An interview with Jack Roush, Matt Kenseth and Jimmy Fennig
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our winning team here tonight for the 52nd annual Bank of America 500 and our race winner is Matt Kenseth who drives the No. 17 Fluidmaster Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. This is his 21st win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, his third win in 2011.
And with that victory tonight, Matt Kenseth climbs back up into third place in the standings. He's only seven out of the lead, and he's joined up front by his team owner, Jack Roush, and congratulations to the No. 17 team.
And Matt, you just stalked him and you stalked him and you got him there at the end, and congratulations. And talk about the win here this evening.
MATT KENSETH: Well, thanks. It was awesome win for us. We had a pretty decent car. All night, I felt like we had a car that would probably last 150 laps or so, that if we could get it front, it would be hard to beat. But it was really hard to pass tonight, especially after you had about 20 laps on your tires, you needed to get it done right away.
And we got ourselves behind just a little bit that one time and got back to fifth or sixth and honestly took that last 150 laps or whatever to get back to the lead.
So it was a good race. I had fun racing with Kyle there. We had a pretty decent restart, the second to last one and got by Denny and Carl, and ran Kyle down and it was tough to get by him. I'm glad we could make it happen because it was -- like I said, it was challenging.
KERRY THARP: Well, congratulations. And Jack Roush, Matt Kenseth certainly showed championship material here once again this evening, and now he's third place in points and halfway through the Chase, he's got to be a guy that people are looking at.
JACK ROUSH: Well, I'm really proud of what Matt and Jimmy did tonight. Crew chiefs have a tough job, he's out shuffling the car through the tech line to make sure the height measurements are fair and everything works out the way that he thinks he should; that's why he's not here right now.
With all of the engineering and technical support behind these teams, it comes down to the decisions, the last 20 percent of the decision is worked out between the driver and crew chief.
And Jimmy is a championship quality crew chief. He won with Kurt Busch a few years ago, and Matt ran with Robbie of course and Robbie is our general manager now. We have a lot of depth in the organization and the Ford cars ran well tonight. Just a matter of time before Matt broke loose from his obscurity in the middle of the pack and worked his way to the front.
What happened to Jimmie Johnson is a sobering lesson for everybody. You can't afford to break apart, you can't afford to put a wheel long, or a loose lug-nut on pit road with an extra pass at the wrong time down to serve a penalty could be a championship-losing event. There's just a lot that these guys have to do that has to be really done correctly. And Jimmy and Matt got it done tonight and I'm sure they are going to be a factor in this championship coming down the stretch.
KERRY THARP: Joining us now is crew chief Jimmy Fenning, and Jimmy, certainly got to be proud of this team the way they came together and really just showed their strength there towards the last third of the race. Congratulations. Talk about the win here this evening.
JIMMY FENNIG: It was pretty good at the end there. We made another adjustment and seemed like the car come to life a little bit better. Still didn't get it totally fixed but it was good enough to win tonight.
Q. Matt, you've talked about this a little bit, but could you and Jimmy talk about how important it is to have improved in qualifying and how much of a factor, being able to start up there tonight was?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it make as a big difference, a lot different than that it was five or six years ago. I probably did not stress out quite as much about qualifying, because -- it wasn't a problem in the past 24 cars in four hours. Everybody's running at the same speed, which makes it difficult to pass and track position is really important. So qualifying, that always helps with your pit style and track position and get out and get a bonus point and lead a little bit so it's always important.
JIMMY FENNIG: Yes, qualifying is real important, because if you don't qualify good you're stuck back in the pack and you have the dirty air and makes the adjustments for us harder racing against the dirty air and figuring out what to do. So it's pretty important to qualify good.
Q. You talked on television about toilet restarts in the past. What did you tonight different than in the past.
MATT KENSETH: I hit my head -- what did you just say? Just a joke restarts obviously have not been my specialty lately if you watch many races, especially when we restart second from the bottom. I was kicking myself when Kyle got around me and 11 got around me on the next restart and I knew we had a shot to win the race if we got in front of Kyle and ran him down the last long run we had, I knew our car was a little bit superior to his and I was going to feel pretty bad if I cost these guys a race again. Thankfully we got the second laps restart, we were fourth and outside and I could get rolling with Kyle right away, and had a good couple sets of corners and got up to second and then it was -- I was able to race him one-on-one and that was a big key.
Q. Can you talk about the run on the third restart after the third caution where you went from 11th in the back of the pack, given how bad it's been trying to get out of traffic, to gaining three spots on that first lap and gaining a couple more, you know, I think your comment was, I can breathe now, hole I crap.
MATT KENSETH: Well, there was a few toilet jokes thrown in tonight. But yeah, that particular restart I ran three-wide through turn one and two the first two laps which is not really advisable, but it's difficult to pass, and what happens is there's a lot of guys on two, and you have to take advantage of your four tires, it seemed like tonight, it was weird you could run 15 to 20 laps and had an advantage and you could pass and then it flipped a switch and everyone was the same speed and you could not go forward anymore. We were aggressive and ran our way back to fifth or sixth and he settled right there and we had a good pit stop. Jimmy pitted me early and ran past a couple more guys and got ourselves back up to third and that got us back in the mix again.
Q. It's been 20 races since you won but you've had some good cars in the Chase, talk about the satisfaction to win at the halfway point of the Chase?
JACK ROUSH: I don't know if you saw the same race that I did, but we had seven of our cars tonight that ran in the Top-10 most of the night except for problems we had. We are at the top of our game as far as our mile-and-a-half program.
There's other teams that have got good programs but nobody has got a better mile-and-a-half program than us and including tonight there was three races left, mile-and-a-half races left in the Chase and so I felt really good about that. Ford has given us great such for the for our Fusion, we have a good aero package and mechanics works well based on the lab testing and engines make a lot of power.
I am not embarrassed we have not won more race. We have had races with we missed because we made the wrong decision with two tires, three tires, fuel economy, but we are in championship form. And in my 24 years, I've never had better cars for the championship stretch than we have got and we are anxious to see how it's going to work out. But I don't feel vindicated. I just think that the hard work everybody's done is paying off, and we are getting what we deserve.
MATT KENSETH: I mean, you know, I'm happy to be -- happy to have won obviously. Like you say it's been 20 races which doesn't seem that long because I don't know how many it was before that, I think it was 70 some before. That so you're always thankful. I'm always thankful to get to victory lane. You never know when you are going to win your last race -- I'm certainly in a great position to be able to win races and these guys give me the cars and the crew and the opportunity to do that.
Q. How much does Jimmie Johnson's accident change maybe the complexion of the Chase for the rest of you, and do you feel like this is Roush Fenway's maybe best chance since 2008 to win with Carl and Matt?
JACK ROUSH: For anybody that has a wreck or breaks an engine or has a cut tire at the wrong time, you can't expect to get a mulligan. You'll be very lucky if somebody will give you a chance to make up the whole race. I thought that Jimmie Johnson would be a factor in it and he's definitely doing to have to stand in line and wait or the other folks in the Top-5 to have problems for him to get back in it. He won't race his way back in it. He won't finish high enough above the top four or five cars to beat them on the racetrack. He'll have to wait for them to have trouble I think.
Q. What does it say, a guy has a good race, third in the points and has a legitimate chance of winning the championship, and almost the first words out of his mouth are needing a sponsor for next year.
JACK ROUSH: We do need a sponsor for the 17 car, I didn't hear that but that's a fact. The 17 car is secure in Roush Fenway's livery. We will run it with or without a sponsor next year but it will be a shame if we are not able to attract sponsorship. We are talking to people with some interest, but this is my 24th year of being in the business and this is the most difficult time I've had. We have gone through a transition with our sponsors from a time where they wanted to compete for a top car to where now the best sponsors want just enough of a car to be able to do their promotions and want to share the bulk of the expenses if they can't. It's a really strange time. I've never seen anything like this. I'm not sure what we'll have coming out of it and it will be different than it has been in the past.
Q. You improved your position the last four races but the media seems to focus on other drivers for the most part. Kyle made a joke that the Wisconsin guys are quiet most of the time. Is that your personality or does it bother you a little bit that you get lost in the shuffle when people are talking about, oh, these Chase contenders and you are right obviously in the thick of things.
MATT KENSETH: Well, it doesn't really matter to me that much, what everybody thinks, we are in it or out of it or whatever. What's important to me is trying to win races, trying to be competitive to go do the best job we can do every week. I don't really care about wi dance-offs or how much coverage you get for doing certain things or somebody wants to say I'm boring or whatever. I was hired to try to go win races and try to run good and that's what I try to do every week. I take my job real serious when I'm at the racetrack, Jimmy and I and all the guys work as hard as we can on the common goal of trying to be the best and trying to win and try to run for a championship. And that's who we are at the racetrack.
Q. Considering that you did bring up sponsorship, is there a sense of urgency? Do you feel a sense of urgency even though Jack has green-lit you for next year, to do whatever is necessary to try to attract a sponsor at this point?
