Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is second in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 63 points going into Sunday's Ford 400. Kenseth was part of a championship press conference this...
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is second in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 63 points going into Sunday's Ford 400. Kenseth was part of a championship press conference this afternoon in which he discussed his chances.
MATT KENSETH -- No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion
"I feel pretty good about it. I've been kind of all gloom and doom here the last four or five weeks with the way we've been running, but sometimes the thing kind of works in cycles and I think we're kind of due for a good run. We've had some bad ones, and I think we're due to come here and run strong. You never wish anything bad on Jimmie, but there are a lot of things that can happen and it's only 60 or 65 points or something like that, and there are always a lot of cars on the lead lap, so I think it's gonna be a close race. I think it's gonna come down to the wire."
WHAT IS THE MINDSET FOR YOU GOING FOR A POSSIBLE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I think it's the same as any other weekend. I don't think you really worry about the other three or four drivers at the moment. If you get in that situation during the race and the 48 has a problem or a flat tire or who knows what happens with all the cars on the lead lap these days, so if there is a problem and we're close to it, then all of a sudden you're gonna wonder where the other three guys are at because we are all pretty tight in the points. I think, really, the 48 has kind of had control of the thing pretty good all year and I think we realize that without a problem we're not gonna beat them on performance. I think they've been first or second for five weeks in a row, so that's pretty stout. I think we're just gonna go out there and approach it like any other week, try to run the best we can and see what happens in the race."
IS THERE A MENTALITY OF RUNNING FOR SECOND WITH ALL THE MONEY UP FOR GRABS?
"I think not just for the money, but you always want to do the best you can do. You always want to finish as high as you can and have the best year you can -- finish as high as you can in the race and in the points -- but certainly there's a pretty big money difference and that trickles down to the whole team and trickles down in bonuses with the guys and the drivers and to car owners and everybody, so we all want to do the best we can. I wouldn't worry about Jimmie losing that million bucks. He won a lot of races this year. I think he won it back in the Daytona 500 and other stuff, so I don't think he's hurting."
HOW WOULD IT FEEL TO WIN IN THIS FORMAT IN ADDITION TO THE OLD FORMAT? WOULD IT GIVE YOU GREATER SATISFACTION SINCE IT WAS INSTALLED AFTER YOU WON IN 2003?
"I've never heard that before (laughter). I think for anybody it would be cool to do that. Stewart was able to do it both ways, so I'm certainly thankful for all the years that we've had of being competitive and winning the championship that year was a pretty cool thing and, obviously, whatever format we're under now or what we'll have in the future, you'd like to be able to do that too. Our goal every year is to try and win races and try to run for a championship, so I think whatever format you do it in would be great."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE?
"I don't know what the problems with our cars are. We haven't run as good lately as what we ran early in the year for sure. Why that is, I don't know exactly. If I did, we would figure out what it was and try to fix it, but we've honestly been a little behind as a company this year. I think everything kind of works in a cycle and last year everybody was running great and we were kind of the last one of Roush Racing to get running good and this year it's kind of been the opposite -- we've been running pretty good and everybody else hasn't had quite as good a car. I think some of that is just catching up with us. I think we've got some rebuilding to do next year, but we still have good stuff and it's the same stuff we've been running. We've been trying to improve it a little bit, but I think we just probably got behind a little bit on some of our stuff."
DO YOU JUST NOT HAVE A GOOD POKER FACE TO TRY AND FAKE DOOM AND GLOOM? "I don't have a good poker face. Sometimes you get feelings about things and I just haven't really felt that good about it the last four or five weeks. We ran really good at Dover and we ran good at Talladega and pretty decent at Atlanta, but other than that we haven't really performed very well, so I haven't felt very good about it. In testing we seemed to run a little bit better. We seemed to find maybe some of the things we've been doing wrong, but it's been a while since we had a real strong run and I think we're kind of overdue for it. You never know what's gonna happen. It's kind of nerve-wracking for all of us. Jimmie has been outperforming almost all of us most of these weeks throughout the chase, but anything can happen with that lucky dog rule and some of the cautions that we get with all those big pieces of debris out there, Robin (laughing). That keeps a lot of cars on the lead lap and when you have a lot of cars on the lead lap and some kind of problem, you know you can lose a lot of positions in a hurry, so it will be exciting down to the end. Even if Jimmie is up running in the top five all day, it'll still be exciting and I think it'll still be nerve-wracking for the leader and for the rest of us because you know on any lap anything can happen. I'm excited to be a part of it and it's 400 miles of action and who knows what's gonna happen."
CAN THIS BE FUN OR IS IT JUST BUSINESS?
"I think it's fun, for me anyway, it's fun being part of the group. I know we all strive to be the best and strive to win and do all that stuff. I think growing up stock car racing, you wanted to be part of the group and race on Sunday and to be part of that group is pretty cool, and then to be part of the chase and being one of the five guys that have a chance to win it -- obviously it's awesome to be a part of that group. Would it be the best feeling to win it? Yeah, but it's still pretty cool to be part of this group. It's kind of like the couple years that Dale Jr. kicked my butt in the Busch Series championship. It wasn't great to finish second and third, but it was a lot of fun racing him all year and being part of that and up in the top two or three all year and racing him for wins, we became good friends doing that and that was fun to be a part of that. So I think anytime you're a part of something to run for a championship in a level in a sport like this it's a lot of fun."
