Matt Kenseth clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship this afternoon and the first for car owner Jack Roush, who has been competing full-time in the series since 1988. Thus, Kenseth becomes only the sixth different Ford driver to claim...
Matt Kenseth clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship this afternoon and the first for car owner Jack Roush, who has been competing full-time in the series since 1988. Thus, Kenseth becomes only the sixth different Ford driver to claim the title and the first since Dale Jarrett in 1999.
The driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus has posted one win, 11 top-five and a series-best 25 top-10 finishes in 2003. Kenseth's victory at Las Vegas in March served as the impetus for what became a consistent run to the championship and ignited a streak that saw him post 12 top-10 finishes in the next 13 races. He grabbed the points lead after a fourth-place finish at Atlanta in the fifth race of the season and has been alone at the top ever since.
The closest anyone has gotten since then came after the Richmond race in May when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. closed to within 20 points, but it eventually peaked at 436 points following the September race at Dover.
Part 2 of 2
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus Co-owner of Kenseth's car
"Let me start out by saying I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life and in business that I'm really proud to say that I was right about Matt Kenseth. I would appreciate it if you would write that because it's the truth. I have made a lot of mistakes and bad calls, but that wasn't one of them. Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser are the champions in 2003 because they've made more of the opportunity that was given to them than any of the rest of us have. That makes that first thing that I said right. I'm real proud of the, but, more than that, Jack Roush for more than 15 years, but for the 15 years that I've worked with him has put his life into this. It means a lot to me to see. He's had to endure so much heartbreak and disappointment through the years that I'm just really happy for him. He deserves it and he's earned it and, finally, you'll be able to start your headlines when you talk about Jack Roush - forever - Winston Cup champion owner, Jack Roush."
DID YOU EVER WISH YOU WEREN'T THE POINTS LEADER URING THE SEASON SO YOU DWOULDN'T HAVE TO ANSWER SO MANY QUESTIONS?
MATT KENSETH: "I don't know. There's never a day you wish you weren't leading the points. I think if you're not leading it, you wish you were. There are certain days for sure where it's more of a burden than other days, and there are days where it felt better than others. When you left and gained points, it felt good. But when you're at the track and lost some and you're only 20 points ahead - there was a stretch where Dale, Jr. gained 130 points on me in four races or something like that. Then it didn't feel too good, so when you're out front you definitely want to stay there. The best way I can explain the last three months at least is there's a feeling you get in your stomach - at least I do - when you're leading a race and it's getting down towards the end and you're looking in your mirror and you see a car behind you. You kind of get this empty feeling in the pit of your stomach and I've had that for about three months, so that's kind of what it feels like. I feel like I've been leading the race with 20 laps to go for about three months."
NOW THAT YOU HAVE ONE, DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE EASIER TO DO THIS IN THE FUTURE?
"I've got my ears pointed to any suggestion that Mark would have on other things he thinks we could do to tune our program up. If he makes a list, that would be a big help. I'm not gonna air this again, but we are gonna get a fresh nose and a fresh tail. Every year since 1997, we've had more templates and that has made us have a diminished car from what we had the year previous, so we don't have much of a car in comparison to what we had in '97. The Taurus is gonna be improved markedly by the changes. Whether it's enough will be dependent on what we do with it and what everybody else does over the winter. We're working hard on our engines and hope to have some news about a program that we think will be better than what we have going forward. That's gonna be helpful. NASCAR has given us a cylinder head that is gonna allow us to have the same valve-train geometry - the valve size and the port alignment - as the Chevrolet. That's gonna be a big help. Whether that's enough will be dependent on what we do with it, but I certainly look forward to the challenges of next year and the opportunities we've got for next year. I'm glad to be there with Mark and with Matt and with Kurt and with Greg and with Jeff as we go forward. When we finish with Homestead we'll be leading in the points all winter, until we go to that first race and we have to give up some of them on some of our cars."
THOUGHTS ON BEING LISTED AS THE CHAMPION CAR OWNER?
