This Week in Ford Racing September 21, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus, is coming off a second-place finish in Sunday's Sylvania 300 and is currently in fourth place in the Chase for the ...
This Week in Ford Racing
September 21, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus, is coming off a second-place finish in Sunday's Sylvania 300 and is currently in fourth place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Kenseth, who is 10 points behind leaders Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kurt Busch, answered questions during the weekly NNC teleconference.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Tools Taurus
YOU HAD A GOOD RUN SUNDAY.
"It was good to get everything together and not make any mistakes. Robbie did a great job of calling the race and got us in a good position at the end of the race, so that was great to get out of Loudon with a second-place finish. We had a great car at Richmond - actually a car I thought we could have won the race with and left the wrench in on a pit stop, so that was tough to take. In California we didn't run that good. We pitted under green and the caution came out so we lost that lap at the end, so it felt good to get a good finish and to do things right and get some momentum going."
IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING OF FINALITY NOW THAT IT'S DOWN TO 10 RACES AND 10 DRIVERS?
"We were in a pretty good position all year, where we were in the points, and it was really different the first 26 races. There was a lot less stress and when you had a bad day, it was still a bad day and you're mad you finished 22nd, but it wasn't nothing like what it was last year trying to go for the season-long championship. When you had a bad day last year, it would eat you up inside. You couldn't sleep at night and it was real hard to take, whereas this year, so far, up to this point it hasn't been that bad. Now the last 10 races will be that bad because all the points count toward the championship, but going to Loudon, to me, felt like it was the second week of the year and those top 10 guys got off to a decent start at Daytona. It just feels like it's early in the year and everybody is real close in points. That's kind of what it feels like right now."
DO YOU LIKE IT OR NOT?
"It's OK. It's different. I enjoyed the traditional way of going for it all year and having to pay for a mistake in April is the same as October. That was cool, but I could see how that would maybe get a little boring for people if the points race was real spread out like it is in the Busch Series. Right now it's pretty spread out and it's not really that interesting to watch if you're not part of it and I understand that. I think this has definitely created a lot more interest than I thought it would and it was real exciting at Richmond watching the battle for the 10th position to make the cut for the chase. That was exciting. Everybody is real close in points right now, so I think that'll be exciting till the end of the year for everybody."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE CHASE IN THE BUSCH OR TRUCK SERIES?
"I don't know. It doesn't really matter that much to me. I think that this deal seems to be working pretty good and better than I think a lot of people probably thought it would be, so I think it's something they'll probably look at. I know they didn't do it right away because they didn't want a Nextel Cup driver that's running a partial schedule to go there and run good enough to be in that top 10 and then be able to run the last 10 races and go for a championship. They want to leave that to the Busch guys who are running all year, which they should, so if they can figure out a way to do that - to discourage people like myself who runs a 15-20 race program - to bump that up to 25 races and still have a chance for a championship, if they can figure out how to make that not happen, I think it would definitely make it a little more exciting."
WOULDN'T IT BE INTERESTING TO SEE ONE DRIVER IN TWO CHASES, LIKE BIFFLE?
"It would be interesting and that's what he was trying to do this year. He was trying to run for the championship in both series, but it's tough to do it the season-long way, but it would be much easier to do it with just having to run the last 10 races when you make some mistakes early in the year. I don't know if that's good or bad. Everybody's got mixed emotions. Half the people like to see you run Busch races and be involved in it and the other half get all over you because they say you shouldn't be there racing with those guys. I still think the championship should go to the guys who put all their effort into running the Busch Series and making that their living."
HOW HAS YOUR OPINION CHANGED ABOUT THIS CHASE?
"I'm a guy whose kind of a traditionalist and I generally don't like change, no matter what it is. Plus, we won it last year and no matter what you do or how good you do, there's always gonna be criticism over something you do no matter what it is. There was some criticism about winning one race and being so far ahead in the points and all that stuff, so you kind of take that to heart a little bit or whatever. I wasn't really for it in the beginning. I can't say that I'm still 100 percent for it, but being a part of it and being involved with it and with 10 races to go being up there only 10 points from the lead, that part of it feels good. We were able to make some mistakes and still get our points back at the end of the year, so in the position that we're in, it feels good. Now if we had a 400-point lead and they would have taken it all away with 10 to go, it probably wouldn't feel as good as it does right now."
WHAT IS THE SENSE IN THE GARAGE ABOUT HOW THIS IS DEVELOPING?
"I don't really know the answer to that question. I haven't really talked to that many people about it. There wasn't many people in the garage who liked it when it came out. I think there's a lot of people who warmed up to it somewhat, including myself, as it's gone on and as they've seen how it's worked. I don't know. That's not really a conversation I've had with anybody lately, so I'm not really sure."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE FORGOTTEN MAN THE LAST TWO OR THREE MONTHS?
