Phoenix II: Kenseth - Friday media visit

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, held his weekly Q&A session prior to Friday's practice session at Phoenix International Raceway. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU WHEN ANOTHER DRIVER COMPLIMENTS YOU LIKE JIMMIE DID LAST ...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Fusion, held his weekly Q&A session prior to Friday's practice session at Phoenix International Raceway.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU WHEN ANOTHER DRIVER COMPLIMENTS YOU LIKE JIMMIE DID LAST WEEK ABOUT FEELING COMFORTABLE RACING SIDE BY SIDE WITH YOU? "You always go out there and try to give people respect and usually you get that back, if you do that, and you try to earn with your competitors. It doesn't always work out perfect, but Jimmie and I have raced for a long time and he's always shown me a lot of respect and has always raced me hard at the same time, so we had a fun, spirited battle. It would have been more fun to come out on top, but it was definitely a lot of fun."

IS BEING OUT OF THE TOP 10 A HABIT YOU DON'T WANT TO START BREAKING? "Yeah, it's one of those things you kind of take for granted after you go for a while. You kind of joke about it like, 'We're buried 12th in points. They only take the top 10, let's finish 11th and then we don't have to go to New York. We'll get an extra off weekend.' But, of course, we don't really mean that. It's a huge honor to be in the top 10 and you want to move up as far as you can and finish the season on a strong note if you can do that. So there's definitely some pride in being in the top 10 and more than being 10th, to try to look at where we're at in points right now and see how far we can get up there and try to finish as strong as we can."

HOW FAR UP DO YOU THINK YOU CAN GET? "I haven't really broken it down. I know we're 100 or so out of fourth, which would probably be a little bit difficult to accomplish that because when you look at all the races, all of the chase guys have pretty much been in the top 10. I know all 12 can't obviously been in the top 10, but the main group has been right there the whole time, so it's difficult to gain big chunks. Certainly, we're only a few points out of eighth or seventh -- something like that -- so if we can keep finishing good, I think we'll climb up there a little bit farther."

HOW BIG IS A 30-POINT LEAD RIGHT NOW? "It's about six spots. Those guys both run so good all the time. I think, really, Jimmie is in the best position. As far as performance, I think that team performs just a little bit better all the time than everybody else in the garage. Jeff has been there many times and he doesn't make any mistakes, so I think it's a pretty good match-up right now. Jeff won here in the spring and I think it's a pretty good match-up. I still think the 48 has an advantage on performance, but it takes more than performance to win a championship. You can't get that flat tire or the loose wheel or any of that stuff either."

IF YOU WERE IN GORDON'S SHOES, WOULD YOU FEEL YOU HAD TO GAIN POINTS THIS WEEK IN ORDER TO HAVE A CHANCE? "No. It would be nice, but Jeff is smart enough to know that you can only drive your own car and you finish as high as you can and that's how you get the most points. You get the most points you can that day and not worry about the other car. There's nothing you can really do to help or hinder his performance, you just have to worry about your own car."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE OF WHERE YOU ARE NOW VERSUS A YEAR AGO AT THIS TIME? "Yeah, the last few years we just can't get 'em both exactly the same time for whatever reason. Last year, everything went right for us in the chase, we just ran terrible. This year, we've run really competitive -- not as good as the 48 and 24 to be realistic -- but we've run pretty darn competitive where we could be in there somewhere, but we had a lot of problems along the way. Both years, it's nice to be in the chase. Obviously, last year we still had hopes of a championship at this time last year, whereas this year we don't, but it's still good if we can finish off strong and move up in the points a little bit. That would be good."

IS ONE SITUATION MORE OR LESS FRUSTRATING THAN THE OTHER? "Yes and no. You've got to learn to take it all in stride. It's a big honor for me to be able to be in this car and being able to make the chase every year and be that competitive, and if we can keep doing that, then hopefully we'll be able to win another championship or two throughout our career. If we can keep putting ourselves in position to win, hopefully we'll be able to win some more races. So that's really the goal is to get up there and be in position to win and put ourselves in a position to be in the chase and have a shot at it at least. We've been able to do that. We haven't been able to capitalize on it the last few years, but we've been able to at least get ourselves in and get ourselves in that position to have a chance."

CAN YOU FATHOM WINNING NINE RACES IN A CUP SEASON? "No. I haven't been able to do that, so that would be pretty cool. I remember in '02 we won the most races in the series, which was only five, and everybody at the time saying, 'Oh man, the rules are so close and the competition is so close that nobody will ever win a handful of races.' Well, the rules have gotten a lot closer and the competition has gotten closer. The cars are all closer to the same speed and they can still win nine races in a year, so that's pretty amazing. It's hard for me to imagine, especially since we haven't won since February, so it's hard for me to imagine right now winning two races in a season, so that's a pretty big accomplishment."

HOW ARE THEY ABLE TO DO THAT AND WIN EIGHT TIMES? "That's something to go ask them. If we knew how to do it, we'd be doing it. They're good."

DO YOU SEE THE WAY THE 24 AND 48 SHARE INFORMATION BEING ANY DIFFERENT FROM HOW YOU DO IT AT ROUSH? "I don't know exactly what their system is. I know they have their two teams per building and doing all that, and I liked it when we had it like that at Roush, but the way we have it right now is good, too. But we used to kind of be separated like that. It used to be us and the 97 in one building and the other three were in another building, but certainly when you get them all in the same spot everybody has to work together more and everybody has to talk because they're walking by each other all the time and all that. So they've had a lot of success, but they've probably got two of the best drivers out there, if not the two best drivers out there, and they've got two of the best, if not the best crew chiefs in the whole deal all together right now. They've got everything working for them right now, so it's easy to look at that and say, 'Man, that's the formula that you need,' but it's more than that. It's more than just sharing information or being in the same building. It's the whole thing."

FINDING THE RIGHT PERSONALITIES TO MESH? "It's the whole thing. It's the equipment, it's the owner, it's the organization, it's crew chiefs, drivers -- it's the whole thing. It's like any team sport, it takes everything."

WHAT'S DIFFERENT NOW THAN WHEN YOU AND THE 97 WERE IN THE SAME BUILDING? "It's just structured different than it used to be. We consolidated more stuff and it's just different than the way it used to be. We used to have a fab shop for the 97 and the 17 and then the other people had their own fab shop. Now everything is all one, it's all global. The guy putting in crush panels for the 99 is the same guy putting crush panels in my car. It's just more like production than what it used to be."

HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO THE 24 AND 48 FROM A PERFORMANCE STANDPOINT? "Well, last week we were about eight car lengths away, so I don't know what we'll be this week. We're closer, but how do you measure it? I don't know exactly. We're closer than what we were last year. Last year we were running 20th the whole race and we'd get lucky and through attrition and all that stuff we'd finish eighth and they'd be winning. This year, we've been running in the top five the last three weeks and they've been winning. He's won the last three and we've been fourth, fifth and first, so I guess we're about six positions closer. We're closer, but we're just not where they're at."

SO YOU DON'T TRY TO MIMIC WHAT THEY'RE DOING OR DO YOU FEEL BY DOING IT YOUR WAY EVENTUALLY YOU WILL CATCH UP TO THEM? "I don't know about that. When you look at the cars, you never want to exactly mimic and do what they do because then you're never gonna pass them. You have to think of your own new stuff and your own way of doing things and try to figure out the next thing yourself. You need to pay attention to what they're doing and not let them get too far ahead of you, but you're always gonna be a step behind them if you're copying what they're doing because they're already working on the next thing. You've got to be innovative and coming up with the next thing and be working on new stuff and trying to get yourself better. If you just copy the leader all the time, you're gonna be behind him. If you're following the leader, you're gonna be following the leader on the race track all the time, so you've got to be able to take that next step and be able to try to figure out the next deal to make your organization better or whatever it is to get ahead of them. That's really what the goal is."

HOW ARE THINGS WITHIN THE ROUSH TEAM RIGHT NOW? "Everything is fine with the team. One person or two people don't make a team. If the kicker and the offensive lineman with the Packers are arguing, I don't think it's gonna effect their performance. It doesn't matter. Everything is fine. I've seen probably better team spirit and team morale this year than I ever have, really. Everybody gets along great at the organization. Obviously there was a little bit of an issue after that race, but that's all it was. It hasn't affected anything."

IS THE PRESSURE IN THE CHASE DIFFERENT AS IT WINDS DOWN? DOES IT CHANGE? "It does. When it gets down to that last couple of weeks -- it's 30 points now and there are only two of them, which I think makes it slightly easier because whoever loses out of those two, obviously it's gonna be one of those two unless a major disaster strikes, which is highly unlikely, so it's still within the organization and still within friends. Jeff owns part of Jimmie's car supposedly and all that stuff, so whoever loses is still gonna feel real good about the other guy winning. He's gonna feel real bad about them losing, but he's also gonna feel real good about the other group and other part of the shop winning. Somebody in that building is gonna win the championship and that's a great dilemma to be in, so I think that, in a way, it takes off a little bit of the pressure. There's still a lot of pressure, but I think that maybe takes off a little bit of it."


DO YOU THINK BECAUSE IT'S TEAMMATES BATTLING FOR THE TITLE THAT IT'S GOOD OR BAD FOR THE SPORT? "I haven't thought about it that much to be honest with you. I don't know. It might not maybe be quite as interesting for some of the fans if they think that it's teammates and car owners and friends and all that stuff. It's hard. Maybe if there's a Ford fan and a Chevy fan cheering against each other or whatever, it's all part of the same group, but I haven't really put that much thought into it. It doesn't really matter to me."

-credit: ford racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth