Matt Kenseth: "All these races are really big races and everybody wants to win them."
MATT KENSETH No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your outlook this weekend at Talladega? “Talladega is always unpredictable. We’ve ran really well here the last couple years. Last spring we led a bunch of laps and I think it’s the thing that ended kind of at night and had a green-white-checkered at the end and got beat so that was disappointing. And, then last fall was kind of a strange ending and just couldn’t really make anything happen. So, you just never know what’s going to happen here.
It’s an exciting race to watch, it’s an exciting race to be a part of, but like I say it’s unpredictable. You always kind of need help or need to be at the right spot or need the extra cars to be able to make moves and make passes, so you spend more time thinking about moves than typically you do just making them or trying to pass somebody like you would at a normal track.”
What will happen during tomorrow’s qualifying session? “I guess the truth is none of us really know. Obviously the bigger the group is and the farther you are back from it to a certain point the bigger run you’re going to go and the fastest lap time you are going to get.
We did the first round at Daytona in Nationwide and it was a little crazy, but the field is obviously better in Cup. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It should be interesting especially having three rounds. I think obviously the first round is where you’re going to have your fast lap times and that one you’re going to have to probably make more calculations or more aggressive moves or however you want to put it to get that lap once they start thinning this field out and you get down to 12 or even 25 or 24 or whatever it’s going to change a little bit. There’s always a potential for a wreck when you put 43 cars out there.”
Do you feel there is a good possibility for a big wreck during qualifying? “Yeah, the potential is there. Yeah. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how it’s going to go yet. I don’t know if a lot of guys will just go get a lap even if they just barely miss the round they’re okay with that or not. And, even if they’re not, once the pack is gone you know you’re not going to run a fast lap anyway. So, I’m not sure how it’s all going to go down. It should be really interesting to watch.”
Do you feel there will be a big pack or smaller groups during tomorrow’s qualifying? “I think everybody is going to try to do a strategy to get the fastest lap they can to start as far as they can toward the front. What that’s going to look like I honestly just don’t really know. It depends what everybody does and there’s no way to predict what everybody is going to do. The people in the big pack aren’t going to be the ones running the fast lap, it’s going to be the people behind the big pack. Everybody knows that so there might not be a big pack. I’m not really sure exactly how it’s going to go down.”
What makes racing at Talladega so different? “Restrictor plate racing is obviously unique. We only have four of those races a year -- Talladega is slightly different from Daytona even though since they paved Daytona they have become much more similar. Basically, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously you can’t really get away from anybody with the restrictor plate and you can’t really make a lot of moves by yourself. A lot of it is so dependent on what everybody else does. It’s just a totally different mindset I think when you come to these races. It’s a totally different driving style, strategy, the way you go about things -- it’s different.”
How intimidating was it to race at Talladega understanding the chance of a larger accident? “It always changes a little bit through the years. Certainly whenever you come to a plate race or you even think of the word Talladega, everybody thinks of the big one. I think drivers, fans, media members, everybody thinks of that. It’s always what everybody is thinking about and talking about, but certainly it’s changed over the years. There were some years where cars were flying through the air and all kinds of crazy stuff was happening and then you have other years that were maybe more tame. Again, it’s unpredictable. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously you know that’s part of racing here and it can happen at any time. It’s always something that people are thinking about and that’s why you see different strategies with people in the back or what have you. It’s certainly something you always think about to a certain extent.”
How far could you see an underdog team make it in the Chase? “Well I mean I think it depends on what happens to all the rest of the cars. To advance a round you could have a lot of the real good cars, a lot of the favorites have a DNF (did not finish) and have an off day or something like that and be out and finish ahead of them. I think certainly on average the points standings throughout the year or if you take snapshots of different parts of the year or whatever, it usually kind of gives you an idea of who’s going to have a shot and who’s not.”
Will drivers elect to start at the back to avoid potentially damaging a primary car in qualifying? “I don’t know, I think it’s more going to be a team decision more so than a driver decision necessarily. Then there’s also a lot of things that are out of your control. You might want to be on the pole, but something happens and you get mixed up and don’t get a lap, caution comes out or something like that in the first run when all the cars are out there and then only 12 cars go back out the next time because everybody is happy with their times then you’re not going to run a faster lap. Obviously you need all the cars or a lot of cars and a good draft to pull up and get that lap. I think you’re going to try to get the best lap you can without putting yourself in jeopardy to get your primary car torn up. This is one of those races where you can go from the front to the back or the other way around more easily than other tracks.”
Will the importance of winning to make the Chase impact the end of this race? “I know it’s not always the popular answer, but I still stand by that I just don’t think it changes the racing. I don’t think it changes the winners, I just think it changes the reward you get for winning. All these races are really big races and everybody wants to win them. I don’t see anybody showing up in May and being like, ‘Man, I hope I run 10th today.’ Everybody goes out and does everything they can to win these races each and every week no matter what the reward is and no matter what it pays, points or any of that stuff. They’re all big races and everybody shows up every week to try to win.”