An Interview With: MATT KENSETH Q: One of the big changes in the off season is your new crew chief, and I gather that that's also made some other changes within the team, as well. What kind of impact do you think Drew is going to have on your...
An Interview With:
Q: One of the big changes in the off season is your new crew chief, and I gather that that's also made some other changes within the team, as well. What kind of impact do you think Drew is going to have on your program and Chip's new role and that sort of thing?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think that I'm really looking forward to it. I think it'll be great. If we didn't think it would be good, we wouldn't have done that. But really Chip is going back and doing everything he did before last year, and that's what his role was for the last nine years before last year, and that's what he's really good at.
I kind of probably somewhat forced him into taking the crew chief job after we found out Robbie was leaving, and I'm not so sure he 100 percent wanted to do that. There was certain parts about that job he wasn't comfortable with, and he told me that, and I made him do it anyway. Drew is going to do a great job, he's got a great personality, he's really upbeat, I think he's going to bring a spark to our team and enthusiasm, and Chip is going to be able to spend more time on making the cars fast. Last year that really hurt. He had to take away time from working on the cars to do some of the other normal crew chief duties.
So I think it will be good. It's almost like we added a person. Last year until the end of the year Chip was doing it all, and it's too much to do for just one person.
Q: With what we've seen at Daytona with no testing here, do you think that they ought to just drop testing at Daytona, period, no matter what the economy is? Are you guys comfortable with that? You always complained when you came down here because you had to talk with us but you can talk to us without the crew chiefs here, as well. Do we really need Daytona testing at all?
MATT KENSETH: Everyone is going to have a different opinion. I don't think with the current rules that we have in Sprint Cup that we need to test at Daytona. We get a day and then they've got almost a whole field in the Bud Shootout this year it seems like, so we'll get to run that race. You've got four days to get ready for the Gatorade race and then you run again. There's a lot of time if you've got new crew members to get used to that and get a lot of track time for the rookies and all that stuff. I don't think you really need Daytona testing with this car. It's not like it was a few years ago where you could build two cars with the bodies in different places and move stuff around and come down here and test and find you have one car that's four tenths faster than another car. You're going to be bring the test car that you have. Every time I've been down here testing you leave with the same thing that you brought down here. There's very little wiggle room. You can't change springs and shocks. There's not a lot you can really test anymore. I think we can practice and try all the stuff down there anyways, so testing another track is a different story. Obviously that would help us learn some stuff if we get a little bit of time. But I don't think the Daytona stuff will hurt at all.
Q: Carl said yesterday that Drew was the best problem solver that he's ever seen or worked with. Have you found that to be the case with him, and did it mean a lot to you that when Robbie went to Carl with this that he stepped up and said it was the thing to do to have Drew go to your team?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I don't know about the problem solver. I hope so. I mean, it's better if you just don't have problems, but I hope if we do have them that he can solve them. I'm glad Carl was on board with the thing last year. It's kind of ironic because I got the same call. Drew was my Nationwide series crew chief, and they wanted to try to straighten Carl's deal out. It wasn't performing where it needed to be, and he wasn't going to win a championship running the way his Nationwide cars were running, and I said, yeah, absolutely, take him and try to make the program better.
I think overall it will be better for all of us. Carl realizes if we get better running on the Cup side it's certainly going to benefit him, and I certainly appreciate him trying to lend a hand and support his decision to go do that. I think Drew will do really good. I obviously took Carl's stuff from eighth or ninth place to winning eight races or whatever it was the last three quarters of the year or whatever it was. Drew's real capable, he's got a great personality. He brings a spark to our team. I think he'll bring some youthful enthusiasm, he hasn't done the Cup job before and I think it's what we need.
I think Chip is going to be really good at making the cars fast and Drew is going to be right in there and like I said, kind of spring a spark to the team.
Q: What's Ross' schedule going to be like this year and do you have a timetable when we might see him in one of the National series?
MATT KENSETH: No, I don't really have a timetable. First of all he's got to get old enough to drive. He's 15, and he's going to run probably the same late model stuff he run last year, probably travel around a little bit more. I'm building a new ASA North car for him to run which is like great older late car model. So he'll probably run 30 or 40 races up in that area this year, depending on how he does and how things are going, we might expand on that some but he's really interesting. Right now I have no expectations, no timeline, don't push him into anything. I'll help him as much as I can to a point as long as he's holding up his end of the bargain with behavior and school and all that stuff, which he has been. He's on honor role and doing really well. He really likes it and I'll try to help him as much as I can, but who knows where it'll turn out.
