Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, comes into this week's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. Kenseth, who posted his second series win earlier this year...
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, comes into this week's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. Kenseth, who posted his second series win earlier this year at Rockingham, trails leader Sterling Marlin by 99 points. Kenseth, along with crew chief Robbie Reiser, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
MATT KENSETH --17-- DEWALT Power Tools Taurus:
THOUGHTS ON TEXAS? "I hope our chances will be good. We're bringing the same race car we had at Atlanta, which is a track somewhat similar to Texas at least, and it performed really well for us there. I think we led a lot of laps there and were in position to try and win the race there at the end, but we got behind on our last pit stop and made it back up to fourth. So that gives me some confidence going in that, hopefully, our car will perform there and we'll have some good power when we go out there, so I'm looking forward to it."
YOU MUST FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOUR CONSISTENCY THIS YEAR. "Yeah, I feel pretty good for where we're at. I feel like we've performed really well every week, except for Las Vegas -- we didn't perform very well -- but even Daytona we performed really well before we got caught in that big accident, so that gives me a lot of encouragement and it's got the team real pumped up. So far we're doing the things that we need to do and we just need to continue that."
HOW DIFFERENT IS THE NEW SURFACE AT TEXAS? "I haven't been down there yet. I've talked to a few people that have and I've read some of the things they've said after running there. Typically, whenever you pave a track it gains a lot more speed because it has a lot more grip. The bad thing about that is it usually makes a one-lane track where it's right on the bottom. I'm not exactly sure why they paved it. I guess that's a question I'd like to ask because I'm not sure why it got paved. It was just getting to the point last year where we could run almost side-by-side -- you could almost pass somebody on the outside. It was getting a little bit wider. You take Atlanta for example. When they first paved that it was real fast and it was right on the bottom of the race track, but now -- six or seven years later -- it's perfect. You can run on the bottom or the top and it's real easy to pass."
WHAT'S BEEN THE DIFFERENCE IN THE RESURGENCE OF ROUSH RACING THIS YEAR? "We're off to a good start, but it's a really, really long season, obviously. I think a lot of little things. I really believe that the one-engine rule has helped us a lot. I think it's evened up everybody a lot on power when it comes to qualifying. People have probably had to de-tune their motors somewhat -- other teams probably -- to last for the races whereas we haven't really done that too much. We're still running pretty much the same package we ran last year, so I think that's probably been the one biggest thing that's evened us up, and we've been trying to learn and get a little smarter on our cars and build better cars with better bodies and put better setups under them. Last year was kind of a transition year where they changed the tire and everybody changed the type of setups they were running and it just took us a while to catch on to that."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE FACT YOU AND KURT HAVE WON WHILE MARK AND JEFF HAVEN'T. WHY? "Circumstances have a lot to do with it. We've had fast cars. Kurt's had real fast cars, too, and he was in the right position at Bristol. I think there are a lot of reasons. I think a big thing that really helped our building was when we brought Jimmy Fennig over here. He works together really well with Robbie Reiser, and me and Kurt have been working really good together. That's helped our building run a lot better. Kurt was a threat towards the end of last year and it was just a matter of time before he won."
SO THE MIXTURE HAS BEEN THE CATALYST? "I feel like in Kurt's case it's helped him a lot to have some experience over there and the other deal with Ben (Leslie) has helped Mark out a lot, so I think it actually ended up being a really good thing and ended up being a really good mix. Everybody is throwing in a lot of new ideas, plus we have some experience there, so to have somebody like Jimmy to help coach Kurt along has helped him."
DID IT TAKE WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH LAST YEAR TO GET WHERE YOU ARE NOW? "I'm not sure exactly what you mean there, but from a driver's standpoint I'm not doing anything different. I don't think I'm any better of a driver than I was last year at all or the year before, so I think all of that's the same -- it's just all about the equipment that you sit in. When you're in good cars with good engines and can get them to handle the way they need to handle, and you have the pit stops that you need to have, you can put yourself in position to win races and you can win races. But if you're in 20th-place equipment you're not gonna win races with that, so it's just all about getting the cars to run the best you can."
