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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Matt Kenseth
January 8, 2008


HERB BRANHAM: We're joined by the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford.
Matt, 50th running of the Daytona 500. Always great to win this race. What would it mean for you to win it?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, it's the biggest race of the year. I think as anybody growing up, being a stock car racing fan, or especially aspiring to be a driver, the Daytona 500 is the biggest race. That's what you dream about as a kid.
The 50th running is obviously probably going to be the biggest Daytona 500 there's been. We're putting a lot of work and effort into trying to bring a competitive car and hopefully have a chance at it.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll take questions from the media.

Q. How weird is it for you to start the season with a different crew chief?
MATT KENSETH: It's really not that weird especially yet. Chip has been there. He was our original team engineer in '99 when we put this thing together and ran a five-race deal in '99, started full-time in 2000. He's been there a long time, we know each other really well. We haven't made too many other changes on the road crew. So it's really not, so far anyway, that different than what I'm used to.
Chip actually did the 500 last year, too, so he's kind of I think maybe a little bit ready for it.

Q. Based on the new car at Talladega, what you've done so far, is it going to be ready for the 500? What do you expect from it
MATT KENSETH: I don't know exactly what to expect. We'll probably know more after we draft this afternoon. But, I mean, I think the car's ready. We ran a lot of races with them last year. I don't know the exact number of them. But we've been to a fair amount of racetracks, kind of got a jump on it at Talladega.
You know, it's different than our other cars obviously, but yet it's still a stock car. You still try and do all the same things to it. You're just trying to figure out how to do it better than everybody else. There's different areas you can work in, different areas you can't work in, you know, from before. But overall, I don't know if it's gonna make the racing that much different.

Q. Mark Martin was saying yesterday it was idiotic there wasn't more drafting practice. Is a day and a half enough? Talk about today's drafting session.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah. Like I said, there's only a few areas you can work at the Speedway. You can work on your front springs, bump stops, sway bars and stuff. That's really about it. They mandate the rear springs and shocks. There's not really a lot you can do on the bodies. They're pretty much locked in pretty tight. So there's not a ton of stuff you can work on.
So I think a day and a half is plenty. When you come back down here, there's always enough practice to get ready to go run the 125s or 150s I guess now on that Thursday and get ready for the 500. I think practice time's not going to be a problem.

Q. One of the reasons you made this change with Robbie so you could sort of take what you did with the 17 team and spread it through Roush. A month into this, have you noticed maybe the change in the culture in the shop with Robbie running things? Starting to look more like the way you guys did the 17 company wide? How do you think he's adapting to it so far?
MATT KENSETH: Well, just getting back from the holidays, doing the first tests and all that, I haven't really spent as much time at the shop as I do during the season or as I do really during the next month getting ready for Daytona.
There's definitely some differences around the shop. Things are definitely getting run different than what they did before. I haven't noticed a change as far as performance or morale or anything like that yet. But certainly I think he's dragging it in a different direction that I think will definitely be better in the long run. I haven't really got a chance to talk to Robbie a whole bunch the last month or so. I saw him over the holidays and that's been about it. So he's been pretty busy and pretty overwhelmed, pretty stressed out, I'd say, to say the least. I think it's been a little bit more than what he was thinking at first when he decided to do it.

Q. Can you compare what it's like working day to day with Robbie and Chip? How different are their approaches?
MATT KENSETH: Well, it's different. I mean, Chip has always kind of been the technical side of the team. Robbie's brain, my brain, however you want to say it. He's always been kind of the engineer hold up in the back, looking through numbers, testing stuff and doing all that. That really hasn't changed. We haven't really changed his role that much. So it's definitely a lot, lot different.
Robbie is more the organizer and the hands-on guy, all that kind of stuff, where Chip is more still trying to do the engineering and figuring out how to make the cars go fast as well as trying to take over a lot of the duties that Robbie did day to day. It's a little different approach. The 99 set their team up different to the way ours is set up. It think the 16 is also. Kind of a different thing where the crew chief works more on the car and less on the people and we then we got a person back at the shop that helps organize a little bit of the work load, take care of the people and take care of that thing.