"I'm embarrassed to some degree because the only reason I'm a partner in the 17 car is because it was a gift to me from Jack Roush. I don't really have a feeling because I don't feel like I deserved to be a part of this thing. Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser have earned this and even though I cared an awful lot and even though I tried to help as much as I could, my contribution to this doesn't add up to anything in my opinion. So I don't know how I feel. I feel a little uncomfortable with it. I'm really happy for Jack Roush. I'm really happy for Matt and Robbie and I'm real proud of them, and I'm real proud to say I was right about Matt Kenseth. I think this is a good thing for all of us - everyone involved with Roush Racing - and I think that's what we should be doing. I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished in my life or in my career. I'm very proud of the things that I have. There's no bittersweet here. What I've done and what I've accomplished, I'm proud of. What Matt had done and what he's accomplished, I'm very proud of as well, but I'm not more proud of Matt today than I was a year ago because the actions make the man, the trophy doesn't. This trophy doesn't change Matt Kenseth, so that's another cool thing too."
DID YOU RE-DOUBLE YOUR EFFORTS TO MAKE SURE THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED BEFORE DIDN'T HAPPEN AGAIN?
JACK ROUSH: "I'm 61 years old now. When I started in Winston Cup I was 44. I have probably less energy and certainly we have a much bigger operation. I had less to do with the day-to-day things, the preparation, the inspection and the outcome of what happened this year than I have in the past. That may be the reason that we had a better result. All the things that go into the car - the springs, the dimensions that are critical, the weight - the crew chief and the guys take care of all of that. All the engine dimensions, the compression ratio, the various other inspection dimensions - I haven't checked behind the guys. In strategy meetings and management meetings I've discussed with them the importance of it, but no more this year than we have in the past. The organization is maturing and is getting better at what it does and it's taking care of business."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WATCH THE END OF THE RACE FROM THE PIT BOX?
MARK MARTIN: "It feels real different. It doesn't feel the same from the seat - the excitement and everything. It's really a different feeling and a different look. It's much more exciting. When you're standing watching, you don't realize it because you're so wrapped up in the things that are going on on the race track and driving the car. It's a really different situation. I hated to be out of the race. I'm glad that once my bad luck started rolling this year, I'm just glad it kept coming here and didn't slide over to the 17 because we've had to endure enormous amount of disappointment and heartbreak this year - along with from time to time not having the performance that we were looking for. A lot of days that we were getting decent performance, I've been standing watching. But usually when I'm out of the race, I'm out of here. Today, I was around for 150 laps and I understand why the fans get so wrapped up in this. It's very exciting. It's really exciting to see this happen for Matt and Robbie and the whole DEWALT team and Jack Roush."
IS IT KIND OF SAD TO ONLY COME HERE ONCE A YEAR NOW?
MATT KENSETH: "Yeah, for me it will. All of these race tracks are kind of opinions you have as drivers. As drivers there are certain tracks we really like and there are certain tracks we probably dislike to a certain degree. There are always places you like to go to or like to race at more than other places, so I always really like racing here. I think this is real racing. The tires drop way off. You've got to have a car that runs fast on new tires and you've got to be able to manage your tires with the gas pedal and not burn your tires up.
"To me, it's a lot more fun and more challenging to race here than maybe some of the real new tracks, where you're just running the bottom all day and there's a lot of aero. You just run real fast and have a lot of grip. I think that this is more of a challenge. It's a fun track and it's the history and heritage of Winston Cup racing. This is where it came from and whenever something like this goes away, it makes me a little bit sad. Although change is good for everything, I'm the type of person that doesn't like to see a lot of change and I hate to see some of the places that have been around for so long and held such great events and had such great people win races at these places go away and lose dates."
IS THIS GOING TO CHANGE YOU?
"I'm just gonna pay Katie's credit card bill (laughing). It's not gonna change me one iota. I don't think there's any award or trophy or anything I could win - yeah, it would make me feel different and, yeah, I may have more of a certain sense of accomplishment for something - but it's not gonna change at all the way I live day to day or what I do or don't do."
DID ALAN KULWICKI SERVE AS A ROLE MODEL FOR YOU?
"It's kind of a weird thing. I never knew Alan at all. I don't think I've ever even met him. I never raced against him because he was gone from Wisconsin when I started and he was gone from here when I started down here. I certainly have respect for what I've heard about him - for running a team by himself and doing it independently and being able to win a championship. I have a lot of respect for what he's done there and I think it's really cool that he's from Wisconsin. I don't know if I could really say he's a role model because I never got to know him."
