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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Matt Kenseth
Ricky Rudd
September 21, 2004


THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference today. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is at Dover on Sunday for Round 2 of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. TNT will carry the race live beginning at 12:30 p.m. The NASCAR Busch Series is back in action after a week off and will also be running at Dover this weekend. The race will be live at TNT beginning at 1 p.m. eastern on Saturday. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series takes its tight championship race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday for a 10 p.m. eastern time start. That will be live on SPEED Channel. The NEXTEL leader bonus is now at $80,000 for Dover and will go to the race winner if he is also the points leader at the end of the event. The NEXTEL Wake-Up Call is set for 8 a.m. on Saturday in the media center at Dover. Ryan Newman is the scheduled guest this weekend . Our guests today are Matt Kenseth and Ricky Rudd. Ricky is scheduled to join us in just a few minutes. The driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford and the defending premier series champion Matt Kenseth is currently fourth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, 10 points behind leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Matt earned the only pole of his premiere series career at Dover in the spring of 2002. He has three top five and six top ten finishes over all in 11 career races at the Monster Mile. He finished ninth in this race one year ago and was 22nd in the spring event when an accident ended his day just 19 laps from the finish. Matt comes to Dover after a second place finish in Round 1 of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup at New Hampshire last Sunday. That was his eighth top five and the 16th top ten of 2004 to go along with two victories thus far this season for Matt Kenseth. Matt, welcome and thanks for joining the call today.

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, no problem.

THE MODERATOR: You got back in the groove Sunday with your runner-up finish at New Hampshire. Following two races, pretty uncharacteristic finishes of 22nd and 28th at California and Richmond respectively for the 17 team. A good time to get back some momentum as Round 2 of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup comes to Dover, don't you think?

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, it was good to get everything together, you know, not make any mistakes. Robbie did a great job calling the race, got us in a good position at the end of the race. Great to get out of Lowden with a second place finish. We had a great car at Richmond, actually a car I thought we could have won the race with. Left the wrench in there at the pit stop. So that was tough to take. And California, we didn't run that good. Pitted under green, caution came out and lost that lap at the end. So felt good to get a good finish and to do things right and get some momentum going.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please, for our defending premiere series champion Matt Kenseth.

Q. Going into this race at Dover, and maybe you could even go back on some of the emotions you had going into Lowden last weekend, is there a different feeling of finality now that it's down to 10 races and 10 drivers?

MATT KENSETH: Well, we were in a pretty good position all year where we were in the points. And it was really different the first 26 races. There's a lot less stress. You know, when you had a bad day, it was still a bad day and you were still mad you finished 22nd, but it was nothing like it was last year trying to go for a season-long championship. When you had a bad day last year, you know, it ate you up inside, couldn't sleep at night, it was real hard to take. Where this year so far up to this point, it hasn't been that bad. Now, the last 10 races will be that bad because all the points count toward the championship. But going to Lowden to me felt like it was the second week of the year and the Top 10 guys got off to a decent start at Daytona. You know, it just feels like it's early in the year and everybody's real close in points. That's kind of what it feels like right now.

Q. Do you like that or not like it?

MATT KENSETH: It's okay. It's different. You know, I enjoy the traditional way going for it all year and having to pay for a mistake in April is the same as October. I mean, that was cool. But I can see how that would get, you know, maybe a little boring to people if the points race was real spread out like it is in the Busch Series right now. It's pretty spread out. It's not that interesting to watch if you're not part of it. I understand that. I think this definitely has created a lot of interest, more than I thought it would. It was real exciting at Richmond watching the battle for the 10th position to make the cut for the chase. That was exciting. You know, everybody's real close in points right now. So, you know, I think that will be exciting for the end of the year for everybody.

Q. As someone who does Busch Series racing, would you like to see the chase implemented in the Busch or Craftsman Truck Series to give those series the kind of attention that NEXTEL Cup has been enjoying?

MATT KENSETH: You know, I don't know. It doesn't really matter that much to me. I mean, I think that this deal seems to be working pretty good - better than I think a lot of people probably thought it would be. So I think it's something that they'll probably look at. But I know they didn't do it right away because they didn't want a NEXTEL Cup driver running a personal schedule to go there and run good enough to be in that Top 10, then be able to run all the last 10 races and go for the championship. They want to leave that to the Busch guys who are running all year, which they should. If they can figure out a way to do that, to discourage people like myself to runs a 15- to 20-race program, to bump that up to 25 races and still have a chance for a championship, if they can figure out how to make that not happen, I think it would definitely make it a little more exciting.

