Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing talks about the wreck in yesterday’s practice and more...
What is your outlook for Daytona after a successful 2013 season? “The season last year ended better than our week started down here. It hasn’t been a particularly good start to the week for us in the 20. Looking forward to getting in the race tonight, hopefully found some more speed in our car from where it was yesterday.
We can learn some things tonight that will hopefully apply to Sunday. Get a decent finish and get a good spot to start. That’s kind of what we’re looking at today -- looking forward to getting back in the Nationwide car today with kind of the rules changed up a little bit and kind of a different team over there. I’m looking forward to getting rolling on here this morning as well.”
When he got close it just moved my car to the left a little bit, but then he just couldn’t get off of me. It looked like he was getting hit from behind from the 21(Trevor Bayne) and he clipped me in the right rear and then he got clipped at the same time so just not a lot of extra space out there.”
Is there more apprehension toward practice sessions after yesterday? “The second practice, I don’t know if there was a lot of apprehension from me, but there probably is from everyone else. Everyone else is probably trying to stay away from the 20 and the 22 (Joey Logano) whenever they see those cars together -- they’re bailing out in practice. Tonight the strategy for me is really no different. You want to go there and you want to learn everything you can possibly learn, you want to try to get in some different situations.
Try to bank all that for Sunday so you can kind of make the right moves and Sunday be in the right place -- try to get as much feedback as you can about the car and maybe what you need and what you don’t need for those final couple practices before the 500. Really no apprehension -- obviously when the week goes like that, you think about it a little bit and you try to figure out how to stay away from problems.”
Are drivers getting more comfortable with the new car and taking more chances? “I think whenever any of us come to plate races there’s a certain degree of apprehension or worry or whatever thinking about being in a wreck. You’re chances are greater whenever you come to Daytona and Talladega than most other race tracks because there’s just so many things that are out of your control and the racing style is a lot different. I don’t know, you really can’t predict what’s going to happen going forward. I’ve seen a lot of times where we’ve come down here and the Unlimited has been crazy and maybe the 150s or whatever and by the 500 it’s kind of not so much. I think you have to pretty much look at every instance separately to kind of see what happens.”
What can you learn from yesterday’s incident? “Whenever there’s a wreck -- you don’t want to wreck in practice so I think they were probably looking back talking about that. Like I said, every wreck is a little different. Paul (Menard) and the 5 (Kasey Kahne) were just kind of merging and we had a two-wide pack and obviously have to go three-wide when you catch slower cars -- you can’t really slow up for the line and just pile in behind it because you’ll get crashed. We were just kind of going around that and just kind of waiting honestly to clear those guys.
I got kind of slow with Paul on my left rear and that just brought Joey’s (Logano) car in really fast through the tri-oval and the 21 (Trevor Bayne) was right on Joey. I think we were going to be okay if the 21 wouldn’t have hit Joey because even though Joey hit me a little bit he was kind of being pushed into that hole. I got it straightened out and it looked like Joey was going to get straightened out and the 21 ran over him. I think it was just kind of an accordion affect and there wasn’t a lot of space in between cars yet. There wasn’t a lot of room for error.”
Is there more focus on winning the Daytona 500 for Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing this year? “I’d say it’s important. I’m sure the people from Toyota could probably answer that question better than me, but I would assume it’s important to win the Daytona 500 and important to win a championship -- those are two things they haven’t done yet since they’ve been in the sport. Obviously, that’s always our focus. I don’t think we’ve put any more or less effort into the Daytona 500 than we did last year. It’s always a focus, it’s always something you’re working on -- it’s the biggest race of the year and kicks off the season.
You’re always working hard on that, but I don’t think any more or less than any other season. There’s a lot going on and you have to focus not too much on this week, but don’t skip over it either. There’s a lot going on with all the open tracks coming up with all the rules changes, ride height and the aero stuff. We’re kind of working hard on a lot of stuff this winter, been doing a lot more testing -- everybody has, all the organizations have and more than normal because of all the rules changes and format changes. I’d say the focus is the same as it was last year.”
How are the new rule changes impacting teams this season? “I think whenever there’s a change, especially a rules change you have to look at it as an opportunity and you have to go try to get a jump on that and try to get a jump better than the other organizations. I think you look at it, I know they do at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as an opportunity to get a hold of that and try to figure it out quickly and be on top of your game when you get to Phoenix and Vegas and California and Bristol and the first handful of tracks. I feel like they did an extremely good job of that last year with the Gen-6 car. I felt like we came out of the gate and we were really strong at every kind of race track to start the year off. I felt like that was a good spring board for the rest of the season. Hopefully, we can do that again.”
How different do the cars drive at Daytona compared to last year? “I don’t know that it’s drastically different from last year, I mean the spoiler is a little bigger so you would think that you would get a little bigger runs than what you would before and you could stall other cars out more than you could before because they have more spoiler and piling more air on the blade and all that kind of stuff.
I was surprised, I guess pleasantly surprised by the end of the Unlimited and I mean there was hardly any cars out there and they could still do some passing and the racing was still good. It was amazing the runs you could still get. I think overall it’s going to be good for these four races. It seems like it’s brought both lanes back a little bit instead of everybody just being stuck on the top. It seems like that bottom got working Saturday night. I think it will make better racing, the bigger runs you can get on people and the more passing you can do without having four or five other cars having to commit to make it happen then I think the better show it is.”
If a driver wins the Daytona 500 and locks into the Chase does that change the season outlook? “I wonder if they get the hat. Probably not. I don’t know, I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about the Chase and that part of the format to be totally honest with you, I’ve been more focused on the rules changes with the ride height rules and aero changes and the qualifying changes and trying to get our arms around that stuff.
The other part is a long ways away. Hopefully, we can run like we did last year and hopefully we’ll get a win and get one early, but then I don’t think you really have to spend a ton of time focused on that until August or September if you’re fortunate enough to be in. Certainly it seems really different than what it’s ever been before so I don’t know until we get in that spot. Hopefully, we’ll be in that spot and spend a little bit of time thinking about -- I don’t really know what to think about, but yes it’s definitely a different dynamic for sure.”
How do you continue the success from last season into this year? “I think every season is a little different. I’m not a huge believer in momentum in either direction or curses or jinx or you did this and you can’t do that -- I think every week is a different week. I think that whole group over there is really focused. I think they probably feel better going into this season than they felt, I don’t know about going into last season. Certainly, I think with Denny (Hamlin) being healthy and winning Homestead was a big deal and him coming out and winning again the other night -- I think Denny’s back, which is great except for the fact that when he wins it means that I can’t so that part stinks.
I think it’s good that he’s back running good again. Kyle (Busch) had one of the best years he’s ever had and we had a great year. I feel good about it. I think we carry a lot of momentum into the off-season. Everybody is working hard to try to get better including me. I know I need to be better -- it’s a new year. What happened last year really doesn’t matter once they drop the green on Sunday. We’re going to work hard and hopefully get the results again.”
Where can you improve? “I think there’s a lot of areas we could start with Saturday. I could probably know where I am before I make a move. I don’t know, I always think you look at stuff and try to get better. Last year I think we did a lot of things good, but I think certainly personally there’s a lot of areas and places where I can improve and working on that.”
How similar are the Joe Gibbs Racing setups this weekend? “All the cars are relatively close, especially when you come to superspeedways. There’s not really a very big window of things that you’re going to work on or really changes to the setup at Daytona. The pavement is still pretty good and especially racing at night handling is not going to be a big issue. It could be Sunday, I don’t know what the weather forecast is -- I haven’t even looked yet. If its warm enough it could be a little bit of an issue, but Saturday night and tonight everybody is setting up for speed more so than handling because the track is going to have a lot of grip.”