. I don’t keep up with it really. You look like you want more but I just don’t keep up with it. It doesn’t matter to me what everybody else makes. I try to put together a deal for myself that I am happy with and be in a position where you feel like you can win races and challenge for championships.”
Follow up question inaudible: “We are trying to talk about this for not talking about it. I gave you the answer to your original question. I don’t know what anyone else makes and I don’t talk to anyone else about it.”
There has been some talk about saving parts or something for the chase. The blue print for success in the chase is peaking, are you looking at that at all with Jimmy (Fennig)? Maybe picking out cars or parts for certain tracks? “Sort of. We built a couple of new cars this year that Jimmy wasn’t happy with in the wind tunnel and how they turned out. We built a brand new one for Indy that we were going to bring there and it really turned out to be no good so we didn’t bring it. We brought a car we thought would be better and got caught up in a wreck. We had a brand new car that we liked how it turned out and brought it to Pocono.
That was going to kind of be our car and we were going to bring it here and try to get it worked out and that got wrecked at Pocono. Here we have an older car and Jimmy has a new car that he is trying to get done and have ready before Chicago. We are trying to learn off what made that Pocono car run and duplicate that and have that style ready for Chicago. These days it isn’t huge differences anymore. There are little things you can do to make them better.
I think you want to bring your best stuff every week. If you have one or two things or cars or pieces or you have something or your best tire changer that has a injury, I think you have to be smart about that and have it for the last 10. As we have seen, wins are really important, whether it is before or in the Chase for those bonus points. I don’t think you want to give anything up any time but certainly if you have a limited amount of parts or pieces or personnel then you are going to try to have that ready for when the Chase starts.”
Do you know yet if your spotter, Mike Calinoff, will be with you next season? “I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t know what his situation is with the team and contract and all that stuff. I don’t really know. I have not really talked with him about that to be honest with you.”
I chuckle when people use Tony Stewart's five wins in the chase last year as the way to win the championship because he also won a championship without any wins and last year tied a guy with zero wins. Seems to me that consistency can win a championship. Your thoughts? “Well, not to come off as being smart but after Homestead you have to have more points than the second place guy. That is how you win the championship. How you go about that can be done a lot of different ways. If you don’t have as good an average finish you can get bonus points for wins but at the end of the day it s about having the most points when the checkered flag waives at Homestead. It depends what your competition does.
You wouldn’t need any wins if Carl had finished one spot better in one race in the final 10. You just don’t know what everyone else is going to do. You go race as hard as you can to finish as high as you can every week and try to get some wins and when it is all said and done you hope you have the most points.”
You are the cover story in usa today. Have you seen the story? “It must have been a slow news day today I guess. I have not read it yet but certainly if the great Nate Ryan wrote it I am definitely going to read it. But I haven’t read it yet. I am going to before practice though. If you see me coming back here I am looking for Nate because I didn’t like something he wrote. (laughter)”
Source: Ford Racing