Q. Would that not be something interesting, a guy like Greg Biffle, to be in two chases?

MATT KENSETH: It would be interesting. I mean, that's what he was trying to do this year, he was trying to run for the championship in both series. It's tough to do, to do it season long. It would be much easier to do just having to run the last 10 races, make some mistakes early in the year. I don't know if that's good or bad. Everybody's got mixed emotions. Half the people like to see you run Busch races and see you involved in it, and the other half get all over you saying you shouldn't be over there racing with them guys. I still think the championship should go to the guys who put all their effort to run in the Busch Series and make that their living.

Q. In the early days when this was announced, you were one of the people that didn't sound too crazy about it. Today it sounds like you may have changed your mind. Can you talk about the evolution of your opinion towards this a little bit.

MATT KENSETH: You know, I'm a guy who's kind of a traditionalist, and I generally don't like change, no matter what it is. And plus, we won it last year. You know, no matter what you do or how good you do something, there's always going to be criticism over something you do, no matter what it is. There was criticism about winning one race, being so far ahead in the points and all that stuff. You kind of take that to heart a little bit or whatever. You know, I wasn't really for it in the beginning. I can't say that I'm still a hundred percent for it. But being a part of it and being involved in it, with 10 races to go, being up there only 10 points from the lead, that part of it feels good. We're able to make some mistakes and still get our points back at the end of the year. So in the position that we're in, it feels good. If we would have had a 400-point lead, they would have took it all away with 10 to go, it probably wouldn't feel as good as it does right now

Q. I know you can't speak for others in the garage, but what mood do you sense in the garage area about how this thing is developing, if people are for it or not?

MATT KENSETH: I don't really know the answer to that question. I haven't really talked to that many people about it. There wasn't many people in the garage who liked it when it came out. I think there's a lot of people who have warmed up to it somewhat, including myself as it's gone on and as they've seen how it's worked. I don't know. That's not really a conversation I've really had with anybody lately. I'm not really sure.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about it seems just by everybody, most people but yourself, as the defending champion, obviously you should be in the discussion. Do you feel like you've been sort of the forgotten man in all of this the last two months, three months?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I'm sort of used to that. I mean, even last year, we led the points almost all year. It was all the way until after the July Daytona before anybody really noticed or said much about it, which is fine with me. I'd rather have the spotlight on somebody else and the attention on someone else. I think it helps us do our job. I don't think it distracts me or the crew or any of the team guys or Robbie or anything as much when they're not really talking much about it. You know, the best thing to do is to try to win it. After you win or do something, the people are going to remember and are going to talk about it. But we have to prove we're worthy of that. All season we've been running decent, but we've been very up and down. We haven't looked like we were going to be consistent enough and run good enough to have a shot at the championship. First we got to go out and do our job and try to win some races and finish good here these last 10 and put ourselves in position to try to win it again, then we'll see if we're worthy of it or not.

Q. There's been a lot of talk and rumors, people say if Dale Earnhardt, Jr., had been in your position last year, run away with the championship, they wouldn't have made the change. Do you think there's any truth to that?

MATT KENSETH: I have no idea. I mean, I don't really know. I don't really know.

Q. I wanted to ask you about what happened with Biffle and Robby this weekend . While it didn't affect you, it could affect others running in the same position, trying to get into the chase for the cup. Jeff Hammond wrote there's a code to a degree when somebody does something to you, you got to get them back right away, let them know you didn't appreciate it, and NASCAR should be careful about penalizing a driver for doing what racing has always been about. What I ask you is, what are your initial thoughts about that being that Biffle is in your camp? Does it change how people would act on the track?

MATT KENSETH: Well, first of all, I haven't seen the incident. It was behind me on the track both times. I haven't watched a bit of TV. I haven't seen any articles. I don't have any idea about anything that really happened between them two, so I can't comment on that situation at all. As far as the question about being concerned about being taken out by somebody when you're racing for the championship. 43 people show up on the racetrack every Sunday. They're all racing for a win. They all have just as much a right to be out there whether you're 40th in points or first in points. Getting caught up in somebody else's mess is part of racing. You always hope it doesn't happen. The fact is that it does happen once in a while. Watch a Daytona or Talladega race. A lot of people get caught up in other people's messes. That's part of racing. There's no one person on the track that deserves more real estate on the racetrack than any other person. You need to race everybody the same. However you race them is probably how you're going to get raced back, no matter where you are in the points.

Q. I think some of the guys lower than the 10 would appreciate you saying that because some of them are kind of sick of being asked over and over, "How are you going to race around the chasers?"

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's going to be any different. You race everybody. I just don't think it's any different. I don't think it should be any different. Us being a points leader last year, they didn't go into drivers meetings and say, Hey, be careful around the 17, he's leading the points. They never said that in a drivers meeting once all year. I don't think they should go into a drivers meeting now and say, Be careful how you race around these 10 cars. We're not special because of where we are. Everybody has a right to be out there trying to win the race.

