The top two drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, came to the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield media center back-to-back and answered questions from the press about this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Fastenal Ford Fusion – “I’m glad to be here for the 600. It’s one of my favorite events. I can’t wait to get out on the track and I hope you’re all having a good week."
CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST RUNNING HERE THIS WEEK FROM LAST WEEK? “Honestly, for me, it’s not a lot different. Last week was different with the pit stop competition and some of the stuff that goes with the All-Star Race and, of course, the different strategy and thinking about the last segment, but as far as preparation and practice and the things you want to work on and getting ready for the race, really none of that changes a lot. I felt pretty good about our car performance on Saturday night and today we just go in and try to get a lap for that qualifying draw – hopefully early – and then just make sure our balance is close in race trim and try to get ready to qualify, and then work real hard on Saturday and try to get ready for the race."
IF YOU HAVE A RESTART LIKE LAST WEEK WHERE YOU’RE ON THE OUTSIDE, HOW WOULD YOU DO IT DIFFERENTLY? “First of all, I hope it doesn’t come down to either one of those (fuel mileage or restart). I hope it comes down to a longer run and the fastest car wins. The longer run is what I hope and we can just race for it without any of that stuff, but I say that unless I’m way far behind and then I’d want a restart and I’m on the bottom. But I don’t really know what I’d do different. The track was clean enough. Jimmie didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t hitting the wall, so I had enough room. I don’t know what I’d do different. I had a hard time getting the car rolling in a straight line. We even did on our pit stop Friday night, leaving pit road without the speed limit leading, so it’s something we’ve been working on and worked on it a little bit more for this week. Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit better. It just seemed like in re-watching that race it seemed like all the guys that started on the outside row had a hard time getting rolling for some reason. Most tracks you don’t really have that, but I’ve noticed that last fall here too. It’s almost like a drag race, where you want to pick your line just because of the forward traction to get the car rolling. I don’t know what I’d do different. Obviously it didn’t look very good and you think you’d be able to do better than that, but when I got done, I mean I knew when he was going. I anticipated it pretty good. I thought I got in the gas even a little bit before he did, I just couldn’t get any traction."
YOU AND BRAD SAID NOBODY COULD GO ON THE TOP LINE ON RESTARTS, BUT IT SEEMED AMBROSE COULD. ANY IDEA WHY? “I think we’re probably talking about two different things. We’re mainly talking the outside line where the restart zone is from line to line – it was hard to get rolling right there. If we would have been side-by-side going into turn one, I probably would rather have the top than the bottom because that guy doesn’t have as much air on the bottom and you can get around there pretty good. And another thing on restarts, a lot of his restarts – I think the last one he restarted on the bottom and actually passed me, and I got back around him – but most restarts if you’re three or four rows back, I think I’d rather be on the top in an aggressive race like that and everybody slows each other up for the corner, you can get way around three-wide because there are a lot of lanes out there, so they were kind of two different things we were probably talking about. We were more talking about the zone to get rolling. If you can get rolling the same and get down into turn one, I think either lane is fine.”
DO YOU DO ANYTHING FOR REHYDRATION OR CONDITIONING PURPOSES FOR THIS RACE? “I don’t do a lot different than I do any other week. They’re all kind of long races. I shouldn’t say anything different, but not much different. I always try to take care of myself. I always try to eat good and stay hydrated and get some sleep. It does give me an excuse to sleep in a little bit in the morning because it’s a night race and try to sleep in for an extra hour or two on Sunday, which I don’t get to do very often and I enjoy doing, so, other than that, I don’t really do a lot different. I just watch the weather and if it’s hot, you might have some ice packs ready – that type of things – but mainly just eating good, drinking a lot of Gatorade and get some rest."
DID THE SKIRT CHANGE MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE RACE? “I think it’s probably early to tell. I don’t think it’s a huge change. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to take some air off these cars. I think it probably helps the passing a little bit and be able to move around, but I know you didn’t have the wrecks and that 10-lapper Jimmie got out there and won, but, overall, I thought the racing was pretty good. I think Jimmie started sixth in the first segment and in 20 green flag laps went and took the lead and won that race. That’s pretty darn impressive here because it’s somewhat hard to pass. The track has a lot of grip and I know at least for me when you can pass somebody, especially the leader, it takes awhile to wear him down and get that done, so I think there was some passing and it seemed like there was a lot of side-by-side racing, even on those restarts. Marcos was able to get on the top three-wide, so it seemed like to me overall the racing was pretty good and you had a lot of passing and side-by-side."
