Talladega II: Kenseth Friday wake-up call

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford Fusion, is scheduled to make his 250th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Kenseth, who is currently fourth in the point standings, was the guest during this ...

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford Fusion, is scheduled to make his 250th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Kenseth, who is currently fourth in the point standings, was the guest during this morning's NEXTEL Wake-Up Call press conference.

MATT KENSETH-17-DeWalt Ford Fusion

IT'S BEEN SAID OF TALLADEGA THAT THIS TRACK GIVES YOU ENOUGH ROPE TO HANG YOURSELF. WITH THE SMOOTH SURFACE, IS THERE EVEN MORE ROPE NOW? "I don't know because I haven't really been on it. I don't think that paving it here is going to make much of a difference in the racing. Usually when you pave a race track, it gives it more grip and you can run faster, the groove moves to the bottom and all of that kind of stuff. Here, I don't think it's really going to matter. We could already run three and four wide, and the cars never really had to handle and you could always run wide open pretty much the whole race unless your car was pretty bad off. I think everybody's car will handle now because of the new pavement, but everybody's, I think, already did pretty good anyway. I think the racing will be as competitive as ever, but I don't see it being a lot different than maybe what you saw before, except you won't be able to see the skid marks as good."

YOU'VE HAD SOME STRONG RESTRICTOR-PLATE RACES THIS SEASON, BUT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO WIN. HAS THAT JUST BEEN A MATTER OF CIRCUMSTANCE AT THE END OF THE RACE? "I think our cars have been good. Our speedway stuff the last year and a half has been very competitive compared to what it used to be. I think me probably not making the best decisions as far as which line to be in or what have you at the end of the races has cost us this year at the plate races a little bit, and a little bit of circumstance. You have to be in the right place at the right time, but you also have to choose where to put your car. Especially in the summer Daytona race, if me and Tony could have got together, I think we had the car to win. I think our car was as good as Tony's, I just got bottled up in traffic and he got behind and we weren't able to get together at the end of the race. Our cars have been fast. I think one of these times we have to luck into it and be at the right place at the right time and make the right decisions at the end to be there, but our cars have certainly been capable lately, which is the main thing."

MARK MARTIN JUST ANNOUNCED HIS RACING PLANS FOR 2007. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIS DECISION? "Mark is the reason that I'm at Roush Racing. Who knows if I'd even have a chance to go Cup racing without Mark? Who knows if I ever would have got that chance? I'm sad to see him leave Roush. I understand, on both sides of that whole deal, I understand kinda why he's doing it and I kinda understand Roush's not being able to get it together. I sorta understand what all went on there. I hate to see him go, yet I'm glad he's doing what he wants to do next year. I know he's been wanting to do a partial schedule. I know he struggled with the retirement and non-retirement issue the last couple of years and what he really wanted to do. I'm excited for him that he still gets his weekends off and he still gets to go Cup racing. I think that will be a good deal for him. I wish he was still at Roush, but I'm glad that I still get to race against him."

DENNY HAMLIN, A ROOKIE, IS CURRENTLY SECOND IN THE POINT STANDINGS. HOW IMPRESSIVE IS THAT FEAT, AND WHEN YOU LOOK BACK ON YOUR ROOKIE SEASON, IS THERE A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT HE'S AVOIDING? "Man, I don't know. I made silly mistakes all of the time. I can't really think of the ones way back then. Our rookie year, our stuff was really competitive and then at the end of the year we weren't quite as competitive. It is real impressive, not just as a rookie, but as a rookie in a team that is somewhat of a new team and hasn't had a lot of success. Taking him and that team, and those guys working so good together and getting the stuff running good and being competitive and winning some races and being in The Chase and being a serious threat for a championship is certainly impressive for the driver, but I think it's more impressive because it's the whole deal. It's not like he got in the 20 car that just won the championship and is out running for it. He got in the 11, and they all share their stuff and it is still a Gibbs car, but he still had to take that group of guys and that car and bring it to where it is also."

LOOKING TO LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY NEXT WEEK, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THAT RACE? "Well, I don't watch the news enough, so I don't know what they did with the tire and all of that stuff, but the pavement job at Charlotte was awesome. I don't think it could have been any better. I think the pavement was great. I think the tire was a little too hard to put on a good race, so I think they softened up the left-side tire a little bit, I believe. If they did that, I think the racing will be much better. I don't think there's anything wrong with the track as far as racing there, it's just the tire was so hard to get hold of. It was just so incredibly hard because they were paranoid of having tire issues, so if they softened the tire up just a little bit, I think the racing will be great. I hear everything good about the paving job here - I haven't been on the track yet - but I think the paving job here from what everybody said is real smooth and it will be real fun, too."

WITH LAST YEAR'S CHAMPION NOT BEING PART OF THE CHASE, IS THERE A HOLE IN THE COMPETITION? "I don't think it leaves a hole in The Chase. I think, if anything, it puts a feather in some of the guys' caps that made it in and were able to beat the champion out to make The Chase. It's kind of like Tony said, it's so competitive and if you get off a little bit or you have a couple of bad races or have some things break, it's easy to get knocked out of it. It's just that competitive. They clamped down on the rules and the cars get closer to the same speed every year, and you've got to not have problems and run good to be able to make it."

DO YOU WAIT UNTIL AFTER THIS RACE TO REALLY LOOK AT THE STANDINGS BECAUSE SO MUCH CAN HAPPEN HERE? "I think after the 26th race, a lot of people maybe look ahead and say, 'Oh man, we've got Talladega coming up and have a wild card.' I don't really look at it that way. I think you put forth 100 percent effort each and every week and see how it turns out. I went into Kansas thinking we've run great at the downforce tracks, so this will be a good track for us and we're going to go up front and run good here and get a good finish and get some points. We went there and ran terrible all day and got lucky to finish 23rd. You don't know what's going to happen each and every week. Like I said before, it's just very competitive and you get a couple of little things off or you miss it somewhere, miss some little detail or make a mistake or whatever, and you can lose a bunch of points or gain points, I think, any week. I think the key here is obviously missing the big wreck and part of the thing that can help you miss the wreck is if you've got a fast car. Our speedway cars have been better and hopefully they'll run goods this weekend and we can get up in the lead draft and stay away from trouble if there is trouble."

WILL THE NEW PAVEMENT GIVE DRIVERS A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY THAT COULD TRIGGER THE BIG ONE? "Not really. I think you'll probably still see a wreck, but I think we had a good chance of seeing a wreck here every time that we've been here since I've been coming here for eight years or nine years. The smooth surface isn't really going to give you a false sense of security because you could always run wide open around here anyway. Usually you can run wide open, even in the pack, pretty comfortably here without it being smooth. So now it's going to make it easier for everybody, so in my opinion, it will give you more time to focus on not hitting somebody. That's usually when the wrecks happen. You're three and four wide, and this guy moves over a little and you move over a little and there's not quite enough room, and you get together and there's a wreck. When you are three and four wide, one guy moves around just a little bit, or gets his car moving around or makes a little misjudgment, and it's usually how the wreck happens. I don't think it's going to be much different. I think it will probably make it a little bit easier because you're not bouncing off the bumps and everything, and you can more concentrate on what line your car is in and staying off of other people."

DO YOU THINK THE CHASE HAS REALLY WORKED IN REWARDING GUYS WHO HAVE WON RACES? "It depends on what you want. It rewards people an extra five points who win races. That's all it really did to the system. And, the system is really the same as it has always been - it rewards consistency. I might be mistaken, but I don't think Tony won a race in The Chase last year. I think he won four or five races during the year, but in The Chase I don't think he did, and he just ran really good but he was just really consistent throughout The Chase and won the championship. It should be about winning, but it should also be about consistency because you're still racing against 42 teams. It's not football where it's one team playing against another team; there's one winner and one loser. There's only one guy that can win and there's 43 people out there every Sunday, and running fourth is still better than running fifth. I think you have to be rewarded for consistency, but certainly, I think winning should be rewarded as well."