Q. Your feelings about scanner traffic, your conversations with your crew being heard by so many, potential of being put on the air by the broadcast networks. Does that reach a point of invasion of privacy or is that just the way things are and you have to deal with it?

MATT KENSETH: I hate it. I've always hated it. I think it's cool as a fan that they get to listen to it, but I don't like saying something and then it gets broadcasted on TV. Maybe you're embarrassed from it later or whatever. We're out there running as fast as we can, on the edge, and things happen, you say things in the heat of the moment, whatever, that you're not thinking about saying to everybody else. You're thinking about saying to your crew chief, a couple of guys on the crew. To have millions of people listening to that, you know, is sometimes difficult. It used to be they had to ask permission to broadcast. Now they just broadcast anything. I don't like that. You definitely have to think about what you say more. You know, I understand why they do it. It's entertainment. People want to hear it.

Q. My understanding, you can request it not be put on air.

MATT KENSETH: I don't know. Again, I don't know about that. Used to be able to. I don't know if you can any more or not.

Q. December in New York last year seem like maybe 10 years ago to you? Celebrating the championship and everything. Has time just kind of flown by?

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, actually it seems like yesterday. We were in New York last week doing some media stuff for the Top 10 for NASCAR. When we were up there, it seemed like -- last week we were up there for the championship. I don't know, the older I get, it seems like the faster time goes by. It seems like it was just yesterday we were up there.

Q. Was that experience in New York last week fun? Seems like had you a good time.

MATT KENSETH: It was all right (laughter). There was other things I would have rather been doing, let me put it that way.

Q. With what you guys went through last year and getting Jack his first title, he went his whole career trying to get that title, now all of a sudden he's got three guys in the 10-driver chase, how does that make you feel? Does he have this air about him that maybe the odds are in his favor this time?

MATT KENSETH: No, I don't think so. I think Jack's kind of a pessimist. I don't think he expects to win anything until after he's won it. He usually expects something to go wrong. Right now we have great race teams and great sponsors over at Roush. We have great equipment with Doug Gates doing the motors. They're unbelievable. That's really helped our program a lot. Right now we got good equipment. So when you have good stuff, you have to take advantage of it and try to run good with it. You know, all the teams have done a pretty good job of that this year.

Q. One of the concerns going into the Chase For the Championship, new format, guys once they make it might tend to drive conservatively to protect their equipment, their lead. That didn't seem to be the case Sunday. What is your personal mindset going into these races each race?

MATT KENSETH: I got to be careful what I say to you. I remember you wrote I needed to quit whining about the points and just go race.

Q. Yes, I did.

MATT KENSETH: I'll be careful what I say to you. I don't even remember what you asked me. People racing around us?

Q. Yes.

MATT KENSETH: I think I answered that one already, didn't I?

Q. I am not sure.

MATT KENSETH: I think everybody on the track has an equal opportunity to race. I don't think the Top 10 should be treated any different than 11th through 43rd. You know, them guys all have a right to race. They all show up to try to win the race. We're not any more important than them guys are. It's all about racing and trying to win the race. I don't think you should be raced any different no matter where you are in the points. However you race people and they race you all year, you race them all year, that should continue to the end of the year.

Q. The question is, the guys, would they be tempted to race conservatively to protect their equipment, their points lead? Looking at the Top 3 finishers Sunday, it didn't seem like there was any conservative driving at all out there.

MATT KENSETH: No, I mean, I'd like to strap you in there and have you run a few laps. The people that said that we were even being conservative last year, it's just hogwash. You know, it's so competitive, you can't run conservatively. If you run conservatively, you're going to run 25th or 30th. It's tough to go out there and run in the Top 10 and run up front, and even tougher to win races. Anybody can see that looking through the stats. Jeff Gordon used to win 13 races a year, now he wins anywhere from three to five. It's just that much more competitive. There's more winners. The car are more close to the same speed than what they've ever been. There's more rules than what there's ever been. It's tough to run good every week so you got to go out and run hard. You got to try to be smart, not put yourself in a bad position. You need to go out and run hard every week, try to finish as high as you can.

Q. It comes down to Homestead again. Last year you ended up actually being able to blow an engine and still being able to celebrate the trophy. This year it will come down to three or four drivers. Do you think it will be some sort of vindication for you, if it does come down to that you, you win it, somehow it will seem like a bigger achievement than what you accomplished last year?

MATT KENSETH: I definitely don't think it will be a bigger achievement if we can do it. And I don't think we need to be vindicated for anything. I think we had a great year last year. Yeah, we only won one race, but it's tough to win races. The year before we won five races, which was the series high. I think that it's tough to win a championship no matter what format it's under. But I feel like last year, the way it was set up, to have that pressure each and every week for 36 weeks, not be able to break and not be able to have trouble and do all them things I think was pretty tough for us to accomplish. I don't think anything will ever top that. If we win another championship, that will be great and we're going to be happy about it. It will be awesome if we could win it under both formats. But nothing we accomplished I don't think will ever be like accomplishing that first championship.

Q. When you did go to Homestead, what was your mindset? You had already clinched it going into that race. When you got there, it would seem to me it was almost anti-climactic for you because you celebrated a week earlier.

MATT KENSETH: You know, it was a little bit more relaxing because we didn't have to worry about the points. At the same time, it was very frustrating. We blew up before even our first pit stop. That was pretty disappointing. Kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit for the celebration afterwards and all that. We just went down there and approached it like we would approached any other race. We went down there and tried to win, go down there and run the best we could.

Q. Robbie was saying the other day you guys have seven of 10 tests left. Sounds like you're going to have a heck of a testing schedule here on out. Where do you find your weaknesses going into the final nine races?

MATT KENSETH: You never know. You can go to a track that you think you run good at and have trouble, and not run good. If I had to look over the schedule, I'd say Dover is one of my favorite tracks, but our results haven't been there lately. I think we'll do okay there. Martinsville has been a real struggle for us. They redid the track, so you never know what you're going to get there. I'd say Martinsville, Darlington and Talladega are the three I probably worry about the most. Martinsville, we haven't ran good the last couple years. Talladega, anything can happen. You can get a good finish there, you can get caught up in a wreck and finish last. You just don't know what is going to happen there. Darlington is one of my favorites, but we don't have the results there lately. We haven't ran that good. Those are probably the three that I feel like we'd probably be the weakest at.

Q. Can you put your finger on why -- a lot of teams have that big drop-off after winning a championship. For some reason, the 17 car has remained consistent throughout this season. Can you point to the reasons why?

MATT KENSETH: Because all the same people are there, I think. Nothing's really changed. We've stepped up our motor program. We got better stuff than what we had before. We haven't lost any people. I think that was one of the most important things. A lot of teams after a championship year will lose some personnel and not have the same group together. We've been able to keep that same group together. I think that's probably a pretty big reason.

Q. I know the end result is what matters, but it's no secret, you guys seem to always start a little worse than you'd like to. Why is it that qualifying is so different for you than the race itself?

MATT KENSETH: If I knew the answer to that question, I'd fix it right away. I don't know. We put a lot of effort into it. I just must be no good at it. I don't know. Maybe we try too hard. I don't know what it is, but that's always been a weakness of mine, since I started in the Busch Series, even though we have had a few poles over there a few years ago. That's always been a struggle for me. We work on it. But whenever we test, we always test race trim. We always focus almost all our energy on the race because that's all that really matters. But it feels like if we could qualify better, we could collect more bonus points, be closer to the leaders, have yourself in a better track position throughout the race. But it's just been tough. I don't know. We sure try hard at it. While we're at the track, we work on it for two hours on Friday and try to get the best lap I can. Just seems like we always come up pretty short.

Q. (Inaudible) this past weekend when qualifying got rained out?

MATT KENSETH: You know, we always kind of joke about it because if we ever start farther forward than 17th, it seems like we have problems and things don't turn out our way. We fell back there in the beginning anyway; lost some of our track position. But we never did get all the way in the back on Sunday. I think it helps when you start up front, but for us it doesn't seem to make a big difference. But when you're in front of most of the cars, you obviously have less chance of getting in a wreck or getting tore up. So it's important to start up front, but we just can't seem to be able to do it very good.

Q. How big of a thing is it to have a couple teammates in the Top 10 with you there?

MATT KENSETH: That's good. I mean, that's good for the whole company. It's not just about the 17; it's about 97, the 6 trying to run for a championship, trying to figure things out and work on things together, which should help all of us. For the company, that's a good thing that three of us are in there and have a shot at it.

THE MODERATOR: Matt, we'd like to also wish you and the 17 team best of luck at Dover this weekend. Thanks again for taking the time to join us today. We do appreciate it.

MATT KENSETH: Thanks a lot.

THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford. Ricky, who has finished in the Top 10 in 19 of his 27 full-time premiere series seasons is tied with Jeff Gordon among active drivers in all-time wins at Dover with four, and three of those wins have come in the fall race at the Monster Mile. Ricky has also accumulated four poles at Dover, two of them coming in the fall events, and his 26 top ten finishes at the track rank first among active drivers. His 14 top five career finishes at Dover are second among active drivers, only to Mark Martin. Ricky finished 11th at the Dover fall race last year. Ricky, thanks a lot for joining us today. We appreciate it.

RICKY RUDD: We appreciate you on the phone.

THE MODERATOR: Dover has been one of your most successful tracks throughout your Cup career. What is it about the Monster Mile that has worked so well for you?

RICKY RUDD: Yeah, I'm not really sure why that is. It's just one of those tracks that you go to over the years. It seems like you can always pretty much count on a pretty good run when we go to Dover. Really don't have a reason why that is. I enjoy driving the racetrack. I know back when it used to be 500 miles, a lot of guys used to dread that track. I always enjoyed it. I enjoy the track layout. It's not far from where I grew up, a couple hundred miles away from Chesapeake. I don't have the answers, but I have enjoyed the success there, though.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Ricky Rudd, please.

Q. Could part of that success be that there's some kind of mental thing about Dover or any other racetrack where you know you've been successful, maybe you're just a little more relaxed or feel better about it?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I don't really think so. I think it just has to do with the racetrack. It's a little unusual compared to a lot of racetracks we run. It's a mile track. You have to get in the corner real good there. You don't use much brake. It's a track that's sort of unique to itself. I don't really think that any more relaxed going into Dover or any more tense for that reason. Again, I just think it's a fun racetrack for me to drive. It always has been. Maybe some of the guys over the past years when it was 500 miles maybe got caught up in the hype, the Monster Mile. It's a tough racetrack. It's not very forgiving. If you make a mistake, usually it's not a situation where you just brush the wall there, usually you do a lot of damage. Like I say, it's been pretty kind to me over the years. It's taken us out a couple times. The straightaways are banked very much there, a lot of steepness in the straightaways. If you have an accident, usual carries you to the inside wall. You don't generally get a second chance at Dover.

Q. Look back over this season from your viewpoint and assess it.

RICKY RUDD: Well, the early part of the season, three-quarters of the season, it was really spent sort of floundering around. Our superspeedway program was pretty right on, especially for qualifying. A pole at Talladega. I think a third at the July race at Daytona. Good qualifying efforts. Not a whole lot with the race situation. Road course, I think we only got one Top 10 finish this year, and that was the road course at Watkins Glen. Up to three or four races ago, not a whole lot there to get excited about, exception of recently. We've seen big progress since Michael McSwain, Fatback McSwain, showed up. We don't have the finish results, but the on-track performance has definitely taken a huge improvement.

Q. Talk about your relationship with Michael. Do you think that's going to be the key to success in the future?

RICKY RUDD: I think the key is whatever you got to do to get results. With Fatback and myself, we've always been to get results. Again, just one of those things, you don't really have all the right answers. The chemistry just seems to be there. He really seems to understand when I tell him what the car is doing, he just is very good at understanding the way I relate to what the car is doing. Maybe because he was a former driver, he ran some modified or local dirt races, pavement races, so he understands probably from the driver's perspective a lot better than some of the crew chiefs that are out there. But the bottom line is, when I can go out there and run on the racetrack, come back in, say the car is a little loose or a little tighter on the entrance to the corner, we go faster. Very seldom do we go back out, and adjustments get made and the car not respond. It usually always seems to go and works and fixes the area we needed help in. That's a pretty welcome relief, and it's a pretty good communication thing to have going to be able to get those results. We unloaded at New Hampshire and weren't particularly good off the trailer. Fatback was not at the first Dover race, so he didn't have a notebook to go off of too much. We went out and ran. It wasn't long, right before qualifying, got the car dialed in, we were seventh fastest on the speed charts going into qualifying. It's back to the communication, knowing how to quickly adjust. A lot of that is coming without testing. We have not been able to test because the team has been behind getting cars built and trying to get things understood what we actually have in the shop, how they're built. Fatback knows how to adjust them. Most of that time has been spent in a productive way learning what we got there in the shop.

Q. Looking at the last nine races before 2004, at what point do you say that you know where you are for this season, now go ahead and get started for 2005? Did it come a couple races ago or prior to that?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I have to give Eddie Wood a pat on the back for patience. Eddie is a little more patient than I am, I guess. The results just weren't coming, things weren't really clicking there. I think knowing that you're -- there's no possible way you're going to make that Top 10 cutoff, in this day and time, that's sort of where if you're not in the Top 10, you might as well pull over and either sit out and come back next year or go to work on your program and try to get it where you come out of the box powerful for the next season. Obviously, you don't have the option of sitting out the rest of the year. It wouldn't make a lot of sense anyway. But use this time to get your ducks in a row for next year because one thing I've noticed, it's so competitive now that you can't really come out of the box and have a problem to try to overcome and overcome it and probably still make it to the Top 10 in points, where in years past, you've pretty much been able to do that. I think not only our team, but a lot of teams have elected to use the rest of this year to rebuild their program to come out of the box strong for 2005.

Q. As you look at the tracks on this circuit from the newest to the oldest, obviously Dover is a favorite, but are there any other tracks where you look forward to or just have a very good comfort level with?

