NASCAR Media Conference
March 7, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and once again, welcome to this week's call. We're looking ahead to Sunday's UAW Daimler-Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
A quick remainder to the media who are going to be attend the event infield media center, the NEXTEL Wake-Up Call will have Casey Mears as the guest. That's preceded by breakfast at 9:00 a.m.
Our guest on the call today is the 2003 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Champion Matt Kenseth, who also won the Las Vegas race in '03 and '04. Matt is currently 3rd in the series top-10 standings. He comes off a great victory February 6th at California Speedway event. This has been an off-week during which Matt attended a flying school on Friday. He's upgrading his pilot's license. That doesn't sound like a typical off-week. How did that work?
MATT KENSETH: Pretty easy. It was just a multi-engine add-on. It was okay. I'm still a very new pilot, just trying to build some times and upgrade my license so I can get the insurance to work with me a little bit better.
HERB BRANHAM: This looks like a good track for you to go where you are in the point standings. We'll go right to the media for questions.
JEFF WOLF, LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL: Weather forecast for this weekend is a high of 50 on Friday, 48 on Saturday, 45 on Sunday.
MATT KENSETH: Hey, thanks. I know what to pack.
JEFF WOLF, LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL: How will the cool track affect the racing? Better or worse?
MATT KENSETH: Well, in general, you know, the more grip you have, which a cooler racetrack brings, it keeps the -- hypothetically it should keep the pack a little closer together. Usually when the track gets hot, the guy who has the perfect balance on the car will tend to get away a little bit and be able to maybe get away from everybody else and do all that.
A lot of times when it's -- the stickier it is, when you've got new tires on your car and the track has extra grip and it's cool, it kind of covers up some of the handling problems and makes all the cars handle a little bit better. I think it will probably help the racing if you're looking for a closer race.
DAMIEN DOTTORE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: After the last race at the California Speedway, the president said that he was thinking about tearing up the track maybe and doing like gradual banking through the corners. Would something like that have any effect on the racing at California Speedway?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I mean, I can get into this one forever. Part of the problem is expectations are so high. I mean, the expectations are so high to have four wide across the line for the win every race. I mean, they do a lot of stuff for entertainment. You've got the Lucky Dog, you've got some cautions at the end, you have green and white checkered and all that stuff, and maybe there really didn't need to be one or whatever. They've got a lot of stuff, and I watched some of them older races, and you see third place six laps down.
I think the racing is pretty competitive. You know, California is a big change from Daytona. There was a lot of green flag running. If a car is handling good, somebody is going to get away, whoever has their car real good, if they don't get bunched up. I think the racing is good there.
I know everybody said it was no fun to watch. It's definitely a lot of fun to drive. It did get kind of long and strung out, but the track lends itself to really good racing. There's three really good grooves, even though you didn't see a lot of good side-by-side racing in the beginning with a lot of the faster cars starting toward the back, you saw a lot of passing. Me and Jamie worked our way to the front and he was working the third and fourth and working the outside and I was down on the white line passing.
There's plenty of room to put on a good race. It's just when the good cars get up front, if the car behind you is slower, they're not going to pass you and run side by side. I think the track is good for side-by-side racing. Once the fast cars get to the front, the slow cars aren't going to pass the fast cars. That's just the way it is.
HERB BRANHAM: At the start of this season, to go from a restricted plate track, then to go to two-mile track, now we're on a couple of intermediates and then we go to the short tracks, so a lot of challenges in the first couple months of the season. Which of those three or four type of racing venues do you like the best, and which do you consider you're the best at?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I like all the beginning tracks, Daytona 500, California is an awesome track, Vegas we've had a lot of success at so I look forward to that. The most fun track probably as a driver is probably Atlanta. Atlanta is such a fun track to race at. You can run the white line or you can have the right rear scraping the fence like Carl does and probably run the same lap times around there, so you never have an excuse for not passing the car in front of you. If you're faster, there's no excuse for not getting around them.
There's a lot of good grooves at Atlanta. It's a good race for the drivers and good fun for the fans. That's one I look forward to, and of course I also look forward to going to Bristol since I ran there last August.
JEFF WOLF, LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL: Talking about the Vegas track, obviously you've had success there, as well as Roush Racing. Your thoughts on their plan a week or so after the racing starts ripping out most of the track, taking the banking from 12 to 20, raising the back stretch by four feet and narrowing the corners by about 20.
MATT KENSETH: I don't know, it sounds like it'll be different. I don't know if I have an opinion either way on it. We've had a lot of success there, so in a way that probably makes you a little bit resistant to change because we have done well there in the past, but on the other side of that, it's fun to look forward to something new.
We look forward to the new track at Homestead. It's a really good layout and there is a lot of passing there, but you've got to remember it was terrible before. You took a track that was impossible to pass, that was flat as a pancake, and you made it into a good racetrack -- a good to a great racetrack.
Vegas is already a great racetrack. I'm not saying they won't make it better because maybe it will be better. It's a good racetrack the way it is. It's fun. The turn between 3 and 4 is fun because it's a little narrow and you kind of arc in the corner and do some different things. Hopefully it's at least as good or they make it better. It'll be interesting to see.
VIV BERNSTEIN, NEW YORK TIMES: I hope nobody has asked this. I just got on the call. I know this is an odd question. I'm wondering what does the Daytona 500 smell like? And the reason I ask is because there's a cologne out called the Daytona 500, so I want to compare the cologne to what it really smells like.
MATT KENSETH: Well, it depends, if you ask Jimmy Johnson or if you ask me, it's probably two different things.
VIV BERNSTEIN, NEW YORK TIMES: I'll ask you, what does it smell like?
MATT KENSETH: I have no idea. I don't even know how to answer that one. I don't know how you make Daytona 500 into a cologne unless it smells like burning race gas or something. To Jimmy it probably smells like money, so I don't know.
VIV BERNSTEIN: Maybe it smells like money with cologne.
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. You stumped me on that one.
JOE STIGLICH, CONTRA COSTA TIMES: You and Biff and a couple others went and raced last year kind of close to Sonoma, and a lot of you guys will do that the week of a race, side races on a short track. What is the appeal for you guys doing that, getting those extra races in at these small-town tracks?
MATT KENSETH: The racing part doesn't help because we kind of do a match race against ourselves. More than anything, there's a few reasons, but it's fun to go do that. We've done that for 20 years or something, and everybody at one time or another has done those deals. They're kind of fun to do.
It helps out the local short tracks a little bit where we all grew up. It helps get some more people in there, maybe brings some awareness to short track racing. You get to see a different racetrack, meet some race fans kind of away from the track, especially in Sonoma where it's kind of a different area. We usually don't do anything on Saturday nights anyway, so it's fun to see a different kind of racing, meet some drivers, meet some fans and do all that stuff.
ATLANTA JOURNAL: Hey, Matt, with the Atlanta race coming up next weekend, what are your likes and dislikes of that track, not only the track itself, but what about the facility as a whole? And when you're in Atlanta, do you ever get time to go into the city?
MATT KENSETH: I don't go into the city very much. With the way the traffic is there, you almost need a day off to be able to go do that. I don't do that very much.
There's nothing I dislike about Atlanta. Atlanta is probably -- next to Rockingham, if most drivers could design a racetrack, I think they would design Atlanta and Rockingham with the worn-out pavement. Those two tracks are so much fun to drive. The track gets slick.
For as fast as Atlanta is, you can still spin the tires because the pavement gets worn out and you can run several grooves, run from the bottom right up next to the wall. For a driver, that's -- at least for me, that's a racer's dream to get there and run on that racetrack, go from having tons of grip on new tires to no grip on old tires and being able to do all that, it makes the racing a lot more fun. You have a lot more options, so it makes it a lot of fun for a driver.
DAVE KALLMANN, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Can you describe the feeling within the team? You guys are off to a good start, how mood and performance relate to one another?
MATT KENSETH: I think that when everybody is enthused and working hard and in a good mood, it definitely helps your performance. I think you can get -- you could get a bad apple here or there or somebody is complaining or doing that, and it's easy for people to start listening after a while or drag the deal down.
We don't have any of that. I'm not saying we never had any of that, but it's a real exciting group right now. We have three or four new people in the group and a person or two that moved up in positions and advanced, so it's a real exciting group. It's a young group. Well, it's kind of a mixture, but some of the new guys coming in were real young and got a lot of energy. A lot of them in California, that was their first Cup win, first time ever in victory lane, and that really gets everybody fired up and excited.
They've been working really hard. They've all had really good attitudes all winter and really worked hard on the cars, and their efforts the first two weeks have really paid off.
KELLY JONES, MODESTO BEE: You were talking about various courses before. When you come to Vegas, what are some changes you need to make?
MATT KENSETH: Running a road course is a lot different than others we run, but road courses can be a lot different, too. Sears Point has always been a very big challenge for me. It's been difficult. Sears Point is more like Martinsville, kind of tight and not a lot of passing zones, just kind of a tougher place for me.
The biggest thing that's hard for me when I go there is relaying the information, what the car is doing, and give suggestions for what changes to make to make our cars better. At ovals, a lot of times I can be fairly good at that, but at Sears Point I have a hard time with that. I can tell them what the car is doing but I can't come up with a lot of stuff that usually makes the car better, so that's always a struggle.
DAMIEN DOTTORE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: You get into a race like that, you have a couple of those at Vegas where there's not a lot of action, long runs, big leads. Is it hard for a driver to maintain their concentration through the whole race?
MATT KENSETH: Not when you're leading. I mean, there's times like at California we had the long runs and my car got real tight. When your car gets tight, it gets a little boring because there's not a lot of excitement. You'll give it to wheel and keep it from sliding too much and that's about it. When your car is loose, even like Greg, his car was so free, or when we led there, my car was loose enough where it was never boring. You had to stay on top of it every second and not make a mistake and let it get away from you.
It depends on the situation. If your car is real tight and you're not racing anybody, it can get a little boring in the middle of the races. When your car is doing the things it's supposed to do and it's turning and it's a little on the loose side or whatever, it never gets boring.
Q. Hey, Matt, looking ahead to Bristol, you guys had the dominant car there in August, but looking ahead to the spring race, is there anything that you guys can take away from that, or are the conditions going to be too different?
MATT KENSETH: Gosh, I hope so. We have all the same stuff really put together. We just did the fusion on that car, same chassis and bringing all the same stuff back. I'm not sure what they're doing on tires, but I assume it will be on the same tires. You hope that stuff relates -- a lot of times even in my short track career and Busch days and all that stuff, you can dominate and come back with all the identical stuff in the car and not run like that for some reason.
I think the main thing is we're going to go there with all the same stuff, but after that, as soon as you get on the track the first time, I think you have to keep an open mind and say this one is going to win again because that's very seldom the case. I think you still have to go there. That will be a good place to start and keep an open mind and work on your car and try to get it to do the things you want it to do.
JOE STIGLICH, CONTRA COSTA TIMES: Once you get back to the short tracks you guys race at before a big race, what is Jack Roush's take on you guys doing that? Does he put any restrictions how much you can do that? Does he worry about your safety when you do these races?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I don't think I've ever told him. Jack I think just would want you to use your head, and when we're doing that stuff, we're not racing with the whole field and doing all that. We're just out there with three or four of us out there and having a good time, kind of like going to the go-kart track.
I don't think he gets overly worried about that stuff. Jack has always encouraged us to maybe not do some of that stuff, but I would think he would be more worried about people riding dirt bikes and stuff like that. Greg is a pilot, Mark is a pilot, Carl is, and I've been doing my stuff, and he encourages that. Jack is one of those guys that wants you to go live your life and do the things you want to do and have some fun and really not worry about that stuff.
Q. Matt, can you feel momentum building up to a win, or does a win happen and then you feel momentum within your team?
MATT KENSETH: That's a good question. Sometimes it happens in the middle of it, sometimes it happens at the start of it, and sometimes it just happens and you don't have it on either side of it. That's probably not a real great answer for you.
I can feel momentum a lot of times but not necessarily from wins. You can have momentum and do like we did at Chicago last year, get beat on two tires and not win the race and still have a lot of momentum. And then I think you can have times, for example, Dale, Jr., wasn't really having a great year last year and he came and won Chicago, had a great pit call that day and won the race and probably didn't have a lot of momentum before that race and probably didn't have a lot of momentum after the race, either.
I think it can come at any time. I think you have a better chance of winning when you have some momentum and you're running good and leading laps and doing all that stuff, but I think it can really come at any side of it.
DAVE BENNEKE, GoTV NETWORK: I've got a question about rivalry. It seems like most sports thrive off rivalry like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox or Duke and North Carolina. Do you think you and Tony Stewart are developing into a rivalry that could last throughout the season or perhaps more down the road?
MATT KENSETH: I hope not. It's a little different in our business. It just is. It's hard to explain unless you're really in it.
It's hard for that to happen. I think there's some people that can probably hold grudges and do this and do that, but to me, anyway, it's hard to be productive, and to do that -- there's only 43 of us. We race together every week, we kind of all stay in our motor homes in the same area, so we kind of in a way all sort of live together for 40 weeks, 38 weeks, whatever it is, so for all them weeks we kind of are all real close to each other for three days out of every weekend.
You know, it's just not necessarily productive to do that. I don't really think about it like that. I don't really worry about it. I try to -- I haven't always done the best job at it, but I certainly try to settle all my differences I may have with a driver no matter whose fault it is and move on. I think that's the most productive thing to do, and I think it's best not only for yourself personally but for your team. I think when you're on the track and you're not thinking about making your car the fastest or getting the best finish you can get that day or doing everything you need to do to do your job and making your car better and you're worried about somebody else and you're mad at him or he's mad at you, I think you're slowing down your production
DAVE KALLMANN, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: You used the Busch Series to develop and get to where you are. With all the guys that are racing time in both Series or spending a lot of time -- top guys are spending a lot of time in Busch. What do you see as that Series' identity right now? What purpose does it serve and what do people think of when they think of the Busch Series?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don't know what everybody else thinks of it, but being a driver, I mean, it's still for developing younger drivers' talent, seeing how they run racing against a lot of the top guys. As much as that, I know for like Jack and this organization, it's a good place to develop people. They've taken people out of here that have been in different positions on the Cup team and moved them over to crew chief or car chief over there and letting them loose in the world and seeing how they do. Then you've got people you're interested in training to be prospective crew chiefs over on the Cup side or moving them up through the ranks or engineers or whatever, so I think it's used a lot here for developing people and developing drivers.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE RADIO: My question is this: There was so much talk about the Hall of Fame coming to Charlotte. Who do you think should be put in the Hall of Fame of your sport and how should they decide who gets in? How do you see it as a member of the athletic group of the sport?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know, I really don't. Where is the Hall of Fame going?
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE RADIO: Charlotte.
MATT KENSETH: Oh, that's cool. I don't really know, Claire. I mean, that's kind of a tough question. I don't know -- I haven't thought about it enough to know who's going to pick people out and how they're going to separate it. There's some obvious choices, but I know some really great racecar drivers through the years that maybe haven't won a championship or haven't won certain things or whatever that should be in it, and then there's probably some the other way.
I don't really know how they're going to do that. I think it's probably going to be like any other sport; the people that have left a big mark on the sport are going to be in there.
CLAIRE LANG, XM SATELLITE RADIO: Like a Mark Martin? Do you think he should get a place in the Hall of Fame?
MATT KENSETH: I think so, but I'm not -- I'm not going to go into a thing right now where I'm voting for drivers or against drivers. I don't know. I would think you would have to be out of the sport for a while before you would be put in it. I think that's how it works in any other sport, so I think it would be hard to put him in the Hall of Fame when he's still running.
Mark is going to race for quite a few more years, although not full-time running NEXTEL Cup, but I think he's going to be around racing the Truck Series and whatnot.
HERB BRANHAM: I just want to thank all the media for participating today, and Matt, special thanks to you for joining us. Good luck this week. You've had great success at Las Vegas in the past, and I don't think anybody would be surprised if that continued, so good luck to you.
MATT KENSETH: Thank you.
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