Homestead: Ford - Roush interview

This Week in Ford Racing November 11, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus, clinched the first NASCAR Winston Cup championship of his career, and the first for car owner Jack Roush, last weekend with a...

This Week in Ford Racing
November 11, 2003

NASCAR Winston Cup

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus, clinched the first NASCAR Winston Cup championship of his career, and the first for car owner Jack Roush, last weekend with a fourth-place finish in the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at the North Carolina Speedway. Kenseth and Roush spoke about their championship season along with crew chief Robbie Reiser, during the weekly NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.

JACK ROUSH , Car Owner - No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus

YOU'VE NOW HAD A FEW DAYS AS THE NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION, HOW HAS IT BEEN? "It's been great. I guess that when the checkered flag fell in Rockingham the 2004 season started for me. My focus is not on making sure that we didn't break a part this year in that car or in any of our cars, but I raised my sights to getting the aero considerations we need for 2004 for our Taurus, for getting the new cylinder head and for the changes we can make in our program to make it even more competitive in 2004 than it was in 2003."

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK OVER ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE IN RACING AND IN BUSINESS, WHERE DOES THE WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP COMPARE? "You put me on the spot. It's definitely in the top five, and all the things above it have to do with various accomplishments that really have secured my survival in terms of having a viable business and being able to maintain my independence as being an adult working in our society to care for a family and to be able to do things that were more interesting than a mundane job that wouldn't allow you to be creative. From a motorsports point of view, my first drag racing championship in '73 was huge, my first 24-hour win in a road racing car at Daytona was huge, my first win with Mark Martin at Rockingham in the fall of '89 was huge, my last win with Mark last year in Charlotte at the 600 was huge and this championship is huge. And to put them in a mix and say which one is highest, I don't know if I can do that. In order to be able to survive in this business and to carry momentum to let us do what we do, we had to have each of those things happen in time. I think I'll look back and this will be a watershed for this event, this championship will be a watershed for keeping my teams together and for keeping my sponsors together and for the decade that will follow in letting my business as a Winston Cup competitive effort survive."

WHEN YOU LOOKED AT THE TEAM THAT HAD DEVELOPED AROUND MATT, COULD YOU HONESTLY SAY THIS TEAM IS THE ONE THAT'S GOING TO GIVE ME MY FIRST WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP? "I couldn't except that when I looked at the '99 team going into 2003 we didn't have the momentum that we had coming with the 17 team coming in. And we made some changes that were pretty severe in terms of rebuilding the thing around a new crew chief. We looked at Mark's program, he had a good 2002 and I thought that 2003 would be a great year and I certainly had Mark at the top in terms of what I anticipated would be productive for 2003. I look at Kurt's program and it was good, but Kurt still didn't have much experience in the Winston Cup car so I wasn't surprised that we'd have some sophomore blues as we've had in 2003. Greg Biffle's program being a rookie program, I'd hoped to be in the top 15 in points and win the rookie championship, but I wasn't thinking Winston Cup championship contention in the first year. When I looked at Matt's program with Robbie keeping the entire group together except for the tire changers that we turned over, all the people that worked on the car were in place and all the things we knew about the car were definitely going to apply to the car in 2003. Those certainly made me confident that they would be strong. When we looked at Matt in particular, Matt is extraordinarily mature, he is stable, he is borderline unshakeable and when he has an opportunity to win a race based on what's underneath him and the events that occur during a race, he always capitalizes on them and never misses an opportunity. When Robbie has a chance to make a call for tires or no tires, it's almost never that you look back and say that was not the low percentage choice, he'll always go with the best probability with the calls he makes from pit road and that's good. And when things go bad on the race track and people are inclined to throw their hands up and say we've lost it, Robbie and Matt are still grinding, and particularly Matt, is still grinding for the absolute best salvation they can have for a bad situation. Anyway, Mark and Matt were up there in terms of what I expected the programs to do and nobody was higher than Matt, but Mark was probably the equal of what I'd hoped the programs would do."