RICKY RUDD: Well, we've got Martinsville coming up. That's going to be the first time we run one of Fatback's cars that were built from the ground up. Kind of anxious to look at that. We've always had good cars at Martinsville, and Fatback has had exceptionally good cars at Martinsville. He ran very well there with Bobby Labonte earlier in the year. Always run well there. Looking forward to that race. A lot of races coming up . Phoenix is a good one. The list goes on. To tell you the truth, I just kind of look at it one weekend at a time, don't get caught up in it too much. This coming weekend, up at Dover obviously has been a good one for us. I'm going to be a lot more excited once I get the new chassis in the system.

Q. You're going to be pleased with what you see at Martinsville, the soft wall barriers are pretty much complete.

RICKY RUDD: That's good. Looking forward to getting there.

Q. About a year ago we were all talking about what is this NEXTEL going to be all about, now year a year into the new sponsorship. From the competitor's viewpoint, how has NEXTEL made an impact or imprint on this sport? Do you use a NEXTEL phone? How have you seen the transition in this first year?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I think it's gone pretty smoothly really. I guess that's a good thing, not to see any major hiccups in the situation, which I'm sure there's a lot of things that have probably happened behind the scenes. As competitors, we really haven't seen too much of the problems. Still trying to learn all the faces over there with the NEXTEL group. That's going to take some time, I guess. Things are quite a bit different with the new system the way they've got it in place.

Q. How so? What's different?

RICKY RUDD: I'm just talking about mainly the points battle, a lot of pressure to make that Top 10 cut. From here on out, that's pretty much all you're going to hear, a Top 10 battle. That's quite a bit different. I don't think it's meant in a negative way towards NEXTEL. It's just the way the points situation works out where if you're not in the Top 10, it's kind of bad for your sponsors. If you go out and win every race for the rest of the season, not too many people would know about it.

Q. As a competitor, are you aware that it's not Winston any more? More things you're involved with because it's NEXTEL? Do you guys have NEXTEL phones in your garage? What are some of the things we can point to that we know it's NEXTEL now, not Winston any more?

RICKY RUDD: I guess probably the biggest thing for me is the colors are different. You have the yellow and black of NEXTEL. The red and white, I guess there's some of that red and white paint left around, I see a lot of the walls are still painted red and paint. A lot of people still using that Winston paint on the walls. The NEXTEL towers you see around the racetrack. From the competitors, it's operating pretty well. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. Transition has been pretty smooth.

Q. Did you find out what happened to the engine?

RICKY RUDD: Have not heard back yet. Obviously, it was pretty terminal. Not really sure what happened. It's sort of unfortunate. I think we were the only ones there I believe that had a motor problem the other day. But it's been rare. We've had really good motors all year long. I guess you're always going to be due for an engine failure. It just happens. It's unfortunate that we were having a good day. Couldn't have happened the first three-quarters of the season when it pretty much would have put us out of our misery, where we had a top five, top ten run going the other day.

Q. Eddie talked earlier in the season for you guys to really get your name in the papers with the chase going on, you have to win races. Do you believe that at this point?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I think for sure it's kind of hard to skip over if you actually -- if you go out and win a race. I think everyone understands what the playing field is now. If you're not in that Top 10, it's going to be pretty hard to get your sponsors press at this time from the rest of the year out. It's going to be really hard. I notice the TV is very biased towards the Top 10. They sort of forget about the rest of the crowd there, regardless of what you're doing on the racetrack. That's sort of unfortunate. Sponsors in this sport spend a lot of money to get recognized, that's the reason they're out there. The new format just doesn't lend itself to that. We pretty much knew this going in when the season started, I think everybody did. That's just the way it is.

Q. Some of the skeptics of the new system at the start of the season said kind of what you did, that maybe the guys who weren't in the Top 10 get left out, other guys lose their incentive. These last nine races won't be just some kind of long test session, Ricky Rudd is going to be out there racing hard and trying to win these last nine races?

RICKY RUDD: Well, exactly. Every team out there has their own set of goals and priorities of what they're trying to accomplish the rest of the year. A lot of them, when I say experimenting, they're going to come to that racetrack with their very best equipment they possibly can bring. There may be some rolling of the dice that may not have happened if the Top 10 points thing was not locked in at this point, if you're outside of that Top 10, if you're outside of that Top 10. Again our goals might be a little different from the rest of the group because we haven't been competitive on the racetrack like we've needed to be. So there might be a little more experimentation with us than maybe some of the other guys. It really depends on how far off your program is. There's some guys that finished just outside of the Top 10. They had momentum, they were coming, they just didn't quite make it happen with the breaks at the right time late in that cutoff point before Richmond. Some of these guys have got their program together. They don't really need to do a whole lot of anything. Where on the other hand, there are a lot of other guys that are not as competitive as they need to be, and they're working on that very hard. Again, the best thing we could possibly accomplish between here and the rest of the season is to run well, run Top 10s, Top 5's. If you happen to get your act together really good, you can slip in there and win one of these things. Again, our goals aren't any different. We're working very hard to get the Motorcraft Ford back on a competitive par.