Q. The philosophy of looking for more uniformity among the race team, is that the strategy you all need to compete against Hendrick Motorsports?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, them guys are so good last year. They've always been good really. But you just got to figure out how to do things, you know, better than they do it. You got to try to make your cars better. You got to try to call races better. You got to try to do all that. The whole thing. You got to work on the whole thing from driving the car to setting it up to pitting it to everything. You just got to try to, you know, dot all your Is and cross all your Ts, do everything the best you can to beat them guys. Right now they're the guys you're looking at at the top that you're trying to knock off.
I don't think that's really different than any other year. I think the main thing you're trying to make stuff more the same is because of the current car I guess it is now, there's just so many rules and regulations, you can't really build different cars. There's a lot of things you can't really do much different. So you should be able to make all the cars, you know, within the shop, you know, real similar and the setups should all work real similar.
So we're just trying to get everybody kind of more on the same page than maybe what we did before because there is less things we can do to it to customize it to your own driving style and that type of thing.

Q. Does your past championship give you a boost at the start of the season or does history have little to do with the future task?
MATT KENSETH: You know, it has somewhere in between little and nothing to do with the future, I would say. You know, I mean, gosh, it's already been, whatever, five years or something like that. So I think that, you know, you take things from, you know, racing for points or going through the Chase, you know, mistakes, say, you made in the past or maybe things you've done right in the past. You go look at them things and try to hopefully get smarter and do things better because of that. But I don't think you have an advantage because you've won a championship before necessarily or a disadvantage. I think every year presents its own set of challenges and you have to learn to adapt to that, whether it's cars or rules or different crews or whatever it is. I think you have to try to adapt every year to whatever the situation is.

Q. You were talking about as a fan and as a driver the prestige of winning a Daytona 500. Would it matter from you watching it as a fan or competing in it whether it was the first or last race of the year?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know because I never really thought of it any other way. Growing up in Wisconsin, especially back then, there was always a couple of feet of snow on the ground in February. It was always cool because it was the first race of the year, gave you something to get fired up. It was all you heard about during January was kind of the Daytona 500. I always remember as a kid watching at the time it was the Busch Clash on TV, the next week was the Gatorade races, then the 500. You know, all the races weren't on TV back then so I always kind of remember getting amped up for that during the winter. And it was a couple months before our short track season would start up there, so it kind of felt like the start of racing season. So I've never really thought about it, you know, being anywhere else.

Q. Just with this car and the challenges that it's presented to the drivers and teams, how has it changed you as a driver, maybe not how you take a line into the corner, per se, but maybe how you have to look at problems, try to get the car to do what you want? Has it made much of a change in how you have to be a driver or how you drive the car?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I think some of that is probably track specific. But certainly I've had more of an open mind, you know, this off-season, and even a little bit during last year when we ran this car and tested and stuff and have tried to adapt my driving style to make the car do different things or make it run faster or make it feel the way I want. You know, in the past you could adjust your aerodynamic balance kind of, your car kind of how you built it kind of for your own driving style, like Mark Martin and I, we liked our cars to feel the same, but we both had drastically different ways of getting there, with the bodies and downorce, side forces and all, things we used to be able to work on. Where now you don't really have that luxury. What you have aero-wise is basically what you have. There's really no adjusting you can do on that.
With that being said, springs and shocks aren't always going to fix that and you're probably going to have to keep an open mind and maybe try to change your driving style, the different things you try to do with the car to try to manipulate the car on the track and the line and everything to make the car do what you want to do.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, I think it's like anything. When you get in a habit, whether it's either a good habit or bad habit, sometimes that's hard to break and hard to change, especially the longer you've been doing it. Like we did the Vegas tire test helped me a lot. I had to do a lot of things different at that racetrack than I did with the other car. Through the two days, looking at data, talking to Chip, making another run, seeing where our speeds were, what the car felt like, especially there because we were doing run after run after run with the same setup in the car but different tires. You were able to kind of look at what you did different, the driver inputs and all the stuff on the computer. So that helped a lot.
I mean, it's not really that hard, you know, but there's certain things about the car where you maybe have to be a little more careful, whether it's a little more temperamental, you got to drive a little slower to go faster, that type of thing. So it's more reminding yourself, you know, what you're in and you're probably going to go a little slower.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much, Matt.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks, guys.

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