Preseason Thunder: Ford - Kenseth interview

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, was the fastest Ford in Tuesday's first day of testing for next month's Daytona 500. The defending series champion held a Q&A session with the media on Wednesday afternoon to...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus, was the fastest Ford in Tuesday's first day of testing for next month's Daytona 500. The defending series champion held a Q&A session with the media on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a variety of topics.

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus

HOW HAS THE TEST GONE SO FAR AND WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? "First, the test session is going the same as all Daytona test sessions go really. You go and run a couple laps by yourself, come in and work on the car and then go out and run a couple more. For a driver, it's usually a pretty uneventful test, at least until you get to draft. But everything is going OK. We're running about how we hoped we would and everything is going OK so far."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE POSSIBILITY OF CHANGING THE POINT SYSTEM? "First, I haven't really seen anything. I don't really know exactly what the plan is. I've heard rumors just the same as you have and you might know more than I do, but nobody has really talked to me about it or asked me about it or told me about it or discussed it with me really from NASCAR. I don't really know what the plan is, but the rumors about the last 10-race deal, I have to wait until I see how they structure it before I say too much about it. But if you start it at zero with 10 races to go, I don't like that idea at all because in the last 10 races there are no Daytonas, there are no Bristols, there are no Poconos and there are no road courses. I don't think a champion should be rewarded off of how good they are at a mile-and-a-half race track. I think it should have to be rewarded on how good you are at all the tracks like it always has been. I've heard a lot of comparisons to football, but in football there might be inside and outside stadiums but they're all played on a 100-yard field. All of the dimensions are the same, but we're not football. We're NASCAR Nextel Cup racing and we race at all different venues, so I think it still needs to reward the team and driver that can do the best at all the different race tracks."

DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT YOUR SEASON LAST YEAR IS THE FOCAL POINT FOR THIS POSSIBLE CHANGE? "At first when they started talking about changing the point system I maybe took it as a little bit of an insult to myself or maybe felt a little bad about it, but actually the more I thought about it, I think it's more of a compliment than anything. It's a system that's been in place for thirtysome years and we did such a great job last year that they want to change it, so I think that's a compliment more than anything."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEW TAURUS? "I think it's gonna be a little better. It's really hard to tell coming here and doing two laps by yourself. I don't think we're really gonna see the benefit of the car. We might see a little bit at Daytona, but we're more worried about the downforce tracks. There are only four restrictor plate races in the series and the rest are downforce tracks, so I think it's gonna be better on the downforce tracks than what we have. I think it will get us closer to even with the competition. I still think there are cars with a little more downforce than what we have, but it will get us much closer to even. It's going to be an improvement. How much of an improvement? I don't know, but it's gonna be a little bit of an improvement."

YOUR LAST TWO SEASONS HAVE BEEN DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT WINNING 5 RACES TWO YEARS AGO AND THEN WINNING ONE AND THE TITLE LAST YEAR. HOW DO YOU GO INTO THE SEASON? DO YOU TRY TO STRIKE A BALANCE OR REPEAT WHAT YOU DID THE PREVIOUS YEAR? "We try to do both. When we went into last year, we didn't purposely go in and say, 'We don't want to win the most races in the series.' That wasn't the plan. In 2002 when we won those races, a lot of things went right for us. Like Ryan Newman winning those eight races, that easily could have been a three-race or four-race win season for him, but circumstances went his way in other races. He did a great job and his crew did a great job, but they had track position.

"Everything fell just right for them to win those races and that's the way we were in 2002. We ran really good and were competitive and led laps and ran up front, but also when it came to winning races, we had things kind of go our way. We had the super-fast pit stop when we needed it. We had a caution when we needed it. We just kind of had a lot of things work out right, whereas last year we had a lot of things go right, but not necessarily to win races. We had things go right from taking really bad days to getting good finishes, but days like Texas where we led most of the first half of the race, but a lap after we pitted we got a caution and went a lap down. We were never able to overcome that. At Rockingham we were running second or leading and we fumbled just a little bit in the pits in the first race and came out eighth and didn't have time to get back all the way to the lead. We finished third. So we had a lot of races where I felt like we were still in contention to win. At Atlanta I think we were leading and we lost our power-steering. We had chances to win races, but we just didn't capitalize on them last year as well as we did the year before. Everybody thinks we did different things and raced different, but we really didn't. We tried not to make as many mistakes, but we certainly tried just as hard to win races and run up front."