I DON'T THINK THE IRONY OF ROCKINHAM AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU AND MATT AND NOW TO THE BOTH OF YOU TOGETHER IS LOST IN THE FACT THAT MATT WON HIS FIRST RACE THERE, YOU WON YOUR FIRST RACE THERE AND YOU WON YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP THERE. "Yeah, Rockingham has been really good to us. When I was in my drag racing period I drag raced at Rockingham and won some of my most important drag races just across the street. When I got my airplane and started flying to races one of the first places I landed at a race track was at the Rockingham drag strip. Rockingham is a big-time part of our success and all the things that go with that really establish a point of view in a person when they think about where they've been and what they've done, and Rockingham has certainly been a part of that."

OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU'VE WORKED IN NASCAR AND HAVE LOBBIED OFFICIALS FOR CHANGES, HAVE YOU EVER SENSED THAT A MORE CAREFUL EAR HAD BEEN LENT TO OWNERS THAT HAVE WON CHAMPIONSHIPS AND NOW THAT YOU HAVE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP, DO YOU ENVISION THE WAY YOU WORK WITH NASCAR OFFICIALS? "I think I've done plenty of lobbying at different times about my point of view, to the point of distraction. As I get older every year I hopefully get a little more patient and a little more perceptive of what's really going on around me and less focused on just what's in front of me. NASCAR certainly requires a very mature approach to making the argument for things that you believe to be true. If you run at them with things that are not correctly thought out or not well-founded they put holes in it very quickly and you're embarrassed walking away. It's taken me 16 years to get to this point, I've had times when I've been over-wrought or misguided or misinformed and those have embarrassed me some. There've been other times when I thought I was right and my point of view just wasn't accepted, and I've accepted that as a fact of life working with NASCAR. But the idea that the people who have won championships are entitled to or are given a better or different consideration for their points I don't think is valid. I don't expect more for the next time that I would have a concern than I would've expected in the past. I would expect to make an appeal based on my position and what I think the facts are and to go back and defend them as mightily as I could so that I would not be misunderstood and that I would be given the consideration the merits of my position would warrant. Certainly I think that I won't have less opportunity to do that than I have in the past, but I don't expect more."

GIVEN ALL THAT YOU'VE ACCOMPLISHED IN RACING AND BUSINESS, DO YOU THINK YOUR LIFE WOULD'VE BEEN COMPLETE WITHOUT A NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP OR IS THIS SOMETHING YOU NEEDED PERSONALLY OR PROFESSIONALLY TO TIE A LITTLE RIBBON ON EVERYTHING? "We're certainly going to celebrate this championship for me, for the team, for all Roush Industries, and for Robbie and Matt and all Roush Racing, there's no question about that. We're very glad to have been in a position where we could compete at this level and have this kind of success. However, I've been a part of over 30 championships in other forms of racing and one in NASCAR Busch and Truck, and had I not lived past my accident in '02 when I wrecked my airplane and would've been forced to come back and take stock. I thought I made a good decision when I stepped away from my industry jobs to go and pursue motorsports because I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people and I've had a chance to have a lot of success. We've put a lot of babies in their first clothes and their first shoes and we've put a lot of teenagers in college through the incomes that have been derived from the families that have shared this business we've been involved with and I'm very satisfied and happy with that. The fact that we now have been able to participate in a Winston Cup championship is a bonus and it's certainly appreciated, but I wouldn't have felt that I'd have been a failure if I hadn't won one."

YOU'VE DEVELOPED A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH MARK MARTIN OVER THE YEARS. IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MATT COULD EVOLVE INTO SOMETHING SIMILAR? "Matt's relationship is certainly growing closer by the day and not just as a result of this success, but every day we work together we understand each other and we have common equity in this racing business that we share. Mark has got great equity based on the fact that he was there first and he was true to his word and did what he said he'd do and he's done that for 16 years and has a great influence on me and our programs as we've developed them to the capability and capacity that they have today. That place won't be taken by Matt or anybody else because Mark was there first, but there's an awful lot of things still left to do. There's the opportunity for a repeat championship for Matt and for all of our other guys to contend for championships. We had Kurt contending last year, finishing third in points, but circumstances with crashes and broken components and the other things that would frustrate a good year.

WE CHATTED WITH ROBBIE REISER EARLIER AND WITH THE ISSUE OF BURNOUT BEING VERY REAL, WILL YOU FIGHT TO FIND THE TIME FOR EVERYONE IN YOUR PROGRAM TO FIND TIME TO RECOVER BEFORE HEADING INTO NEXT SEASON? "Well, I guess the short answer to that is probably no. The person who uses the available time to his best advantage will prepare himself best for the competition that will follow. It is our intention to offer to every person on all of our Winston Cup teams a chance to go to New York to celebrate with the 17 team. I'm sure that many will not do that because they'll feel the pressure of their opportunities to prepare for next year to be too compelling, but it's our intention to run our airplanes up and down the coast as many times as we have to to let everybody have a chance to participate in the celebration tot he extent that they want. Friday night of the first weekend in December is going to be the night and Monday is going to be for sure work as usual. In preparation for that, some part of that week before the Friday will be in preparation for 2004, so we're not going to take a month off, we're not going to take off until Christmas, we're not going to take off a waking hour that isn't portioned for vacation or holiday or whatever and waste it in a celebration that isn't commensurate with the end of the year and the tribute that's being made to Matt for this accomplishment."

YOU RUN A BIG OPERATION WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE. WHAT CATCHES YOUR EYE WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING TO HIRE SOMEBODY? "I look them in the eye when I'm in a position to do the hiring and of course most of the hiring is not done by me today and is done by Robbie Reiser and the other crew chiefs and by Harry McMullen the general manager and by Jeff Smith our president. Happily, there's not many people that have to past muster with me, but when I hire people I look for the work ethic, I look for the motivation, I look for the ability and the preparation and I look for that glimmer in a person's eye that says they want this really bad and then all things are possible after that."

I ASSUME YOU SAW THAT IN YOUR CURRENT CHAMPION? "Oh yeah. Well, I saw that when I met him, but I really took on faith Mark Martin's suggestion where Matt was coming from and what he was about. The fact that Mark had vouched for Matt got him the full support of Jeff Smith and our marketing and sponsorship guys to start with and got him in the loop for getting set to complete his Busch program and get organized to get into the Winston Cup car. Kurt Busch was somebody that once he was brought to me that I identified as somebody who could go do this and I spoke for Kurt. Actually Benny Parson brought Greg Biffle to me, but once we'd worked for a while with Greg I spoke for Greg as it relates to a sponsor. When a sponsor came to me and said that they wanted to do a program and that they wanted me to pick the driver I knew that the driver that had the greatest preference for at that time was Jeff Burton. Anyway, the drivers are chosen from a combination of one trusting somebody that's close to a person and that person vouching for the driver, and then running my gamut of where's he coming from, what's he motivated by, how hard is he going to work and how easy or difficult or easy is he to work with."

IN HIRING A DRIVER TODAY, HOW IMPORTANT TODAY IS IT TO HAVE THE SUPPORT OF YOUR MARKETING PEOPLE TO MAKE THAT DECISION AND TO WHAT EXTENT IS THAT A BIGGER FACTOR THAN 10 YEARS AGO? "It's necessary that they have a good public impression, it's necessary that they do well with sponsors in the boardroom or whatever forums the sponsor sees as vital to their interests, it's important they have a set of morals and values that are okay for the microscope that NASCAR and the fans bring down. If they have all of that then they'll be fine with Jeff Smith and our marketing folks because they'll be equipped with the personality traits and with the capacity to deal with people that we're looking for to carry the message of our sponsors and to carry the colors of our company."

DO THOSE ISSUES GET MORE CONSIDERATION THAN THEY DID 10 YEARS AGO? "Yes."

Ford - Kenseth interview
Ford - Reiser interview

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jack Roush , Jeff Smith , Mark Martin