Rockingham: Ford - Kenseth interview

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Taurus, got his 2004 season off to a promising start with a ninth-place finish in last week's Daytona 500. The defending series champion held a Q&A session before Saturday's practice session in...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Taurus, got his 2004 season off to a promising start with a ninth-place finish in last week's Daytona 500. The defending series champion held a Q&A session before Saturday's practice session in the North Carolina infield media center to discuss a variety of topics.


HAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE START OF THE SEASON? "I was pretty happy with Daytona. We didn't get as good of a finish as I hoped we would get, but it's our best Daytona 500 finish and we've started off 11 spots better than we started last year, so that's the positive to it. Greg Biffle was on the pole with a Roush car and I thought we all ran better as a group, so that was the good part. Overall, I was happy with the week. I thought we did pretty decent. This week has been alright so far. We qualified 23rd, which is right on the mark for me (laughing). I'd like to do better than that, but the encouraging part was our car wasn't very good yesterday and we still qualified good, so I think it shows we're gonna have better equipment this year once we get everything rolling."

CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU APPROACH ROCKINGHAM? "This is a track where the mechanical part of the car means more than anything. Aerodynamics don't really mean that much and the engine doesn't really mean that much. You have to get the car to handle. We went through a spell here where we ran good with our Busch cars, but when we started running Cup cars here we ran really bad for the first four or five times. We kept coming and testing every single time before we'd race and at the end of 2001 we came and tested and have run pretty good since then. We didn't run quite as good last fall as we ran the three times before that, so that concerns me a little bit. That's why we did some extra practice yesterday and worked on race setup. That's what we're gonna work really hard on this morning and try to get back up to top form like we were last spring and last year."

HOW WAS YOUR OFF SEASON? WAS IT HARDER TO PREPARE? "We were so busy in the off season that it was a little bit different, so I probably spent less time preparing for this year than what I ever have before, but, luckily, I've got such great guys like Robbie and everybody on the team that stayed together this year. That was the good part of it. We didn't lose any people. I think we've got more cars built and whether they're the right cars or not is yet to be seen, but Robbie worked extra hard this year to make sure we were really prepared going into this year because of the outside distractions during the winter. He's worked the guys extra hours and extra hard to make sure our stuff looks really good and it's better than it was last year. I'm really confident in the cars that we have and in keeping the crew together. This is the second year with the over the wall guys working together and practicing together, so I'm really excited about that stuff."

IS IT A DOWNER NOT TO BE LEADING THE POINTS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 11 MONTHS? "Not really. I think it's only the second time we've ever left Daytona being in the top 10, so that's the good part of it. This year it's about being in the top 10. You still want to be the point leader and hopefully we'll work toward that over the next few weeks, but it feels good to get out of Daytona with a good finish. There were a lot of guys that typically run good there that had bad times. Look at what happened to Mark and look at what happened to Michael Waltrip, so when you look at all that - to get a top 10 there is great. You want to go win the Daytona 500, that's always your goal, but it's an improvement over what we did there the last couple of years. That part feels good, but, hopefully, we'll get back to being the point leader one of these days. That would be pretty good."

THERE ARE FOUR OR FIVE GUYS IN THE RACE TOMORROW THAT AREN'T USUALLY HERE EVERY WEEK. THEY'RE HERE TO FILL OUT THE FIELD. DOES THAT CONCERN YOU? "It doesn't concern me as far as the race goes and racing with the guys and doing that kind of stuff. I think if it keeps happening with the field, it might be a good time to maybe look at that lucky dog rule. If there's a caution on lap 15 tomorrow, there's probably gonna be a guy getting their lap back and he's gonna be right back in there with you all the time. That's the only thing I don't really like about what we've been doing the last year is that lucky dog thing - giving free laps back and not having to race for them. Even though I'm sure I'll be a beneficiary of it several times if they keep this rule, I still really don't like it because to me it's not racing. So I wish they would maybe do something about that, especially if we start getting field fillers like we have in the Busch Series. I think it may be a good time to get rid of that and have the competition with more of the guys who can stay on the lead lap the whole race."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAS VEGAS AND THE CHANGES WE MIGHT SEE WHEN WE GET THERE? "We didn't test our Cup car there. We did test our Busch Series car there, which is the same thing we did last year. We didn't test our Cup car either. To be honest, I didn't find a lot that was different than this year. It was different, but as far as setup stuff or some of the stuff we do, I didn't find huge differences - maybe little differences here and there. The tire didn't really make you put stiffer springs in or it didn't really make you do anything different like that. The tire was just different. It has more stick right away. The car moves around more on the tire because the sidewalls are softer, so the car actually moves kind of inside the tire. More than anything, it's a really weird feel thing to get used to and the tire does drop off more than what we had before. One thing you might see different, which last year it didn't turn into a fuel mileage race at Vegas, but I think you might see a little less fuel mileage racing. You're gonna want to get tires if there is a caution and last year there wasn't a caution for the last long time. If there's no cautions, you're still gonna run out of gas before you pit, so I don't think that part is gonna change. If there are cautions, I think there are gonna be people who pit for tires instead of maybe just staying out on fuel. Other than that, I don't think it will be a huge difference."