THE LAST FORD WIN CAME AT BRISTOL, SO HOW HARD WAS IT FOR YOU DOWN THE STRETCH? "It seems like it got a little tougher, which it should. Chevrolet had a new car last year, Pontiac did and Dodge had a little bit different car and it's the same car we've had for a few years. In the beginning of the year it looked like it was much more even, I believe anyway, because Chevy just came out of the box with it. As it is with anything, as they had more time to work on their car and figure it out and do the things they needed to do, they got better as the year went on. We pretty much started the year tapped out with what we had because we already had a couple years to work with that model Taurus. We pretty much learned most of the things there was to learn from an aerodynamic standpoint of it, so it seems we all started off pretty close and then they passed us as the year went because they were working with a new product and the longer they worked with it, the more they learned about it."

WHAT ABOUT THE NEW TESTING RULES AND THE NEW PROVISIONAL RULES? "The testing rules are the same for everybody pretty much. Everybody in this day and age uses every test they can use. We didn't do a lot of tests that weren't at tracks we could run at last year, so for us it'll make our guys busier. It'll make us work more. It'll make us travel more. It'll make us spend more money and spend more time testing than what we did last year, but that's the same for everybody. If everybody can test five times or everybody can test 10 times, it's the same for everybody. I'd actually rather test less because it's more time on the road and it's more time traveling and doing all that stuff. It might keep some teams from making all those trips to Kentucky and doing all that stuff, but for us we never found that beneficial, so we just used our track tests the best we could. I think that will be the same for everybody."

WHAT ABOUT THE PROVISIONAL RULE? "It doesn't really matter to me. We took some provisionals at the end of last year. I hope we don't take as many as we have in the past, which I don't think we will. The last year-and-a-half, except for the last few weeks of last year, I think we did a better job of qualifying. We're still not great, but we have done a better job with our engine program getting stepped up. I think that should help our qualifying quite a bit. I think the more cars that can make it by time probably the better, so I think that's OK."

HOW WAS IT BEING THE CHAMPION DURING THE OFF SEASON AND DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT? "It was a lot different off season just because we were so busy. We had so much stuff to do, but it's been really, really enjoyable. I did so many things that were so much fun that we wouldn't have been able to do if we didn't win the championship last year. I had a really great time in New York the whole time we were up there. We had some cool things like my little hometown had a parade for us in December and kind of a welcome home thing and congratulations thing.

"We had our fan club party which had 3,000 people show up and had a big deal up there in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, too. So it was just a lot of cool things, a lot of celebrating and all that. It's been a really fun off season, but for the first time in a few years I feel like I'm ready to get back racing. It's been a really fun off season, but it's been a tiring and a busy one, too."

HOW MANY PACKER GAMES HAVE YOU BEEN TO THIS YEAR? "I've been to four and that's the most I've ever been to. I'm hoping I can go to a couple more."

DO YOU SEE ANY KIND OF COMPROMISE TO THIS PROPOSED NEW POINT SYSTEM? "I have my own ideas of what I'd like to see. Do I have any input? I don't think so. I don't really know how their gonna structure it. I understand their idea. I understand we're after the TV and stuff, but I just hope that we find out what the fans want too because without those 180,000 people sitting up in the stands we wouldn't have much to do. I hope we do what the core base of the fans who got us here want to do. I have my own ideas that I think would help it, but it all depends what they're after. If they're after real excitement and big TV ratings for the last 10 races, I can understand what they're trying to do. I'm kind of a traditionalist and I don't think about the TV ratings or how many people are watching. I think about the pure racing part of it and I just think the champion should be rewarded for racing all year and doing the best job at all the race tracks. Like I said, I don't know how they're gonna structure it or how it's gonna work out, but I'm sure it's gonna be the same for everybody. Like it always has been, everybody starts out at zero at Daytona. I just hope we know what it is pretty soon so we can plan our testing schedules and things like that."