"I'm sort of used to that. Even last year, we led the points almost all year and it was all the way until after the July Daytona race before anyone really noticed or said much about it. That's fine with me. I'd rather have the spotlight on somebody else and the attention somewhere else. I think it helps us do our job. I don't think it distracts me or the crew or any of the team guys, or Robbie or anything as much when they're not really talking much about it. The best thing to do is to try to win it and after you win or do something, the people are gonna remember and they're gonna talk about it. We have to prove we're worthy of that. All season we've been running decent, but we've been very up and down. We haven't looked like we were gonna be consistent enough and run good enough to have a shot at the championship, so, first, we've got to go out and do our job and try to win some races and finish good these last 10 and put ourselves in position to try to win it again. Then we'll see if we were worthy of it or not."
IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THOSE WHO SAY IF DALE EARNHARDT, JR. HAD WON LAST YEAR THAT THIS SYSTEM WOULDN'T BE IN PLACE TODAY?
"I have no idea. I don't really know."
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BIFFLE-GORDON INCIDENT AND DOES IT CHANGE HOW PEOPLE WOULD ACT ON THE TRACK?
"First of all, I haven't seen the incident. It was behind me on the track both times. I haven't watched a bit of TV. I haven't seen any articles. I don't have any idea about anything that really happened between them two, so I can't comment on that situation at all. But as far as the question about being concerned about being taken out by somebody when you're racing for the championship, 43 people show up on the race track every Sunday and they're all racing for a win and they all have just as much a right to be out there, whether you're 40th in points or whether you're first in points. So getting caught up in somebody else's mess is part of racing. Yeah, let's hope it doesn't happen, but the fact is that it does happen once in a while. Watch the Daytona or Talladega race. A lot of people get caught up in other people's messes, so that's part of racing. There's no one person on the track that deserves more real estate on the race track than any other person. You need to race everybody the same and however you race them is probably how you're gonna get raced back, no matter where you are in the points."
A LOT OF GUYS NOT IN THE CHASE ARE TIRED OF THAT QUESTION.
"Yeah, I don't think it's gonna be any different. I just don't think it's any different now or it should be any different. Us being the point leader last year, I mean, they didn't go into driver's meetings and say, 'Hey, be careful around the 17. He's leading the points.' They never said that in the driver's meeting once all year, so I don't think that they should go into the driver's meeting now and say, 'Be careful how you race around these 10 cars.' We're not special just because where we are. Everybody has the right to be out there trying to win the race."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SCANNER COMMUNICATION BEING AIRED ON TV?
"I hate it. I've always hated it. I think it's cool that the fans get to listen to it, but I don't like saying something and then it gets broadcast on TV and maybe you're embarrassed about it later. We're out there running as fast as we can - on the edge - and things happen and you say things in the heat of the moment that you're not thinking about saying to everybody else. You're thinking about saying to your crew chief and a couple of guys on the crew and to have millions of people listening to that is sometimes difficult. It used to be they had to ask permission to broadcast and now they just broadcast anything, so I don't like that. You definitely have to think about what you say more, but I understand why they do it. It's entertainment and people want to hear it."
IT'S MY UNDERSTANDING YOU CAN REQUEST THAT IT NOT BE PUT ON AIR?
"Oh, I don't know. I don't about that. You used to be able to, but I don't know if you can anymore or not."
DID LAST DECEMBER IN NEW YORK SEEM LIKE 10 YEARS AGO OR HAS IT FLOWN BY? "Actually, it seems like yesterday. We were in New York last week doing some media stuff for the top 10 for NASCAR and when we were out there it seemed like it was just last week that we were up there for the championship. I don't know, the older I get it seems like the faster time goes by but it seems like it was just yesterday we were up there."
WAS NEW YORK FUN LAST WEEK?
"It was alright (laughing). There were other things I would have rather been doing, let me put it that way."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GIVE JACK HIS FIRST TITLE AND TO BE ONE OF THREE WITH A CHANCE THIS YEAR? ARE THE ODDS IN HIS FAVOR?
"No, I don't think so. I think Jack's kind of a pessimist. I don't think he expects to win anything until after he's won it. He usually expects something to go wrong. Right now, we've got great race teams and great sponsors over at Roush. We've got great equipment with Doug Yates doing the motors. They're just unbelievable and that's really helped our program a lot. Right now, we've got good equipment, so when you have good stuff, you have to take advantage of it and try to run good with it and all the teams have done a pretty good job of that this year."
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THESE RACES?
"I think everybody on the track has an equal opportunity to race. I don't think that the top 10 should be treated any different than 11th through 43rd. Those guys all have a right to race. They all show up to try to win the race and we're not anymore important than those guys are. It's all about racing and trying to win the race and I don't think that you should be raced any different no matter where you are in the points. However you race people and they raced you all year, and you raced them all year, that should continue through the end of the year."
WOULD THEY BE TEMPTED TO RACE CONSERVATIVELY?