MATT KENSETH: I'm not going to get stressed out about it, especially right now in the Chase and all of the things we have going on. I don't know really what else we can be doing except for trying to be competitive and run good. Guys down in marketing and sales department need to figure that out and they need to figure out how to get that done and Jimmy and I will keep working on the jobs that we were hired for and I'm sure it will work out. I've been fortunate throughout my career, we had Crown Royal over a decade, they were involved over at Roush for over eight years and been supporters of the organization and thankful for the time they have been there and how much they have helped the whole organization, not just me but they have been with a few different drivers there. Certainly thankful for that and look forward to whatever is next.
Q. Jack addressed this question about the 48's troubles changing the complexion of the Chase, what are your comments about that?
MATT KENSETH: I have to be honest, I don't know where anybody is at in the points really. I don't -- you know, all we can really control, all we have any control over, and we always can't control the whole outcome of that, all we have any control of over is our own car and ourselves and what we do. I don't really honestly spend my time to see where anybody else finishes. We go out every week and try to beat the other 42 cars and finish as high as we can and that's how you get the most points and not really worry about what everybody else does. Jimmy, I don't know what else happened to him, where he finished, but a few weeks ago everybody thought he was out of it finished first and second and got right back in it.
I don't know, the whole points thing where anybody is at but certainly anything can happen at Talladega and Phoenix I think is going to be quite interesting as well. There's a lot of racing to do, we are halfway through it, but five races is a lot of races.
Q. Jeff Gordon has been talking about winning under the Chase format -- does that mean anything particular?
MATT KENSETH: Well, if we could actually do it I could probably answer the question better afterwards, but certainly no matter what format they come up with or what points system they come up with or how they do it, your goal every year is to try to win a championship and your weekly goal is to try to show up and win and that never really changes. Yeah, you would love to be able to win another one but I tell what you, they are hard to win and you've got to have everything go right and you have to have a lot of nights like we have had here the last two or three weeks and the next five, I think you're going to have to run in the Top-5 every week to have a shot at us, just the way I feel and the way them guys are running.
So you know, just keep taking it one week at a time and if that happened, that would be -- obviously that would be great. The same guys won it for five years straight and I think anybody that could beat him I think would feel good about it no matter what system or how the points or how they do that, I think they would feel good.
Q. Y'all picked the pit stall all the way down by turn four, just curious when you're getting down to the later stages of the races and the potential is two tires or four tires and you are the one setting the bar, does that make it more difficult that if you choose four and others do two, it's possibly going to catch you out or do you like the fact that you dictate what other people can do from that spot?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, you know, picking pack down there, I like dictating what people do. If we can control the race, then they are at our mercy, could you say. But I don't really pay attention to what they are doing because I've got that pit stall. I just worry what we are doing.
Q. Jack mentioned the strength and success of the mile-and-a-half program but three of the next five races are not mile-and-a-halves. What do you see as the challenges for you guys in those next three tracks?
MATT KENSETH: Out of the first five, I don't know how many were mile-and-a-halves -- three of them were. You know, Loudon I feel is one of my worst tracks and Jimmy got the car rolling good and we finished sixth. That was one of our worst tracks and I felt like we did okay, so you know I guess moving forward, and I don't know what's going to happen at Talladega. Certainly in July we had a plan and stuck to it and finished first and second, and so would be expecting a lot for it to go that smooth again and for it to all work out. The way that tandem racing is there, hopefully him and I will both be able to finish and stay together and make something happen there again. I don't think anybody has an advantage or disadvantage in Phoenix. I think it's just -- who knows what's going to happen at that one and Martinsville we have been better at lately.
I feel it's one of my worst tracks but the last few times we have actually ran pretty competitively there. So I don't feel like our cars are limited to only being fast at the mile-and-a-half tracks. I think certainly the tracks with more speed, more banking seems to fit maybe, you know, I don't know if it's so much our cars or style or whatever, but it seems a little easier for us maybe than some of them other tracks but I think we have been pretty competitive at most of the tracks this season at most times.
Q. I know you said earlier you don't pay as much attention to the points per se, but that being said, with what happened at Chicago, losing those potential points, certainly if you don't run out of fuel at the end, you are the points leader at this point. How do you not let that hangover you or hang over the team or how do you not let that be something that is in the back of the mind at some point?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it's gone, and I mean, the only thing you can do from that is learn from it. I know dog and everybody has been working hard at trying to get us key power and fuel mileage and tonight I think we were closer to where we needed to be if we would have been like that at Chicago. As a team, on the 17 I don't think we could have done a thing about Chicago. We could not have done anything better we were on the pole and leading in the last restart. He put me in position to win. There's just nothing else we could have done. Would I have had to go so slow that we would have finished where we finished anyway and probably went two laps down. We just did not have control over that.
That's just when the caution fell and we were getting a few tenths worse mileage than most of the field and could not do anything about that. So all you can do for those things I think is try to hopefully learn from it, you know, work on it, and try to be hopefully closer or better if the caution flag falls at that point again.
Q. I was asking you a question in January, and I phrased it in a way, I said, and you're this guy that contends for a couple wins a year, and you cut me off and you said, God I would kill to contend for a couple wins a year. Now looking back, you have three wins and I just looked at your numbers what was that like in those years that you, I guess felt like you were probably in an uphill battle and maybe didn't know if you would get back to victory lane.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I probably meant more, you would kill for a couple wins. I think we have contended for some wins, even toward the end of last year, seems like as an organization, all of our cars started running better and by the end of last year, Jimmy and I think we always understood each other but after you get to work together for a while, you work better together and know more what each other is saying, that type of thing and I felt good about things when we finished the year off last year. We had some really good runs and we were in contention a few times. Our finishes didn't show I don't think how good we ran. So I felt like the potential was there, and you have to learn to enjoy these, like I said before, you don't know if you're ever going to get another win or if it's your last win or not and certainly I've gone a long time before in my career without having a win at all. And certainly the longer you go without one, the more it weighs on your mind about if you're ever going to win another one or not.
As you get older and as you do this longer, I think you realize how hard it really is and I think you appreciate the wins and the success probably more so than when you first start.
Q. How are you appreciating this championship?
MATT KENSETH: You need a microphone and you need to say your name and your affiliation. You know the rules.
Q. You talked about appreciation in the wins but how is the appreciation in this championship running for you? Can you appreciate it or is it just head down, hammer down, for ten weeks and that's all it is?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, we are going to appreciate it. So I might even talk Jimmy into having a drink tonight after he gets through tech. We are still getting it free, right? I forgot what you asked me.
Can I appreciate it in a Chase? Yeah, I mean, I think this is the first time we've ever won a race in the Chase actually. You know, it seems like for some reason through the years we have been better in the beginning of the year than the end of the year so certainly you appreciate it running that good.
Honestly I know you probably don't believe me, but I don't look at the points that much. If you go out and do the best job you can do every week and you leave the track knowing that everybody did their best, you executed as good as you could and did what you could do on the track, you can't -- any points you gained or lost, you're not going to give them back and you're not going to get them back, the ones you lost.
So I don't really -- I don't really look at it much. We keep running like this every week, I think be in the mix at the end. Take it one race at a time and I'm happy about this and thinking about Talladega and how that's all going to go and when we get there, we'll hopefully have a plan and be able to, in, this new kind of racing, get it all figured out where we have a plan and backup plan so we can be there at the end.
Q. What do you appreciate about this?
MATT KENSETH: Just winning. It's hard to say exactly what you appreciate about it. I appreciate being with a winning organization, with a winning team, with Jimmy on top of the box calling the races and working so hard bringing me fast race cars every week. Just appreciate being in the situation. You don't -- you never want to start -- when I started racing, never thought I would be racing at this level much less be competitive and win a few championships along the way. Just appreciate being able to drive that car.
Q. I'm just curious what tracks are you looking forward to; and do you believe that can get you to get another win, or to get you to get to the championship win?
MATT KENSETH: Well, you know, if I had to look at the final five, would I probably, you know, Texas, probably look forward to Texas the most, and Homestead. Homestead, it's weird going to Homestead because it's the last race of the year, it's a different layout, we race there one time a year and you get there and almost feels like a new track every time you go there.
They have done a nice job with that track with the configuration. It's a racy track and a difficult track because you have to race close to the wall most of the race. Those are the two I'm looking forward to the most, but looking forward to the challenge of all of them and looking forward to hopefully staying on this run that we are on.
Q. I know you're not looking at points or looking too far ahead but if you do win the championship, do you think NASCAR will change the points system? (Laughter).
MATT KENSETH: What's that? I don't know. Jimmie had to win five of them before they changed it.
KERRY THARP: You did have a Chase win: Homestead 2007.
MATT KENSETH: Forgot about. That was Robbie's last day. Thank you for correcting me on that one.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations to Matt, Jack and Jimmy, and certainly good luck this week in Talladega.