AFTER HAVING FIVE ROUSH CARS IN THE CHASE LAST YEAR AND TWO THIS YEAR, WERE WE TOO OVER THE TOP WITH PRAISE LAST YEAR AND TOO OVER THE TOP IN CRITICISM THIS YEAR?
"I don't know. The stuff hasn't been as good as what it was last year on a whole by any means, but there have been some changes. There was a driver change and a couple of crew chief changes. Some people moved around, we lost some people, we got some new people, so I think it's kind of a little bit of a rebuilding process, but I will say that today the competition is tighter than ever, I think, and it doesn't take very much to get off so you get behind a little bit in a couple of areas and you're gonna be sort of mid-pack. I don't think it's anything where we're in big trouble, but, certainly, as a group we haven't been as strong as last year. There are some things to address this winter. They're moving around crew chiefs and changing stuff again, so hopefully we can get some stuff together and get going again."
HAS YOUR DEMEANOR CHANGED BECAUSE YOU'RE NEXT TO HARVICK AND JIMMIE?
"I don't know. It's the last week and, like I said, I think we've got to run good sooner or later. I'm sitting between Kevin and Jimmie, which I think Jimmie has five straight top two's and Kevin won the championship by like 3000 points in the Busch Series and just won last week, so maybe some of it is rubbing off on me and I'm feeling better about life. I don't know. I just feel good about the week for some reason. I don't know why. I felt bad about the last bunch of weeks and I was right, so, hopefully, I'll be right again."
HOW WAS YOUR TEST AT HOMESTEAD?
"It was OK. I don't think we found anything magic that's gonna make us run great, but we ran competitively and ran all right."
CAN YOU SUMMARIZE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THIS RACE?
"I feel good about the weekend. I feel we're kind of due a bad run. Not that Jimmie is due a bad one or anything like that, but he's had five great weeks in a row and anything can happen. There are usually a lot of cars on the lead lap. We tested all right here. I think we'll run OK and you never know what's gonna happen, so I feel good about it."
WHAT'S THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO FOR YOU SUNDAY?
"No. You guys got it figured out. I don't know the numbers, but however many spots we've got to finish ahead of Jimmie and the rest of the guys that are close to us."
IF JIMMIE CRASHES, HOW CLOSE DOES IT BECOME WITH YOU AND THE OTHER THREE?
"It depends on where the other three are running really. We're just going out there and doing everything like we normally do. Obviously, if something happens to the 48 it will be a little nerve-wracking. You've got to keep track of the other three guys and see where they're at, but we just have to go out there and run good and hope for the best."
IS IT EASIER BEING THE HUNTER THAN THE HUNTED?
"Honestly, the only one that can be the 48 is the 48, or having bad luck. So they can beat themselves or they could have a flat tire, they could have some bad luck or something like that, but just beating them on performance with the way they've been running the last four years, if you want to put it that way, but the way they've really been running lately, they're not gonna go out and run worse than 12th and we're probably not gonna lead the most laps and win the race, so if they run 15th, 16th, 17th, they're probably pretty safe and they can do that with their eyes closed. So unless they have mechanical problems or have some bad luck and bad circumstances or something happens around them, they're really in the driver's seat."
HOW HARD IS IT TO KNOW SOMETHING HAS TO HAPPEN LIKE THAT?
"It's been hard for me the last six races because we could have beat them on performance six weeks ago. That was our chance to beat them on performance and we gave those chances up. We've had nine chances to beat him on performance and haven't really been able to do that except for a couple times, so now we're down to the last week. It's pretty cool that we still have a shot for it, but to purely do it on performance isn't gonna happen in one week."
HOW DOES THE 48 NEED TO APPROACH THIS RACE?
"I don't know how they need to approach it. They know what they're doing. They've kind of been the favorite, I think, for the championship the last four years. They've been one of the strongest teams, so if they don't have a problem, they're not gonna get beat on performance. So unless they have a problem, they're not gonna get beat."
DOES IT COME DOWN TO BASICALLY LUCK?
"We certainly can control where we finish from second to sixth or however far you can fall back, but it's more bad luck on his part. If he has trouble or has something go wrong and they break or something like that, well then you're right back in it, but certainly if he runs all day and he runs as good as he's been running all day, he'll be hard to beat."
IS THERE A POINT WHERE YOU TAKE CHANCES?
"We run as hard as we can run every week. I can't run any harder than what we've been running, so the main thing is to get our car competitive and get our car running good so we have a chance to do something. Our stuff hasn't been running as good lately as it needs to run, but we do the best we can do every week. It's not like we run fifth and say, 'Man, if I would have tried a little harder I could have finished third.' It's not really like that. We're out trying as hard as we can all the time."
HOW DO YOU PUT FRIENDSHIPS ASIDE? IS THERE ANY FRIENDSHIP OUT THERE AT ALL DURING A RACE?
"Yeah, I think there is with most of the field honestly. I don't think you put that aside. I think you try to race somebody how you'd like to be raced. It doesn't always work out, but that's what you try to do. Most of the time they'll race you back like that, so I think you can certainly be a fierce competitor or even a rival with a friend. You can be friends off the track and get along with each other and show each other respect on the race track and still race each other hard."
Continued in part 2