Daytona Test II: Ford Racing day one notes

Rain postpones Daytona Testing Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, will be entering his third season on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in 2002. He spoke the year ahead and what he hopes to accomplish with this week's...

Rain postpones Daytona Testing

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, will be entering his third season on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in 2002. He spoke the year ahead and what he hopes to accomplish with this week's Daytona test.

MATT KENSETH --17-- DEWALT Power Tools Taurus
HOW ARE YOU APPROACHING THIS SEASON? "We're approaching this season just like we approach every other season. We tried to make our cars the best we could over the winter. I think our pit stops are in good shape, so we'll just go to the race track and start over and try to do the best we can every week."

DO YOU FEEL YOU GAINED GROUND AT THE END OF LAST YEAR? "Yeah, it felt like the last seven or eight races we ran really well. We didn't get all of the best finishes we wanted, but I felt like we ran competitively every race. We still qualified poorly, but we ran better and had some better finishes and were more consistent. If we can carry that into this year, I think we'll be in a lot better shape than last time."

WHAT WERE YOU FEELINGS ABOUT LAST YEAR? "It was really frustrating, especially if we hadn't run better at the end of the year. We ran so poorly in the beginning and middle of the year that it was pretty frustrating because it seemed like we couldn't do anything right."

HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO TALK TO MARK AND KURT AND KIND OF PICK UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF? "We did that somewhat, but with this being a speedway race, I haven't really talked to Mark or Kurt. I know Robbie (Reiser) and Frankie (Stoddard) have talked with Jimmy (Fennig) and Ben (Leslie) and tried to figure out what they did that worked and things that didn't work. We probably eliminated at least a quarter of the things on our list we were gonna try because they said it slowed their cars down, so it eliminated some of the things we might have tried ahead of time."

ANY CHANGES PLANNED THIS YEAR? "I think our attitude is good. I think the only thing we've changed has been our cars a little bit. We had two or three cars that ran pretty well for us with different kinds of bodies on them from what we've run in the past, so we've hopefully learned some things to where we know how to build our cars. At the end of 2000, we didn't run really run very well and weren't sure what to build for cars and what to make the cars look like for good downforce. This year, I think we have a little bit better idea and we kind of had a direction going into the winter of how we wanted to build our cars and what we want them to look like."

HOW DID THE TIRE SITUATION HIT YOU LAST YEAR? "It didn't really bother me. I usually had a feel for the car, we were just slow. We just couldn't get them to run. Everybody is on the same tire and it's easy to blame it on something like that, but it kind of made it more competitive. In the past, it seems like we didn't qualify that good, but if our car handled good at the end of a tire run, we could still come to the front. With a softer tire, the cars that handled bad, the tire would make up for it for a certain amount of time, but when it fell off it fell off faster. Now, it seems like the tires don't drop off much. Everybody is pretty even. If their car isn't handling, maybe they'll drop off two-tenths, whereas in the past maybe they'd drop off six or seven-tenths and they were easier to catch up and pass when you had a good handling car."

WHAT ABOUT THIS RULES PACKAGE? "It'll be a lot different. Before, if you wanted to hang out in the back, you could catch the pack at will. You could be a half straightaway behind and still catch anybody if you wanted to, but this package you won't be able to do that. The racing is gonna be different. Everybody is gonna be forced to race hard and try to stay with the draft the entire race, where, with that other package, you didn't have to do that. From that aspect, our race and our plan will be different. As a driver, you can't be quite so relaxed because if you make the wrong move and lose the draft, you might not be able to catch back up. The last time we were here you could make any kind of crazy move you wanted to and never had to worry about losing the draft, so that part of the race will be different, but I think it'll be a good race. I think the guys who have good running engines and good bodies on their cars and make good pit stops will get rewarded. With the other rules, you didn't necessarily get rewarded for having a good pit stop and you didn't get penalized for having a bad one. It seemed like anybody could pass anybody." WILL THIS BE A RACE, THOUGH, WHERE YOU CAN'T GIVE ANYBODY A BREAK AND LET THEM IN LINE? "I think the races have gotten better throughout the years. I think with the other package people probably didn't drive quite as recklessly in a way, but everybody's car was the same speed and you could pass everybody. You were three and four-wide and all you had to do was slip up and make a little mistake to wipe out the field. Here, yeah, people may squeeze each other a little bit more, but it will be harder to make a mistake in this configuration. You won't close up on a car as fast in front of you, so both of you kind of know where you're gonna go before you get there."

WILL YOU SLEEP BETTER THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE WITH THIS RULES PACKAGE COMPARED TO THE OTHER ONE? "Maybe somewhat, but I always sleep good. It depends. If you have a fast car, you'll probably be thinking more like a normal race. With the other package, I didn't worry that much about having a fast car because what we had was what we had. If we got the right breaks, you knew you had a chance at winning. Even if you had a decent car and made the wrong move or got a bad break at the end, you could end up 25th. That's not necessarily the case now. If you've got a good car, you can probably stay with that lead group and have a chance at the end."

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 60 Grainger Taurus in the NASCAR Busch Series, will be attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 next month. The plan is for Biffle to run as many as seven Winston Cup races in 2002 before joining the series full time next season.

GREG BIFFLE --60-- Grainger Taurus
WHAT ABOUT TESTING HERE AT DAYTONA? "I've tested down here a few times in Winston Cup cars, testing for Mark and a couple of our other guys, so I'm excited to be back with my own Winston Cup car this time. I'm hoping we'll be able to get out there and then come back in February and be competitive."