DID IT TAKE A WHILE TO GET THE EQUIPMENT RIGHT LAST YEAR? "Yeah. Last year we just seemed to really struggle in a lot of areas. There were a lot of areas we were probably a little bit behind in, so over the winter we've done a lot of work -- but we did a lot of work during the season last year and actually got ourselves a lot better at the end of last year. If you look at how we ran the last seven or eight races, that's kind of how we're running right now and it did take a lot of last year to kind of sort through our cars and our bodies and all the stuff to try to figure out what we needed to be doing."
WITH THE NEW SURFACE WILL YOU FEEL THINGS OUT THE FIRST 100 MILES OR SO? IS IT DIFFERENT? "It's probably somewhat different, but in Winston Cup racing especially, unless your car is right on the money and is handling perfect, you've got to run pretty hard all the time to stay on the lead lap and to keep up with the leaders. There are a few things you do, obviously. Everybody worries about blowing out right-front tires when you have new pavement and you're going as fast as you're going there, so that's always a big concern for people. I try to make sure that my car is loose enough where I'm harder on the right-rear than the right-front, so that's always one of my concerns. Maybe if my car is pushing, I'll run slower to make sure I don't abuse that right-front tire too much. That's probably the biggest concern and another concern is the one-engine deal. When you go to a place like Texas, which is very similar to Atlanta, the rpm's don't drop off very much so you might see some people not practice quite as much as they would at a shorter track."
WHAT IS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE AROUND THE SHOP AND HOW MUCH INPUT DOES JACK HAVE? "Actually, I just saw him walk down the hallway here. Jack comes down every Tuesday and meets all the guys in the shop and meets with all the crew chiefs and drivers and all that stuff, so he's still real involved in the operation. He's up in Michigan and that's where all the engines are built, so he keeps in contact with those guys really close, too. The atmosphere in the shop is obviously better than it's probably ever been -- at least in our shop. Everybody is running good and everybody is happy. Everybody is working good together and things are working, so whenever you perform well and can win races, everybody's attitude is good and everybody's gonna have that fire under them ready to go every week."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MAYBE ADDING A RACE AT TEXAS OR TAKING ONE AWAY FROM ANOTHER TRACK? "Really, I'll just do whatever they tell us where we have to go. It's not really in my control much. I don't mind going to Texas. It's a really nice facility and I really like it, but right now in the condition that it's in, it's so fast and they keep re-paving it that there are some things I guess I don't understand about it. So, I think it's important to keep some of the short tracks on the schedule, too. I'm definitely not in favor of extending the number of races in the schedule. You might be able to run more races some day, but if they did, I wish they would race maybe twice a week or race on Saturday once in a while because you've got to get our crew guys home more on Sundays so they can see their families."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THEY RE-PAVED TEXAS AND DO YOU KNOW WHY? "I was really surprised, but, like I said, I don't know why they did it or what the motive was behind doing it. That's a question I guess I need to ask. I don't really know why they did it. The big tracks, especially with all that banking, when they first re-pave them, I'm not a huge fan of that. You have to re-pave them once in a while, but the track seems to be the very best for racing after they age for three or four or five years, something like that. Then you can start working on a second groove and start taking some of the grip away from the bottom and it makes for a much better race."
IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING AMONG THE ROUSH TEAMS? "There is a great attitude in the shop and I think it's pretty neat that all four of Roush's teams have won races now. That's a pretty neat thing, really, if you think about it. All four programs have been pretty successful and right now is the closest we've ever been before. All four of us are sharing information more than we've ever shared before and all four of us are working together much closer than we ever have before, so that's a great feeling and that's a step in the right direction."
IS IT EASIER WHEN JACK IS SMILING? "I think it's probably a lot more fun for him, yeah. Jack takes everything really seriously like we all do with racing and when we're not running good, whether it's fair or not, it seems like it always ends up on his shoulders. So, obviously, when we're running good and we can win races and all of his teams are working good together, I'm sure he sleeps a lot better at night."
