This Week in Ford Racing March 9, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus, is coming off back-to-back NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories heading into this weekend's Golden...
This Week in Ford Racing
March 9, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus, is coming off back-to-back NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories heading into this weekend's Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kenseth, who holds an 88-point lead in the standings over second-place Tony Stewart, was one of this week's guests on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 - DEWALT Tools Ford Taurus
A CUP DRIVER HASN'T WON THREE STRAIGHT SINCE 1998. HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANCES? "You never know. Things really have to go right to be able to win any of these races, especially a 500-mile race at Atlanta. It's a real hard place on parts and pieces and especially engines. You just have to have everything go right, but Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks to go to. I'm really looking forward to going there. It's a track I just love to race at. There are a lot of grooves during the race. If you're faster than the guy in front of you, there's definitely room on the track to pass them, so it's a great track to do passing at and it's real fast. It rewards a guy's setup real good. It's still an aerodynamic track and a horsepower track, but it's really more than anything a handling track, so hopefully we can get our stuff to run like we did the last few weeks and maybe we'll have a shot."
HOW BIG WAS THAT WIN ON SUNDAY? "It was pretty big for us. To win two in a row was something we'd never done before. To win two races in a year, I think, is very difficult. To win two in a row is more difficult, so it's pretty cool we've won the first two non-restrictor plate races of the year. It makes me feel real confident about our equipment and all the guys have done over the winter, so it was pretty cool. I was pretty fired up and I'm still pretty fired up. I've had a lot of fun the last two weeks racing, even Daytona, but especially the last two weeks I've had a blast. We've had such good cars and great engines. They've been so much fun to drive that I can't wait to get to the track every week."
DID ALL THE TALK ABOUT THE POINT SYSTEM CHANGE BEING REFERRED TO AS THE MATT KENSETH RULE IRRITATE YOU? "I don't think we can try any harder than we were trying last year, but we do have better stuff this year than what we had last year and that's helped. But some of that stuff irritated me a little bit. Honestly, I'm the type of person that probably lets things bother me too much, although I'm starting to get over that. It probably irritated us all a little bit and I think it's all actually been channeled into positive energy. It has our guys fired up. It had Robbie fired up, and it has me fired up to go out and show the few naysayers that there were to prove them wrong and show them we can go and win races and that we can try to win a championship under whatever system they give us. Everybody is really fired up to try to do that. Everybody is more enthused about trying to win a championship this year than what they were last year and that's a good feeling. That doesn't mean we can do it and that doesn't mean that things won't go wrong. It doesn't say we'll necessarily keep doing this, but we're certainly gonna try and everybody is certainly working really hard at it and is really fired up about our year."
HAS THE NEW TIRE HAD ANY EFFECT WITH THE ROUSH TEAMS? "I love the new tire and the shorter spoiler already at Vegas. I think you'll see a lot better race. I read a couple of articles where they said they didn't think the racing was much better than what it was in the past and it got single-file, but you're not gonna see a Daytona or Talladega race anywhere except for Daytona and Talladega. We run restrictor plates and run wide open and you can't get away from each other, but I thought the best thing was that the faster cars were able to pass the other cars and get to the front. Last year, you could gamble and not get tires and stay out front for fuel mileage. Even if the car behind you was faster, they couldn't get around you because you have an aero push. This year, we didn't have that nearly as bad. You're always gonna have a little bit of an aero push when somebody is in front of you, but I didn't think it was nearly as bad. When my car was already pushing a little bit when I caught Harvick, I could still turn under him and pass him because we had the faster car and our car still handled good on older tires. With the spoilers being shorter, you could get turned a little bit easier and get underneath him, so I thought the racing was really great. I thought it was a positive direction. You had to work on your car setup a lot more than, I think, what you had to with those other tires. You had to do some tire management along the way even at a race track like Vegas. I thought, as a driver, that was a lot of fun and real encouraging."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN LAST YEAR ABOUT BEING THE POINTS LEADER? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY AS FAR AS PREPARATION? "I don't think we really would have done differently. Last year, with the situation we were in, the only thing we probably did wrong all year was not having that car ready to go to Kansas as a backup. That was probably the only mistake we made as far as preparation goes. Last year, and I don't mean to keep harping on it because I know Jack talks about it a lot, but we just didn't have that great a stuff at the end of the year. If you looked at the Fords as a whole, none of the Ford teams ran great at the end of last year. I thought for us to run fourth or fifth or sixth or third - wherever - at some of those races towards the end of the year, that was like winning because we didn't have the cars to go out and win. To be able to go run that good was really, really great. Now that we've got a little bit better body and better engines and better stuff, we're running up front and leading laps again and we've been able to win a couple of times. I don't think I'd go back and do anything different than what we did last year. We were trying as hard as we could try with what we had."
WHAT STRATEGY HAVE YOU AND ROBBIE DISCUSSED TO MAINTAIN YOUR POSITION? "We're gonna keep trying to get better and get our stuff better and keep trying to go forward. I think after a championship year, it's hard to explain unless you go through it, but this winter with how busy I've been and how much we've been gone - and even extra demands on Robbie's time because he doesn't necessarily like doing a lot of that stuff. He tries to stay pretty close to the shop and close to the cars, which is a great thing, but there's a lot more demands on your time. There are a lot more people surrounding you and asking you questions and paying attention to what we do and that type of thing. There's just a lot more outside distractions than what there is if we wouldn't have won a championship, so I think sometimes that might distract from trying to do it the second year. Another thing is that a lot of years I think when you run good, I know we've done it before when we've run good in the past in the Busch cars, it's easy to not work on your stuff too much. To say, 'We ran good last year and we know that these cars have to be right. We're gonna leave them just like that and put them together and go run next year. They ran good last year, so they've got to run good this year.' We didn't really do any of that. Robbie cut everything apart and tried to make it better because we knew there was room for improvements. That made our chassis better, made our bodies better and made our engines a lot better. Everybody worked hard in their departments to be better than what we were last year and didn't just say, 'We did good last year, so we're gonna run that stuff again.' We worked hard on trying to make it better for this year and I think you can really see it in the first three races."
IS THERE ONE SPECIFIC AREA WHERE SOMETHING HAS STOOD OUT? "It's hard to put it into percentages, but the engine deal has been a really big thing - combining both things. From the driver's seat, that's been a big difference. I'd say that's 50 percent of it, the body is probably 40 percent of it and the chassis stuff we maybe picked up 10 percent of it if I had to guess that way. That's my opinion. It might not be that much, but that's what it seems like."
ARE GUYS AMAZED AT WHAT KASEY KAHNE HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO AT THIS LEVEL? "I can only speak for myself, but I really haven't been. I have been, but I haven't been. I think that Kasey's got a lot of talent. I saw him race in Rockingham last February in a Busch car. He was with kind of a mediocre team. They didn't have any Winston Cup ties at the time. They didn't have teammates as a single-car team. They were just doing it by themselves and he went out there and ran really good. He almost could have won at Rockingham, but had a battery go dead or an alternator go bad. Something weird happened, but I really saw him run good. I raced with him in the Busch Series last year and you could see that he was a really smart driver. I thought if he was in the right stuff that he could do good. Obviously, right now, he's in the right stuff. Since September of last year, Evernham's stuff - especially that 9 car - has been just flying. They've run good. They should have won three or four races at the end of the year and they were able to win one or two, but they were in position to win a few more when circumstances kept them from winning races. I knew they were gonna be tough going to Rockingham because they just won the fall race and there are only a few months between that and the next year's spring race. It's pretty much a mechanical track and I knew they still had what they needed there, so that really didn't surprise me. Running at Vegas, it surprised me a little bit that they got that far off in the middle of the race and were able to fix it and come back and run second. That was pretty amazing, but I knew he was good all along and if you put him in good stuff, he's gonna run good."
AFTER THREE RACES DO YOU FEEL THE YATES/ROUSH ENGINE COLLABORATION WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO? "Oh yeah. For us it was and it's really helped us a lot. Jack had a lot of great parts about the engine program that he was able to bring to Yates and Yates has always been known for having tons of power ever since I first started watching NASCAR racing on TV. Yates is always known for that, so they've had a lot of things that they've added and helped us with a lot. The engines are a lot better than what we've had before. I think we've helped them a lot already and it's just the beginning of it, so that's really exciting."
ANY FORD DRIVER SHOULD BE EXCITED ABOUT THE NEW CYLINDER HEAD COMING OUT SOON, RIGHT? "Yeah, I don't know how big of a difference that will be. I'm sure it's gonna be a little bit better. The cylinder heads we're using now, I don't know that much about the technical aspects of the motor, but the cylinder heads we're using now have been around for a while and these new ones kind of get you back on the geometry of like when Chevy came out with their SB2 whenever that came out three or four years ago. We still had the stuff that was competing with their old cylinder head, so it's gonna be an improvement or we won't run it. We don't have to run it, but I don't know how much of an improvement it's gonna be or exactly when it's gonna be on the cars."
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO TIRE MANAGEMENT ON TRACKS LIKE RICHMOND? "You always try to get your car balanced as good as you can. The better handling car you have, the easier it's gonna be on tires. Whenever your car is not handling the way you want, it wears the tires out much, much faster. The key to saving tires and having them good at the end of a long run - you don't want to abuse them too much at the beginning of the run, but the key to it all is having a good-handling car. The better your car handles, the less it's gonna abuse any of the four tires."
WILL YOU BE ABLE TO USE YOUR SAME NOTES? "I don't know if the notes are gonna be a lot different. The cars are a little bit different aerodynamically balanced with the spoiler and everything, too. I don't know if it's gonna be a lot different. I think it'll be a little bit different, but definitely the driving part of it is gonna be different. The tires are definitely dropping off more. They're definitely wearing out more than anything what we had before, at least what we saw at Vegas and what I heard about the test at Atlanta. It's gonna be quite a bit different. Before you could run the tires 50 laps or however long you could run and when you put four new tires on, you could hardly tell the difference. Sometimes at places like Kansas and Chicago, you actually feel worse than old tires. Now when you put new tires on you can definitely feel it. They've got a ton of stick for the first few laps. It's almost like it used to be five years ago."
WHAT IRRITATED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE WAY YOU GUYS WON IT LAST YEAR? "He asked me a question. I guess you've got to go back to his question and my answer I guess was, 'Yeah, I was a little irritated.' He asked me if I was irritated about the comments about winning one race and winning the championship and some of the comments that were maybe heard from other people about maybe not being a worthy champion because we could only win one race. That type of thing. That was basically the question I was answering.
SO THERE WASN'T ONE THING SOMEBODY SAID THAT GOT UNDER YOUR SKIN? "No, not really."
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST DISTRACTION THIS OFF SEASON? "I didn't really have any distractions this off season. The off-season, you're not at the track. There really wasn't a distraction this off-season. The off-season I had was trying to look for time off and I didn't have a lot of time off. I was doing a lot of things, but none of that was really a distraction because almost all of it was fun. We were celebrating a championship season and the things that we did last year. Whenever we were doing that and meeting the fans and doing different things to celebrate that championship it was fun."
I SAW FORD GAVE YOU A GT DURING THE AWARD CEREMONY. DID YOU DRIVE THAT DURING THE OFF SEASON? "I actually don't have it yet. The one they used to do that little deal and show me they were giving me a GT was Bill Ford's, so they weren't gonna give me Bill's car (laughing). They're getting into production late this summer sometime and I think they're gonna be on showroom floors this fall. I don't know when I'll get mine, but I'm gonna get one sooner or later. That was just to show me that I was getting a GT, but not necessarily that one."
ARE YOU SCOUTING OUT ROADS TO TRY IT OUT ON? "I won't have a problem finding places to drive it."
HOW DO TEAMS HANDLE THINGS LIKE BONUS MONEY? "Every team probably handles that a little bit differently. Every team divides bonuses up and does everything a little bit different."