IT WAS A TOUGH YEAR FOR ROUSH LAST YEAR. "Yeah, they did. We did okay in the Busch Series. We won five races and won rookie of the year, so we're pretty excited about that. Hopefully, we can come back and win a championship. We're gonna run two to seven Winston Cup races. We're looking for some sponsors right now, but we're definitely doing Daytona and California so we're excited about that."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FINALLY PREPARE FOR A WINSTON CUP RACE AFTER SO MUCH SUCCESS IN THE TRUCK AND BUSCH SERIES? "Daytona is a tough place because the driver is really less of an element here as far as getting into the race through qualifying. It really has to do with restrictor plate power and how good the body is, and what it really takes is years of experience to get into the 500. I'm a little nervous right now about qualifying and where we need to be. I certainly want to get on the track and find out how we are, but I'm excited about going to California and running some of these other Winston Cup races where we think we could be a factor."

KURT BUSCH AND CASEY ATWOOD CAME TO WINSTON CUP FAIRLY QUICKLY. ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR PROGRESSION AND TIMETABLE? "Yeah, absolutely. I'm extremely happy with where we're at. When I enter the Winston Cup Series next year, I think I'll have enough experience to be fairly competitive. What I mean by that is targeting top-20 finishes and not making mistakes the rookies make their first couple of years in Winston Cup. I think we can short-cut a lot of those things by the experience I've gained along the way."

AS FAR AS THE BUSCH SERIES GOES, IS THE CHAMPIONSHIP YOUR MAIN FOCUS? "Yeah, that's certainly what we're focussed on is winning the championship. We think we have the equipment and the guys and the tools to do it, so we're certainly gonna try and get the job done."

WHO DO YOU SEE AS YOUR MAIN COMPETITION? "It's funny because in the Truck Series in 2000, a lot of good guys left and I thought, 'Boy, this is really gonna be a lot easier,' and it turned out to be harder. It seemed a lot of guys raised their competition level and some other guys came in, so I'm sure it's gonna be as competitive or more than it was last year, even though Kevin (Harvick) and Jeff Green are leaving. Andy Houston is gonna be full-time and Jason Keller is certainly gonna be tough. He's got a new teammate coming into the 10 car and Scott Riggs should be competitive in that car. Plus, there are a couple of other guys I've heard that might be coming back, so we'll wait and see if they show up and race for a whole season. There are gonna be a number of guys that are gonna be tough, just like last year."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN LAST YEAR? "I learned so much. It's incredible the amount of things you learn. I learned things clear up to the last race. Normally what you learn is about the guys you're racing with, that's typically what you learn. That's such a factor because you learn what to expect out of him and what not to expect. I feel I really conquered that. We really got the aero package down pretty decently. I understand how the cars work, so we really just started touching on shocks. I mainly had the springs and swaybars kind of ironed out, but I learned things about the whole setup every race. I feel we've got a lot of those mistakes behind us and I think we're gonna be in good shape."

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 ALLTEL Taurus, will be part of the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year class and teammate to fellow Penske driver Rusty Wallace. Newman qualified for seven NASCAR Winston Cup races last season, winning the pole in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, and had two top-five finishes (Michigan, 5th and Kansas, 2nd).

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ENTERING YOUR FIRST FULL WINSTON CUP SEASON? "There's a lot of hard work behind getting to this point, but at the same time I want to do the best job I can. I'm gonna learn as I go as far as what to do and when to do it, just learning the ropes I guess. It's been an experience up to this point, but this is gonna be a whole different experience altogether."

DO YOU FEEL THE SCHEDULE YOU RAN LAST YEAR HELPED MORE THAN IF YOU HAD CONCENTRATED ON JUST ONE SERIES? "I think we definitely learned a lot last year with the ABC schedule. It would be pure speculation to say if we would have run a full Busch Series we would or wouldn't have gotten more out of it. I think what we did last year prepared me and the team the best possible way for what we're gonna do this year."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT HAVING ONE TEAMMATE NOW INSTEAD OF TWO? "It's always great to have a lot of input, but sometimes that means you have too much input. I'm not saying that two teammates would have done that, but I think it's gonna be really good for me to be one-on-one with Rusty Wallace and for him to be one-on-one with me at the same time. I know there are some things I can learn from him on short tracks and I think there are some things I can help him with on intermediate tracks as far as what we can do to be better and more consistent drivers. A lot of these things are still to be seen, but those are some of things we might be able to do in the future."

RUSTY AND JEREMY HAD DIFFERENT CHASSIS. WILL YOU HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH HIM FROM THAT STANDPOINT? "I think the way we go about our process of being a driver is very similar. Rusty is a very seat-of-the-pants driver. He'll get out and work on the car and know what is going on and how to make it better. I think I can do those same things, whether I do it myself or whether I do it through my crew. Our backgrounds are very similar. We grew up racing with our family as the team and I'm looking forward to working with him this year." THOUGHT ON BEING HERE AT DAYTONA FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A CUP CAR? "I've been coming down here for every bit of 10 years now with my dad and some friends. Just to be here last year in an ARCA car was neat and being across the fence from the Winston Cup boys, but now to be here as a Winston Cup driver is really special. There's been a lot of hard work from my family and friends and teammates. It's been truly a team effort in order for me to be here this year, but I've got a lot to learn."

WHAT ABOUT THE RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE. DO YOU GET CAUGHT UP IN THAT? "If we focus on going out and being the best team we can be, logging all the laps and getting the best position we can, that's how you become a championship team. Obviously, we all go to win, but you have to prepare yourself to win before you can win. I think that's one of the things I learned last year in the Busch Series and in the Winston Cup races. When you look at Kansas, it was a 400-mile race and just being there at the end and being on the lead lap with a chance to finish in the top 10 was important. I think a lot of preparation from the past is gonna help for this year, but, at the same time, when it comes down to the rookie race, it's gonna take care of itself."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Jason Keller , Greg Biffle , Jeff Green , Andy Houston , Ryan Newman , Scott Riggs