DO YOU SLEEP BETTER WHEN HE'S SMILING? "Yeah, I sleep a lot better when I'm smiling. It was a tough year-and-a-half not winning a race and not running good, so all of us are after the same thing. As much as he is competitive, I'm just as competitive as he is. It's important to be successful in this business and to win races. To me, it's not important to be quote-unquote a Winston Cup driver, it's important for me to win races and in whatever I'm doing being successful. Last year we weren't doing that."
IS THERE ANY CHANCE THE BUSCH RACE WILL PUT DOWN ENOUGH RUBBER THAT ANOTHER HALF-GROOVE MIGHT DEVELOP? "My opinion is no, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. I'm not an expert on it, obviously, but what's gonna happen in the Busch race is that all the cars that are gonna be running on the outside are gonna be some slower lapped cars or when you pass somebody, but what generally happens at a track that's been re-paved -- especially one that's that fast -- is you're so close to running wide open that you're hardly letting off the gas pedal so the shortest way around is the bottom. What you're gonna do is try to get underneath somebody off the corner and, basically, when you get under somebody -- if nobody has been running outside, they're gonna be scared to run out there and they're gonna get out of the gas and pull back in behind you. It might surprise me and there might be a second groove, but, generally, when they re-pave a track like that there usually isn't."
WHAT DOES IT DO FOR YOU TO SEE YOURSELF IN SECOND PLACE? "It's a great feeling. I'd rather be in second place right now than farther down, obviously, but it's such a long year that, to tell you the truth, I don't get caught up in it. If it was October right now and I saw we were second in the standings and were in the position we're in right now, then I would be more excited about it or think more about it, but it's just so early in the year. So many teams have maybe struggled or haven't shown their potential yet that you never know what can happen. But I do feel good about where we are right now and how we've been performing and our consistency. If we can keep that up all year, then the points will take care of themselves and I think we'll be right up there."
DO YOU FEAR THAT TEAMS LIKE YATES AND HENDRICK WILL GET IT TOGETHER SOON? "I worry more about ourselves. I know what you're saying there, but if we can keep our performance where it's been, we can stay up there anyways. There have been some teams in the past that have been up in the point standings that aren't up there right now for sure, and they could get it turned around because it's definitely early enough for that to happen, but if we can keep doing the things we're doing right right now and continue that, then we'll have a chance to be up there fighting with them."
CAN YOU COMPARE THE COMFORT FACTOR OF A TEXAS VS. MARTINSVILLE? "Especially in light of all the injuries and bad things that have happened the last few years, there is definitely more of a comfort level as far as safety and how the driver feels in the car going 90 or 100 miles an hour at Martinsville than going over 200 miles an hour down the straightaways at Texas, for sure. So, with the high speeds and how that type of track being re-paved, sometimes there are problems with right-front tires -- which, hopefully, there won't be this time -- but that's always in the back of your mind. When you're running that fast at Texas, if you blow a right-front tire in the wrong place you're basically gonna be hurt. So that's always a concern when something happens going that fast. You're gonna tear a car up and not finish a race and you also do have a chance of being hurt, so that is in the back of your mind. You try to race as hard as you can, but as smart as you can, too."
IS MARTINSVILLE A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN PAY OTHER GUYS BACK? "Maybe for some people. I don't really think about that too much, to tell you the truth. A lot of people talk about that, but most of the time it doesn't really happen. Most of the time I feel like almost everybody we race against really respects all their competitors and all of us on the race track. Somebody gets run into once in a while and maybe it's intentional once in a while, but most of the time you just go about your business and do the best you can. If that person needs some favors, you're probably not gonna give him favors out on the race track, but I don't think you're necessarily gonna go out and wreck him because he wrecked you a year ago or vice versa."
