An interview with: Matt Kenseth
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Today's guest is Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Matt's sixth-place finish at Bristol locked him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the seventh time in the eight-year history of the Chase. Matt will start the Chase with at least six bonus points based off wins at Texas and Dover earlier this year. While he has not yet won at Atlanta, he does have eight top fives and 12 top 10s in 22 career starts there.
Matt, thanks for joining us today. We'll open up with a fan question from Twitter from Canada. How confident are you in your team about your chances to earn your second Sprint Cup championship?
You want to have that consistency, that chemistry and leadership.
MATT KENSETH: Well, there's a lot of racing to do between now and then, but I am really confident with my team. They've been doing a really great job on pit road. They've been doing a great job with car prep and all the things it takes to be successful.
I feel pretty good about it right now. Like I say, there's a lot of racing to do. We need to get running a little bit better to get up and challenge those guys.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Matt. We'll now open it up for questions.
Q. Matt, looking ahead to the Chase, everyone would agree having an experienced crew chief is important. Could you list a few ways that an experienced crew chief like Jimmy Fennig should be able to help you in the Chase?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know if it's a lot different than how he helps us every week at the shop and at the racetrack. But certainly having people who have some experience, have been there before, Jimmy won the first ever championship in the Chase, so certainly having that experience, for the guys to be able to look up to him and lean on him, always helps.
Q. Would it be more getting the team focused, perform consistently maybe?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah. I mean, I think you want that all year. I don't think it's a lot different in the Chase. There's no races you want to give up on. You want to have that consistency, that chemistry and leadership. You want to be able to do that each and every week all season long from Daytona to Homestead. The Chase I think is just a continuation of that.
Q. You've gone into the Chase barely making it in. Now you go in, you're clinched. You've seen both ends of it. How different is it when you go in comfortably right now?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it's nice to be locked in. I've been on both ends of the spectrum. We've been the last seed before and the first seed before. Certainly looks like we'll be somewhere right in the middle. Hopefully climb our way up the ladder a little bit farther. We'll be somewhere towards the middle or the top.
Feels good being locked in this early. I don't recall being locked in this early before. We might have been, but I don't remember that.
It's good to be in, but we got two more big races to go before the Chase starts. We certainly want to do the best we can these two weeks and go into the Chase on a high note.
Q. Atlanta this weekend, can you describe your feeling from the seat of the racecar. I've heard it described as a track where you feel the sensation of speed, then I hear about how you're slipping and sliding around the place.
MATT KENSETH: It's one of the more challenging and fun racetracks that we go to right now with the surface being as aged as much as it is, the tire they bring, all of that. Especially one time a year, it's going to be interesting without having a lot of practice there.
Yeah, you go pretty fast on new tires. High-banked, long corners. New tires, you start flipping a lot. You're searching the track to find some grip and manage your tires for an entire fuel run, it's always a challenge. It's tough to be good on new tires and be reasonable on old tires. It's tough to find that balance there.
Q. Can you explain to the people how much more pressure is on you as a driver being in the Chase as compared to driving during the regular season.
MATT KENSETH: I don't think it's a lot more. I think over time you learn to manage the expectations and the pressure and try to keep that kind of even. So pressure for me has always been about whatever I put on myself. There really hasn't been a lot of outside pressure. Probably my biggest critic is me. It's not a lot of different.
At the end of the day, if you make a mistake, certainly it's more painful during the Chase than it would be maybe this week or the week after. But you always want to do your very best and get everything you can out of your car and your day and get the best finish whether there's points or no points.
Q. Looking toward the Chase, do you try to plan the Chase at all? Do you try to figure out what you need to do where? Do you just kind of go week-to-week?
MATT KENSETH: I just take it one week at a time. With Jimmy at the shop and things like that, we plan what cars we want to take, if we want to test somewhere, maybe some different stuff we want to try when we get to the track. Stuff like that. Other than that, we really take it one week at a time.
I think the guy most likely with the best average finishes is going to win the championship. You want to aim at winning each and every week. If you can't win, you want to get the very best finish you can and get as many points as you can every week. Hopefully when it's all said and done, you stack up toward the top.
Q. This weekend going to Atlanta, any different not having been there this year this late in the season?
MATT KENSETH: It will be a little different. The thing about Atlanta, how they used to have it until last year, something like that, is you would race really early in the year, March, then seemed like you raced real late in the year. It almost seemed like it was a whole year in between races anyway.
Racing there once a year is going to be a little bit different. I think it's going to be slick this time of year. It's pretty warm. Of course, the track has aged another year. Nobody has been on it for a while. It's going to be a great weekend of racing. I think Atlanta has been known for some of the best finishes in NASCAR. I think it's going to be a competitive race and fun and I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Recently Brad Keselowski mentioned there's always cycles at the Cup level. He hopes the down cycle doesn't come where it hurts. Do you agree with that? Do you see cycles coming?
MATT KENSETH: Well, yeah, you do. You hope that they're not that quick when things are going good for you. You hope you can keep that for a while.
Besides Jimmie winning five straight championships, besides that, if you look at what goes on with most teams and groups, doesn't seem like anybody stays right at the top or right in the middle. I think all the good teams kind of have their ups and downs. You want to ride the ups for as long as you can, for sure, try to minimize the downtime.
But I think certainly everybody and every organization, every team, kind of goes through their cycles.
Q. Can you sense that coming either way or is it part of the routine?
MATT KENSETH: That's a tough one. I mean, there's times where you're looking at things and you feel like you're on the right path and you keep getting better and you hope it's coming and you're going to start getting some of them finishes, getting some wins, stuff like that. There's other times where you maybe feel like the competition is catching you and you're not gaining on all the stuff maybe as fast as your competition is.
It's a little bit different than it used to be with these cars and these rules and all the stuff. It's really hard to get that big advantage you used to be able to get once in a while. You used to be able to be the first team to figure something out that was fairly groundbreaking, have a big advantage on the field for a month or so until the rest of the competition saw what you were doing and started doing it. Those days are kind of over. Now it's more little things here or there trying to do better than the next guy.
Q. Matt, looking at the way the last five Chases have gone, the way Jimmie has won them, what have you learned over the past five years that you can take going into this Chase to try and not only beat him but the rest of the competition?
MATT KENSETH: I think you just got to be beyond really good. I mean, I don't remember which year it was, it was a couple years ago, when Jeff Gordon had, I don't know, a fifth or sixth place average finish and lost the championship over 10 weeks. It was just unheard of, how good them guys were.
It seems like Jimmie and Chad and that whole group have had a way of being able to do as good as they need to to win the championship. If somebody is running that good, they figure out how to do just a little bit better. There's been times where maybe the second-place guy hasn't done quite as good. It just seems like they're able to, at least in the past, last five years, been able to step it up and do just a little bit better than whoever is doing the best at that time.
Q. Matt, we've seen drivers especially the past few weeks use a brief burst of speed on pit road. Would you like to see NASCAR come up with a way to measure a driver's overall speed or are you happy with the current loop system they have on pit road?
When you go to Atlanta, your car really wants new tires, that promotes really good racing.
MATT KENSETH: I think that's a little bit track specific. It makes a big difference how long the segments are, how fast the pit road speed is. There's a lot of things that go into that by how much you can cheat the segment, however you want to say it. It's always been like that ever since they came up with electric scoring. It's happened every single race at Bristol since then.
The guys I think that were first on it were probably the 48, then everybody started picking their pit stalls for timing things. That's part of it. You're going to get whatever advantage you can get, whether it's on pit road or on the racetrack. As competitive as it is today, you're going to try to use that to your advantage.
This week I think it had so much attention because the guys who qualified up front and got those pit stalls happened to run up front, too. They were showing those pit stops. That's happened every single Bristol race for at least those four or five pit stalls.
That's one of the tracks it wouldn't hurt to address it. If you put twice as many speed lines or put an extra two speed lines per straightaway, you wouldn't have that because the segments wouldn't be long enough to go faster than what your pit road speed is, and then slow down before the next one. That's really how most pit roads are. The speeds are fast enough and the segments are short enough where they don't get to fudge that very much.