CAN YOU RECAP THE TIRE TEST AT MICHIGAN AND WHAT WE CAN EXPECT IN JUNE? “That was a while ago. It’s obviously really, really, really fast. I don’t know if it’s the fastest one we’ve been on, but it will be the fastest one we’ll be at all year and probably the fastest top speed we’ve ever run anywhere in a Cup car. It’s gonna be really fast. They did a fairly nice job repaving it. It seems pretty smooth. It didn’t seem as treacherous as Phoenix was with the repave if you got out of the groove, so I think everything with the track will be fine, especially after you get all the cars on it and get that full day of practice. I think it’ll be fine. I think it’s too early to say what the racing will be like, but that place has always had a lot of different grooves. I’m sure there is going to be a preferred groove, but I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t multiple grooves that you can race in and pass on."
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THAT FIRST WIN HERE AT CHARLOTTE? “The race was pretty cool. There were a few things. Dale Jr. and I moved up together to race for rookie of the year and he had already won at Texas, and I think he won the All-Star Race the week before. We didn’t even make the All-Star Race. To come back for the 600 and all the work we did on that car during the week – we actually brought the same car back and was able to be pretty competitive. We were probably gonna have a second to fourth-place night. Dale Jr. dominated again and they got off on their last set of tires or pit stop and then I remember it was a long night with the rain delay in the middle and all that, and then I just remember running down Bobby Labonte and racing him really hard for that win. That was a really special night. Whenever you get your first win in any series, especially in this series, it’s always big – especially at the 600. It’s a special event, so it was a pretty exciting night.”
HOW DO YOU ASSESS WHERE YOUR TEAM IS AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON? “I feel pretty good about where we’re at. I don’t really buy into the theory of people say peaking too soon or too good too early. I don’t really buy into that. I don’t think there’s ever a time period that you don’t want to be good or be your best, so I don’t know that I buy into that part of it. I feel pretty good about where we’re at. There are certainly a lot of things we could do better. There are a lot of things we could be doing worse as well, so you just keep working on all those things. I don’t think the season could be a lot better starting off, but certainly you look back and can’t help doing that. Saturday night I wish I would have had a better restart and been able to race for the win. Vegas, running third with a few laps to go and had one of the best cars for the long run, and ended up wrecking it. You look back at things like that and not that you sit there and need to beat yourself up forever, but you certainly try to learn from those things and get better. Hopefully, our car performance will continue to be as good as it’s been and we’ll be able to keep executing and getting finishes, and if we keep putting ourselves up front in position to win, we can collect some more wins along the way."
IS IT HARD TO MAINTAIN A HIGH LEVEL ALL YEAR? “It’s really fun to run good and to win. I think it’s easier to keep everybody motivated and happy and feeling good and happy to be at work and looking forward to going to the track – it’s way easier to do that when you’re winning and running good and being up front and up there in the points. The times it’s hard is when you’re not running good and you go home and it’s like, ‘Man, we did all this work and got this for a result.’ I think it’s way easier to keep momentum and keep everybody rolling and keep operating at a high level when you’re operating there and you only have a little ways to go to get to where you want to be to win more races and be right there every week contending for a championship. I think it’s hard when you’re not running good to get the thing turned around and all of a sudden put together some magic. I know Tony did that last year, but I think more times than not the guys that are up there are guys that run up front every week or on a pretty consistent basis.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 Fastenal Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND? “I started by saying this uniform of Carl’s is a little bit small, especially in the arms. I don’t know how he fits in this thing (joking). We’re excited about where we’re at in the points and leading. We’re only a couple points ahead of our teammate and we’re here to win. We want to win the Coca-Cola 600. We’ve got a great piece. I can’t wait to get on the track with it. This is the car I won Texas with and it’s a long race where anything can happen. We’re targeting, like always, finishing up front and finish in the top-five – only two positions between Matt and I. I’m sure at some point we’ll both lead a lap, so that will be one point, but it is super-tight at the front of the field. We’re not gonna worry about the points lead. We’re gonna worry about our car and doing the best we can. If we give up the lead, then the important part is to make the Chase and be leading it after Homestead."
DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE ENGINE? ANY CONCERNS GOING FORWARD? “Not really. The bottom end failed. The oil pressure was low and, obviously, there were trying new parts or pieces and I kind of applaud the engine shop for the effort they put in and to take advantage of a non-points race to implement what you would obviously call experimental parts or something to that effect. They had the guts to bring a piece to the race track that was on the edge and made a lot of power and they found out that it didn’t have the durability, so I think that’s what the All-Star is about is going 100 percent. Whether it’s the driver or the engine builder or the guys putting the cars together, it’s all about winning and that’s what they went for, and that has no impact on our regular engines for the season. That was experimental stuff, things they were trying, and obviously it’s back to the drawing board. They don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that."
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE LIKE WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING WELL VERSUS NOT WELL? “I can tell you that you could get Jeff Gordon in here to sit beside me for a little bit as long as he doesn’t get too close. It’s like he’s got a cold right now and I don’t want to get sick. I tell you what, Jeff Gordon’s season was exactly the season we had last year. That was the 16 team’s season to a T. It was just one thing after another – not the same thing, one thing after another happened to us, and that’s what has happened to Jeff. Jeff in a racing deal, cut a left-rear tire at Bristol, racing deal where this happened or that happened, engine problem. What’s next? It’s really the season we had last year and it’s the season he’s having right now and I look at that and know that we were sitting right there and now we’re not. It’s not any one thing, it’s a combination of things. It’s circumstances, it’s a lot of things involved, but I’m sure happy I’m on this side of it and not that side."
WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET YOURSELF PREPARED TO GET IN THE CAR? “That’s pretty easy for me because I’m a pretty high-strung person. I’m always on the go and ready to stand on the gas pedal all the time. Right now, I’m up here fidgeting with a bottle cap because I can’t wait to get in the car and drive it. It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited and amped up about going. I’m passionate about thinking how I can be better and how we’re gonna have the best car for qualifying tonight and a good car for Sunday’s race. After the driver’s meeting is kind of when I go back and focus. Before that, you’ve got this hospitality autograph session, meet-and-greet, all these things, but after the driver’s meeting it’s kind of my time to get the game face on, get dressed and focus on what’s ahead of us, so it doesn’t take a lot for me to get excited to get in the car.”
IS THIS A RACE YOU WOULD WORRY ABOUT ENGINE DURABILITY ANYWAY REGARDLESS OF WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK? “Absolutely. Yeah, 100 percent. These engines are designed and they want the durability, I’ve always heard, to be double the race length, so they shoot for 1000 miles of durability. If it fails at 800 or 1200 I think that’s within the range, but when you go 600 miles you look at the percentage between 500 and 600 and that’s quite a bit longer of a race and definitely these parts – the longevity of the part has to continue to operate at its maximum temperature and its maximum power for that much longer."
HOW DO YOU FEEL THE EFFECT OF 600 MILES? MENTAL OR PHYSICAL? “Typically, our sport starts with the physical part inside the car. It’s gonna be 88 or 89 degrees on Sunday, the hottest day. We’ve gotten lucky all season, that hasn’t been the case, but we lose this week with it being the longest race and it’s gonna be very hot, so staying hydrated and staying cool inside the car, which then it turns into concentration. Being hot and dehydrated, it’s hard to stay hydrated for that many hours – five-and-a-half hours. Your body can only hold so much liquid, so then the concentration level for that amount of time gets tiring. You run a 90-lap race and going home you’re mentally exhausted because you’re constantly thinking every corner, every lap, looking in the mirror, ‘what am I gonna change,’ on the gas, go as hard as I can and it’s just intense. The 600-mile race is really no different, so you’re mentally exhausted and dehydrated. There’s a lot involved in it."