"No. I'd like to strap you in there and have you run a few laps because the people who said we were even being conservative last year is just hogwash. It's so competitive that you can't run conservatively. I mean, if you run conservatively, you're gonna run 25th or 30th. It's tough to go out there and run in the top 10 and run up front and even tougher to win races. I mean, anybody can see that looking through the stats. Jeff Gordon used to win 13 races a year and now he wins anywhere from three to five and it's just that much more competitive. There's more winners. The cars are more close to the same speed than what they've ever been. There's more rules than what they've ever been and it's tough to run good every week, so you've got to go out and run hard. You've got to try to be smart and not put yourself in a bad position, but you need to go out and run hard every week and try to finish as high as you can."
WOULD IT SEEM LIKE A BIGGER ACHIEVEMENT TO WIN IT AT HOMESTEAD THIS YEAR AS OPPOSED TO LAST YEAR WHEN YOU ALREADY HAD CLINCHED?
"I definitely don't think it would be a bigger achievement if we can do it, and I don't think we need to be vindicated for anything. I think we had a great year last year. Yeah, we only won one race, but it's tough to win races. The year before we won five races, which was a series high. I think that it's tough to win a championship no matter what format it's under, but I feel like last year, with the way it was setup, to have that pressure each and every week for 36 weeks and not be able to break and not be able to have trouble and do all those things, I think was pretty tough for us to accomplish. I don't think anything will ever top that. If we win another championship, that'll be great and we're gonna be happy about it and it'll be awesome if we could win it under both formats, but nothing we accomplish, I don't think, will ever be like accomplishing that first championship."
WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET AT HOMESTEAD LAST YEAR?
"It was a little bit more relaxing because we didn't have to worry about the points, but, at the same time, it was very frustrating and disappointing that we blew up before even our first pit stop. That was pretty disappointing and kind of took the wind out of our sails for the celebration afterwards and all that, but we just went down there and approached it like we'd approach any other race. We wanted to go down there and try to win and go down there and run the best we could."
WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES IN THE LAST NINE RACES?
"You never know. I mean, you can go to a track that you think you run good at and have trouble and not run good. But if I had to look over the schedule, I'd say that Dover is one of my favorite tracks, but our results haven't been there lately but I think we'll do OK there. Martinsville has been a real struggle for us, but they re-did the track so you never know what you're gonna there until we get up there. But I would say Martinsville, Darlington and Talladega are the three that I probably worry about the most. At Martinsville, we haven't run good at the last couple of years. At Talladega, anything can happen. You can get a good finish or you can get caught up in a wreck and finish last. You just don't know what's gonna happen there. And Darlington is one of my favorites, but we don't have the results there lately. We haven't run that good, so those are probably the three that we'd probably be the weakest at."
YOUR TEAM HAS REMAINED CONSISTENT THIS YEAR AFTER WINNING THE TITLE. WHY?
"Because all of the same people are there, I think. Nothing has really changed. We've stepped up our motor program and we've got better stuff than what we've had before and we haven't lost any people, so I think that was one of the most important things. A lot of teams, after a championship year, will lose some personnel and not have the same group together and we've been able to keep that same group together so I think that's probably a pretty big reason."
WHY IS QUALIFYING SO DIFFERENT FOR YOU THAN THE RACE?
"If I knew the answer to that question, I'd fix it right away. I don't know. We put a lot of effort into it, but I just must be no good at it. I don't know. Maybe we try too hard. I don't know what it is, but that's always been a weakness of mine, even since I started in the Busch Series, although we had a few poles over there a few years ago. But that's always been a struggle for me. We work on it, but whenever we test, we always test in race trim and we always almost focus all of our energy on the race because that's all that really matters. But it feels like if we could qualify better, we could collect more bonus points and be closer to the leaders and have yourself in better track position throughout the race. But it's just been tough. I don't know. We sure try hard at it. While we're at the track we work on it for two hours on Friday and go try to get the best lap I can, it just always seems like we always come up pretty short."
WAS IT KEY TO HAVE QUALIFYING RAINED OUT LAST WEEK?
"We always kind of joke about it because if we ever start farther forward than 17th, it seems like we have problems and things don't turn out our way. We fell back there in the beginning anyway and lost some of our track position, but we never did get all the way in the back on Sunday. So I think it helps when you start up front, but, for us, it doesn't seem to make a big difference. But when you're in front of most of the cars, you obviously have less chance of getting in a wreck or getting tore up, so it's important to start up front but we just can't seem to be able to do it very good."
HOW NICE IS IT TO HAVE TWO TEAMMATES IN THE TOP 10?
"That's good and that's good for the whole company. It's not just about the 17, it's about the 97 and the 6 trying to run for a championship. We're trying to figure things out and work on things together, which should help all of us, and for the company that's a good thing that three of us are in there and have a shot at it."