Continued from part 1 Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is coming off a win in the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 26. As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series prepares for this weekend's annual stop at Las Vegas ...
Continued from part 1
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, is coming off a win in the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on February 26. As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series prepares for this weekend's annual stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kenseth -- a two-time Vegas Cup winner -- took part in the weekly national teleconference to discuss a variety of issues.
MATT KENSETH -- No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion
YOU'RE UPGRADING YOUR PILOT'S LICENSE. HOW DID THAT GO DURING YOUR OFF WEEK? "It went alright. It's really pretty easy. I just did my multi-engine add-on so it was OK. I'm still a very new pilot and I'm just trying to build some time and upgrade my license where I can so I can get the insurance companies to work with you a little better."
THE WEATHER FORECAST CALLS FOR HIGHS OF 50, 48 AND 45. HOW WILL A COLD TRACK AFFECT THE RACING? "In general the more grip you have, which a cooler race track brings, it should keep the pack a little closer together. Usually when the track gets hot and slick the guy who has the perfect balance on the car will tend to get away a little bit and be able to maybe get away from everybody else and do all that. A lot of times the stickier it is, whether you've got new tires on your car or whether the track is cool and has extra grip or whatever, it kind of covers up some of the handling problems that makes all the cars handle just a little bit better. I think it'll probably help the racing if you're looking for a closer race."
WOULD GRADUAL BANKING AT CALIFORNIA DO ANYTHING TO THE RACING? "I don't know. I can get into this one forever, but part of the problem is that expectations are so high to have four-wide across the line for the win every race. They do a lot of stuff for entertainment. You've got the lucky dog, you've got some cautions at the end to have the green-white-checkered and have all that stuff when maybe there didn't need to be one. They've got a lot of stuff and I watch some of the older races and you see third place six laps down, so I think the racing is pretty competitive. California is a big change from Daytona. There was a lot of green-flag running and if a car is handling good, somebody is gonna get away -- who has their car real good if they don't get bunched up. I think the racing is good there. I know that everybody said it was no fun to watch it, but it's definitely a lot of fun to drive. It did get kind of long and strung out in that long green-flag run, but the track lends itself to really good racing. There are three really good grooves and you saw that during the day, even though you maybe didn't see a lot of side-by-side racing, in the beginning when some of the faster cars started in the back you saw a lot of passing. Me and Jamie both worked our way to the front starting in the back and he was working the third and fourth groove passing two and three-wide on the outside, and I was doing the opposite and I was down on the white line passing. There are definitely plenty of grooves there and there is plenty of room to put on a good race. It's just when the good cars get up front, if the car behind you is slower than you they're not gonna pass you and run side-by-side. That's just the way it is. I think the track is good as far as side-by-side racing, it's just that once the fast cars get to the front the slow cars aren't gonna pass the fast cars. That's just the way it is."
WHAT KIND OF TRACK SIZE DO YOU PREFER? "I like all of the beginning tracks. The Daytona 500 is the Daytona 500. California is an awesome track. Vegas, we've had a lot of success at so I'm looking forward to that. The most fun track, probably as a driver, is Atlanta. Atlanta is such a fun track to race at. You can run on the white line or you can have the right rear scraping the fence like Carl does and probably run the same lap times around there, so there's plenty of room to pass. You never have an excuse for not passing the car in front of you. If you're faster than him, there's no excuse not to get around because there are plenty of good grooves at Atlanta. It always puts on a great race. It's really fun for the drivers and a really fun race to watch for the fans, so that's one that I always look forward to and, of course, I always look forward to going back to Bristol after as good as we ran there last August."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TRACK RECONFIGURATION AT LAS VEGAS AFTER THIS WEEK'S EVENT? "I don't know. It sounds like it will be different. I don't know if I have an opinion either way on it. We've had a lot of success there, so, in a way, that probably makes you a little bit resistant to change because we have done well there in the past, but on the other side of that it's fun to look forward to something new. We looked forward to the new track at Homestead. It's a really good layout and there is a lot of passing there, but you've got to remember that it was terrible before. You took a track that was impossible to pass. It was as flat as a pancake and you made it into a great race track. Vegas is already a good race track. I'm not saying they're not gonna make it better because maybe it will be better, but it's a pretty good track the way it is. It's fun. It's a little different than the standard mile and a half. Turns three and four are fun because it's kind of narrow and you can arc it in the corner and do some different things. Hopefully it's at least as good or they make it better. It'll be interesting to see."
HOW DOES DAYTONA SMELL COMPARED TO THE DAYTONA COLOGNE? "It depends. If you ask Jimmie Johnson and ask me it will probably be two different answers (laughing). I have no idea. I don't even know how to answer that one. I don't know how you make the Daytona 500 into a cologne unless it smells like burning race gas or something. To Jimmie it probably smells like money, I don't know (laughing)."
YOU RACED AT ALTAMONT. WHAT IS THE APPEAL FOR DOING THAT? "The racing part doesn't help you because we just kind of do a match race against ourselves, but more than anything there are a few reasons. It's fun to go to. Bruce Beatrum has run that deal forever. He calls it the race of champions and he's done it for 20 years or something and everybody at one time or another has done his deals. They're kind of fun to do and they help out the short tracks a little bit, where we all grew up. It helps get some more people in there and maybe brings some more awareness to short-track racing. I get to see a different race track and meet some race fans away from the track, especially in Sonoma where you don't have your motorhome and it's kind of a different area you're not used to. We literally do nothing on Saturday nights anyway, so it's kind of fun to go out there and kind of see a different short track, a different kind of racing, meet some different drivers and meet some fans and do all that stuff."
WITH ATLANTA COMING UP, WHAT ARE YOUR LIKES AND DISLIKES ABOUT THAT TRACK? DO YOU EVER HAVE TIME TO GO INTO THE CITY? "I don't go into the city very much. With the way traffic is there you almost need a day off to be able to go do that (laughing), so I don't do that very much. There is nothing I dislike about Atlanta. Atlanta is probably, next to Rockingham, if most drivers could design a race track, I think they would design Atlanta and Rockingham with the worn out pavement. Those two tracks are so much fun to drive. The track gets slick. For as fast as Atlanta is you can still spin the tires because the pavement is getting worn out and the tires drop off a lot. You can run several grooves there. You can run from the bottom all the way up right next to the wall, so for a driver -- at least for me -- it's a racer's dream to get there and run on that race track. You go from having tons of grip on new tires to no grip on old tires and having to really manage your tires and be able to move around the track and do all that makes the racing a lot more fun. You've got a lot of different options. You've got to search around to look for grip and do all that kind of stuff, so it makes it a lot of fun for a driver."
WHAT IS THE FEELING WITHIN THE TEAM AND HOW DO MOOD AND PERFORMANCE RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER? "I think when everybody is enthused and working hard and in a good mood it definitely helps your performance. I think you could get a bad apple here or there or somebody complaining or doing that. It's easy for people to start listening after a while or drag the deal down or whatever. We don't have any of that and I'm not saying we ever had any of that, but it's a real excited group right now. We have three or four new people in the group and a person or two that moved up in positions and advanced, so it's a real excited group. It's kind of a mixture. Some of the new guys coming in were real young and have a lot of energy. A lot them when we were in California that was their first win, their first Cup win and first time ever in victory lane. That really gets everybody fired up and excited, so they've been working really hard. They've all had really good attitudes all winter and really worked hard on the cars and their efforts in the first two weeks have really paid off."
WHAT ARE THE CHANGES THAT NEED TO BE MADE FOR ROAD-COURSE CARS? "Running a road course is a lot different than the ovals we run, but road courses can be a lot different too. Sears Point has always been a very big challenge for me. It's been difficult. Watkins Glen hasn't been as difficult, although we haven't always run great there either, but Watkins Glen is more like I compare it to going to Michigan or California -- it's kind of a speedway of road course. Sears Point is more like Martinsville -- it's real tight and narrow and not a lot of passing zones. It's kind of a tougher place for me. The biggest thing that's hard for me when I go there is relaying the information -- what the car is doing and give suggestions for what changes to make to make our cars better. At ovals a lot of times I can be fairly good at that, but, especially at Sears Point, I have a hard time with that. I can kind of tell them what the car is doing, but I can't really come up with a lot of stuff that usually makes the car better, so that's always a struggle."
WHEN THERE ARE LONG GREEN FLAG RUNS AT SOME OF THESE TRACKS IS IT HARD FOR A DRIVER TO KEEP THEIR CONCENTRATION? "Not when you're leading. There are times, like at California, we had those long runs and my car got real tight. When your car gets tight, it gets a little boring because there's not a lot of excitement. You'll give it some wheel and keep the right-front from sliding too much and that's about it. When your car is loose -- even like Greg when his car was so free and handling good or when we led the last few laps there -- my car was plenty loose enough where it was never boring. You had to stay on top of it every second to not make a mistake and let it get away from you or something like that. It all depends on the situation. If your car gets real tight and you're not racing anybody, it can get a little boring in the middle of those races. For us when your car is doing the things it's supposed to do, when it's turning real good and it's a little on the loose side, it never gets boring."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BRISTOL RACE? CAN YOU TAKE ANYTHING FROM AUGUST TO THAT EVENT? "Oh, gosh, I hope so. We have all the same stuff really put together. We just did the Fusion updates to that car. It's the same chassis and bringing all the same stuff back. I'm not sure with what they're doing on tires now, but I assume they'd be on the same tires, so you hope that stuff relates. A lot of times, even in my short-track career and in my Busch days you can go and win a race and dominate like that and come back with all identical stuff in the car and not run like that for some reason. I think the main thing is we're gonna go there with all the same stuff but after that as soon as you get on the track the first time I think you have to keep an open mind and not say, 'Hey, this won last time, it's gonna win again,' because that's very seldom the case. I think you still have to go there. That ought to be a good place to start and then just keep an open mind and keep working on your car and trying to get it to do the things you want it to do."
WHAT IS JACK'S TAKE ON SPECIAL RACES YOU GUYS RUN AT SHORT TRACKS? "I don't know, I don't think I ever told him (laughing). Jack, I think, would want you to use your head. When we're doing that stuff we're not racing with the whole field. We're just out there with three or four of us out there having a good time -- kind of like going to a go-kart track. I don't think he gets overly worried about that stuff. Jack has always encouraged us -- maybe not do some of that stuff -- but would think he would be more worried about people riding dirt bikes and doing stuff like that. Greg's a pilot. Mark's a pilot. Carl is and I've been doing my stuff and he encourages that, so I think Jack is one of those guys that wants you to go live your life and do the things you want to do and have some fun and not really worry about that stuff."
CAN YOU FEEL MOMENTUM BUILDING TOWARD A WIN OR CAN IT JUST HAPPEN? "Sometimes it happens in the middle of it. Sometimes it happens to start it and sometimes it just happens and you don't have it on either side of it. That's probably not a real great answer, but I can feel momentum a lot of times but not necessarily from wins. You can have momentum and do like we did at Chicago last year -- led all the laps and then at the end got beat on two tires. We didn't win the race, but still had a lot of momentum. Then I think you can have times like, for example, Dale Jr. He wasn't really having a great year last year and he came and won Chicago. They made a great pit call, had a good car that day and won the race, but probably didn't have a lot of momentum before that race and probably didn't have a lot of momentum after the race either. So I think it can come at any time. I think you have a better chance of winning when you have some momentum and you're running good and you're leading laps and doing all that stuff. But I think it can come on any side of it."
DO YOU THINK YOU AND TONY STEWART ARE DEVELOPING A RIVALRY THAT COULD LAST THROUGH THE SEASON? "I hope not. It's a little different in our business. It just is. It's hard to explain unless you're really in it, but it's hard for that to happen. I think there are some people that can probably hold grudges and do this and do that, but, to me anyway, it's hard to be productive and to do that. There are only 43 of us. We race together every week. We kind of all stay in our motorhomes in the same area, so, in a way, we all sort of live together for however many weeks we race together. We're all kind of real close to each other for three days out of every weekend and it's just not necessarily productive to do that. I don't really think about it like that. I don't really worry about it. I haven't always done the best job at it, but I certainly try to settle all of my differences that I may have with a driver no matter whose fault it is or whatever and move on. I think that's the most productive thing to do and I think that's best not only for yourself personally but for your team. I think when you're on the track and you're not thinking about making your car the fastest or getting the best finish you can get that day or doing everything you need to do to do your job and make your car better when you're worried about somebody else because you're mad at him or he's mad at your, I think that's slowing down your progress and your production."
WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE BUSCH SERIES THESE DAYS? "I don't know what everybody else thinks of it, but being a driver it's still for developing younger driver's talent and seeing how they race against a lot of the Cup guys. As much as that, I know like for Jack and this organization, it's a good place to develop people. They've taken people out of here that have been in different positions on a Cup team and moved them over to a crew chief over there or car chief over there -- whatever the case may be. Let them loose in the world for a year or two and see how they do, and then you've got people that you're training to be prospective crew chiefs over on the Cup side some day, or moving them up through the ranks or engineers or whatever it may be. So I think it's still used a lot, at least here, for developing people and developing drivers."
WHO SHOULD BE IN THE HALL OF FAME AND HOW SHOULD THEY DECIDE WHO GETS IN? "I don't know. I really don't. Where is the Hall of Fame going? Charlotte? That's cool. I don't really know. That's kind of a tough question. I haven't thought about it enough to know who is gonna pick the people out and how they're gonna separate it. There are some obvious choices, but I don't know. I know some really great race-car drivers through the years that maybe haven't won a championship or haven't won certain things that should be in it. I don't really know how they're gonna do that. I think it's probably gonna be like any other sport. The people that have left a big mark on the sport are gonna be in there."
LIKE MARK MARTIN? "I think so, but I'm not gonna go into a thing right now where I'm voting for drivers or against drivers because I don't know. But I would think that you would have to be out of the sport for a while before you would be put in it, I would think. I think that's how it works in any other sport, so I think it would hard to put Mark in the Hall of Fame when he's still running Cup full-time and Trucks half the time and Busch half the time. I think Mark is gonna race for quite a few more years, although maybe not necessarily full-time in Nextel Cup, but I think he's gonna be around for quite a while running the Truck Series and stuff like that."
NOTE: Ford has won five of the eight Cup events at Las Vegas -- all by Roush Racing drivers. Besides Kenseth's back-to-back wins in 2003 and '04, Jeff Burton won consecutively in 1999 and 2000 while Mark Martin won the inaugural 1998 race.