Pocono II: Ford - Matt Kenseth interview

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, holds a 234-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Kenseth held a Q&A session before Saturday morning's practice sessions in the Pocono ...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, holds a 234-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Kenseth held a Q&A session before Saturday morning's practice sessions in the Pocono Raceway infield media center.

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS YEAR AND LAST YEAR?

"The biggest difference this year, so far, has been - knock on wood - we haven't broken any parts or pieces yet and we haven't been in the big accidents at the speedways. Last year we got destroyed in all three speedway races up to this point at Daytona and Talladega and got bad finishes. By this time last year, I think we had three DNFs or really poor finishes from pieces and parts breaking and flat tires and things like that, so this year we've been a little luckier in that part or maybe have done a little better job preparing. I feel like our performance has been as good as last year. We've turned some bad finishes into good finishes, but we've also taken some winning cars and maybe not won and finished sixth or seventh because we didn't do a perfect job at the end of the day. So as far as our race finishes for how good we ran, I think we've pretty much averaged that out. So far we've just been fortunate to have things go our way as far as finishing races."

IS THE CHEMISTRY BETTER THIS YEAR WITH THE TEAM?

"I don't know if the chemistry is really better. It feels like this year we've maybe been a little more prepared to run for a championship - not necessarily to win it - but to maybe run for it. Last year, even though we won five races, I never really felt all year like we had all the tools to be able to have a serious, legitimate shot at the championship. I just didn't feel like everything was quite going that way. Last year was a great year for us, it was a great building year, we were able to win a lot of races and put ourselves in position to win a lot of races, but we also had a lot of problems. We learn from our wins and we learn from our problems."

ARE YOU GOING TO DO A RAIN DANCE EVERY WEEK?

"No, not really (laughing). Qualifying hasn't really been the best thing for us. The only good thing about qualifying up front for me is that we have an easier chance of leading a lap and getting five points. I think we qualified ninth or 10th - I didn't watch the last car qualify yesterday - but that's great for us. If we're ever better than 22nd or 23rd, we're really happy. If we can be somewhere in the middle of the pack we seem to do OK from there. It's not that we don't try qualifying hard, it's just usually where we end up."

IT MUST FEEL GOOD IN THE MORNING THOUGH TO START UP FRONT LIKE LAST WEEK?

"Yeah, it's OK but it's always something. I felt good about starting up front, but I was also nervous about trying to lead a lap right away. I knew the 24 tested up there and was real fast. If I wouldn't have driven really hard and led that very first lap, we wouldn't have led a lap all day. Like I said, it's always something, but it is good to start up front and have track position. It seems like a lot of times we'll have our car almost running better at the end of the race if we start mid-pack because we work on the car more and we have to pass more traffic and get our car to work around other cars. Sometimes, for some reason, it seems to help us a little bit."

DO YOU FIND YOURSELF RELUCTANT TO TAKE CHANCES AT CERTAIN TRACKS BECAUSE OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND WOULD YOU TAKE THAT CHANCE MORE AT A PLACE LIKE INDY?

"No, not really. All of the races are really kind of the same to me. Yeah, there are some races that would be neater to win than others, I guess, but they all pay the same points. I race the same all the time. I don't really know how to race any different. I'm really a firm believer that when you start being conservative that's when trouble is gonna find you. I've seen it in the past at the speedways when we had those roof whickers and stuff, they would lay back to last place and get wrecked. I just don't believe in that. I think you're best off to go qualify the best you can and race as far toward the front as you can all day and see where it shakes out at the end of the day. Especially at this point in the year, I don't think there's anything to being conservative.

"I mean, there are 17 races left and, yeah, boy it looks pretty nice right now if we don't have problems or things happen, but on the other side of that, two weeks of trouble and that could be gone too. There's just so much racing left. We're just out racing as hard as we can and trying to extend the lead if we can."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN OTHER DRIVERS SAY IT'S GOING TO BE TOUGH TO CATCH YOU?

"The way we've run so far this year, I feel good about it if we can keep that up and not have problems finishing every week. But, like I said, a couple of weeks with problems and that could be gone. I am happy with the way we're running. We're not running 14th and barely trying to maintain the lead. Last week, we led a lap and came back through and finished third. If we can keep running like that and running in the top five and, on a bad day run in the top 10 and on a good day run in the top 5, that's what we need to do."

