The Ford Five - Week 3 of the Chase to the Championship September 27, 2005 Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Taurus, comes into this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway ninth in the point standings.
The Ford Five - Week 3 of the Chase to the Championship
September 27, 2005
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Taurus, comes into this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway ninth in the point standings. Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, is 124 points behind leader Tony Stewart. The Ford Five driver was this week's guest on the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference.
MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DeWalt Taurus
YOU WERE 11TH IN THE SPRING RACE. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS WEEKEND? "I feel pretty good about it. I think in the spring we finished 11th, but I think the whole field was wrecked, except for those few cars. Talladega is one of those tracks where anything can happen. Obviously, you think about going there and trying to miss the big wreck and hopefully be in the lead draft at the end and having some help around you. So that's why we look forward to going there. Like I said, it's a track where anything can happen, so we'll just go there and hope for the best."
HOW MUCH INFORMATION SHARING IS THERE NOW WITH YOUR TEAMMATES? "All of it. It's the same as it's always been. We're in Kansas testing today and Mark has his Busch cars here and I've got my DeWalt cars here, and Kurt is here with his two cars and all of the crew chiefs have been talking back and forth, and the drivers, trying to figure out what we can learn. None of that has really changed. Obviously, each guy that's in it wants to be able to win it and run the best for themselves, but if we can't win it, we certainly would want a teammate to do it and keep it in the organization if possible. So we're still working together the same as we always do."
DO YOU LIKE HAVING TALLADEGA IN THE CHASE? "Whether you like restrictor-plate racing or not, which most people don't, it's a part of what NASCAR Nextel Cup racing is right now. There are four of them a year and it's part of our schedule and part of what you have to do to try to run for a championship. If we were right up there in points and we were trying to run for a championship, do I like it in the chase? Not really, but I don't like running them at all, so it doesn't matter what time of the year it is you don't really look forward to running a restrictor plate because you kind of are a passenger and you kind of are at the mercy of everybody else and what happens out there, and you're always looking for that wreck."
DO YOU FEEL YOU STILL HAVE A SHOT AT THE TITLE? "Oh, yeah, I feel like we have a chance. I think everybody in the top 10 has a chance right now. We're only two weeks in and eight races is a lot of racing to do and anything can happen. You saw Jimmie Johnson last year. I don't remember how many points he was out, but he was way, way out of it and won a whole bunch of races at the end and came real close - right down to the last lap at Homestead - so anything is still possible just because we had one bad week. Our performance has been good. We've been running pretty good and I think we can get back in it."
COULD YOU IMAGINE WINNING A TITLE AT THIS LEVEL AS JUST A ONE-CAR TEAM? "It would be difficult because there are no one-car teams. That's a tough question to answer. There are only two or three one-car teams, so obviously your odds are two or three against 40 or 41. Those are pretty tough odds. There just aren't very many of them, that's why."
ARE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE DRIVERS COMING FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY? "No, not really. I think it's not been a regional sport for a long time. I think it's been a national sport for a long, long time and I think the bigger business it is and the more popular it is and the more owners and sponsors and crew members look outside of one area to find talent, obviously, if you search the whole country for talent - whether it's a crew member or a driver or what it is, you have a better chance at finding it than if you look in one small area. No, it doesn't really surprise me. There's a lot of great racing all over the country. I think there are a lot of really talented crew members and drivers everywhere. You've got to search everywhere for them."
DO TEAMS LOOK AT CHAD KNAUS AND WONDER WHAT HE'S UP TO? "I can't speak for other drivers and crew chiefs, I can speak just for myself, but I know from my standpoint I think he's one of the smartest crew chiefs in the garage. When you look at him - a lot of the rules in the rulebook today are because of stuff that he's done and because of things he's figured out how to work around the rules to get an advantage for his own car and his own team. So I think, certainly, other crews and drivers look at his car and look at the things that they do because I think he is so smart and he has been able to figure this stuff out. I think that's a big compliment to him. He's always working on it. He's always figuring out how to be ahead of the competition it feels like, so a lot of the stuff that we do is copied off stuff we've seen on his car before. That's a pretty good position to be in."
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE FINISH OF THE RACE ON SUNDAY WITH KYLE BUSCH GETTING SO CLOSE TO JIMMIE? "Honestly, I didn't see the end of the race. I was on my way walking through the parking lot getting to my rental car, so I was out before then and obviously didn't see it."