HAVE YOU REFLECTED ON THE FACT YOU ALMOST WEREN'T ERE FOR THIS?
JACK ROUSH: "I sure have. You know, I laid in bed last night and thought about if things did break the way it looked like they would and if Mark doesn't accept my offer to go to do the acceptance speech at the banquet, I will certainly pay tribute to the set of circumstances that allowed me to survive my accident and to be here. I just about missed my first championship, that's for sure."
DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU'VE WON ONLY ONE RACE?
MATT KENSETH: "To some people it does. To me, it doesn't."
YOU WILL BE THE LAST DRIVER TO HAVE THE WINSTON CUP TROPHY. YOUR THOUGHTS?
"My thoughts on it are something that I guess I've missed here today. I certainly haven't overlooked, but haven't talked about yet, and that's R.J. Reynolds and everything they've done for this sport. Obviously, I wasn't around here to see it 33 years ago when they got here, but from everything I hear and everything I've seen in the four years that I've been here, they've done tremendous amounts to expose the sport, expose the drivers, expose the sponsors and they've made it so we can race in front of 150,000 people and in front of all the people watching at home. I just have a lot of gratitude for everything that Winston has done and R.J. Reynolds and their Winston brand has done for this sport. It's sad to see them go, too. I know we've got to move on and go to the next step, but they've done a lot and, to me, it's always gonna seem like the Winston Cup Series."
WHAT ABOUT THE NAMES YOU FOLLOW ON THE TROPHY?
"It's a little overwhelming, too. When you sit and think about it, there are only 43 of us that get to do this every week. It's the top division of stock car racing you can race at anywhere in the world and when you can win races there and you can have everything go right over a 36-race schedule and win a championship, that's a really special thing. Obviously, I think every name I get to join is a really great race car driver and people I've looked up to - people who have been sports idols of mine. It's a little overwhelming to think about, yet it's really an honor to even be a part of this sport much less to be able to be the champion."
PAST FORD CHAMPIONS
* Ned Jarrett, who is Ford's all-time race winner with 43, won his second series championship in 1965 and the first driver's title for Ford.
* Pearson is the manufacturer's only multiple champion as he won 27 races and captured 26 poles en route to back-to-back titles in 1968 and '69.
* Bill Elliott registered the first driver's championship for Ford in the modern era, which started in 1972, by 24 points over Rusty Wallace in 1988.
* The late Alan Kulwicki edged Elliott by the narrowest margin in NASCAR Winston Cup history when he led one more lap than Elliott and clinched the five-point bonus to win the title by 10 points in 1992.
* Like Kenseth, Jarrett clinched his championship one race before the season-ending event in 1999 and eventually won by 201 points. As a result, the Jarretts joined the Pettys as the only father-son duo to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
* Kenseth joins Tony Pedregon (NHRA Funny Car) and Paul Tracy (CART Champ car) as Ford's other major series champions in 2003. Scott Riggs and Jason Keller are still alive in their quest for the Busch Series championship next weekend at Homestead.
* Since debuting in 1998, Taurus has won 74 NASCAR Winston Cup races, two driver's championships (1999 and 2003) and three manufacturer's championships (1999, 2000 and 2002).
* While this is Jack Roush's first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, he has one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2000 with Greg Biffle) and one NASCAR Busch Series title (2002 with Biffle) to his credit.
* This marks the fifth time in the last six years that the NASCAR Winston Cup championship has been clinched prior to the final race of the season. Jeff Gordon (1998 and 2001), Jarrett (1999) and Bobby Labonte (2000) also claimed the trophy with one race to spare.
<pre> FORD'S NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONS Year Driver Car Owner Wins Poles 1965 Ned Jarrett Bondy Long 13 9 1968 David Pearson Holman-Moody 16 12 1969 David Pearson Holman-Moody 11 14 1988 Bill Elliott Harry Melling 6 6 1992 Alan Kulwicki Alan Kulwicki 2 6 1999 Dale Jarrett Robert Yates 4 0 2003 Matt Kenseth Roush Racing 1 0