I think the loops is a big step towards policing it compared to how the old days of pit road was done by a stopwatch. If they want to use a GPS tracker to check the pit speed, that would be fine with me. I think most tracks are pretty under control.
Q. Specifically to Atlanta, I know the track is becoming more and more abrasive, hasn't been repaved since '97. Are you concerned about the speeds falling off, tire wear going into this weekend?
MATT KENSETH: I'm not sure about the tires for sure until we get there. The speed falling off and the drop-off, the tire wear, all that stuff is a good thing, in my opinion, for racing. I think it makes it much more interesting. I think it creates a lot more passing and side-by-side racing. Those are good things.
When you can take off fast on four new tires, be slow at the end of the a fuel run, some guys get four, some guys get two, that creates passing. When everybody is running the same speed on new tires and old tires, that's what creates no passing, it all being about a hundred percent track passion. When you go to Atlanta, your car really wants new tires, that promotes really good racing.
Q. I was looking at how you've been doing this year. You're in the top five in points. Who do you see as your main competition in the Chase other than Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson?
MATT KENSETH: Well, this is kind of the generic answer you're probably going to get. But I think after Richmond, going to Chicago, I think it's all 12 drivers. I think all 11 of them are guys that are legitimately contenders. As the Chase goes on, you kind of prove every year a few of them drop out early, it gets to be a smaller group. Each week it gets a smaller group that realistically has a shot. Look at Brad, for instance. A month and a half ago, I don't think anybody in the media or garage would have uttered his name at the same time mentioning his name when they're talking about winning the championship this year. I don't think anybody would have thought of that. Look at how amazing his streak has been here the last month, month and a half, whatever it's been. Now, I mean, he's almost got to be one of your picks to have a shot at it.
Things can change pretty quickly. I think everybody's a contender to start off with.
You never know what's going to happen until you get into it.
Q. How do you feel about your own chances, compared to the last few years?
MATT KENSETH: You know, it's been funny. There's been times I went into the Chase and I've been, believe it or not, brimming with confidence, just feel like we're one of the favorites, and we haven't won it. Haven't won one since we've been in the Chase yet. There have been other times where I haven't felt so good and we've done well.
You never know. I feel like since we're going to be part of that group, if we can do everything right, we can be a contender if everything goes our way, the breaks go our way, if we run as good as I feel we're capable of running. You never know what's going to happen until you get into it.
Q. Do you feel like this might be your best chance since 2006?
MATT KENSETH: I can hardly remember what happened last week. Our probably best shot in the Chase was the one year we ran second to Jimmie. I think we led it for most of the Chase. We had a really fast car, led a lot of laps. We had ourselves in position to win some races. Just couldn't get it done at the end of the year.
I can't recall every Chase specifically what happened and what didn't happen. But certainly over the last three years, I feel like this is probably our best chance. There's been a couple years where we made it, just 'cause we made it, you probably weren't going to be a legitimate threat unless everything absolutely fell our way.
This year seems like a lot of weeks where our performance has been really good. If we can take that performance, make our adjustments right, have everything happen that we get the finish we think we deserve off the speed, overachieve, I think we can be a contender.
Q. I haven't seen anybody dominate throughout the whole year. Do you see somebody dominating in the Chase?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, I honestly don't know. I think with this points system, I think consistency is going to be a little bit more important than what it's been before. I think if you get a real bad finish or two, I think it will be real easy to get buried, if you get a finish way in the back somewhere. You just don't know what's going to happen.
Certainly I think whoever wins the championship is going to have a couple wins in the Chase or at least one, I would think. But I don't know that. It's been won before without anybody winning throughout the Chase.
You just don't really know what's going to happen. Somebody could get hot like Brad has been here and put together a string where there's running in the top four every week, winning races. But they might not. It's just way too hard to predict.
THE MODERATOR: Matt, congratulations on another Chase berth. Best of luck this weekend in Atlanta. Thanks for your time with us today.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks a lot.
THE MODERATOR: A special thank you to all the media who joined us. Thanks for your coverage and interest in NASCAR.