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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Matt Kenseth
May 17, 2005


DAN PASSE: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. This is a big week in NASCAR. It's All-Star week. The NASCAR Nextel All-Star Trophy Tour has been winding its way across North Carolina, stopping today in Moorseville, tomorrow at Concord Mills, and Thursday in uptown Charlotte, culminating at the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Pit Crew Challenge at the Charlotte Coliseum. Of course, let's not forget the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge this Saturday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Today we're joined by the million-dollar winner of last year's All-Star Challenge, Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Roush Racing Ford. Matt is currently 21st in the 2005 point standings and finished most recently 12th place in Richmond. Matt's history is well-known as the 2003 NEXTEL Cup champion and he has nine NEXTEL Cup victories to his name. Now, Matt, before we get to your drive on Saturday, your crew, The Killer Bees, is taking part in Thursday's NASCAR NEXTEL Pit Crew Challenge. How do you think they're going to do? Are they going to get a good chunk of the $250,000 purse?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I hope so. I don't know. I mean, I think that they're the best on pit road. You know, under normal race circumstances, around pit road, when the pressure is on, there's nobody that gets it done better. There are some different things with this pit crew thing about pushing cars around, doing some other kind of things that we really don't do on pit road. So I'm curious to go see it and see how they do.

DAN PASSE: We look forward to having you. How do you feel your chances are for a repeat? Are you ready to win another million dollars in the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge?

MATT KENSETH: You know, I hope so. But, you know, not to be a pessimist, but we haven't been running exactly the best lately, haven't had really the best fortune lately. It's a different track. We didn't go there and test. There's some different things to do with grinding it and moving the groove around and doing different things. So I'm real interested to go see the track, you know, see what it's like. I don't think you could have made the track any better than what it was before. I'm curious to see what it's going to be like. You know, go out there and hopefully we can get our (indiscernible).

DAN PASSE: Now we're going to open it up to questions from our callers.

Q. When you were in the All-Star Challenge and it's coming down to that last segment, and you're on the track, everything that's going on, the craziness that's going on, in your mind are you thinking million dollars or are you thinking I want to be the All-Star of All-Stars, what are you thinking?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, the money's always a great thing. The money's always a bonus. But, you know, really you're thinking about winning the race and getting the trophy, and trying to approach it kind of the same as any other race, you maybe take some extra chances in this race or whatever because there's no points involved. But, you know, really you're out to win the race and out to get the trophy and be on the list, you know, with the rest of the drivers who have won that race over the years. And, of course, that race has always been known for having a big payout and having a lot of fans there and being a no-holds-barred type race. You think about the money, too, because there's a great purse there. But you just think about trying to win the race.

Q. Throughout this season, starting with Daytona, it just seems to have been a fight. What are you feeling this year? What is going on through your mind?

MATT KENSETH: You know, just -- we just got to keep working on it. You know, it's been disappointing so far, for sure. There's been a few races where we ran pretty well, have had some bad things happen to us. We ran really well at Daytona and California. You know, we ran pretty decent, respectable at least, at Bristol. (Matt's cell phone cutting out) and then there's been some races where our performance has just been, you know, not acceptable either, and haven't ran really well, haven't had any problems and finished. The races we've ran bad, we haven't had any problems. We just ran bad and finished bad. Then there's been races, Phoenix we ran good all day and had a tire come apart for some unknown reason. When we've been running good, we've had bad luck. When we've been running bad, we've had okay luck and finished. We just haven't been able to get things to go our way yet.

Q. Does it bother you more when you see other cars in the Jack Roush stable do so well and you're fighting the tough fight?

MATT KENSETH: Well, there's two ways of looking at that. The good way of looking at it, it's encouraging knowing we that we have the equipment to win with if we can figure out what to do with it and get the right luck when we are running good. You know, that's the good part of it. I mean, you know, when your teammates are winning, you want to be the one winning for the company. But if you can't win, you definitely want your teammates to win because that means that we've got the stuff that's capable of doing it. That's encouraging knowing that if things don't go our way, we have all the tools we need.

Q. Just talking to Kasey Kahne, he was talking about the tightness of the race. He said that rules that NASCAR has implemented this year has really made the cars more difficult to handle, and that's one reason why maybe we're going to see a tighter points race down towards Race 26. Do you sort of agree with that? What is your assessment of how difficult it's going to be to get into that final 10 or maybe even more than that this year?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, so far, you know, honestly for as bad as things have gone for us, to be 21st in points isn't really that bad. When I look at the points, if we can get running good and have some decent luck, I think the Top 10 is real attainable. I think everybody has had problems this year, you know, off and on, maybe more so than in years past. Usually by now there's one or two or three or four guys that haven't had hardly any problems and they're way up front in the points race, where this year everybody's had a few problems. I don't know if the points race is going to be tighter than normal or if it will be like normal for sure. Some weeks the cars seem like they're harder to drive with this package and other weeks they don't really seem like they're harder to drive, they seem about the same. It's just a matter of getting the setup right.

