Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Affliction Clothing Ford Fusion, has two wins this season (Texas and Dover) and comes into this weekend’s race sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. Kenseth spoke about the news this week that sponsor Crown Royal will not be back next season, along with other issues during a press conference before today’s practice sessions.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING HERE? “It’s a lot different ever since the repave and the introduction of the cars getting locked together and pushing each other, it’s certainly a lot different than anything we’ve done until this February, so I’m curious to get out in the race and see what it’s like and see if there’s less grip than what there was in February and if the pushing and getting pushed is any more difficult than it was. There have only been two of these style of races so far and I got wrecked in both of them, so I’m hoping to turn that around and not have that happen on Saturday and somehow be up front toward the end.”
DID THE DECISION BY CROWN ROYAL CATCH YOU BY SURPRISE AND HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR FUTURE? “I guess it caught me a little bit by surprise because we’ve been having a great season on-track and I figured they would be cutting back like most people are somewhat, but it caught me a little bit by surprise that they’re totally leaving everything, except for that Richmond race. What that does to us, I’m not really sure. I drive the car and I kind of leave that to the marketing people and the sales team to figure that out. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for a company to come into the sport. I think right now the on-track performance of the organization has been really good. It seems like everything is on the upswing in the sport as far as the on-track product and the TV ratings, and attendance is coming up a little bit, so I feel like it’s a great opportunity. I’ve been there for a long time at Roush Fenway Racing. I think I’ve been there about 14 years doing miscellaneous things here or there. We had our sponsor before Crown Royal, we had DeWalt for over a decade, so I think it’s a good, stable, competitive program and hopefully they can get something wrapped up there for the future.”
THE ONLY TWO PITFALLS IN YOUR SEASON HAVE BEEN THE PLATE RACES. ARE YOU GOING TO APPROACH THIS RACE ANY DIFFERENTLY? “That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. I’m gonna see how qualifying goes and everybody kind of gets their drafting or pushing partner figured out beforehand and tries to work on that, so I guess I’m gonna see how that goes. I think I’m gonna try to get hooked up with David Ragan. We worked pretty good at Talladega before he blew up there, so we’ll probably get going on that. Hopefully, we’ll get some practice tonight and then go from there. I think we’ll just start racing and then play it by ear. If it looks crazy up front or you’re not feeling comfortable, then maybe go to the back, but the problem is you can’t really do a lot different because if you’re not locked together with another car like what happened to us here in February. I can’t remember if it was in the 150 or not, but I think you get lapped in about 14 laps or something like that, so you have to be locked together with somebody, whether you like it or not. You just hopefully can stay away from the trouble and maybe try to find somewhere to hang out if there are some wrecks, but a lot of the wrecks that you’ve seen in these two races have been basically single-car wrecks.
“They might collect more people, but there are a lot of people that get spun out from getting pushed in the wrong spot. It makes it difficult. Your options are somewhat limited. I’m hoping to make it through this time and be there toward the end because those have been the two worst races of the year for us.”
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE AGE DRIVERS RETIRE? MANY THOUGHT IT WOULD GO DOWN TO 37 or 38 BUT IT HASN’T. “I don’t remember that part coming out, so I think it depends what you base it on, but I would say that would probably be a little on the young side. But six or seven years ago it was a lot busier for all of us than what it is now. I mean, the testing rules were different to where we were gone a lot more testing and it seemed like for me I was a lot busier six or seven years ago than what I am now, so I don’t know. I don’t have any idea what I would do if I didn’t do this and who knows how long you’ll do it. I don’t think everybody will race as long as Mark Martin necessarily, but I think a lot of people probably think like I do, that if you’re competitive and you can still go out there and compete with the best of them and you’re having fun, I think you’re gonna see people race for quite a while.”
I’ve worried about driving the race car and trying to be competitive ...
HOW DO YOU THINK TREVOR BAYNE IS FEELING THIS WEEKEND, COMING BACK AS THE DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION? YOU’VE DONE THAT BEFORE. “That’s hard for me to say because we’re obviously in two way different situations when we won that race. I mean, he’s not even running the Cup Series full-time and he’s obviously been away for a while with health issues and now he’s back. I can only guess how he’s feeling. I don’t really have much of an idea, but I think he would be happy to be coming back here because the rest of the year I don’t think has been a smashing success. So I’m sure he’s happy to come back and be the 500 winner and come back in July and get those good feelings back and hopefully get a good finish and get some momentum and kind of face the rest of the year, I would think. But only he knows how he feels about it.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TANDEM DRAFTING? “From the driver’s seat, I’m not a big fan of it. There’s just not a lot we can do about it, unless the cars or the rules or something changes. There’s not really anything you’re gonna do about it because it’s so much faster, but driving I’m not a real big fan of it. When you’re the back guy, that’s kind of the easy person to be because you just kind of hold it wide open and follow the bumper in front of you, but you can’t see a thing. So if that guy drives straight into a wreck, if somebody doesn’t tell you on the radio, you’re gonna push him right into it. If I’m running 200 mph and not being able to see anything, and having all the faith on the guy in front of you and whatever is going on isn’t always a lot of fun. If there is a wreck and he sees it and slows up and you don’t know, you’re gonna spin him out. If you’re the front guy, it’s the other way around. He’s pushing and you know he can’t see anything, and if you see something that’s coming up and you need to take evasive action, somebody is pushing you so you’re gonna get wrecked. It’s kind of nervewracking. It’s different. If the fans like it and it’s exciting racing, that’s OK. But from the driver’s seat, I don’t know many people that think it’s a lot of fun.”
DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS SPONSOR SITUATION IMPACT THE TEAM? DO YOUR GUYS WORRY ABOUT WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? “No, I don’t think so, especially not now. If we were in the middle of a season where the car hasn’t had a sponsor for half-a-season or something like that and you saw big cutbacks throughout the organization and stuff like that, then maybe you would be worried, but, right now, I think it’s really early for that. We’ve been doing everything we can to make the program really competitive and I feel like all the Roush cars have been real competitive and I think we have a lot there to sell, so I don’t think that’s any concern to the team guys or takes any focus off anything that we’re doing. Our goal every week is to go out and try to win races and try to race for a championship and that certainly hasn’t changed. I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t been through a lot of that through my Cup career. Like I said, DeWalt was there for over a decade and they’ve had different associates here or there, but that was it, and then Crown Royal had been there for a couple of years. They’ve been a great partner, not just to us but to NASCAR as well, doing the IROC Series and then moving into the Cup Series when they started allowing spirits on the side of the cars.
“They’ve been a great partner for us and NASCAR and we sure appreciate all of that. They were on our car in ’03 and ’04 with the Smirnoff Ice brand before moving up to do a Cup car through Kurt and Jamie and then myself, so we sure appreciate all of that.”
HOW DO YOU HAVE TO SELL YOURSELF OR ARE THERE ANY CHALLENGES WITH TRYING TO MEET THE IMAGE OF ANOTHER SPONSOR? “I haven’t really spent any time worrying about that, to be honest with you. I worry about, like I said, I’ve been really fortunate throughout my career. I’ve worried about driving the race car and trying to be competitive and win races and that’s really what Jack hired me to do, and that’s what I’m gonna continue to try to do. I probably can’t change who I am today, nor really would I want to, so certainly there are different things that are asked of you from different sponsors or endorsement deals you’ve had in the past that you get to do, which are usually fun, so I’m not really worried about that. I think I’m gonna keep concentrating on putting the numbers up on the track and not worry about the rest of that stuff.”
I don’t think anybody has points anywhere near the front of their mind.
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THESE NEXT FOUR OR FIVE RACES? NOT MANY OF THEM ARE IN THE CHASE. “At least me, I look at the next few races and don’t really look at the chase at all or really think about that. All of the tracks are different, but we go every week with the idea of trying to win and gather as many points as you can and try to win races. Even if there were no points, you would still show up with the idea of winning, so I don’t think that really changes. Jimmy and I talk about some things as far as what cars we want to bring. If we’ve got one car we really like, and we’ve just been trying to bring out best stuff every week. We haven’t really been saving anything for that far down the road, and another thing is I think things change between now and then. I think if you have something that runs good at Kentucky and you run better than you did at Kansas, maybe that will apply to Kansas in the fall. So I think you’re always trying to learn things that you can learn and get better at tracks even if they’re not in the chase. Hopefully, those are things you can learn that will help you to make your cars better and faster everywhere, so that’s what we’re always looking for. But I’m looking forward to the weeks coming up. I’m really happy to be out of Sears Point for another 12 months. The speedway races have been tough for us, so I’m looking forward to hopefully getting a decent finish this weekend and not getting in an accident and then go race again at Kentucky and New Hampshire and Indy is always a huge race for us. That’s second to the Daytona 500 as far as our big races for the year. I think when everybody goes to the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard, I don’t think anybody has points anywhere near the front of their mind. You’re thinking about trying to go win that race, so that’s always fun.”
IS DRIVING AT THE LIMIT MORE DAUNTING AT SOME TRACKS THAN IT IS AT OTHERS? “Yeah. Driving on the edge at Martinsville you’re running 62.4 miles per hour in the middle of the corner and driving the edge at Atlanta you’re running 190-some miles an hour. Is that different? Yeah, of course it is. There are certain tracks where it’s a little bit harder. You always drive to the edge of what you feel your equipment and yourself together as a unit can handle without having an accident and certainly it’s difficult at all tracks, but at a slower track it’s different than driving like that at a faster track.”