A LOT OF GUYS GET OF THE CAR HERE AND ARE SHAKING AFTER QUALIFYING. YOU DIDN'T. WHY?

"You probably weren't down there right when I get done (laughing). Everybody is different in qualifying. Qualifying is tough because you always try to get the most out of your car. Yesterday, it was weird for me because my car was real comfortable and easy to driver in qualifying. It was actually the fastest car I ever had here qualifying. Sometimes they drive easy and sometimes they scare you to death qualifying, but qualifying is always stressful because you go out and try to get all you can get for one lap."

HOW MANY TESTS DO YOU HAVE LEFT AND WILL YOUR STANDING HAVE ANY EFFECT ON THAT?

"We already had them all scheduled. We've got three tests left. We're testing at Watkins Glen Monday and Tuesday, we're testing at Darlington in a few weeks and we're testing at Martinsville in early October. We just tried to pick our weakest tracks and test at them all year. That's pretty much what our plan was all year, no matter where we were (in points). We didn't pick a place where we were pretty strong at and try to go there and figure one thing out to win, we tried to pick our weakest places out and go there and test and try to get good, solid finishes."

IS IT MORE WORRISOME BEING THE LEADER?

"The position we've been in the last two or three weeks have probably been more - I don't know the right word - not necessarily stressed out but maybe worried more about things than what I was last year being second or third or fourth or fifth in the points at this time because we were a long ways behind. We needed everything to go perfect and for the leader to have trouble to catch up to him, whereas this year we're in the lead but if we have trouble, they're gonna be right on our heels. So there's definitely some pressure there and you're definitely thinking about every little thing on the car and not wanting anything to break mostly."

YOU CAME IN AS MARK MARTIN'S PROTEGE AND HE'S COME CLOSE TO A TITLE. HOW HAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPED?

"Mark's been through the championship battle a few times and he's had some really great runs and finished really good, and he's had some problems that maybe kept him out of it. Hopefully, not just me as a driver but as a company and as a team, we try to learn from that and try to do a better job of that to get to the end of the year without things going wrong. But he's definitely helped me a lot and he's definitely taught me a lot about my racing style when we first started. I think the way he races and maybe some of the stuff that he tries to teach me help gets you to the end of races. Mark is real good at laying it out there when it needs to be, but not taking chances when he doesn't need to, either."

IF YOU WERE TOLD AT DAYTONA YOU WOULD WIN THE TITLE WITHOUT WINNING A RACE, WOULD YOU TAKE IT?

"This year I probably would, but last year I wouldn't. It's kind of weird. The last couple of weeks I've been seeing questions arise about the points system again. I haven't been getting grief about it, but seeing things like he hasn't won the most races and this and that. Last year, I got grief because we won the most races and didn't have the most points, so I'm on both ends of it so far and can't win either way (laughing)."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SYSTEM? SHOULD THERE BE POINTS FOR QUALIFYING?

"Definitely not for qualifying - definitely not (laughing). I think the points system is pretty good. Even last year people asked me because we won five races and finished eighth in the points, they thought that was so terrible. I think that's good. I remember the years Rusty Wallace would win 10 races, but he would blow up in 10 races. Well, that's not the sign of a championship team. A championship team doesn't come in and finish first 10 times and finish last 10 times because their equipment wasn't reliable and they all didn't do their job. I think the sign of a championship team is it's not just about the driver or just about winning one or two races on a Sunday, it's about putting together a whole season of nine months - or whatever it is - and not dropping out of races and not crashing and how bad your bad days are. I don't think it's right in a series that long to have it where a guy can go out and win one week and the next week he can crash and finish last and still win it. I think it has to be built on consistency and how good of a job everybody did at the shop and at the race track all year."

WHAT'S BEEN ADDED THIS YEAR TO MAKE YOU FEEL YOU CAN WIN THE TITLE?

"That's a really hard question to answer. It's more of a feeling and a morale thing and just the way you feel about it. Last year we had never been in the hunt before. We had a terrible 2001 and just started improving on it at the end of 2001 and running good. Last year we started running good right away, but I just didn't feel like we were really prepared to make a serious title run because of the bad year we had in 2001. Up to last year we had won only one race before. We never had really been in that position and never really ran consistently up front every week to be able to do the things we needed to to be a contender. Last year, we started doing that off and on. We still had our bad weeks and I probably didn't do the best job on some weeks and had some problems on other weeks and that cost us, but we also did have the good experience of winning some races and finishing in the top five and finishing good. So I felt like coming into this year, I learned a lot from last year - from the good and bad - and I thought that would make us a little more consistent."