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE ROOKIE CLASS? "They're doing a great job. I knew Ryan Newman was probably gonna run that good because we've seen him in Winston Cup cars, but Jimmie Johnson ran good in the Busch Series, but for being there a couple of years he wasn't really a championship contender, so I was really surprised how good he has run. That just shows how good their equipment is over there and maybe his stuff in the Busch Series wasn't as good as everybody thought it was, so both of them have been running really good. Jimmie Johnson is ready to win races already. He's been running right up front and running so good, and so has Ryan Newman. Both of those guys right now are running a lot better than me and Junior were at this same time in our rookie year, that's for sure."
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE? "I don't know. I think it'll be fun to watch. They've both started off real strong, but it's a really long year -- especially your first year. It's a really long year when you get into August and September and going to all of these different tracks. You just have to wait and see what happens because so many things can change between now and then."
DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE MORE OF A THREAT TO WIN RACES NOW THAN AT ANY OTHER TIME IN YOUR CUP CAREER? "I do somewhat, I guess. It's still tough to win these races. We won that first race so early in our rookie year that I felt like then we were ready to contend for races. A couple of weeks before that we led a whole bunch of laps at California and were in position to win that thing and lost it right at the end, and the following week we went to Dover and ran second. It seemed like it was hard, but it didn't seem nearly as hard as I expected it to be. I thought we were in position to win some races that year and everything kind of went south on us in a hurry. We just started running bad and losing the setup or for whatever reason we just started performing bad and it took a year and a half for us to get back into victory lane. Now we're running about how we were at the beginning toward the middle of our rookie year, so I'm a little concerned about losing that and not knowing why, but I feel good about how we're running right now. I feel like we're running good enough to where if we're smart, we can get ourselves in position to win a few more races."
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT THE NUMBER OF FIRST- AND SECOND-YEAR GUYS IN THE TOP 10 OF THE STANDINGS AND ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU'RE CHASING STERLING? "I'm not surprised at all that Sterling is leading. They ran really, really good last year -- especially toward the end of the year. They have been one of the only teams that has been consistently really fast every week and they're showing that again this year, so that part I'm not surprised about. I am a little surprised about the point standings with some of the rookies and younger guys being up front, but yet on the other hand, the way the series has been the last couple of years -- I'm not sure about the stat, but I think there has been a record number of winners the last two years in a row. It's so competitive now that it's harder for the one or two or three teams like it used to be that would win. Between three or four teams they used to win 20 of the 35 races or whatever. Well, it's just not that way anymore. It's so competitive that if you do everything perfect on a day, you have a chance to win. If you're off just a teensie bit, you could run 10th or 15th. It's just so competitive and there are so many good teams and good drivers and good crews out there that it just gives a lot of different people opportunities to win."
WAS YOUR DRY SPELL A REALITY CHECK FOR YOU? "Somewhat. Somebody asked me once if it was a blessing in disguise that we ran bad because we learned stuff. Well, nothing ever good comes out of running bad, but it did teach me a couple of lessons. It taught me how hard the Winston Cup Series really is and not to underestimate how hard it is and how easy it is to lose how good your performance is. If you're running good, it's real easy to miss one or two little things and turn that into running bad, so it did teach me a little bit about that."
WHEN YOU RUN BAD DOES IT SEEM TO MULTIPLY? "It's terrible to run bad. When you're used to running up front, even if it's in the Busch Series or whatever, and you come and race as hard as you can and you're whipped at the end of the day and you look and you've got a 22nd-place finish to show for it or something like that, it's a terrible feeling -- especially if you're not sure what you need to fix. If you go out and you know what's wrong with your car and you just had a bad day and you finish 20th, and you know what to do to make it better the next time, that's one thing. But when you show up and do the best you can all weekend and can only run 20th or 25th, that's an awful bad feeling."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT ANY DISTRACTIONS THIS YEAR LIKE LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE RUMORED FOR OTHER RIDES? "No, I'm not worried about it being a distraction. Everything is good over here right now. We're happy with where we're running and we're happy about our performance and everything else. We're just keeping everything on an even keel. Everybody had me labeled going everywhere last year and that it was a for sure done deal and everything, and then the year started and everything is the same this year as it was last year. I don't worry about it too much. I think sometimes people just sit around and think of some of that stuff just to start it."
IS YOUR CONTRACT UP THIS YEAR AT ROUSH? "I don't really want to discuss my personal terms of my contract, but right now I'm solid here and I plan on being in this same place here next year."
ROBBIE REISER, Crew Chief --17-- DEWALT Power Tools Taurus:
WHAT ARE MATT'S CHANCES THIS WEEKEND? "I think they're real good. We're taking the same car we ran in Atlanta and we ran real well there with that car. Texas, being real fast, will be a lot like Atlanta, so I think all of that will be the same."
HE KNOWS TEXAS PRETTY WELL. "There's no question that Matt can get around pretty much any race track, not just Texas. He does a real good job for us no matter what track it is, but with the pavement situation it's no different than any other race track. Everybody is gonna have to deal with it, so we'll have to deal with it, too."
WHAT ABOUT THE ONE-ENGINE RULE? "You have to take a little different approach when you've got the one-engine rule. Obviously, when we were using qualifying engines we were a little more abusive during our qualifying runs than what we are now, so we're just a little more careful with the temperatures than what we were last year and pay attention to it a little bit more. But the one-engine rule hasn't really been a big deal for us. To be quite honest, for me, it's not that big of a thing because I've dealt with it on the Busch side and have been through it already, so it's OK."
WHAT DOES DE-TUNE THE ENGINE MEAN? "We've been very careful with what we've been doing. I wouldn't say we're out of the box, as they say, with any engine stuff we're doing. Because of the one-engine rule, I think that we've actually been very careful in making sure we haven't fallen out of any races. De-tuning is probably the term we should use for it because that's probably what we've done. We've been very careful with what we're doing."
ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT SINCE THE INSPECTION PROBLEM AT ROCKINGHAM? "Yeah, we make sure the car is high enough (laughing). Basically, we're running softer and softer springs and the spring settle in during the races. They probably settle an eighth to a quarter of an inch, so our team has been making sure we're an eighth to a quarter high before the race starts so we don't have that problem anymore."
HAS THAT AFFECTED PERFORMANCE AT ALL? "No, it's not an issue. I'm sure at Talladega or Daytona it would be an issue, but at the race tracks we're at now, we travel these cars three to four inches, so an eighth inch on the roof really isn't that big of a deal."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MATT'S PERSONALITY AS A DRIVER. HE SEEMS PRETTY EVEN-KEELED. "I think that he's a very confident person and he's also very intelligent. He understands the cars real well. He has a very good demeanor during the race and during the weekend with us going back and forth with the car. He's one of these guys that doesn't get too excited. He's constantly working on the thing trying to get it to his liking and he doesn't get frustrated while he's trying to get to that point. That probably describes him the best. He's a very cool customer when it comes to working on his car and thinking it through and talking with the people that are working on the car with him. He works with that group and doesn't try to work against him. That's a real key deal to being successful with Matt."
CAN THE MOOD OF A SHOP AFFECT PERFORMANCE? "I think a lot of this goes back to last season when we started out so poorly. I think the expectations for us to run bad probably wasn't there. We prepare hard and between me and Matt, we're racers and when it doesn't go well you get frustrated. I think the first half of last season, we showed that frustration every week because we didn't run well. I think at the middle of the year we had a team meeting and got all the guys together and discussed it and I think a lot of things came out on the table during that meeting that showed frustration throughout the team but it was all racing related. I think when all of us got done discussing it, we started to realize that we were all on the same team and we started working towards the goal instead of against it and turned last season around. The last eight races we were as competitive as anybody. We didn't really change anything throughout the winter. We all kind of knew what direction we were going in and what we were working towards and we started off this season second in points and we're showing we're up to the task. The mood is upbeat because of that reason and because everybody has worked towards it. Everybody has a part in it and everybody has a responsibility and I think everybody feels like they're part of the team this year compared to where they were last year at this time."
