NASCAR Media Conference
June 12, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Our guest today, ahead of Sunday's Citizen's Bank 400 at Michigan International Speedway, is Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 de Walt Ford. Matt currently is in second place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, and he's returning to a track where he's excelled. He won the August 2006 event at Michigan and he had two wins in 23 careers starts there. Matt, welcome.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks.
DENISE MALOOF: Although he's been impressive, Jeff Gordon's status as the current standings leader might be kind of overshadowing what is an excellent season to date for your team, as well. Do you feel like you're right on track right now?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you always hope to be doing a little bit better, but certainly our car has been great, the car has been really reliable and we've been able to complete every lap so far and we've had great pit stops. Overall the cars have been pretty competitive, so certainly we haven't been at the spot where the 24 and the 48 and even 11 and some of them guys have been even as far as a competition standpoint, but we've been really consistent, and I think our cars are getting better as the season goes on.
I feel really good about where we're at. Obviously we're in a nice position in points and halfway through I think on the way to the Chase. I feel pretty comfortable where we're at in the points, and we're just working really hard to get our cars better for the end of the year when it really counts.
DENISE MALOOF: Your team Roush Fenway Racing has an exceptional record at Michigan and you do, too, so I know you're probably anticipating this weekend.
MATT KENSETH: I really look forward to going to Michigan mainly because of the track. It's such a great track. There's three or four grooves out there. And any track that we can go to, where if you're following somebody and you're faster than them that you have another option for a group to be able to pass, is always something we look forward to. And obviously we've ran pretty good there in the past, too, so that's part of the reason I look forward to it. It's just fun a fun track. You move around and try to find a groove that works for your car, and there's always a lot of passing there and I think it's always an exciting race.
Q. Going back to last week a little bit, how fun was it for you guys to just go out there and get in the dirt, so to speak, and race with all your buddies with no points on the line and do some old-school racing?
MATT KENSETH: Are you talking about Eldora on Wednesday?
MATT KENSETH: Yes, sir, that was a lot of fun. I really look forward to that all the time. I think that they're really cool-looking race cars. They're really fun to drive. They've got a lot of power. And I have very limited dirt experience. I ran the Prelude to the Dream the last three years at Eldora, and they were going to modify that trailer track last year, so that's something I really enjoyed.
It's real interesting to me to see how much the track changes, how much you've got to set the changes on the car and the very limited practice and all that stuff. It's just something really different, and I think it's good for you. You learn a lot about the track conditions and stuff like that, so it's a lot of fun.
Q. There was a quick interview with your son on TV. How involved is he getting into racing?
MATT KENSETH: He's definitely at this point very interested in racing, that's for sure. He's been around in the Legends cars the last couple years and he ran some old cars before that. He just started driving the late model stuff. He just raced last Friday, and I'm trying to get him out this summer to get his feet wet a little bit. Right now he's definitely fired up about it, that's for sure.
Q. I've compared the numbers from your championship season in 2003 to the numbers that you have this year, and they're really extremely similar. After the first 14 races you have got one win, six top 5s, 12 top 10s, and so far this year you have one win, six top 5s and 10 top 10s. You won your championship under the old points system, and some say since that happened you only had one win, that NASCAR was bound to change the points system. So my question is, do you think the new points system helps or hurts your chances at another championship?
MATT KENSETH: No, not really. I mean, every season was different. I mean, if you look at how far Jeff Gordon was ahead and really how far he would have been ahead if he wouldn't have had that Charlotte wreck, basically. You can kind of see why there's a need for the Chase and to make it more exciting at the end of the year and all that stuff. So obviously if he had that big of a cushion at this point in the year, if he still had this three months from now, obviously, he'd probably end up shopping all in one place and would be playing a little bit more conservative. It spices things up at the end of the year.
I really think that your opportunity, if you're with a competitive team, to win a championship, is much -- I don't know want to use the word easier, but you certainly have a better chance, I think, than with the old system. With the old system if you had a flat tire at Martinsville in April that was just -- and lost 20 spots, that was just as big a penalty as having a flat tire and losing 20 spots at Homestead, where that's not really the case anymore; you know, if you can make the top 12 and hopefully with the new seeding system win some races, you all have a shot in the last ten races. Really the first ones aren't as important, but certainly you can have a couple mulligans and still have a shot at the championship if you can get everything right for the last ten races.
Q. I know you're a big Green Bay fan so I was wondering what you thought of not getting Randy Moss this year?
MATT KENSETH: Well, you know, I'm a fan. You know, I'm not an insider, so I don't know what all was done or said with that or whatever, so I mean, obviously from watching from a fan standpoint, Randy Moss was a great talent, but obviously when things aren't going right, in the past anyway, he's been a distraction and probably not a help for the team. But certainly when he was on his game at Minnesota and was playing hard and doing all that stuff, he's arguably one of the best receivers in the league. Obviously it would be cool to have that and have a deep threat for Favre. But like I said, I'm not an insider and they're really trying to build the team through the draft and build with some young players and they showed some promise at the end of last year, so I'm looking forward to the season.
Q. I know that Mark Martin holds you in high regard, and I wondered how life has changed for you professionally knowing you don't have him in the camp to go to whenever you need a little piece of advice.
MATT KENSETH: It really hasn't changed at all, to be honest with you. If I need a piece of advice I still call him. More so than just sharing information or doing teammate stuff, we've become good friends. He's been a mentor of mine. But after probably the first year or two and after working together a little bit in the Busch Series and all that stuff, more of his advice and help and all that stuff is more on, you know, everyday stuff that he can still help me with, without being a teammate, whether it's business stuff or the right thing to do on the track, off the track, driving style-wise or etiquette-wise or whatever it could be, still try to model myself a lot after his driving style and some of the things that he does and doesn't do. I've never called him since he's left and he's not answered the phone or not called me back or whatever. So he's still real easy to get a hold of, and he's always around whenever I need some advice.
Q. How frustrating has it been not getting that Ford to Victory Lane just as yet?
MATT KENSETH: Well, we've had ours at Victory Lane, so that part has been good. We've been able to win a race, but certainly we'd love to win more. You always want to win more. There's been some races where we've been competitive enough with everything where I think we're ready to win. There's been a lot of races where we've been off a little bit, but we've still been able to get some good finishes. Certainly we realize there's a little work to do to be a contender for a win every week, like the 24 and some of them guys, and we're working hard at getting our cars better.
Q. What's the biggest thing that you've noticed since the Roush merger with Fenway, or can you even tell the difference? What's it been like for your team?
MATT KENSETH: To be totally honest with you, I can't tell the difference. A little bit of a change. And we know that John Henry has come in there as half owner of the team and all that, but from my standpoint, from a competition standpoint, there really hasn't been a change. We've still got all the stuff we need to go racing with. We still build the same amount of cars and do the same things. So really from my standpoint so far nothing has changed, but it's still early in the game and I know we've got a lot of big plans to make things better on the marketing side and the sponsorship side. But the stuff I worry about, the competition side, hasn't changed at all.
Q. You've been highly successful at Michigan with the current car. How do you perceive the Car of Tomorrow running there when it does?
MATT KENSETH: I don't think it'll be much different than everywhere else. Obviously the car has been frustrating. Everybody has their driving style, and I can't stand it when my car pushes into another car and it's really hard to pass when your car doesn't turn. We struggle to make ours turn. I will say that for whatever reason that Darlington and Dover, we were a little bit better, a little bit more competitive. The faster the cars go the better they seem to handle, for whatever reason.
You know, everybody is kind of saying we've got to keep working at it, try to make them turn better. They're just naturally a really tight car. They built them, for whatever reason. They built them so they're really, really aero tight. They have a lot of rear grip and not a lot of front grip, and that's something we've got to work hard on, to make them so anybody can drive them, try to make them real comfortable and real tight, and that's been a problem for some of us to get them to turn good enough.
Q. It was touched on a little earlier about how good MUS has been to the Busch camp. What's been the reason behind that? Why do you think you guys perform so well there?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think it all probably starts with Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. They've always done really well there, and some of that's probably translated to us back in earlier years. But it's just a big wide open track where kind of everything matters. You've got to have good engines, you've got to have a lot of downforce, good pit stops. Everything has to be right there. But I think if you run good at the mile and a half tracks you'll run good at Michigan and California. I don't know exactly why, but it's been a decent track for us and we've been able to get our cars to get around there pretty good.
Q. Is this a place where maybe Roush has an advantage over the Hendrick guys, or Ford has an advantage over Chevrolet?
MATT KENSETH: No, I don't think so. I think every track is a little bit different and a little bit unique. Certainly we've been able to do better as a group and Roush has been able to do better at Michigan and California than maybe some of the other groups, but I'm not so sure that we have an advantage going into the weekend. Hopefully we'll be a little closer to them, but I don't think we have any kind of an advantage.
Q. With New Hampshire coming up here in the next couple weeks, do you foresee any difference in the racing with the Car of Tomorrow there?
MATT KENSETH: Where is that?
Q. New Hampshire.
MATT KENSETH: (Laughing) I don't know, not really, I guess. We've been to Milwaukee and tested it just a little bit. I don't really foresee it being much different than any other Car of Tomorrow races. I think it'll be the same thing at a track like that, just working on trying to make the front end turn somehow. I think the cars are going to be real tight there like they've been at Richmond and Martinsville and stuff like that. I think we'll be working really hard at getting the front ends to get any grip.
Certainly, for whatever reason, if you can get them side by side they've put on pretty competitive races and they've been able to run side by side a little bit easier than our current cars. It seems like the guy at the bottom doesn't get as loose, as you do with the current car, but I think some of that is because some of the cars are way too tight by themselves. I don't see the racing being much different. It seems like Phoenix, some of them tracks, the racing has been good and it has been close and competitive and fun to watch, so hopefully we can get our car to turn a little better and get up there with those league guys.
Q. Has it been a challenge switching week to week between the two cars?
MATT KENSETH: Probably more for the team than what it is for me. It's tough, the cars take totally different setups and actually different parts and components. So I mean, reloading, just the little things, reloading your crash carts and your parts on your team and your A frames, all that stuff is different than our standard stuff, so just having all that stuff ready and having two sets of cars done and painted into the wind tunnel and testing them and all that stuff has been a big workload for the team. But I don't really notice that much difference getting in and out of them. It doesn't take you long to adapt.
Q. Just curious, I know when you come to the various tracks there's always busy times getting ready for qualifying; practice, of course race day itself, but I have to imagine there's always a little bit of downtime, and what do you do to chill out and relax during your down times?
MATT KENSETH: Well, it depends where you're at. There's some tracks where we haven't done as much, but there's sometimes where I bring a motorcycle with. And if we don't have a Busch race I may go for a motorcycle ride and kind of explore the area a little bit or something like that. Honestly, most of the time I sit in the motor home and watch TV or play Madden Football on my PlayStation. That's one of my favorite hobbies, or sit in the motor home and read or whatever. Especially if there's a Busch race it's hard to leave the track, there's so many people there and so much traffic and it's always busy everywhere around there, so it's tough to get in and out of there very much. Most weekends, especially this year so far, we've been running the Busch Car and it's been fairly busy.
Q. This weekend probably not so much. Are you going to be heading out of town to run the Busch race?
MATT KENSETH: No, I'm not going to be around, but I think the last practice isn't over until 2 on Saturday and then there's a track race. My son and my dad will be coming to the race, which they try to come every year for Father's Day, so it'll be nice to have all three of us there, and I'm looking forward to spending some time with them.
Q. Outside the car you often display an unrivaled personality. Your team is highly productive over time and they seemed to be sometimes considered quiet contenders by some fans, and others are surprised by your consistent results. Do you think your steady personality influences this impression, and do you hope some continue to underestimate your team?
MATT KENSETH: To be honest with you, I missed most of what you said there. If you're talking about our team being consistent or not getting the recognition that maybe some of the other teams get, I think that we've looked at like that for whatever reason. I don't really know why. Some guys obviously like to see themselves on TV more than others, but I definitely don't shy away from it, either. Being, I think, the underdog and not having all the attention in the past has been an advantage for us. I think it still is. I think sometimes when not just the driver but the team and everybody gets a ton of media all the time and a ton of coverage and all that, I think actually expectations go up and it puts pressure on the guy and takes some of the focus from our driving. Certainly if we can just work on race cars and concentrate on that, I think that's an advantage.
Q. Is it possible to explain the productive makeup of your team, being so consistent over time?
MATT KENSETH: Can you repeat that?
Q. Is it possible to explain the productive makeup of your team that makes the consistency?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think it starts at the top, which is Robby. I think Robby Reiser has always done a great job of picking out the right people. He's always had a unique way about getting people. And really, most of the people that we've ever had a problem with or lost or whatever has been people that we got another way. So he's always went and got young guys or guys that haven't really been in the sport, maybe from a different state, off a late model team or maybe off a Truck team or something like that, and that's usually worked out great. Usually when he's gone after people that have been with other Cup teams and stuff like that, it hasn't worked out as well.
I think if you're the one or our team is the one or whatever, giving the people the opportunity to get into the sport or giving them the opportunity to be with their first Cup team or something like that, it seems like you're able to get them to be more loyal to the car, to do a great job, and that's kind of way he's gone about picking our team out. And we've been real fortunate to keep the basic group together for a long, long time. It's a great group of guys. They work really hard, they're passionate about what they do and take a lot of pride in their work.
Q. I wanted to find out about the NASCAR testing schedule and the possibility of it being changed. What would you like to see it changed into?
MATT KENSETH: Well, you know, the less testing we do, the better. Since they opened it back up, that's going to be very, very difficult on everybody. People have found -- not really a way around it; people have went and tested and went to these non-NASCAR-sanctioned tracks and done that and made it work. So I kind of like Jack's idea, if you have an entry blank where you're signing off that the cars has not been -- the cars or you or the driver or the team or whatever has not been to any racetrack and done any track testing, I think that would be a great thing. I think that the way NASCAR does the tests where everybody can be at the same track three or four times a year or whatever it may be, I think it's fine. I think that's more than enough. I think if you open it up, it's just going to cost a lot more money and you're going to be a lot busier.
I mean, everybody going to a road course and testing and doing that kind of stuff is kind of natural. We've never raced COTs on road courses; there is no tests. You know everybody is going to a local road course and just shake their car down, and all that is fine, but certainly to open it up to tracks in order to -- and start buying tires and testing them ourselves and doing all that stuff, in this day and age would be very, very expensive.
DENISE MALOOF: Matt, thanks for joining us today. We appreciate your time. Good luck this Sunday.
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