SO THE EXPECTATIONS WERE HIGHER?

"I just think we knew a little bit more of how to react to certain situations or not to react to certain situations and maybe be a little bit smarter in picking our equipment or using the right stuff that's gonna be competitive and make it to the end of the race - that sort of thing."

YOU'VE BEEN GOOD AT WATKINS GLEN, BUT NEVER WON. WHAT'S THE KEY TO DO THAT?

"Basically, what's kept me from that is stupidity. We were leading the Busch race one time and I drove off the track. We still finished third or fourth. Last year, we had a great car and I drove it off the track on about lap five, so it's just being dumb and not using my head. That's the main thing - you've got to keep the parts on the car, but you've got to use your head and keep it on the asphalt all day, too. I felt real good about the car we had last year and the cars we're taking this year to test. I just need to be smarter and do a better job. You have to get it through 11 corners every single lap and keep it on the track while running fast at the same time. Sometimes that's difficult to do and you have to use your head to do that."

OFF THE TRACK DISTRACTIONS?

"It's a little busier than what it was, but it's not bad. You just have to manage it and manage your time and find time to do things that help you relax so you can keep concentrate on your racing. It's definitely a busier year than what we had last year and last year was busier than the year before, so when you're busy and people want you to do stuff, I guess that's a good thing because it means we're running decent. But it's definitely been a little busier."

WHAT DO YOU DO AWAY FROM THE TRACK TO RELAX? AND YOU SEEM TO BE THE KIND OF GUY WHO JUST COMES IN AND DOES HIS JOB IN A LOW-KEY MANNER.

"Yeah, I do things to relax just like anybody. I enjoy riding motorcycles. Sometimes me and Katie will just take a day and go for a ride on the motorcycle and just go somewhere and come back. Or we'll go on the boat and hang out. We've also got a little place up in Wisconsin that's kind of in the middle of nowhere.

"We might go out there and hang out for a couple of days and get away from everything - that type of stuff. As far as the show or the fanfare and all that stuff, some of that I can't control. Some of that is how much surrounds you for some reason. It's not like I shy away from the media or shy away from doing appearances or any of that stuff. I think I do quite a bit of it. Sometimes how people perceive you or how they talk about your or what they think about you is just what they're gonna say. Yeah, I show up and racing is my primary job, but if racing wasn't my primary job, I probably wouldn't be here. It's always what I've enjoyed doing. When me and my dad started racing when I was real young, we didn't have a lot of money but we just raced and worked on cars. That's the way it's always been since I started. It's always been about the racing. We never had the luxury of having a lot of money or owning a big company or doing any of that to put me in a really good race at a high series and seeing if I could drive around. We had to come from the bottom and work all the way through it and I still try to take that approach when I'm at the race track - especially during practice and all that stuff. I'm trying to think about my race car and what I can do to make that faster and get it up front."

THE 20-RACE STRETCH MIGHT EXPAND TO 26 AND JACK HAS SAID 40 STRAIGHT WOULDN'T BOTHER HIM. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT POSSIBILITY?

"Don't ask Jack those questions (laughing). Twenty-six straight is a lot. Twenty straight is a lot. It's not so bad, necessarily for the drivers for some of us that can still take time off. If I have to or if I really wanted to put my foot down, I could take off all that week if I wanted to. I could take off three days and go back to the track on Thursday, but the crew guys don't have that option. We have one hauler and one-and-a-half transport drivers and that has to be back at the shop every week. They work Monday-Thursday and they sometimes get a day off on Thursday or something for a travel day, but they're working all week to keep the cars ready and they're at the race track all weekend. I think that's a lot. I think it's possible to run more races, but I just don't know how you'd run them on weekends all the time. I think you could run a couple short tracks on a Wednesday and a Sunday, but I think it would be tough to go 26 straight. I think 20 straight is already stretching it. We already had to race Thanksgiving one year, so that would be a lot."

WHAT IS YOUR MENTAL MAKEUP WHILE LEADING THE POINTS?