HOW CLOSE DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS WOULD RACE IF ONE OF YOU WEREN'T IN THE CHASE AND HAD A SIMILAR SCENARIO? "I know it's a big story because everybody wants to believe that everybody is treated different because they're in the chase, but it's not the case. These races are very, very difficult to win as you can see. It took Ryan Newman a year to win a race and he won the most races a couple of years ago. It took us a year to win a race and we've won some races in the past, so you're gonna take every opportunity you can to win a race. It doesn't matter if you're 35th in points or fifth in points, you're gonna race as hard as you can to win. Yeah, you're not gonna take out a teammate to do it, but it doesn't matter if that teammate is in the chase or not, you're still gonna try to beat him to win. It's too hard to win races. You're never gonna give races away. I think that's silly. I remember when Mark won the 600 a couple of years ago and I ran second to him. People were like, 'Oh yeah, you didn't try to beat him.' That's just absolutely silly. You're gonna try to win every race that you can win."
IS IT AN ADVANTAGE FOR HENDRICK HAVING ONLY ONE CAR IN THE CHASE BECAUSE THEY CAN FOCUS ALL THEIR ATTENTION TO THAT ONE CAR? "No. I think it's the same. If all five of our cars or one car was in I don't see a big advantage here or there. Yeah, there may be other things that could pop up in the next eight weeks that could be a little advantage because they only have one car in - like if Jeff is leading the race and he lets Jimmie lead and get the points because he's not in it - things like that. But I think as far as the testing and sharing information and all of that, I think it would be the same if all of the cars were in the chase or none of them were."
WHEN YOU'VE WON AT A TRACK BEFORE DOES IT GIVE YOU ANY KIND OF ADVANTAGE OR ADDED CONFIDENCE? "Not with Talladega -- certainly not with Talladega. I think Mark would tell you that he doesn't have any extra confidence going there because he's won. That's a track where you're pretty much a passenger. There are things you can do during the race. You can get some help drafting. You can make different decisions during the race that certainly affect the outcome, but that place is 90 percent the race car - at least or more. So I think when you get near a real good car that can run up front and are real strong - like you've seen certain cars in the past - you have confidence going there. I'm sure Dale Jr. has a lot of confidence going there. I'm sure Jeff Gordon has a lot of confidence going there because their plate program has been so good, but I don't think Mark or any of us have any extra confidence going to Talladega."
IS THIS RACE MORE ABOUT SURVIVAL THAN WINNING? "I think every race is about winning if you have an opportunity. But I certainly think Talladega is about two things for me - it's about surviving and it's about being in the lead draft. You don't want to just survive and be in the back and get separated into two or three packs and be in the second or third pack because it probably won't, but it has gone green flag the whole race. It wasn't that long ago because I was in it, so it wasn't that long ago. That race does have the possibility of running green flag all day long so it's important to survive, but it's also important not to make a mistake on pit road, getting on pit road, getting off pit road - any of that kind of stuff under green - because if you lose that lead draft there might not be the opportunity to get back in it."
WHAT IMPROVEMENT HAS BEEN MADE TO ROUSH RACING TO HAVE THIS DRAMATIC MARCH OF ALL FIVE IN THE CHASE? "I think there are several things. I think Roush Racing has always been fairly strong. I think one of the things that started helping the cars run better in probably '01, when we all ran pretty bad, and Jeff Burton was kind of at the forefront of it, of getting all the teams to work together and all the teams to share information and just to work together a lot more. When I first got there, it was Jeff and Mark - the 99 and 6 - working together and then it was the 16 and 97 and they didn't help them and didn't share information with them. It was sort of like a deal like you probably have at Penske right now, and I think when we all started working together and they got five drivers in there that could all work together and five crew chiefs that could all work together, and another huge thing that helped Roush Racing was when they merged the engine deal with Doug Yates and those guys. That engine deal working together with Roush has been a tremendous advantage. It's been great having all those motors. That's just one thing we can take out of the equation. We don't have to worry about engines anymore and can just concentrate more on the car."
HOW DO YOU HANDLE A BAD FINISH LIKE LAST WEEK? "I think it's hard to put out of your mind, but I think you want every race to be a good race - at least I do. I care about where I am in points, but regardless of where I am in points I hate having a bad day. If we're 30th in points and we finished 35th I'd still feel bad about that, so you don't want to have any bad races. Certainly when you're in the final 10 you don't want to have a bad day, but you've got to take it week by week. You've got to put last week out of your mind and go on and do the best job that you can next week."
WHEN IT COMES TO THE DUAL 150's AT DAYTONA, HOW MUCH FUN IS IT? "It's fun. It's a kickoff to the season. We're down there for a whole week. Daytona and Talladega are a fair amount different. It's always fun to run the Gatorade races just because it's kind of a test for the 500. It used to be you'd get more cars showing up and the races probably had a little bit more importance than what they've had the last couple of years, but they still have a lot of importance. You still want to get a good starting spot, but more than anything I like it because it's a good test for the 500."
DID THE EXTRA LAPS THIS YEAR MAKE A DIFFERENCE? "I don't think it's been much difference because of the fuel cell change. When we used to be able to run almost 125 miles on fuel, you could do different things strategy-wise, but I think since we put the smaller fuel cells in we all had to pit anyway and I don't think the extra 25 miles made much difference."
HOW IS JACK HOLDING UP SO FAR IN THE CHASE? "I don't know. I guess that's something I guess you'd have to ask him. I haven't talked to him since Sunday. Actually, that reminds me. On the way to Kansas this morning I got a message from him, so I probably need to call him back. I haven't talked to him this week. He's always concerned when you have problems and you blow a tire or you have a problem like that. He's always concerned in trying to make sure we don't have problems, so I can't really comment on how he's feeling. Whether he's got a positive outlook today or a negative one I don't really know."
WAS THERE ANYTHING COMMON ABOUT THE TIRE PROBLEMS WITH YOU AND YOUR TEAMMATES? "Our first three there is because we all ran over a piece of debris. On the last one I blew a right-front and that wasn't related to running over debris. We had some other kind of problem and I'm not sure what we had there yet."
HOW DIFFERENT WILL THIS RACE BE COMPARED TO OTHERS. "It's different. Talladega, as far as the driver goes, if you're in the top 35 in points, is really stress-free until you get to the race or race practice. In qualifying you're just a passenger and you're holding it wide open anyway. There's not much going on on Friday and then when we get into race practice on Saturday there's not a lot of handling that's involved at Talladega, so we usually don't practice a whole bunch. We make sure it drafts halfway decent and if it doesn't draft halfway decent, there's not really much you can do to fix it at the race track, so you just go out and run a little bit and get ready for the race on Sunday. It's definitely a different type of race, but that's just part of it. I think you still have to approach it the same and just try to be smart there and have yourself in the right position at the end of the race."
ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM THE SPRING RACE TO THIS ONE? "I don't know, probably half a car or whatever wasn't bent. We could use that, but if I remember right, anyway, I think pretty much everybody was wrecked and I think we finished 11th just because we weren't wrecked as bad, but I can't remember if that was Daytona or Talladega to be honest with you."
HOW FORTUNATE DO YOU FEEL BEING WHERE YOU ARE TODAY AFTER SUCH A SLOW START? "I definitely feel fortunate that we were able to figure out some of the stuff that we had wrong and get running better and get in the chase, for sure. But more than looking back we're trying to look forward and take it week by week and try to do the best job we can every week to get ourselves back into it a little better."
Robbie Reiser has 10 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series wins as crew chief of the No. 17 DeWalt Taurus driven by Matt Kenseth. Reiser recently gave his five keys to having a good day at Talladega Superspeedway.
Having a slick race car. "Aerodynamics are probably the biggest key. When we go to get qualified, it's all about the aero package and motor you've got in the car that makes you competitive."
Avoid the big wreck. "When you go to Talladega it's not just only avoiding the big wreck, it's avoiding all the wrecks. You look at the last time we were there in the spring and we wrecked four times. You've just got to be prepared because anything can happen. Everybody talks about the big wreck, but it's all the wrecks you've got to miss all day long."
Pitting with a group. "When it comes to pitting, you've got to know when to come and you've got to come with a group that you can run with. Sometimes, pitting on top of everybody doesn't work out, either, because everybody is trying to get on pit road at the same time, so you have to pick and choose your partner and get on pit road with at least four or five cars so those guys can run together when they get off pit road."
Luck. "Any race we go to, racing luck is a key. You've got to have things fall your way to win these races. You can't have something go against you and win. When we had that lugnut problem at Loudon, it was good that it happened under yellow, and the fact that the other cautions came out the way they did allowed us to get our track position back. So you have to have some of that good luck."
Good communication. "Another thing is having good communication between the spotter and the drive. The driver needs to know what's going on at all times because the cars are so close and the lines are moving around you. You've got to sit in line once in a while and take your beating, but other times your line moves and you have to know when to stay in your line. It's important to have somebody who can communicate with the driver and can keep him calm all day because you're in a pressure cooker all day long running at 200 miles an hour with everybody all around you."
"THE FORD FIVE" QUICK FACT:
The last time Ford had at least FIVE drivers finish in the top 10 of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings was 2002 when seven Fords made the cut.: Mark Martin (2nd), Kurt Busch (3rd), Ryan Newman (6th), Rusty Wallace (7th), Matt Kenseth (8th), Dale Jarrett (9th) and Ricky Rudd (10th).