Atlanta II: Kenseth - Ford Friday interview

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is the points leader once again after an 11th-place finish last weekend at Martinsville. Kenseth, who opened the chase with a five-point lead, now holds a 36-point advantage over second-place...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is the points leader once again after an 11th-place finish last weekend at Martinsville. Kenseth, who opened the chase with a five-point lead, now holds a 36-point advantage over second-place Kevin Harvick. Kenseth spoke about the chase during a rainy day at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

MATT KENSETH -- No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN TO TRY AND MAINTAIN THE LEAD FOR THE REST OF THE CHASE? "That's the plan, but everybody in the top 10 is planning to try and get the lead, so I don't know. My car is running great today. If the weather keeps up, I think we'll qualify great. I'm looking forward to that (joking). Other than that, I don't know. I haven't been on the track yet, so I don't really have much new to say since Martinsville because nothing has really happened yet."

YOU'VE BEEN IN THE CHASE EVERY YEAR. HOW MUCH DIFFERENT HAS IT BEEN EACH YEAR? "Every year has been a little bit different. Usually early in the chase I've made mistakes or we haven't run good or we've done something to have ourselves out of it, whereas this year we haven't really had the disaster race. We haven't had huge problems, but, up to this point, except for maybe Talladega and Dover, we haven't really performed like a championship effort all around. We've just not had the problem. Everybody else has had problems this time. This has kind of been a mixed up chase a little bit. Everybody has kind of had their flat tire, blown engines and all that stuff. We're not really in the lead because of performance. We're kind of in the lead because other people have had trouble, so it's been a little different. The first year, Kurt kind of drove away from everybody and had a real good grasp on it. Then he had an engine failure here at Atlanta and made it exciting down to the end. Last year, Tony just never had any mistakes. He was just super-consistent and made it all the way through there, so every year has been a little different but they've only been doing it for three years so I think you'll kind of see that."

HOW MUCH INVOLVEMENT DO YOU HAVE WITH THE DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM AND CAN YOU COMMENT ON DAVID RAGAN'S ISSUE? "I haven't had hardly any. I went to one of the gong show things so I've had hardly any and I don't know enough around the details with them not running David. I know the 06 can only run so many times because you're only allowed to have four teams and everybody kind of forgets about that, so I think that was the deal. I don't know about them not letting him run here. I don't know if it's because he ran into so much stuff last weekend or really what it was. I don't know enough to make a bunch of comments. Except for what I read and what I saw I wasn't really involved in the workings of that. But I think that NASCAR has always done a good job of being fair and being smart and watching who is gonna run where. I'm sure being at a fast race track and being with the chase going on and some of the surroundings last weekend, I'm sure, had something to do with it but I don't really know because I haven't really talked to anybody but that would be my guess."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH THE YOUNGER DRIVERS? "That's a tough one to answer. Maybe sometimes yes and sometimes no. I feel like most years and most weeks I have plenty of my own problems, so I don't know how much help I could be to somebody else, but there have certainly been guys that have come through there that have shown a huge amount of interest and asked a huge amount of questions. Like Carl Edwards, for example, asked a lot of questions. Jeff Burton, when he got there, and Mark and even myself and Greg showed a ton of interest, and then you've had a guy like maybe Todd Kleuver, who has come in, and, for whatever reason, not wanted to ask a lot of questions and not really seemed like his interest wasn't very high, and then you've got a guy like Danny (O'Quinn) coming in who is real interested and asks a lot of questions. He talks to Greg and talks to me and tries to see what's going on, so you kind of have different personalities coming through there.

"Certainly, myself and I know all the drivers actually at Roush have always had plenty of time and plenty of answers. Whenever you're asked for anything or if they your opinion or ask for help I've always been there to help them, but as far as picking drivers out and doing all of that, that's hard because you never really know. How do you know if you're gonna have a guy you pick out that's gonna come in and do good right away or not. It's hard to figure that out, so I think Jack and the way everybody at Roush does that gong show and checking it out has seemed to work pretty well."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO EXPAND ON YOUR COMMENTS OF LAST WEEK WHEN YOU SAID THE CHASE WAS SLOPPY? "Maybe that's not the right word or the right way to put it, but I guess that is kind of what I meant. You haven't had one guy that's gone out there like us earlier in the year. If I look at our team, if we ran in the last six races like we did earlier this year on average, the points would look really good for us because we ran in the top five a lot and ran in the top 10 a lot. We didn't have a lot of mediocre runs. We usually had some good runs. Although we didn't have always great finishes, we always had a lot of strong runs where we haven't really had that these six races. So I guess that's sort of what I meant, and some people have had problems. Last year Tony, I don't know what the numbers were, but he was pretty solid the whole time and never really had a lot of mistakes and a lot of that going on. This time, not so much everybody has been sloppy or made mistakes, but everybody has had one to two bad races -- had a flat tire or a blown engine or a crash that wasn't their making or whatever. One guy hasn't had that super-good finish every week to kind of take control of the thing. Everybody has had trouble is I guess what I meant by that."

ON HEARING TONY HAD A 160 MORE POINTS AT THIS POINT LAST YEAR THAN THE LEADER. "That's what I meant by it. If you look at that, that's a whole race from first to last. Maybe sloppy wasn't the right word to say, but everybody has been pretty mediocre as far as average finish."

HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU THAT YOUR MILE-AND-A-HALF PROGRAM HASN'T HAD THE BEST FINISHES OF LATE? "I don't know if I'm real concerned. Kansas was a disaster for us how we ran, but, really, just off pure performance at Charlotte we weren't that bad. We just made so many mistakes. The car wasn't set up right when we started the race and we had problems that we didn't have all weekend and had to come down pit road and fix it. That put us in last place and that was the start of our problems. Loose wheels and we couldn't get our laps back and just didn't catch cautions when we needed to. We just had so many things go wrong, but just on pure performance, we didn't have a car like we have at some of the mile-and-a-halves capable of winning, but I think we had a car that was capable of running in the top 10 and just didn't do it. I thought we had a fairly decent test at Homestead. We didn't find anything earth-shattering, but we certainly found out some things not to do and I feel pretty good coming into Atlanta. It's always been a pretty good track for us so you just have to put that stuff behind you and move on to the next week and do the best we can."

YOU WOULDN'T MIND IF QUALIFYING GOT RAINED OUT AND YOU STARTED ON THE POLE WOULD YOU? "Yeah, I hope it rains like hell all day (laughter). That would be a great spot for us to start. I'm not gonna lie and say I wish we could qualify. If they're gonna give me first or we could qualify, I know I can't qualify better than first, so I'd rather have the rain. I would like the race practice though."

COULD KASEY KAHNE BE CONSIDERED A FAVORITE IN THIS EVEN THOUGH HE'S 99 POINTS BEHIND RIGHT NOW? WOULD YOU ALMOST LIKE TO TRADE PLACES WITH HIM? "No, I'd always rather lead, but we know we've got to get our stuff running better. Kasey has kind of been the favorite at the mile-and-a-halves this year. He's dominated those tracks, but in the spring we could run with him really, we just had tire problems. We kept wearing out tires and had to pit an extra time. I think we ran second to him in Texas, so I think that our stuff hasn't been as good as theirs, but I think that gives you incentive to go make your stuff run better and work hard at it. I don't know. The thing has been kind of mixed up. We know we've got to get running better. We're leading the points, but we're smart enough to know we haven't run good enough to take a hold of it of late. We've got to get our stuff running better. I still think that Jimmie is probably the favorite. I think that he's been right there every year for the last four or five years and I think he's probably one of the favorites to win it and Kasey has certainly run good at the mile-and-a-halves, so I think everybody in the top 10 has a realistic shot at it. I know Jeff and Kyle are a ways behind, but if you look at the last few weeks from Charlotte on, all the chase guys -- except for us, we've had some problems -- have been up in the top five or six, so we know we've got to be able to run in the top five these last four races to be able to have a shot at it."

DO YOU THINK JIMMIE CAN TAKE THE HOT STREAK AWAY FROM KASEY AT THESE TRACKS? "I don't know. We'll find out. They've run good everywhere and that's been the last four years, really, if you look at it. I think they've probably been the strongest at every track when they don't have problems. If you can win at Martinsville and you can win at Atlanta and you can win at a superspeedway and a plate race, that's a pretty hard combination to beat. That's something we've never been able to do, so I feel good about the tracks coming up. They should be good for everybody. The cool thing about all the tracks coming up is that there's a lot of room to race. I think everybody has been pretty competitive. You don't really have, necessarily, a big chance of circumstances taking you out like at Talladega or something like that. There's room to race, unlike Martinsville, so I think they're all good tracks coming up. I think everybody is bunched up real tight and I think right now it's still anybody's race. I don't think there's a clear-cut guy that everybody is chasing. I think we're in front, but we know we've got to get running better."

DO YOU EVEN FEEL LIKE THE LEADER AND ARE YOU ENCOURAGED TO STILL BE IN THE LEAD? "I'm encouraged being the leader with the problems we've had or the lack of performance that we've had or whatever the case may be -- lack of finishes or however you want to put it -- but also discouraged that we haven't run good enough to take advantage of other people's problems. If we would have been running like we ran the first three-quarters of this year when everybody else had problems, we'd be 150-200 points ahead if we could have run like we did earlier in the year. It kind of goes both ways. I'm happy with where we're at, but also disappointed that we weren't better to take advantage of everybody else's problems. Everybody has had problems and it's still anybody's race."

HOW HAS PRESSURE SHIFTED AMONG THE TOP 10 DRIVERS? "That's something that only every driver could answer individually. I'm not really feeling the pressure right now because I'm not so sure we're the favorite. If I was the favorite and everybody was winning races and we were just hanging in there and it was neck and neck, you'd feel the pressure. If the points are like this in three weeks, I'll probably feel the pressure more but right now I don't. I feel pressure to go out and race against the other 42 cars on Sunday and try to beat them and try to get back to winning races and running up front and leading laps. That's my biggest thing. Whenever we do get to practice, working as hard as we can in practice to get our car to handle the best we can and try to have a mistake-free day on Sunday, but yet be running good enough to go out there and be a contender. That's the main goal."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Carl Edwards