"First of all, it's so competitive that to win five races last year, everytime we won I was as surprised as the last time we won. I mean, it's so difficult to win these races. I don't expect to win them or, at least last year, never got disappointed for not winning races. We were able to win Vegas, which was great for us this year. I sure think we're plenty capable of getting back to victory lane, we just haven't had everything go exactly the way we needed it to go. At times that's a little frustrating. I sure would like to win another race or two here and kind of show that we're capable of doing that and kind of show what we're made of, plus that check back there is $200,000 for that leader bonus. I see that sitting there, so that would be cool thing to collect too. I think we're capable of winning races and I really think we'll be able to get back to victory lane sometime this year and I hope it's soon."

IS IT AN ADVANTAGE FOR YOU THAT YOU ARE KIND OF LOW KEY AND MAYBE THEY DON'T KNOW YOU AS WELL?

"First of all, before last year my first two-and-a-half years in Winston Cup I never saw Jeff Gordon out of his motorhome one time in my life. He'd walk in there at 4 o'clock and I'd never see him again, so I don't think I'm a hermit or don't ever come out of the motorhome or the trailer. I actually think I'm probably out more than the average of the drivers because I don't get surrounded quite as much as some of those guys. I think they probably hide more than I do, but I don't think there's any big mystery. I go out and do stuff or hang out just as much as maybe the other guy does."

WHAT WAS IT LIKE YOUR FIRST TRIP TO THE BRICKYARD? ARE YOU STILL IN AWE?

"Not really. I don't know how to say this exactly right, but I probably don't quite have the respect for Indy as maybe some other drivers do just because I've never been an open wheel fan. I don't think I've ever watched and Indy 500.

"I never went down there. I have a lot of respect for what the place has done and all the history to it, but I probably don't appreciate it quite as much because I had never been there before. I never watched a race in person and I never even watched the race on TV - I watched a little bit of it. Honestly, the biggest thought I had was when I went out on the track I couldn't believe how narrow it was. When you went down the frontstretch how narrow it was and how tight the entrance to turn one looked, I didn't think there was any way you could get two stock cars through there side-by-side. It was real narrow. But it's a neat place to go. It's not that far. It's only about five or six hours from Wisconsin where I grew up, so it's always fun to go to the Midwest. There' definitely a lot of history there and it's definitely one of the bigger races of the year."

THOUGHTS ON RACING BACK TO THE YELLOW?

"I don't really care what they do that much, to tell you the truth. Whenever they make a rule, that's how we'll run it. Everyone is gonna have a different answer because in 2001 I was a lap down a lot of times and the leader let me get laps back a lot of times. I benefited from that rule a lot. This year and last year, maybe I haven't so much, but yet there have been a couple of times where I've benefited from it. The way it's been this year is everybody is racing back anyway. Nobody is really letting people get their lap back unless they're already in front of them, so I don't know if it would really change the racing that much. It would probably make the racing a little bit safer, but if everybody uses their heads and backs down when the yellow comes out like we always used to do in the past, it keeps it pretty safe. But, definitely, it (a rule) would probably be a thing that would maybe keep the racing a little safer and allow the safety crews to maybe get out there a little bit quicker to the scene depending on where the accident is and what situation we're in."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ALAN KULWICKI AND YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF HIS CAREER?

"We kind of sort of missed each other, too. By the time I started racing late models he was gone and I wasn't really watching Winston Cup racing that much anymore. I was racing late models and I was busy, so when I watched Winston Cup racing he wasn't there yet. I never really got to meet him and never really knew him and I never saw him race very much. I didn't know a whole bunch about him or probably appreciate what he did as much as I did after I learned how he did it all by himself because I wasn't really up on it that much with what was going on down there."

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM HERE AT POCONO FOR ROUSH RACING?

"I can't say (laughing). I've got a joke for that one but I don't think anybody would think it's funny that read it. I don't know. I think it's been a good track. I've never been able to win but I think Mark has the most top fives of all active drivers right now. I think I read that yesterday. That's a pretty good stat. If that's right, that's good for me. We've always run OK here. I really like this track. It's been a good, solid track for us. We haven't been able to win, but in the exact right situation we could win. We've never been good at a real short run here, but if we had good position and had a longer run, we seem to be able to shine on that pretty well. Mark's had a lot of great runs here. He hasn't been able to win yet, but I think it'll happen sooner or later."