Q. A lot of people have had a hard time this year. Would you attribute that to the new package or is it just sort of that's how it's gone this year?

MATT KENSETH: You know, maybe some tracks. You know, some tracks, they're maybe looser and a little harder to drive, you know, than others. I think some of the tracks where guys were having single-car incidents, stuff like that, might be because the car is a little harder to drive. You know, overall, I don't believe it's a lot different than what it used to be.

Q. I'm doing a story on the Hall of Fame specifically for Kansas City. Do you think drivers have a lot of opinions on this? Where would you like to see this thing go?

MATT KENSETH: For what that is?

Q. The Hall of Fame.

MATT KENSETH: Oh, I don't know. I'm probably the wrong guy to ask on that. You know, I think it should probably go -- there's more than one way of looking at it. It'd be cool to have it at a place where there's a racetrack, because there's history there from NASCAR racing. But then on the other hand, maybe it'd be cool to go somewhere where we don't race because it would bring race fans to the city or maybe make race fans out of the people who live in that city. I don't know. You know, honestly, the way the years been going and trying to get these cars getting running better, where the Hall of Fame goes is probably last on my list right now.

Q. Probably not too many people talking about it in the garages, either.

MATT KENSETH: Not really. We more have our own stuff to worry about, I guess. You know, busy enough testing, racing, trying to get running better, that I haven't really thought a whole bunch about it.

Q. Going back to the All-Star race for a minute. There's been talk in some years about that race being maybe a little too aggressive or too out of control. Is that something that you guys sort of think about going into the weekend or do you think that's true?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, it's not as bad as thinking about going to Talladega or anything like that. But, you know, when you do go there, I always, anyway, have in the back of my mind, think about the wreck, when it's going to be, what's going to happen. Because the last few years there has been a wreck. But, you know, people do, it seems like, try a little harder and take more chances and wreck more and lose control more maybe in that race than what they do maybe in a 600-mile race. You know, but I think that's what the fans come to see, to see you run as hard as you can and try to put your car over the edge for the short-type races. I think you definitely do see a little bit more of that than when you do at a 600-mile race. You kind of got to pace yourself and you got to be there at the end.

Q. Is there any particular thing that sticks out looking back a year for your win last year? Is there anything about that that you specifically remember, sort of really like to think back on?

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, the biggest thing I guess is Ryan in the pit. You know, we had four tires on and we were catching him. I think the biggest thing I remember about it is my car was real free and real loose, and I had a hard time getting to him. When we got to him, it got his car loose. It was a real good race. It was a real exciting race. I don't know if you'll see that again or not. I'm not so sure how this is all going to work out with changing the racetrack around and grinding it or whatever they did to it. I thought it was about perfect the way it was. It was always if you caught somebody, you could always pass them there. I'm not sure if that will be the case or not. It's fast, but I don't know if you're going to be passing people on the bottom or not. From what I hear from everybody, the middle groove is really fast. You know, when that happens, it's usually hard to pass, so we'll see.

Q. You're so even-keeled about this when you're talking about your season. I'm wondering, are you getting frustrated? Are you punching the air? Are you kicking the dirt? What has it been like week after week with one after another? You have one Top 10 all year.

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, it has been really frustrating because I know that all of us are capable of doing, you know, much better than what we're doing. And there has been a lot of the things that have been out of our control. You know, but lately, the last two weeks, we've just ran awful, which is even more frustrating. You know, it's one thing to be running good and blow a tire out and not really have done anything wrong, you know, not know why it blows out for sure, but knowing that we really didn't do anything wrong and get a bad finish. That's one thing. But when you just run bad all day and finish, you know, bad like we did at Darlington and not really too spectacular as Richmond for how we usually do, that's extra frustrating because our teammates are leading laps and winning races, and very haven't been able to run with them really most of the year. Yeah, it's frustrating, but there's not a lot you can really do about it. It's not going to do any good to get mad or do anything else. You just got to keep working on it. Everybody is working on the cars as hard as they can work on them. They've been testing and trying to get the stuff better. We know we have the equipment to do it; we just have to keep working on it and figure out what we need to make the cars go fast.

Q. Along the same kind of mode, you've always been really tight with your teams, Matt, and I'm sure through your career it started out that way with this team, too, that you keep the guys around for a long time. Can you talk a little bit about your team right now as we head into the Pit Crew Challenge, your guys. What do you do to try to straighten things out? Go to the shop more, boost things up, have cook-outs with the team? What do you do to try to straighten anything out there?

MATT KENSETH: You know, I don't know if there's anything that needs to be straightened out. We just got to figure out how to get running better. I think we probably need to be testing and working on the stuff, which we are. I mean, we're working on it and trying to get the stuff better. So, you know, we got a great group of guys. We did lose some guys again last winter. It's not quite the same look as we had a year ago or even two years ago or three years ago. But we have some great guys. They're working really hard on it. They're enthused. They know we're capable of winning races. I think we have the best overall guys on pit road. They get me in and out of the pits as fast or faster than anybody else could. We got great engines and we got great cars. We just got to figure out how to get the whole package put together, get the right setups in them and do the right things to them to make them run.

Q. You are one of the guys that knows a lot about race cars. How involved do you get in the cars themselves beyond what you can do as a driver? You can work with the crew and you can boost morale as the driver by stopping at the shop. Really what can you do from your position at this point?

MATT KENSETH: You know, you do as much as you can or as much as you've ever done. But, you know, that is changing more and more as the days go on, too. The cars are becoming more and more aerodynamic, aero dependent. There's less the driver can keep on. The cars are getting more dependent on aero and less dependent on necessarily chassis setups than what we used to be. It's hard to keep up on all that. It's hard to keep up on what makes the cars run. It's not like it was five years ago, and it's not like it was last year or the year before that even. So it's hard to stay up on that. You know, everybody's, you know, working on it to try to make the stuff better.

Q. How does the team's approach for the rest of the summer, as you move toward the cutoff point in Richmond in September, change from what you guys were doing last year when you were so secure in the points, even at this point? What do you guys -- how does it make you guys approach things differently now that you're in this position as opposed to what you were last year?

MATT KENSETH: You know, there's always, you know, several ways of looking at that, analyzing that. But I always believe that you race -- you know, you race the way you know how to race. You race as hard as you can but you try to be smart, try to get the best finish you can get. If it's not your day to win the race, you're not running good enough to win the race, you get the very best finish that you can get that day and collect as many points as you can that day and not do anything, you know, to jeopardize that or to turn -- you don't want to turn an 11th-place finish into a 30th-place finish because you did something foolish. I think you've just got to take the cards that you were dealt that day and play them the best you can and get the best finish you can out of each and every week, you know, each week try to get your stuff better and try to figure out how you can turn it into, you know, winning stuff. But when you don't have it, you need to get the best finish you can to gain as many points as you can that particular day.

Q. How easy it to say that, how difficult is it to do that, to take a 15th-place car and not try to squeeze a Top 10 out of it someday?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you're always, you know, trying to squeeze that out of there. But, you know, I mean, as a driver, you know your limitations as a driver, you know the car's limitations. You know, when you try to go beyond that is when you get yourself in trouble and you get wrecked or you get the bad finish or get whatever. So, I mean, whatever the car's got in it that day, you've got to get it all out of it. But there's only so much it has. There's not a driver out there that can take a car like we had this weekend, approximately a 15th- or 20th-place car and win with it. It's just impossible. You got to take what you have and tune on it all day and work on it as hard as you can all day. When all is said and done, you got to get whatever finish you're capable of getting out of it.

Q. You really haven't had much adversity in your career. Is there anything you've drawn on from your past that's helped you stay even-keeled through this?

MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you know, every day I wake up, I realize how lucky I am and how fortunate I am to be doing what I love to do, what my passion is, do that and make a really great living at it at the same time. You know, I realize that. I'm very, very thankful every day, you know, for all that. But you always want to do better. You know, you never want to do -- you know, you never want (Matt's cell phone cutting out) potential of what we're capable of or what our teammates are, that's always frustrating. You know, in 2001, we had an awful year and I always said that I would never take it for granted how hard it is in the sport to run good and to run competitively all the time. You know, I haven't forgotten that. I know how hard it is. When you're missing just a little bit, you're going to run like we ran the last two weeks. It's just that difficult. You just got to try to stay on top of it all the time.

Q. The Busch Whackers, basically the NEXTEL guys going down to race Busch, it seems like it's happening more often these days. I think NEXTEL guys have won nine of the 12 races so far in Busch. Why do you think that is? Do you think there's something to gain from that, for the NEXTEL guys?

MATT KENSETH: You know, you used to be able to learn more from your Busch car to help your Cup car because of limited practice and limiting testing and all that stuff. But now with impound races, I don't know if you learn quite as much as you used to because by the time you race the Busch car, you can't work on the Cup car any more anyway the next day or whatever before the race. So anything you learn on a Friday night you can't really put in your car for Saturday night because your car is already locked down in the garage. (Matt's cell phone cutting out) as long as the schedule keeps running parallel. You know, I think it will be like that until they start making some standalone Busch races where you can't run both races, both races aren't the same day. It's impossible to do that. It used to be like that so a Cup guy could go over there and try to win a championship, where now a guy can. It's a little bit uncomfortable for a few races, but a guy can do it. That's the way it's always been over there. I feel like, you know, when I had to go there and race against Mark Martin and Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett, a whole bunch of them guys, I feel like that accelerated my learning curve and made me a better driver. So I think that's kind of the way you got to look at it.

Q. Do you think it hurts any of the other Busch drivers, maybe taking spots away or maybe it just weeds out the guys that don't belong there?

MATT KENSETH: (Matt's cell phone cutting out) quality. I don't think it really takes spots away from other drivers or spots in the field away from other drivers. It probably takes some (indiscernible) away from some of the real good Busch guys who are running second, third, fourth, fifth all the time. It definitely takes some wins away from them guys (Matt's cell phone cutting out) weren't there. But I don't think it takes any spots out of the field or makes the field, you know, sends any competitive cars home, I don't think that happens.

Q. You said you don't really gain as much, but I know you won one race there. What do you try to look for when you go to race Busch? What are you trying to pick up there? Something about the track?

MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, you just get more time on the track. It's the same tire. You got an idea what the tire is going to do, how the track is going to change, that type of thing. Really with limited practice we get these days, testing, all that, the extra track time is nice at a lot of these tracks that we only go to once a year.

Q. Talking about the impound procedure. I'm starting to hear some people think the impound might be costing a little more money because of the lack of practice time actually at the track on race weekend maybe breeding more cautions. What are your thoughts on that?

MATT KENSETH: I don't know. It's easy to sit and analyze all that stuff, I guess. But it's hard to tell. I think that in the future, it's going to be, you know, a lot better. I think someday down the road when they get the schedule, you know, shortened up a little bit, I think it will start saving money. I don't think it really saves money today because we still travel on the same day, we still do basically all the same stuff. It might save a little bit, but probably not a lot. I think in the future if it can make it where the teams can travel Friday morning instead of Thursday night, get into the track just a little bit later and shorten the weekend up by one night on the road, I think that would be a tremendous help to everybody. I think it would help (Matt's cell phone cutting out) the crew chiefs, all that stuff, I think it would help that a lot.

Q. If they limit testing with the tire (indiscernible), would you guys want the happy hour back?

MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I've really quit trying to figure some of that stuff out. You know, trucks, they never had testing forever. They talk about saving money. That was so great. Then this year they give them all seven tests. Sometimes I just don't get it at all. So I just quit really trying to figure that out. In one breath we're trying to save money and test less, do all these things. You know, last year they gave us two or three days of testing back. They had it down to only five tests a year. Then they put it back up to seven or eight or whatever it is again two years ago. So, you know, I don't really get it. I don't really know what the plan is of that or how they're trying to save money that direction.

Q. You were asked about the aggression in the All-Star event. How much of that stems just from the money that's on the line?

MATT KENSETH: You know, probably a little bit of it. But I think a lot of it also just comes because it's the All-Star race, because of maybe what's happened there in the past. You know, there's no points involved, you know, that type of thing. So, you know, some of it I think is because of the money and because they know there's a big purse. Another thing is I think a lot of people, because of what they hear, what the media says, what they've seen on the TV in the past, or what they've seen there in the past, they know there's not really anything to lose as far as points go. They're just out there running hard on a short-sprint race.

Q. You've held that big check in your hands after winning this thing. What does it mean, not to just a driver, but to the crew to be racing for a purse that big?

MATT KENSETH: It means a lot. I mean, qualifying there is really cool with the pit stop during qualifying. The crews take great pride in that. They take a lot of pride in, you know, the pit stops they got to make during that All-Star race under green and all that stuff to keep you in the hunt. It's definitely a team race.

DAN PASSE: Thanks, Matt, for joining us. Good luck this week. If anybody on the call is interested in coming out to the Pit Crew Challenge, give me a call at 704-746-4463 if you have any questions about coming out to the Pit Crew Challenge or need credentials. Also looking forward to seeing everybody at the All-Star Challenge on Saturday. Thank you very much and have a great week.

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