IT'S LIKE THIS IS AN EXTENSION OF THE ROOKIE SEASON? "Throughout life you've always got peaks and valleys. When we started out our rookie year everything went well and went in our direction and we definitely had some peaks. Then last season we went through some valleys and through some tough times and some of the things didn't go our way. We'd have a good run going and then get caught up in a wreck or something like that. As we went through that, I think it made our team stronger and made our team learn what racing was all about -- that not everything is gonna go your way and you've got to work at this sport to be successful. We went through that last season and now I think we're going back the other way where everybody realizes that and now they're focused on trying to make this thing better everyday and I think that's the difference."
WHAT WAS THAT TEAM MEETING LIKE? "What happened was we went through a tough time in June, July and early August where nothing was really going in our direction. Every time we turned around we were either wrecked or we couldn't get the cars up to speed or something. When that happened, we had a little bit of panic set in where everybody was throwing things at it and trying to find the easy fix for it. It got to the point where we weren't using our practice time wisely and things like that, so we just had to stop and pull everybody together and say, 'OK, where are we at with this thing because we're trying to do too much. We're trying too hard to change this thing around and we aren't taking a direction.' The middle of August we got everybody together. It wasn't really a meeting of anyone's bringing, it was a whole group that said, 'Hey, I think we need to sit down and talk about this,' and we just discussed a few things and changed our approach a little bit on how we went to the race track and how we approach practice. Slowly, as the year went, we got better and I would say from the middle of August to September we started to show some improvement and then in October and November we definitely ran better at the track. I think four out of the last six races we were top-five or something like that and that sort of turned this thing around."
HOW WAS THE WEEKEND OFF? "I think the awesome thing about our weekend off last week was that we had most of our work finished and we were able to give the guys a full weekend in a very busy season. Last season was such a long year that all of us learned that working ourselves to the bone probably isn't the way to go and having an opportunity to run the first six races in the way we have, we haven't really torn up any equipment. Going into last weekend, we actually had our Texas car and our Martinsville car and our Talladega car finished to the point where they're almost ready to go to the race track, so we were able to give our guys a break. I can tell you that on Monday morning I could really see a difference. Everybody came in really good attitudes ready to go to work and keep going with what we got started."
CAN THAT TRANSLATE INTO THIS NEXT RACE? "I think it's gonna translate into the next six races. We're taking these races one at a time, but being that the schedule is so busy and everything happens so fast, as a crew chief you have to look at this thing not only as Texas, but Martinsville, Talladega, California -- we've got a couple tests coming up in there -- we have to pay attention to all of those races coming up."
DO YOU HAVE THE SAME GUYS GOING OVER THE WALL THIS YEAR? "We basically have the same over-the-wall group that we started our rookie year with. We've made a couple real small changes, but the core guys are pretty much the same. Phil Drye (front tire changer), Jeff Vandermoss (jackman), Dave Smith (rear tire changer), Bryan Dunaway (rear tire carrier) -- four of the five are the same guys we've had for the last three years. Justin Nottestad is the new front tire carrier that we have this season. Those guys do a great job and they do it week-in and week-out. My hat goes off to the job they've been doing the last six months, not only winning the (Pit Crew) championship, but, more than that, they've come out this season with outstanding stops to get this season off to the right start."
ARE THERE ANY AREAS YOU CAN IMPROVE? "One of the things that comes to mind are road courses. We're gonna be testing Sears Point and Watkins Glen. That's been a weak point for us, not just Matt's part but our whole race team. We haven't supplied him the cars it takes to run well at those races, so we've been working real hard on that to try and turn that around for him. I still think the superspeedways is still another area that I don't think you can ever give up on. Even if you have a good race, things change so much in Winston Cup racing that on the speedways you can go from a hero to a zero pretty quick. Those two areas are something that we definitely have to work on this season."
DO YOU STILL PRACTICE 30 MINUTES EVERYDAY ON PIT STOPS? "Yes. At 11:30 we still have pit practice every single day that we can possibly have it."