DO YOU TRY TO EAT SOMETHING DURING THE RACE? “I see wrappers flying out of Carl’s window constantly, so I don’t know what he’s got. I think he’s got a small fridge inside his car, but they’re handing him stuff through the window constantly. I’ve gotten hungry in races because leading up to the race it’s hot, there’s a lot of pressure and concentration, you’re nervous, that’s not the time you’re usually eating a lot. I eat light, eat a sandwich, a banana or something else, you get in there and you’re burning I don’t know how many calories for a race – 6,000 calories – and you get three-quarters of the way through it and you’re hungry. I’ve never eaten anything in the car so far."
DO YOU WORK OUT ANY DIFFERENTLY TO PREPARE FOR THIS, AND WHY DO YOU FEEL THE ROUSH INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM IS SO SOLID? “Two things. We’ve always been pretty damn good at all the intermediate tracks and this year is no exception, and as our program gets stronger the intermediates shine even more. I like those race tracks on top of that, so that’s kind of a plus and that’s our showpiece within our company. We’re pretty good at those kind of tracks, so as we get better as a group that tends to stand out even more because we were pretty good at them when we were average. Now that we’re maybe a tick about that line, the intermediates kind of stand out even more. I think that has a lot to do with it. I just try and stay hydrated and try to work a little on cardio because when it’s that hot you’re breathing a lot and using up a lot of oxygen, so I try to work on cardo and try to get hydrated. It’s kind of a pain in the butt to get hydrated because everybody in here drinks a ton of water and you’ve got to make so many trips to the bathroom every 20 minutes or 30 minutes. It’s kind of a pain for two or three days, but you’ve got to get hydrated prior to the fact. You can’t get up the morning of the 600 and say, ‘I need to get some water.’ It’s too late then."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DOVER IN A COUPLE WEEKS? “I like challenges. I like difficult places and Darlington and Dover fit into those categories. We’ve run pretty good there overall as a company as well, so that makes it tough when you’re racing your teammate that is in second, but I think that’s a challenging place and I think that’s one of the reasons why it kind of stands out.”
HAVE YOU NOTICED AN ISSUE WITH THE OUTSIDE LANE ON RESTARTS HERE AND HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT? “Yeah, I have. It’s weird why one lane will be faster than the other. I guess you could say it comes down to such small, narrow things. The inside lane, for instance, even on the frontstretch is slightly curved, so it’s a slightly less distance on the frontstretch to get to the corner first. And then maybe it’s got a little bit better grip on the bottom. Maybe the car will accelerate slightly better on the bottom than the top. The competition is so close and so tight that these little, tiny differences – maybe the grip, the distance, all those things – making a difference. And the higher the speeds get the later at night, the harder it is to make the upper lane work because it is a longer distance around. If the bottom is super-fast, it’s hard to make up time on that second groove. But when it’s hot and sunny, you can go up the race track and make up some time because you’ve got to slow down a little bit for the bottom groove because the car is sliding. But if that bottom groove has a ton of grip, then going up the race track just makes it further around and doesn’t give you anymore speed."
HOW DIFFERENT WILL POCONO BE AT 400 MILES AS OPPOSED TO 500? BETTER OR WORSE? “I think it’s track specific. I think this race is a good race to be 600 miles. We have to have that one race a year that is technically a durability and stamina test and that’s what this race is. We’ve got race tracks that are shorter and longer, and I think Pocono was one that kind of got strung out and that being the same as everything else was at 500 miles, I think a 400-mile race at Pocono will be much more exciting to see with the shorter distance."
IS THERE ONE THING YOU LIKE AND DISLIKE ABOUT THE 600? “The one thing I like about it is the challenge of the distance of this race – the challenge physically inside the car. Like I said it’s gonna be 89 degrees and we’re gonna be in there for five-and-a-half hours. It’s 140-150 degrees in there for a long time, so the challenge of keeping your head on straight, keeping focus, and keeping the equipment are all challenges. I love challenges and they’re challenges we have to manage as a team and as a driver. Those are things I love about it. I don’t really have a lot of dislikes about it. Always the races that kind of start more in the day and finish at night present their own challenges to keeping up with the race track. That’s always been a difficulty for everyone, but it’s the same for everyone.”