IS THE WINSTON CUP TROPHY STILL ON YOUR COUNTER? "Yeah, it's still sitting on my counter. I'm waiting for that carpenter guy to come over and finish my trophy room. I've got a little place I'm gonna have built and stick it in the wall. It's kind of a neat little place. It hasn't been done yet, so it's still just sitting on the counter. One of these days, though, I'll get it put away. It's nice every time I come home because when I walk in the door it's the first thing sitting there. Especially if we have a bad weekend at the race track, it will be nice to see it sitting there."

HAVE YOU KEPT IT CLEAN AND SHINEY? I'm not a big cleaner guy. I like stuff clean, so I don't like to clean things (laughing). It still looks good. It hasn't really gotten dirty."

WHAT ABOUT THE RACE TOMORROW? "We haven't really run long enough to see if this tire is gonna wear any different than what we had. They told us it's the same compound, it just has a little different sidewall, so I don't think there will be much difference there. The spoiler deal, I don't think you're gonna see a lot here. I think you're gonna see the race pretty similar to what you've seen the last few times. It would be hard to back up more on tires than what we do here already. You've got to be fairly fast on new tires, but if you get long greens, which is a good possibility, you've got to be really good lap 40 through lap 70 on a run when the tires are really wore out. The best way to describe this place is when you start off it's like you've got 15-inch tires on your car. The thing feels stuck so good and halfway through the run it feels like you're on gravel and then the last 30 laps of the run it feels like you're on ice. It gets that slick where you really have to stay on top of your car, so the best mechanical setup usually shows its way to the front here."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DUAL ASPECTS OF THIS TRACK? "This is what racing is about. A lot of the new tracks we go to, especially with last year's tire, we'd go to Kansas and Chicago which are big, wide and sweeping and just stay on the bottom. You're in the gas real hard and it's the guy with the best body on the car. You still need a good setup, but the best body on the car and the best engine - it's just different racing. Here, the driver comes a lot more into play. You'll start driving way down there into the corner, but by the end of the run you're letting off at the finish line. You just have to do so many more things as a driver, kind of what you learned to do on local short tracks where the tires would wear out and you'd have to save tires. Last year at all the good pavement tracks you didn't have to save tires. You could beat on them as hard as you wanted to from lap one until you came in and put four more tires on in it. That's not the case here. You have to take more care of your stuff and, as a driver, that's a lot of fun because you've got to work a lot harder at it. You can pick different lines on the race track. You can run the bottom or the top. You're not just stuck in one groove and have to make your car work there. There are just a lot more options for you and, to me, it's just a lot more fun to drive. When you come here and Darlington - I've never been to North Wilkesboro - but some of those other old tracks that are real worn out as far as pavement, you have to stay on top of the car the whole race."

WHY DO YOU THINK SOME PRESEASON PREDICTIONS HAD YOU FIFTH OR SIXTH? "If we're fifth or sixth after 26 races, that would be great. I'd like to be leading the points after 26 races, but it might be fun to maybe have somebody else have a big lead - maybe have a 400-point lead - and watch them take 395 points from them instead of me. I think that might be better for everybody to watch or talk about, so that would be fine if I was fifth or sixth after 26 races because that would mean I would only be 30 points behind or 25 points behind and 25 points in this system isn't very many points. I hope we're there. I hope we're leading, but I hope we're in that top 10 so we can fight for that championship at the end. Even being predicted to be fifth or sixth, that's not bad. Two years ago we weren't predicted to do that good, so if they're predicting we're gonna run that good, that's alright with me."