BRETT FAVRE AND MATT KENSETH ARE NOT BIG IN WISCONSIN. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

"It's pretty cool when we go back to Wisconsin. We were back there the other week at Slinger - me and Kurt Busch went up there to sign autographs - and they had the biggest crown they've had in 20 years since Dale Earnhardt was racing there. That was pretty cool. They had about 10,000 people there and it was full. Wisconsin fans are definitely behind their sport or team or driver - whatever it is. It's always neat to go back there. Even like when we're here or wherever we're at, everybody will come up and the first thing they'll say is, 'We're from Wisconsin,' so that's cool to see how supportive they are."

AND YOU'RE RIGHT BEHIND FAVRE.

"I'll always be behind him until he retires, so that's pretty cool because everybody up there is like a diehard Brett Favre and Packers fan."

WHAT DOES YOUR SON THINK ABOUT THIS? IS HE INTO RACING?

"He does a little bit of racing. I don't know what he thinks about me leading the points, really. I don't really talk about it, but he does a little bit of go-kart racing, but he's only 10. I try not to let him take racing too serious." DOES HE ENJOY IT? "Yeah, I think he enjoys baseball and basketball just as much as he does racing."

HOW DOES YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF WORKING ON CARS HELP TODAY WITH ROBBIE?

"I don't know if it helps so much today, but I think Robbie and I both grew up kind of the same way, so that helps us. Neither one of us sat in our trailer and played video games while our dads worked on the car and got it ready. We didn't do any of that. We both had to work on the cars and understand how they worked and put 'em all together, and plus have to work a job to help try to pay for it. So I think Robbie and I kind of have somewhat of a mutual respect because of that. He's done the same things I did and we raced at the same places and grew up racing the same way, so I think that helps."

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AT YOUR WATKINS GLEN TEST?

"A couple of things to be successful there is to keep all the parts on the car and keep it on the track. Those are the first two things. We've got two cars that we don't necessarily have to compare too much because they're pretty close to the same. But we'll run two cars next to each other and decide which car we want to take. That's the first thing and then just basically test stuff that on a race weekend you wouldn't have time to test - like different brake systems and different suspensions - stuff that takes too long on a race weekend to get done in the limited practice we have. So we'll do that and get up to speed with the track. It seems like whenever I can test at a road course, I'm much better when I go back. It's kind of like a little refresher course having just been around there. You don't forget where your shift points and brake points are at, so it kind of just helps you get in a rhythm and help you get ready for that kind of race."

WHEN YOU WERE RACING WITH YOUR FAMILY WAS YOUR GOAL TO GET TO WINSTON CUP?

"I think that your goals change a lot. When I was a little kid, I never dreamed I'd even be able to drive a race car. Then when I started driving a race car, I just hoped that some day I might be able to race an ASA car. I remember when I did my first interview and I was 16, that was like my dream - I hoped some day I could race full-time where I wouldn't have to have a normal job and I could race in the ASA Series. That was like the biggest thing. I think your goals change a lot. In my wildest dreams I would never have dreamt that we'd be able to race in the Winston Cup Series and be able to win races and be able to be at least in contention for a championship. Four years ago, in my wildest dreams, I didn't think we would, so I think your goals change a lot. It's kind of like anybody, when you start off you never think any of this would be possible. It seemed like a dream more than anything and it still does sometimes."

WHEN YOU GOT IN WINSTON CUP HOW FAR AHEAD WERE YOU AS FAR AS GOALS?

"Until we actually won a race, I never knew if I could win a race. I hoped I could and I thought we had competitive cars and were able to run good in 2000. I ran pretty good in Bill's car (Elliott) and Bobby Labonte's car and in our five-race deal we ran pretty good, but I never knew if we'd be able to put it together and win a race or not. Especially then when Jeff Gordon was winning 10 races a year and Mark was winning seven because they weren't leaving a lot of races for everybody else. I never knew if we could until we did and it's the same thing trying to run for a championship. Yeah, right now it's our goal. This time last year, I don't know if it was my goal. It was something that maybe we aimed for and, if everything went right it was a position we hoped we could be in, and with the position we're in right now it's kind of my goal for the year. But you never know if everything is gonna go right and if it's gonna happen. So many things can go wrong easier than they can go right, so I don't really get ahead of myself or get too excited about it. I try to take one day at a time. It's an obvious goal for us right now with the position we're in to win it, but I'm definitely not counting on it. I definitely don't think everything is gonna go right for the rest of the year and we're gonna do it. I just want to take one race at a time and stay competitive and see where it ends up."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Kurt Busch