Q: What's impressed you the most about his racing?
MATT KENSETH: The thing that -- I don't know, maybe it's just being a dad, but the thing that impresses me the most about Ross' racing isn't how he really runs on the track, it's how he conducts himself. It impresses me when I leave and I see him talking to somebody like Steve Carlson after the race. I'm pretty shy and kind of hang out in my own trailer and work on my own car, and he's always talking to all the guys. He has a lot of respect from the older guys he races against even being 15, so that's probably the part that impresses me the most.
Q: Just a little bit confused on how the whole crew chief change came down and the decision making process. I mean, in New York the mindset was there's not going to be any changes and if there were going to be any they would have happened, and then what happened between then, and how much of it was your decision and what kind of conversations went on, because it seemed like at the time you felt like everything was pretty much set and then all of a sudden things just kind of changed within a couple weeks.
MATT KENSETH: I don't know that I exactly said that in New York. Maybe I did, but I don't know that I exactly said that.
It was really my decision. I mean, really, mostly. Part of it was probably Chip's decision, too. It was something, I think, that he was happy to go back and work on the cars more and not do some of the duties that he was doing and not enjoying doing.
So I think that it was mainly I could kind of see some things coming and kind of see that we needed to probably do something different there to make our team stronger, and Chip was actually 100 percent supportive of it, and we worked it out together and sat and talked about it actually after I got back from New York. We talked about it and he was good with everything and agreed with everything, and he actually had the same type of idea a week or two before that with a different person that didn't quite I didn't think was going to quite work out as well. We just worked it out together. We've known each other for 10 or 11 years. I'm not the type of guy that's going to do something behind his back, and he's not that type of guy, either, so we sat and talked about it ourselves first before we did anything.
Q: With the crew chief change and things going on with the team, have there been any other personnel changes, and you being one of the drivers who has never missed the Chase, do you see yourself still being there again this year?
MATT KENSETH: I hope so. I mean, that's our goal. Our goal is to really try to win races and try to win a championship, and we were quite a bit short of that last year. Our goal is to try to get back to that form. Mike Calinoff is going to come back and spot for us. That was my original spotter in Cup, so I'm looking forward to that. That's really the only other change we've made. We really pretty much added a person because Chip didn't get an engineer until three or four weeks from the end of the season, one that he liked to work with. So he's going to go back and do the engineering stuff, and we added Drew in there to do some more of a conventional type crew chief like we used to have the shop set up with Robbie being with the crew chief office being out in the shop and working with the guys and all that, we got Drew doing all that and Chip back in the same office where he's always been, back in the engineering department making the cars go fast. So really, I guess, we just all decided that would be good for trying to make the team stronger.
Q: This won't really be so much of a rebuilding year for you, it'll just be a continuation of what you were used to doing before like you did with Robbie?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I hope so. I mean, I hate using the term "rebuilding year." We really didn't change that many people. There was one over the wall person we changed toward the end of last year that seemed to make the group stronger. The guys have been practicing and working out together all winter and we haven't really changed any shop people. Still a big part of that group is still our original guys.
I guess back to the other question on decision making from New York that you asked about, I guess we just sat and talked about things and tried to make the team stronger when we got back. At the time I didn't really think we were necessarily going to make a change. But when we all thought about it and what we could do to make our team the best and try to win and compete with Jimmie and all those guys, I don't think any of us really thought we could win a championship the way we were and we needed to work on it to try to get it a little bit better.
Q: The car that's running now and the tires that are being used now, what kind of driving style does that play to, and if you had to adjust your driving style, what do you prefer to run this car and these tires?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I guess you need Carl's, Jimmy's or Kyle's from last year to be able to run good with them. I don't know. You did have to change maybe your driving style a little bit and the way you approached things just a little bit. But it's not rocket science. You know you're trying to get around the track as fast as you can. Still a stock car and all that stuff. So in some ways it's a little bit different, and in other ways it's really, really not that much different.
I think the biggest difference is that it's a lot more important than it used to be to be up front and have the right strategy and have the right pit stops and do everything that you can on the track to have the track position and even qualifying is probably more important than it used to be.
It seems like it used to be, even just a couple years ago, you used to be able to work hard enough on your stuff to get it enough faster than other guys that if you got in the back or didn't qualify good or whatever, it didn't really matter, you could pass cars and you could get to the front, where it's just a lot harder to do than it used to be for whatever reason.
Dover seemed tock better so I'm really hopeful that Goodyear will find some tires that will help this car that will maybe be able to handle drop off and what have you, better handling cars can pass a little bit better. But I think that's the biggest thing I learned is you've got to have it all. You've got to have fuel mileage. There were several races won by fuel mileage and being in the front and doing all that. That stuff you have to work on almost as hard as making your car fast.
Q: Do you see the 99 team, first of all, why are they a notch better than any other Roush Fenway cars, and do you see them as being ready to unseat Johnson's team?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know, I think somebody has got to I've got to see somebody beat Chad and Jimmie before I can say that. I haven't seen anybody do it yet. Even though they've won three straight they could have won five straight if they would have went a little better for them. Certainly Carl and Bob, whenever they're together, even with that other car before they switched cars and before that last season and stuff, they were always pretty strong together. So I think that combination is a really strong combination just like Chad and Jimmie, and I think you get that sometimes and I think that means a lot more than people think it does. I always think of Jeff Gordon, not that he hasn't done really great, I know he won a championship with Robbie Loomis but look at him under Ray Evernham and look at after they changed things, the numbers and the differences and I think a lot of times that combination is maybe underestimated a little bit, maybe you don't think it means as much, but it really does mean a lot. When Robbie and I were together and he changed some things the crew chief driver is probably the most important part of the team, and then certainly you've got to have all the rest of it go around it, but I think that communication and that chemistry is really important.
Q: You have a casual confidence about yourself. Was there ever a point in your career that you doubted your abilities, and was there a point where you felt like you could make it all to the level that you have?
MATT KENSETH: I still doubt them probably more than I believe, to be honest with you. I didn't ever really think I would make it here to be honest with you until I started running Robby's Busch cars that time and probably still didn't really think I had a shot until I actually did get my first couple chances to get in the series, and then I really didn't feel that secure in my future in the series really until we started in 2002, when we won them five races that year, which was the most in the series I started feeling a little bit more confident and better about things, and we were able to follow that up with a championship.
But certainly things change in a big hurry. You've got to keep doing it every race. You've got to do it every year, you've got to do it every race. It doesn't matter what you did in the past. You can't have a very, very long peri, od of not performing well and keep your sponsors and keep your ride and keep all that together. So I think you've got to keep doing it all the time. I think you've got to keep working to get better all the time, too. I don't think you can ever be real confident in your abilities and think you're as good as you need to be. I think you always need to have an open mind and keep learning and keep always trying to get better.
Q: Going back to your crew chief driver chemistry situation, do you think a lot of times now people just don't give these combinations time to work or do you know after a year or so that it's not going to work?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don't know, because I haven't really been through it a lot. I've been through some crew chiefs in the Nationwide series and stuff like that and there have certainly been guys I worked with that you can pick out and say, man, he's a good one, he works hard, he cares about what he's doing, he takes it serious and stuff like that. And then there's been a couple I've worked with that I've been like, he's just doing what he needs to do to be here and wear the shirt and do the stuff. He doesn't want to go the extra mile. Certainly there's people like that, but you can figure that out pretty quick.
As far as the combination, like I said, I haven't really been through it a lot. I had Robbie through all my years of full time Nationwide series racing and all the way through Cup and wasn't really like having a new crew chief last year with Chip because we already worked together for ten years, we already talked about communications on the cars and making the cars fast, and that wasn't really any of our problem. We were able to communicate well, and we understood each other. That wasn't really a real issue.
Q: You talked about other drivers, other crew chiefs.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, that's hard for me to say because everybody's situation is unique. There's only a certain amount of time that an owner and a sponsor is going to be patient to let it work. You know, if you put a combination together and they run together for a year, are you going to do it for two years before you change it or three? How long are you going to be able to do that before you don't have a sponsor on your car or your owner is going to get fed up and get rid of the crew chief or driver or both. I don't think anybody is super patient to make it work, but usually you kind of know if it's going to work or if it's not or if that's a problem or not a problem. Usually you figure it out pretty quick I would think.
RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, Matt. Thanks for coming down. See you in a few weeks.