HOW DID THE SPOILER CHANGE AND ALL WORK AT VEGAS? "At Vegas you'll see the spoiler show up more and the tires show up more than here. If they didn't tell you to cut the spoilers off here - as journalists or fans or people watching on TV - I don't think you'd really know the difference. I don't think you'll see that much here. At Vegas, though, you should see it a little bit. I don't think it's gonna produce more side-by-side racing, but it should be easier to pass the leader or pass the second-place guy or pass whoever is in front of you. If you're faster than him, you won't have to be that much faster than him to pass because you shouldn't be as aero tight behind somebody and the tires should be wearing out enough to where chassis setup is gonna come into play. So I think you're gonna see a little bit different race at Vegas than what you've seen in the past, but I don't think it's gonna be nearly as drastic as like what you see at Rockingham or Darlington or anything like that. There is only so far you're gonna be able to go at Vegas, Atlanta and Texas on these tires before you start popping them and putting everybody in the wall. There's only so much you can make them wear if the pavement is still good. There's only so much you can make a tire wear out if the pavement is making a lot of heat and making a lot of grip. You almost need worn-out pavement to make the cars back up more and make the tires wear more. The better the pavement is at the track, the less they're gonna be able to make the tires wear because if you make them too soft, they're gonna get too hot and they're gonna blister and they're gonna blow out. They've got to build each tire for that race track."

ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT POTENTIAL TIRE PROBLEMS? "At Vegas they did have some problems testing. I personally didn't. We were wearing tires out, but we were there before there was rubber on the track. I could wear the right rear to the cords in 35 laps. Mark blew a right-front testing and some other guys did, so I'm not really worried about it because everybody's got the same tire. I feel like whoever has the best setup is gonna have trouble last and that just makes us have to work on our setup that much more and maybe be a little bit more careful on air pressure, maybe be a little more careful on new tires to make sure you don't hurt them - kind of like what you had to do at Dover for years until the last year or two. You have to try to take care of yourself better than the next guy. The worst handling car is gonna hurt the tire first, so you hopefully aren't that guy."

IS IT AS MUCH THE TEAM'S FAULT AS IT IS GOODYEAR'S IN REGARDS TO THE TIRE? IT'S LIKE A BATTLE OF WILLS. "Yes and no. I guess there's a possibility of that, but I think it depends on what the problem is. There are different problems. At Daytona we were just wearing them all the way out to the cords before the track got rubber on it - back on Thursday. Our car handled great at Daytona in the 125 and we were just wearing tires all the way out. But I think there are times for that and there are other times where it's just dumb luck or it's how your car is set up or how hard you are on them right away. There have been times I've been at Dover - I've seen Jeff Burton blow a tire a few years ago and he did everything that Goodyear said and then some. He took all of his camber out. He had like three or four pounds more air in his right-front than what we had in ours and he had like two degrees less camber in it than we had in ours and we didn't hurt a tire all day and ran good. He blew a right-front on the second run, so sometimes you listen and do everything they say and it still doesn't help, so I don't really know. If we knew for sure how to fix it, we would try to do that. But there are times, I'm sure, when you're at track where Goodyear will want you to have a certain amount of air in the tire and you might try to do a little less so you're better at the end of the run and trying to get away with it. But more the last couple of years everybody has been putting a lot more air in their tires and looking more at recommendations because they don't want to have problems. Goodyear does a lot of testing, but it's hard to test real race conditions sometimes unless you're at the race, so I think they learn as they go, too."

DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 6 AND 99 LAST WEEK? "I do know what happened to each engine and they were both separate incidents. I know one got fixed for sure and the other I think is still up for discussion, but I think it's OK. It's always a concern when you see a teammate blow up, but combining the forced has made us so much more power and will make us so much more competitive. If there are some problems along the way, I think we'll be graceful with it and not be too mad about it and know that it's gonna be better in the long run. We've made big progress just in the first couple races we've been at here. There are gonna be some bumps in the road, but hopefully we'll get all of that figured out real quick."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Michael Waltrip , Greg Biffle