Q. Were you blindsided a year ago when they started talking about this thing? Did you ever suspect this sport would have what in essence is a playoff? What were your thoughts when you started getting the details of it?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I'm open-minded. You have to be this day and time. You never know really where the sport -- what's going to happen behind the scenes. Television nowadays dictates really what goes on, in my opinion, what's going to happen if they -- it's more about make sure she get the best TV ratings they can so they can sell some advertising time. As a program, is it exciting? We'll have to wait and see. We'll have to wait and see what the fans say. From what I can see, there definitely is a lot of interest and a lot of interest in the sport, especially right around the Richmond race. The guys that were -- it was pretty interesting to watch the guys that were just outside of the Top 10 trying to get in, like Jeremy came from four or five spots back to get into that the Top 10. Had to be some heartbreaks, guys that didn't make the Top 10. There's a lot of stories there that took place right around the Richmond race. What happens the next nine races, we'll have to see if they can keep it exciting for the next nine races left in the season. It does have some sub parts that maybe weren't normally there. As a competitor, it definitely makes you feel sort of an outsider looking in. But on the same token, most of the people that are on the outside looking in didn't run well enough to make the cut. There's not a lot of excuses to be had there. We just got to get running better. It definitely makes you feel like you don't want to be outside of that Top 10.

Q. On the lines of what NEXTEL has done for the league this year, could you tell me sort of what your feelings are with Brian France taking over, having his first full year running the series?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I think it's definitely a season full of changes. Like I say, I think the bottom line is we'll wait and see. This really to me it's not so much what the competitors think about it. The rules have always been massaged a little here, a little there. You still go out there. The bottom line is if you go out there on the racetrack and run good, win races, the rest of the things will sort of take care of itself. That has not changed. I think the real test will be looking in those grandstands when the season starts to wind down. If you see a bunch of empty seats, things aren't going real well. If you see the seats filled up, I'd say things are going very well. To me that ought to be the report card.

Q. Has there been a year that you raced that there has been this much drastic change? If not what year would come closest to it?

RICKY RUDD: I can't think of any year. For many years, things just sort of went along. I think the adage was, Don't try to fix something that's not broke. I think that was pretty much the plan for many years. And racing has grown each year to a higher level. Now, like I say, we're into a lot of changes. I don't know if you can tell right away. I think time will tell whether or not it's successful or not. One thing I guess I've learned about Brian France and his group, if it doesn't work and it's not successful, you can expect some changes to redo the program to try to get it successful. It doesn't seem to be wrote in stone. There's some creative people there behind the scenes trying to think of better ideas to make the sport better. I think in that respect, we're in good hands.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your feelings about your conversations with your crew. The scanner traffic can be heard by so many, also can potentially be broadcast by the television networks. Is that something that's fine or has that reached a point of becoming like an invasion of privacy for the driver?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I think as far as the competitor standpoint goes, you realize you're being monitored. That doesn't always sink in sometimes when you're in the heat of the battle or you've got a problem and you're trying to work through how to handle that issue. You're not really thinking about the millions of people that possibly could be listening in. You realize that people at the racetrack have scanners, they're going to be listening in. Where do you separate the entertainment value? I know a lot of people are very interested and the fans are very knowledgeable of our sport today. I think they would feel very shut out if they were not allowed to scan and listen in on your channels. Do I agree with TV kind of tapping in and listening in at inopportune times? I think this he could be a little more discrete about it. There's a lot of conversations that probably doesn't need to be heard. On the same token, that's public airways. What are you going to do about it?

Q. What would be something that you prefer TV not to hear and why so when the fans at the track potentially could hear that? What's the difference between TV hearing it and the fans at the track hearing it?

RICKY RUDD: Well, that's a good question. I guess a lot of teams still scan each other. At one time, teams were going to scrambled frequencies. I don't know if that's even allowed any more. I guess I've watched a couple -- the difference to me sometimes is when they tap -- I guess in a lot of ways there's no difference. I kind of see your point. If fans can listen to it at the racetrack, why can't the fans at home be privilege to that? I guess that's where certain things I think should be private. But I'm kind of contradicting myself. If people in the stands can hear it, so should they be able to hear it at home. I guess if I had my way, all the frequencies would be scrambled and it wouldn't be public information. But I'd get a lot of hate mail about that. To me that's the race team's strategy, that's like sitting in on a business meeting. I don't necessarily agree with it. I definitely agree that it adds value to the entertainment side of it.

