NASCAR Media Conference
April 5, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference in advance of Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Our guest is Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Matt joins us from NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
Matt is currently ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, with one pole and three top 10 finishes in the first six races this season.
Matt's also been successful at Texas Motor Speedway. In 17 starts at the one-and-a-half-mile track, Matt has 11 top 10 finishes, including a win in 2002. Matt also has a second best average finish at Texas, finishing an average of 9.5.
Matt, as we head to Texas for its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the lights, what's your outlook for this weekend.
MATT KENSETH: Well, I love going to Texas. It's always been a good track there for us. We've always performed pretty well there as an organization, as well as our individual teams.
So it's one I always look forward to. It looks like it's going to be great weather. Come out and watch the race. It's going to be hot and it's going to be racing under the lights there, which will be really exciting. I'm looking forward to the weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Matt, Ricky Stenhouse has obviously made some tremendous strides this year in the Nationwide series. To what do you tribute his success and his gains?
MATT KENSETH: Well, Ricky's an extremely talented driver, and I would probably contribute most of his success to just gaining experience and getting smarter.
He's been really fast since he first got in one of these cars. He just struggled to make it to the end of the race. Sometimes his fault, sometimes not. But struggled getting there and being there at the end.
It's been a lot of fun for me to watch him last year and get stronger and better towards the end of the year. You could see him getting smarter and picking and choosing the times when to really push the limits and when to maybe back down and be smart and take your opportunity later in the race.
So I think it's just experience. I think he's got a lot of talent. I think the experience is just really starting to pay off.
Q. Is there any advice or insights you've been able to give Ricky along the way?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I'm always there to answer any questions he ever has. He hasn't had a whole bunch of them. But a little bit last year when I got to run in the Nationwide car just a little bit, you know, spent some time with him, and the last couple of years, actually a little bit.
So I'm always there for advice if he ever needs it. And I've probably given him, you know, a little bit but not a lot.
Q. Curious, looking at your team, specifically the 17, but also the company in general, can you just kind of compare where you guys are performance-wise to this same point last year?
MATT KENSETH: Oh, probably not -- hard for me to remember the same point last year, it's hard for me to remember last week, but certainly overall, until probably I don't know when we made the turn last year, I guess August or September, seems like the organization started making the turn and having flashes of brilliance of performing better here and there.
Then I'd say the last two months of the season, last year certainly Carl won a bunch of races, and Greg won a couple. And everybody started running good. And thankfully so far we've been able to continue that throughout the winter and keep improving our cars and coming out of the box pretty competitive as an organization and as a team this year.
Q. What changes of the ones I'm going to mention here do you think has had the most impact on drivers and racing and NASCAR racing in recent years: Changes to the new car, the have-at-it policy last year, or the simplified point system or, you know, points are now at a premium?
MATT KENSETH: Well, some of the have-at-it rules or the point system, whatever, I don't think it's been a big thing to adapt for the drivers, at least from my perspective, because you're still going to race the same and do your job.
I think the biggest change, probably, for most of the drivers as well as the crews and teams and all that, is -- and this goes back a while, so it's hard -- it hasn't been a change the last couple of years, but really this car, when we switched platforms of the car, if the other car was black, this one is white. They're totally opposite.
And I think for me, personally, it was hard to not necessarily get a feel for that new car, but to get a feel for it and know what you needed in it and help your crew chief and help your engineers figure out things to try and what you wanted in it to make it drive the way you needed it to drive.
It was so different and still so different than the old cars, which it's been a few years now, but it was a lot different than that other car, and it was a big adjustment, bigger for some of us than others, but it was a big adjustment.
Q. And kind of a follow-up on that. Do you think that new car, did that give some of the younger drivers who didn't have the experience, like the veterans, you guys, did that give them a little bit of an advantage?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know about that. I mean, I think that the good teams and organizations can adapt to whatever the rules are.
One thing about NASCAR racing, when there's a rule change or something like that, it's the same for everybody. We all have the same notice what the rules are going to be. We've all got the same opportunity to prepare and be ready for that and try to conquer that and do the best you can with it.