DO YOU HAVE A FEEL FOR THE NEW FORD ENGINE TO THIS POINT? HAVE YOU TESTED IT AT ALL? "We haven't run it yet and we don't even have one here. We've got last year's stuff here. I don't know exactly, so I'm probably not gonna give you the right answer. I don't know how long it's gonna be before we get stuff built with the new cylinder head and the new stuff that they gave us. As far as I know, right now we're running last year's stuff. I don't know if they've had time to develop the new stuff to make it better than last year's stuff, so I don't know when it's gonna be and when we'll run the new cylinder head. The motor deal, everybody is working together. That part is done and all four teams are working together on the motor program. That part is done, but as far as when we're gonna run the new head in competition, I don't really know."

WILL YATES AND ROUSH WORKING TOGETHER HELP SOLIDIFY THE PROGRAM AS A WHOLE? "I think it has to. I don't know how it can't. Two heads are better than one and now we've got a whole bunch of people combined working on the same thing. I think the biggest help will be for example, if you want to try a new camshaft and Roush is over here trying to develop it, well Yates could possibly be trying to develop the same thing. If we're all doing that together, only one person will be doing that and we can take the other person and they can be developing a piston or something. I think it'll help R&D much faster. I think it'll be easier to find power. I think it'll be easier to troubleshoot. I think it should help everything."

COMPARED TO PREVIOUS CHAMPIONS, YOU STILL SEEM TO BE SOMEWHAT OF A QUESTION MARK TO PEOPLE. DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY? "I feel like with all the questions I've been asked in the last three months everybody should know everything there is about me. I know what you're trying to say, but in another way I don't. I think there are quieter people out there than me who talk less than I do or that might be harder to get to know than me, and there are probably people that are a lot more outgoing than I am, too. I don't know. I never worried about what the outside people really thought of me. I didn't go out and try to get attention. I didn't go out and try not to get attention. I go to the race track and try to do the best job I can. The reason I'm here is because I'm a race car driver and that's what I try to do the best is figure out how to make our cars as fast as we can and try to run the best we can. I feel like that's my job and that's what I try to do."

DO YOU FORESEE IF WHAT IS CURRENTLY BEING TALKED ABOUT FOR THE FINAL 10 RACES HAVING TO COME UP WITH SOME SORT OF DIFFERENT STRATEGY? "Depending on what it is it would definitely change our plan a lot. A lot of the comparisons, they say that last year we would have finished seventh in the points, but the last 10 races wouldn't have been the same if that was the case. I wouldn't have wrecked my best car with 11 races to go. We wouldn't have run some of the stuff we did. It would have been different. If it is something like what they're talking about where you start over with 10 races to go, it's definitely gonna change your plan a lot. You're gonna save your tests until the end of the year. You're not gonna run your best equipment in the middle of the year, you're gonna save it for the end. It's definitely gonna change your plan. You're gonna have to definitely think about that and try to balance it so you're the best you need to be. I don't know what the rules are yet, but you still need to be somewhere in the front and top 10. If you're having a little bit of an off year, you're gonna have to fight as hard as you can to stay there. On the other hand, if you're real comfortable in first, second, third fourth or fifth, it's gonna change your plan a lot and you're gonna put a lot of focus to the end of the year."

WHAT ABOUT THE JOE GIBBS NEWS? "I don't know. I didn't hear that either."

HE'S GOING BACK TO COACH THE REDSKINS? "Is he really? That's pretty cool. That's the first time I've heard it, so that's my reaction. I've been on the track and then they ran me straight back to eat lunch and bring me here. They've had me so busy I haven't had a chance to watch the news yet."

DOES IT CATCH YOU BY SURPRISE? "Yeah, it does catch me by surprise. How long has he been out of it? Ten years? That's pretty cool though. I never really followed the Redskins that much to be honest with you, but I've always heard about Joe Gibbs and how great of a coach he was, so that will be pretty cool to be able to go back and do something like that."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman