Sears Point Raceway is this week's stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, a road course that has undergone some changes as far as the layout is concerned. Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, was one of the few drivers who tested at the newly designed facility and he gave his impressions.
MATT KENSETH --17-- DEWALT Power Tools Taurus
HOW HAS THE COURSE CHANGED FROM LAST YEAR?
"Basically, all they changed was the place where you come over the hill. Instead of that chute that turned to the left, you go straight down the hill and do a 90-degree turn to the right. Then you go straight down there and come back and do about 120-degree turn where it picks up to the old track again and you go through the esses. There are two more real hard braking zones, which I think will help, and they're real straight braking zones too so I think there will be two more passing areas compared to what they had before. I'd have to say I like it a lot better."
ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT LAST YEAR WAS THAT THERE WEREN'T MANY PASSING ZONES. YOU EXPECT THAT TO CHANGE THOUGH?
"Now that you make a 90-degree corner at the bottom of the hill, I think that will be a passing zone where you will be able to drive under somebody and out-brake them and take a position, and the same thing with that 120-degree corner. I believe that will be a halfway decent passing zone where you can at least try and get position on someone, so I think they've created a little bit more room there to try and pass."
WAS IT WORTH GOING OUT THERE TO TEST AND SEE THOSE CHANGES FIRST-HAND?
"Yeah. I've wanted to test at Sears Point for a while because it's tough to go to road courses. Last year we went with two new cars that we had never run before. We had never been to a road course in a Winston Cup car and had never been to Sears Points, so it was difficult, but I think we're gonna run pretty well. We had a positive test and learned a lot of things. We brought two different cars out there and found one that was a lot better than the other, plus I got a lot of miles around there. I feel more comfortable going back there and feel we can be somewhat competitive."
WITH ONLY TWO ROAD COURSE RACES, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO PREPARE FOR THOSE AND NOT JUST FEEL YOU CAN THROW THEM AWAY?
"I think you need to work equally as hard for every race. There are only two road courses and once you get a car that works pretty good at say Watkins Glen, you should be able to leave it for a couple of years and not have to use a test. I know a lot of teams go to the road courses in Virginia and South Carolina and shake down their road course cars, but you can't afford to give up on it. If you don't put the effort into going there and working on it and making yourself a better driver on the road course to see what you need in your car, you'll run like we ran last year. Last year, we didn't pass anyone unless they blew up. You've got to work at all of the races hard, and I try to work at the races where I feel we're the worst at and try to get better."
ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE ON ROAD COURSES NOW OR IS IT STILL SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO REALLY WORK AT?
"It's something you have to work at because it's so easy to make a mistake where you get into a corner too hard and wheel-hop it and slide off the track. I was comfortable, though, when we left Sears Point and I was comfortable with the layout. I felt like I got used to the track and knew what my car was gonna do around there, so I feel pretty good about going back there. I'm looking forward to it."
HAVING TESTED THERE, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE GOTTEN A LITTLE BIT OF A HEAD START ON SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS BECAUSE YOU KNOW THE NEW LAYOUT?
"It helps a little bit, but, really, the new part of the track they put in is real easy. It's just two real sharp corners and it's pretty simple because you can see everything. Those turns are all on a flat part of the course. I think the old parts of the course -- like the esses and up through turns one and two -- I think those are the tricky parts and everyone has been driving that part of the course for years."