So it's the same for everybody, and I think the good teams will adapt quicker than other ones.
Q. Question about the new point system. We're only, what, six races into the season. But how do you like it? I mean, you must like it you're ninth in points, can't dislike it -- but can you equate the points to the old system or do you just not look at it and say: I'm 24 behind Kyle now, not too bad?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I don't really look at the numbers as you might think. I'll glance at the standings once a week and just see where we are, and honestly that's about it.
So I guess you could figure it out and figure out where you'd be if it was last year's system. But why? You know, it's not; this is what we have to work under.
So I think that one thing that I think has been a positive with it is it's really easy for everybody to understand. You don't have to be like, oh, it's five points in the position until you get here. And you know it's one spot, one point of spot except for the winner.
There's definitely some things that are different about it and it's definitely going to change things all year and down the stretch. I think it's going to be harder to recover from problems than it used to be, because you used to get big, more points for being in the top 10 and top 5, and we're now at the same, it's linear all the way up, unless you win.
So it's going to be a little bit easier I think to get behind, a little bit harder to make up big chunks of points from running good. So I think you're going to have to be faster, going to have to be up front and hopefully win some races and get the all-important bonus points, but you'll have to be consistent and not have very many of them real bad days.
Q. You guys obviously go to Texas this weekend. Was wondering what made that track different from some of the other mile-and-a-half ovals that you compete on. What makes that track unique?
MATT KENSETH: It's funny, seems like the media's dropped it a little bit, talking about the, quote/unquote, cookie-cutter tracks. But all the mile-and-a-halfs are very unique, especially with some of the tracks, pavement aging like Texas.
Then you've got a place where the pavement is real sticky like Charlotte. They're really all a lot different. The biggest thing that made Texas so unique is it's real high banked and real fast. But the corner entries and exits are really flat and always a challenge to negotiate that.
There's a few bumps here and there. But the pavement is pretty worn out. The groove is moved around a lot, where you can run the top and the bottom and made for some really exciting racing lately. I don't see that being any different this week, I think the racing will be great there like it always is.
It's a unique track and it's one I always look forward to going to.
Q. Pit road telemetry has been a big issue this week, leaving out of Martinsville, in the media. What are your thoughts as a driver on that telemetry being readily available to you and mainly to everybody, race fans included?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know what you mean, pit road --
Q. As far as pit road, as far as speeding on pit road I guess is where the issue came up at Martinsville.
MATT KENSETH: Oh, well, the speeding on pit road thing is always available, as far as I know, is available to the crew chiefs or drivers or whatever whenever you ask for it.
You can go afterwards into the trailer and they'll give you the printout of what section you got caught in and how fast you were going and that type of thing.
So I think that is available. I mean, the problem really comes -- I mean, it depends on who speeds and who talks about it because that's who you're covering, they're speeding every week, because Jimmie got caught speeding, and it's a big issue.
Those guys, especially, everybody's starting to get into it, but those guys especially, for years, have been figuring out where the timing lines are, and the only way they can get you on pit road is they time from line to line to line, the computer does. If your pit box is in between two lines, they speed like crazy. If you go a little bit too fast over that line and get to the next segment, you know you're going to get caught speeding in that segment.
So really I think that's what it's about. They're just trying to achieve the segments as they can and just probably missed it by a few feet.
Q. Some of the talk earlier in the season has been sort of the buzz being back in NASCAR, maybe the economy's turning around a little bit and things are headed in the right direction for such a sponsor-driven sport. At the same time, I guess, I mean, you guys don't have all the Nationwide stuff funded, and I know you personally are trying to put stuff together for Ross and whatnot. What is your perspective on this? Are we into a comeback sort of economically, and then as far as racing is concerned?
MATT KENSETH: I missed the very first part of the question, Dave, but the competition and stuff, I think, has been great. I think last year was a really entertaining year.
I don't know how you can have much better racing than what we've had this year. I'm not sure what I think about Daytona, but a lot of people I think thought it was exciting: A last-lap pass at California. And I haven't seen the whole race at Martinsville, but I know Kevin passed the lead real close to the end again.
So there's been some thrilling, exciting racing. It seems like, from where I stand, there's more people in the stands than what there was last year. It seems like the crowds are coming back and they're really enthused and they're seeing a great product.
So it feels like we're back on the upswing, and hopefully the economy can continue to improve so people can continue to afford to come to the races.
Q. From a racer's standpoint, I know you'd like to be running some Nationwide races, Jack would like to have all his Nationwide programs fully sponsored. Like I said, you're putting stuff together for your son. Are you seeing that there is an economic upturn as far as that's concerned, or are you just kind of hopeful?
MATT KENSETH: Here's a real answer: I have no idea. So I don't really get involved in that side of it. I mean, me and Ross do some stuff together, and I'd love to find Ross a ride in a Nationwide or a truck or even a K&N car or something to get some laps in a big car. And we do our Blain's Farm Fleet deal up in Wisconsin.
But that's about as involved as I get as far as it comes to marketing with a sponsor or selling sponsors or knowing how much they pay or knowing interest level. I just don't really have any idea. I've got my hands full with the competition side of it, and I don't really -- I've never really got into that side of it, really, except for stuff that I needed to know.
Q. We have a night race this week over at Texas. Can you explain to the race fans how much difference it is for a driver to race at night, and what about you, does night racing go along with your moods or do you prefer daytime racing?
MATT KENSETH: I enjoy Saturday night racing for sure. We all grew up, since most of us grew up racing Friday nights and Saturday nights at our local short tracks, I don't think I ever ran more than three or four Sunday races probably ever before I went NASCAR racing. So Saturday night races I think are fun.
I think that the fans enjoy it. It gives them an extra travel day. They probably have to miss less work and can get back home on Sunday and do that kind of stuff. So as far as the driver's perspective, the racing's not a lot different.
The two biggest things, really, is visibility. When we race at night, the visibility is much more constant. You don't have the sun setting and shadows and having all that stuff.
The lighting systems are so good and the surface doesn't vary as much. Your setups and all that will stay probably closer the same on the night race than during the day race with the sun and clouds and different things going on to track conditions.
Q. We're excited with Kentucky Speedway being added to the schedule next year. What are your feelings on the track itself?
MATT KENSETH: I'm looking forward to getting there. I really don't have -- I really don't have any experience with the track. We used to test there quite a bit before the testing rules came into place and our particular team for whatever reason chose not to test there.
I've probably only been there three or four times. It's been a long time since I've been there. It's probably been seven or eight years or something like that, six or seven years. And I've never raced there, never been in competition or around other cars. So I don't know a lot about the track. But I'm looking forward to getting there, getting on the track.
I think they're having an open test day Thursday or something like that before the race. So I'm looking forward to getting on the track. It's always really fun to go to a new racetrack and to run the first Cup race they ever have there because there's so much excitement from the fans and the people from the surrounding areas and cities and all that, for us to come there and race. It's always fun to be a part of those first events.
Q. You've kind of mentioned along the way while you were talking here about very similar thing to Jimmie Johnson has, he kind of just like keeps plowing and kind of ignores what's going on, not ignore, but if you know what I mean, he focuses well. You seemed to just mention the same type of thing, it's like my plate's full, I keep on that; do you think that's a good common trait and do you think that's the stuff of champions?
MATT KENSETH: I'm really sorry, but I don't understand the question.
Q. As far as your guys' ability to focus on just what you're doing and not be bothered by extraneous things because, you know, you obviously have a lot of duties and everything, do you think that ability to focus that Jimmie Johnson definitely has, that you have it also; do you think that is the stuff of champions?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think that anybody that does this job and does it with any kind of success and has been here very long has to have the ability to block things out and focus on the task at hand for sure. I mean, things happen really, really fast.
You have to be able to compute things fairly fast in your brain and make fairly quick decisions. So, yeah, I think certainly blocking outside things or things that might be bothering you or what have you, I think, and certainly concentrating 100 percent on your job and the car, how to make it faster and how to get the best finish out of the day and all that type of stuff, is certainly very important.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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