NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference at Texas Motor Speedway
An Interview with MATT KENSETH, JACK ROUSH, JIMMY FENNIG
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the Samsung Mobile Media Center by tonight's winner of the Samsung Mobile 500 Matt Kenseth. With Matt's win tonight, he snaps a 76-race win streak. It's his second career win at Texas, his last coming in 2002. Since then he had four runner-up finishes at Texas Motor Speedway.
So it feels good to have a night like we had tonight with a dominant car and to be able to get the win.
You now have led the most laps of any Cup driver TMS with 669. More importantly, you're third in the points. Talk about snapping that streak and finally winning in Texas for the second time.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it feels good to get back to Victory Lane. It's been a long time. You talk about the second place finishes here, and I got beaten at the end of a lot of these races. It's great to finish second if you can't win.
But another way is like getting kicked in the gut. You have to come back. Like last fall you look at Jimmy, and you come back and look at the guys and you're leading with two to go, three to go, five to go, and you don't win, it's always disappointing.
So it feels good to have a night like we had tonight with a dominant car and to be able to get the win.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by winning team owner, Jack Roush. It's his 16th career win at Texas Motor Speedway, and NASCAR's top three series. Second time you've won the Nationwide and Cup events at TMS in the same weekend. The Roush Fenway cars finished 1, 3, 4 and 7 tonight. Talk about tonight and the success of Roush?
JACK ROUSH: Well, I'm really proud of what we've been able to do in 2011. You know, we tuned up our engineering program with Ford's help over the winter and we got a new Ford nose. Everybody got a new nose this year, but our new nose was better than our old nose, I think. And we've had our FR9 engine really up to speed.
So all of that is going well. I can't say how proud I am to be here with Matt, realizing that he's not gotten the success that his effort has deserved in recent past.
Of course, Jimmy Fennig isn't an instant success story. He's our oldest crew chief. Jimmy, what year did you start being a crew chief for us?
JIMMY FENNIG: What year? I'm trying to think, '97.
JACK ROUSH: '97. So Jimmy's been a crew chief with us longer than anybody else. So he's worked with a lot of different drivers and he and Matt are as good a combination of driver and crew chief as I've experienced in my 24 years here.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by winning crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Jimmy, talk about tonight, and also the adjustments you have to make seeing that this is the first night race here at TMS?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, basically, we kind of tweaked on it a little bit. The car wasn't perfect all night. We didn't get it perfect. But the speed seemed to be there, so we didn't want to go overboard. We were just creeping up a little bit here, a little bit there and what air pressure there was. So that was about it all night.
Q. For Matt and Jimmy, obviously, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart gambled, hoping they could make it to the end on fuel. I think that's the way that everyone thought that was the only way anyone was going to beat you guys tonight. So, Jimmy, did you have any doubt that they might make it? What did you tell Matt? Can you think that you were okay that they were both good going to make it. It ended up Tony had the pit row penalty. But did you think that you were in any trouble with those guys being able to make it?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, Kurt, I figured we knew he was going to have to stop. I didn't know about Tony if he was going to make it to the end or not. I think he would have. But it would have been close. Kurt we figured he was going to be short anyways. So that's what we're up against.
Q. Matt, this is all predictable. I could ask you about the race maybe not being that exciting, and you would say from where I was sitting, it was a very exciting race and we hear this all the time. My question is from personal satisfaction when you win and you just kick everybody's tail, does it give you more satisfaction than other kinds of wins? Does it give you a great deal of pride just to kick ass out there?
MATT KENSETH: Well, the first, on the racing part, it sounds dumb, but I didn't see it. You know what I mean? We had such good track position and pit stops and pit strategy and qualified well, so we really never got behind, which is obviously a big advantage for us.
The race track tonight was a lot different than it was last year. This tire really changed the surface a lot, I thought. And I think it would have been a little tougher to come from behind.
So, anyway, yeah, it always feels good to win no matter how you can win. More times than not, the fastest car ends up winning, and I thought that happened tonight. I was real worried about Tony's deal. Of course, I worry about everything; right, Jimmy?
But we had a fast car. And did it and had track position. When he was in front of me, I was trying pretty hard to get back by him, and it took a while until he slipped to get by him. So it was important for us to make some ground. The way Jimmy pitted the race, it made ground the way we needed to and gave us a little bit of a cushion.
Q. After the win, we heard you tell your crew that you didn't think you were going to be able to do this again, which struck me because I think after you won Daytona two years ago you said a few days earlier you had the same discussion with your wife that I didn't think I could win a race again. Does this give you solace or have you reached the point in your career where every one of these you're going to savor because you don't know if it's going to come around again?
MATT KENSETH: I've enjoyed every one of them. Daytona's kind of different, but we went to California the next week and won. It was huge for me. In a way, it was almost of a race car and racing standpoint. It was bigger than Daytona. It wasn't a bigger win, but it was because that's what you have to do every week. You only do plate racing four times.
So, you know, I felt better the last six months. Everything's been looking up. Certainly the previous 12 months before that was frustrating for me. As you start to get older and with the results and it's been over two years since we won. You can't help but think, "Is this the way it's going to go? Are we going to keep trickling backwards?"
You keep working as hard as you can at it. And you try to get the cars going the best you can, and hopefully have some more chances to win. But certainly it gives you a lot of confidence, and it's a big relief to get back to Victory Lane and break that winless streak.
Well, I'm really proud of what we've been able to do in 2011.
It's been a long time, and we've had a lot of fun going to the racetrack here the last two months the last year, and the first part of this year it feels like we're back into a contending form.
Q. Can you talk about how your relationship with Jimmy has evolved? Can you define --
MATT KENSETH: Not with him sitting here (laughing).
Q. Can you define Hammerhead too, please?
MATT KENSETH: Can I do what? I'm sorry, I didn't hear the last part.
Q. Can you define Hammerhead?
MATT KENSETH: No, I'm not going to do that right now. My relationship with Jimmy has been good. It's always been good. Jimmy said he came out in 1997, so I guess it was the first year. I have Mark Martin to thank for sitting here. He saw me race and talked to jack about me, and Jack gave me the opportunity to come over here.
In that first year, it was '97 and '98, is when the testing rules were different, they used to let me come and hang out at the test. And I'd say in the hotel with the guys and I'd hang out with Jimmy a lot and ask him a lot of questions. I was probably like that pesky little kid. He was probably tired of answering questions.
But I'd hang out and spend as much time as I could when I'd go to the track and test. So I've known Jimmy and respected Jimmy for what he's done for a lot of reasons for a long time.
Q. Tonight was your second victory here at the Texas Motor Speedway, and your 12th Top 10 finish in 18 races here. Matt, what is it about this track that, for you, you just do so well here? What is it about Texas Motor Speedway that makes you a good race car driver here?
Q. What is it about Texas Motor Speedway that makes you a good race car driver here?So I figured I'd stay home and watch it on TV. But we had a great time and had some friends over. To have the Packers win the Super Bowl was huge.
'96 was the last time they went, and I didn't have enough money in '96 to get a ticket or fly to a race or do any of that stuff or fly to the game, and I always said if they ever went again, once I made enough money where I could do that, I was going to go.
So I'm hoping they can go back again. Last time they went, they went two years in a row, so hopefully they can play football this year and hopefully they can make it back.
Q. Less than a minute after the race ended, Ross (Kenseth's son) put on Twitter, "I guess the old man can still get up on the wheel." How old is Ross now?
MATT KENSETH: 17, yeah.
Q. Even in most of your victories when you've had really good cars, tonight's win was very un-Kenseth-like in that you led so many laps and thoroughly dominated the race. Was the car so good that you could not run anywhere but first, most of the night?
MATT KENSETH: The car was really good, but starting there made a big difference. If we had started 20th or 24th where I used to qualify all the time, we wouldn't have led all the laps, obviously. It would have taken us a lot longer to get to the front. Hopefully we would have still gotten to the front.
So that was a big advantage. Qualifying is really important with cars, and Jimmy has really turned me into a better qualifier more times than not. We've been doing better the last six months than what I used to do. Our starting position keeps improving, which is really important these days, so that's part of it.
We've had a couple like this, but not a lot. Vegas is one that comes to mind, and that was a long time ago. It was, I think '03, where we felt like we were straightaway ahead all night, and the car was just about perfect.
But yeah, you don't get a lot of days in today's competition level where you can lead that many laps and dominate a race and get a win.
Q. You had been kind of behind the scenes with Roush until you hooked up with Matt. Did you ever think you'd get back to this point at this level? Did you ever want to get back into the crew chief game at the Cup level? Did you ever think you'd experience this again?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, you know, yeah, I'm glad I'm back here and I'm glad I'm with Matt Kenseth driving the race car because it makes my job easy. But whatever Jack wants me to do, that's what I'll do.
But I'm really enjoying working with Matt, and hopefully we win some more races.
Q. Jack, can you speak to the work Jimmy did behind the scenes before you put him and Matt together this recent time and how that contributed to the organization?
JACK ROUSH: Jimmy is a consummate stock car racer. He can run your R & D team. He can take your rookie driver. Heck, he even won a championship with Kurt Busch. He can do anything (laughing). That was the biggest job I've ever seen done in terms of a driver-crew chief managing a program to get the most out of it. Kurt was just a rookie at the time.
Jimmy has done it all. Jimmy's only worked for three people. He worked for Mark Martin early on. He worked for Bobby Allison, and he worked for Roush Fenway. And he's -- Jimmy is one of the guys I look to to give me advice behind and around and above the engineers on what's right and what's wrong about our deal.
Nobody did a better job running our R & D program than Jimmy. And when we went through a number of crew chiefs trying to find a combination that would be best for Matt through kind of the dark days when it seemed like we couldn't get it right, Jimmy was well burrowed into the R & D thing. He was having a good time. He was taking his race team without fans and without TV and without the sanctioning body. He was going out and running his program to find out how to make his race car fast.
You don't have the freedoms at the racetrack that you have in R & D when you can organize your tests and all your components.
But Jimmy stepped back up and jumped in front, and he's done a better job than I think anybody could today with Matt.
Q. We talked in the garage this afternoon. You said, we're close. We're close. At what point did you figure that not only were you closer than you thought, but you had everybody covered?
JIMMY FENNIG: Lap 334, I believe it was. No, it's all night we worked on the car. The car still wasn't perfect at the end of the night, but it was close. We gained a little bit on it, but like I said, it still wasn't perfect. There is still room to get it better yet.
Q. Matt, you talked about the last time you felt like this was Las Vegas. Just can you tell the John Q race fan what it's like to have a race car, you want to go low, you go low. If you want to go high, you go high.
MATT KENSETH: It was probably a little harder than it looked at times. It was a big advantage to be out front tonight. On the few restarts we did have it, and do the best job, I got somebody in front of me every single time, and it took a while to get that back. Certainly once I could make that move and I got in some clean air and I could put the car kind of where I wanted to. I had to adjust my line a lot when the car would change during the run.
Jimmy said, we never had it perfect, but it had such good speed. We knew if we kept it up front it was going to be hard for anybody to beat us the way it was. We didn't want to mess with it too much.
Q. TV was saying that you were having trouble getting a full load of fuel in the car. Is that the case? I recall that (Greg) Biffle had similar issues earlier in the season. Is it a hardware problem and what is being done to address that?
JIMMY FENNIG: No, that wasn't you a hardware problem, it was just me on top of the box wanting Matt to go, so I didn't want to spend too much time in there. So I was yelling let's go, let's go. So it was kind of my fault. I had them drop the Jack. Then with the new system, we didn't have it quite full. We were probably a gallon short.
The car still wasn't perfect at the end of the night, but it was close.
Q. After the race you said something to the effect of when you guys pitted it forced the rest of the field to pit. Could you address that? Did you just kind of control the tempo once you guys were in the lead even though you didn't have the best mileage. But they were going to have to come when you come because of the tire wear and how fast your car was?
MATT KENSETH: Oh, Jimmy. Yeah, a track like this I don't know how much faster we'd run on new tires, probably second when we'd pit, something like that. So if you're running a second lap faster, the leader's already running a second lap faster than you are.
Even if you have eight or ten more laps in your tank, you can't wait very long and hope for a caution. You need to pit because you're getting a second farther behind on every lap. So those kind of races are fun when you're the leader and the first one on pit row as long as there's not a caution, because us know every lap they stay out there, you're eating their lunch pretty bad. Even if they pit a lap after you, you usually make a whole second on them.
I know Clint wasn't that far behind us on that one green flag cycle. When it got over, we had half a straightaway on them or something.
Q. Can you talk about the new construction of the tires that they've had for some of the races this year and adapting to that?
JIMMY FENNIG: Well, I mean, Goodyear's coming out with different tires every racetrack, trying to, I would say, put more grip in the car for the drivers so we get some better racing in. And we didn't have a problem tonight with tires. The tires looked good.
Goodyear did a good job here. I don't know. They're just searching to make sure they didn't get some better racing going, so Goodyear's doing a good job.
Q. How have you been adjusting to the tire?
JIMMY FENNIG: It's been okay. It's the same as everybody else. If there's a problem, everybody else got the problem.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.