HOW BIG IS THE LUCK FACTOR AT TALLADEGA? "Well, it's certainly greater than other tracks. You could be at Michigan, which is a big speedway that we run fast at, and somebody could wreck and most likely it's not going to be a 20-car wreck. It will be a one-car wreck or maybe a two-, three-, or four-car wreck car at the most. We run two and three wide there, but you have some control over your car. You're letting off the gas in the corners and you're controlling how your car handles and what you're doing over there. Here, everybody is wide open and you're all in a big group, and if something does happens - and it doesn't have to be a driver making a mistake because you can have a flat tire or any number of things happen - and if there's a wreck and it's in the middle of the pack it's going to most likely wipe out a bunch of cars and a lot of times there's nothing you can do about that. If you're sitting in the middle of that pack and there's a big wreck all around you, there's a lot of times that you can't do anything to miss that, where at most other tracks you have a little bit more control over your car and you can maneuver yourself out of a wreck a little easier than you can here."

YOU SAID YOU FELT LUCKY TO FINISH 23RD AT KANSAS LAST WEEK. ARE YOU MORE ENCOURAGED WITH WHERE YOU'RE AT AFTER THESE THREE RACES OR MORE DISAPPOINTED THINKING ABOUT WHERE YOU COULD BE IN THE STANDINGS? "A little bit of both, probably more disappointed. I'm disappointed and I'm encouraged. I'm disappointed that we didn't get the finish at Dover, but I was encouraged with how we ran. Last weekend, I was obviously very disappointed how we ran. I was disappointed with how we finished, but I was slightly encouraged because other people had problems and we really didn't get killed in the points. Certainly without running last all week last week, and without the problems we had at Dover, we would certainly be looking good in the points right now and that part is slightly disappointing. Yet, we can't change those three races. The one thing we can do is look forward and we're still not out of it by any means, and we've got some good tracks coming up and we've just got to perform. More so than perform, we just have to get the finishes every week."

YOU'VE RUN MUCH BETTER ON THE PLATE TRACKS THIS YEAR. HOW MUCH OF THAT IS YOU AND HOW MUCH IS THE CAR? "I think a lot of times you learn and maybe get a little bit better at plate racing, but it's a lot easier to learn and get better at plate racing when your car is fast. If your car is slow, you can think you're getting smarter at it all you want, but if your car is slow nobody is going to draft with you. You're not going to be able to draft with anybody because you're not going to be able to keep with them. It's made it easier for me to learn because the cars are better, but yet I feel like we've had a car capable of winning a couple of times this year and I didn't get it done. I didn't pick the right lane or I didn't do the right things at the end of the race to get myself in position to win. I think still have a lot to learn about it, but, man, your learning curve is a lot easier when your car is fast. I think here, in the race you have to make the right decisions, but running up front and being in the lead pack and all of that stuff, it's 90 to 95 percent car. If your car won't take you there here, you're wide open all the way around here, so if your car's not fast you're not going to get there."

HOW GOOD OF A MENTOR IS MARK MARTIN? "He's a great teacher, especially for a rookie or somebody young coming in. Mark has been around for a long time. I know he's one of the most respected drivers in the garage area. You very seldom see him get in a scuffle or get in a disagreement on the track, or get in accidents. He's great at running fast, qualifying good and finishing good. I think Mark's got a lot to offer, especially to a young driver, and not necessarily a startup team, but a younger driver and crew men. He's got a lot of experience and he's been very, very good at what he does his whole career. I think he's got a lot to offer there. He's certainly helped me a lot. He still helps me a lot, but certainly when I first started in the Busch Series and started in the Cup Series. He's had a lot of experience and kinda showed me the right thing to do and told me what the wrong thing to do was and definitely taught me and still teaches me a lot along the way."

DO YOU HAVE A GAME PLAN FOR YOUR CAREER? "I think everybody is different. I don't have a game plan of how long I want to race or when I want to quit or anything like that. I love what I'm doing and I can't imagine doing anything else. I'm 34 years old, and I feel like I've got a lot of racing left in me. I don't really think about it that much. Obviously, when drivers come in that are 20 and you're 14 years older than they are and they're winning races and they're doing that stuff, if that trend continues you can see the writing on the wall. If you have a bad couple of years and can't get it to run, I don't think it matters what you did in the past, I think you're going to have a harder time keeping your ride than you did 10 years ago. Or, they'd keep using a guy if they knew he could make races and be solid. I don't think it's going to be like that long into the future. Certainly, as long as we're completive and I'm having fun, I can't imagine doing anything else. I sure hope it's not for a long time."

-credit: ford racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth