Bristol: Kenseth - Friday Ford interview

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Dish Network Ford Fusion, moved into 12th-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after his top-10 finish in Atlanta last week. Kenseth spoke about the weekend just before qualifying...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Dish Network Ford Fusion, moved into 12th-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after his top-10 finish in Atlanta last week. Kenseth spoke about the weekend just before qualifying for Sunday's Food City 500 got underway.

WHAT'S YOUR MINDSET FOR SUNDAY? "You always look forward to coming to Bristol. It's always exciting. It's never boring. It's not always good, but it's never boring, so I enjoy coming here. We've had some success with the old configuration. We didn't really run particularly well here in the fall, but yet Carl won the race and all my teammates ran good, so I think we learned some stuff from them and I'm certainly looking forward to getting here and getting racing this weekend."

CAN YOU GRADE THIS NEW CAR FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR? "Not really. I don't know. I don't even know where to go with that. I haven't really thought about that, I guess. From where we started to where we are right now with the program we're much better and I feel a lot better about it from a competition standpoint and how we're running compared to our competition, but the car hasn't really changed. We've just gotten a little bit better with it and a little bit smarter with it. It's the same for everybody. You've just got to figure out how to make yours drive better than the rest, I guess. I don't know if I really have a grade or a number I can give you for the car or what we're after with the car. It's different than what we had before, but yet it's still the same. We're still trying to get it to go around the corner faster than everybody."

IS IT GOOD TO HAVE A WEEK OFF AFTER BRISTOL? "It doesn't matter, really. We go to Martinsville next. I'd like to have an off week now better than the third week of the season, that's for sure. I don't think it matters. Yeah, things can happen here and tempers can flare, but as we've seen before, it can kind of happen anywhere."

DO YOU HAVE A GAMEPLAN AT THIS TRACK? YOUR RECORD IS SO GOOD. "I probably used to more so than we do today. The track is a lot more forgiving. It's a lot wider. The outside groove is probably just as good as the inside groove, and there's a middle so it's not quite the same. At least last fall it wasn't quite the same as it used to be, but certainly we used to kind of have that strategy. We used to talk about, number one, stay on the lead lap because that's hard to do here, and, number two, try to find a safe place to hang out for 300 or 350 laps until you had your last pit stop and try to position your car and not get in harm's way. So certainly when you go to a track where there's action or has a reputation for accidents or people getting into it, if you can stay out of that and run competitive lap times until you need to be there at the end, that's certainly what you try to do."

HOW DOES THE RAIN CHANGE YOUR APPROACH TO THE WEEKEND? "We got a little bit of practice today. If it rains out qualifying, I'll probably have a better chance of starting up farther than if it doesn't rain for qualifying. Tomorrow, I don't think the weather looks particularly good from what I've seen for a forecast, so we came in with the idea to practice as hard as we could in race trim the whole time and keep working on it and try to get through all the stuff that we could and trying to plan for rain today and rain tomorrow. So we didn't work on qualifying at all. The track was pretty green, but it's the same for everybody. I think everybody that's in the top 35 probably worked on race trim more than they would if there was no threatening weather."

YOUR THOUGHTS ON DALE JARRETT RETIRING? "I have a lot of memories. I have a lot of respect for Dale Jarrett, I think everybody out there does. He's one of the more respected drivers. He's one of the guys from that generation of guys that have been kind of retiring with Ricky Rudd and Mark Martin doing a partial schedule, Rusty and all those guys that don't do it anymore. Certainly he's seen it all in his career. I know he worked really hard to get where he's at. I remember watching him real early in his career when they struggled, and then I watched him run through the years when he was winning all the time and won a championship and contended for a lot of them. So he's been able to do it all and worked hard to get everything that he's got. Certainly, whenever somebody like that retires it's kind of sad because I'm probably one of the middle-aged guys in the sport right now, so as those guys keep retiring and you see the younger generation come in, it's kind of a change that you're watching and it's kind of a weird feeling. When I first came in the face of this sport and the people you were racing against is totally different than what it looks like right now, so it's kind of different."

HAVE BUMP STOPS BECOME THE NEW COIL-BINDING AS FAR AS FIGURING OUT THE SETUPS FOR THESE NEW CARS? "I think it's one of them. The splitter is so close to the ground that you have to use some sort of combination of a bump stop or coil binding or a big spring or however you're gonna do it to keep the splitter where you want it and not have it dragging the ground. It's hard to get the car to handle with only that little bit of travel, so certainly that's one of the keys. There's not as much stuff you can work on as you could with the old cars. You can't tune your aero-balance at all. You pretty much have what they give you for a body, so there's not a lot of areas to work on and that's one of probably the bigger areas."

HOW ARE YOU WEATHERING ALL THESE CHANGES YOU'VE ENDURED THE LAST YEAR OR SO? "It's the same for everybody. Everybody has had to adapt to the rules when they change every year and the different cars and all that stuff, so I don't think it's been any different. And switching crew chiefs, it's different because Robbie's not there, but Chip has been there. He was our engineer when we put this together in '99 and has been a huge part of how the car runs, especially the last few years, so that hasn't really been a real big deal for us. It's not like getting somebody new from the outside that you don't know, one you have to build a relationship with. We've been working together for nine seasons, I think, so that part wasn't a really big transition."

SO HAS IT BEEN A CHALLENGE? "It's always a challenge. If you watched last week, we looked like we were really challenged, so every week is a challenge, but you've just got to try to adapt to it."

HOW HAS THIS CAR CHANGED THE SPORT? "Probably the biggest thing -- a couple of things come to mind -- it's probably a little safer. They incorporated some things that we didn't have before with the foam and the energy-absorbing stuff and the seat being farther over to the right and having a little bit more room has probably been the biggest thing. Another big thing is getting a handle on the aerodynamics. Everybody's got basically the same bodies on their car, whereas before we spent a lot of money and time on R&D and you could tune a car aerodynamically for the balance that you liked and work on that, where you can't really do that anymore. Everybody is kind of in the same boat and you've got to go back to working on springs and shocks and swaybars and that kind of stuff."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Mark Martin