Q. It would probably be difficult to go back to like scrambling all the frequencies because certainly the fans have the opportunity to listen, fans would be upset losing something like that. Is there a happy medium where the fans and the networks still can listen in but maybe there's more discretion or is that really not possible, more of an all or nothing type of thing?

RICKY RUDD: You know, I don't know. I don't know how to answer that. I know as drivers we've got to be very careful on what we say on the radio as far as censorship. It's always pretty much been that way. Now it's even more so important. If you happen to slip, a driver could very well end up with a one or two million dollar fine if he's not careful with what he says in the heat of battle on his radio. That's when every driver will prefer to have their channels scrambled, I think.

Q. You were talking about television, being outside the Top 10, not paying attention. Do you feel like any of those, not just yourself, can you all race the race you would have raced had there not been a chase going on at the same time?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I think so. I mean, the only difference, when you get down late in the season, NASCAR is very good about this, I've been a receiver of this at the drivers meeting a lot of times in the last ow two or three races, actually it almost gets comical. I remember the comments being made over the years, if anybody runs in and knocks one of the top two or three guys out of the way that's running for the points championship, you better go find the other two and knock them out of the way, too. We don't want it to be decided by someone -- another competitor being able to purposely take another competitor out. You got ten guys now running for this championship. You can't pull over and let those 10 just go race. Somewhere along the way, you got to do your normal thing. If you're normally aggressive, you're outside of the Top 10, I think you got to continue to be aggressive. You're just going to have to be smart aggressive it looks like. You need to be very aware those guys are running in the Top 10. You don't want to change that outcome. On the same token, you can't be bullied either. If somebody starts an incident that is in the Top 10, they need to expect that they don't have a carte blanche credit card to do whatever they want also.

Q. Which is something that Jeff Hammond said. There's a code, NASCAR is maybe trying to suppress it. When somebody does something, you feel you have been done wrong, you have to let them know you don't appreciate it, i.e. Robby and Biffle's incident.

RICKY RUDD: I've always had a crew chief or spotter tell me, Remember the big picture. I'm not -- I don't really know what happened the other day with Robby Gordon and Biffle and that bunch. There's a time to handle it and there's a time not to. It's sort of a selfish time to handle it if you decide to handle that issue and you take other innocent bystanders with you. The fight I understand was between Robby Gordon and Greg Biffle. First of all, there's no one comes out and says you got to settle this anyway. If you do settle it, you definitely don't need to involve innocent bystanders. In this case, it took out some of the top point guys. That didn't need to happen. If Robby felt like he was compelled to take action, it didn't have to happen right away. It could have happened later on. It could have happened two races from now or whatever. The little thought needs to be going into that where you don't take other people out.

Q. Matt Kenseth said today nobody warned people last year when he was in the championship to stay out of his way. He doesn't think there should be these kind of warnings of not affecting the championship.

RICKY RUDD: Where do you draw the line? If NASCAR says these Top 10 are racing for the points, hell, the rest of us might as well pull over to the curb and let them go race. Might be kind of boring with 10 cars out there running around, chasing each other every week. Somewhere there's a fine line there. You race like you do every week. There's guys going to give you a cheap shot, those guys are going to continue to do it. That's not going to stop them. I mean, most of the problems you see on the racetrack is just people racing each other very hard, and someone slips. That's usually what causes an accident. I mean, occasionally a guy will get impatient and shove somebody out of the way. To me, the way I look at it, if you're in the Top 10, you get impatient, you shove somebody, you ought to be expected to be shoved back.

Q. Do you think two laps was a fair penalty for Robby? Do you think NASCAR, when there is blatant retaliation, when somebody comes on the radio, says I'm going to get that guy, that NASCAR has to set that precedent to let them know who is in charge of the track?

RICKY RUDD: Well, I can only say it's a lot different now than it was five, 10 years ago. I think that's part of the problem. There's not a strong enough hammer that comes down nowadays. If you are sitting there listening to a guy, maybe he was dealt a cheap shot, maybe it was an accident, but where I was always put in my place, if someone comes on your radio, everybody's listening you got to figure, they blatantly hear you come and say I'm going to take this guy out, you go out and do it, then how stupid can you be? NASCAR ought to take whoever. The answer to question, no, two laps is not enough. If a guy blatantly takes somebody out on purpose for revenge, the rule was they pull you in the pits, sit you down, maybe 15, 20 laps, maybe not let you go out and race the rest of the race. That was the way it was for years. Everybody sort of understood the penalty box. It doesn't seem like there is much of one any more.

THE MODERATOR: Ricky, we appreciate the time that you've taken to spend with us today on the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. We wish you and the 21 team the best of luck at a great track for you this Sunday at Dover and again for the rest of the season. Thanks for taking the time today.

RICKY RUDD: We thank you guys.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank all of you for your participation on today's NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Have a great week.



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