NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500
Topics: Daytona 500
February 15, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP: We're going to go ahead and get started with our post-race Daytona 500 championship team. That's the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. Your driver is Matt Kenseth. Your crew chief is Drew Blickensderfer. Your team owner is Jack Roush.
We're pleased to be joined right now by Drew. Congratulations. What are your thoughts and emotions on being the crew chief for the winning car in the 2009 Daytona 500?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: It hasn't sunk in yet. Thank you. It's pretty surreal to have the chance of being associated with a team like the 17. When I worked at Roush/Fenway before on the Cup side, you kind of looked over at them as the model team in the series. They had just won the championship, or were about to win the championship. So that was the team you wanted to be involved with.
Then getting to work with Matt on the Nationwide side and being able to come back to him and lead the team is pretty amazing.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Drew.
Q. Drew, the way you finished the second half of the year last year with Carl, come out and win this race, what do you do for an encore?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Honestly, I haven't thought about it. You kind of get swept up into this windstorm of going to a different shop, even though I'm at Roush/Fenway still, doing the COT thing. It's kind of consumed me since the season ended at Homestead. So I haven't thought about that too much.
You know, I'm very fortunate, obviously, to be at Roush/Fenway and have two drivers like Carl Edwards and now Matt Kenseth. I know I'm blessed with that. I'm thinking about that.
But the success last year is kind of over with, especially since we only finished second in the points, and it's on to this year.
Q. You had that smile on your face yesterday afternoon. You knew you had a pretty good piece. Did you at that point think, Yeah, just maybe?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: You know, I really did. I think the two runs we made during practice yesterday, I know we put more laps on the car than anybody else. It was fast. He made comments afterwards that it was as fast as certain cars that are your benchmark when you're plate racing.
So I thought, you know, if we ended up in the right line at the right time and everything goes well, this car's capable of winning. I know he is. The pit crew is. So I really thought we had a chance.
If you would have seen me the previous 10 days it wouldn't have been that smile. It was a rough, rough week and a half leading up to yesterday when we got this backup car out and got to put laps on it.
Q. Have you given any consideration to retiring undefeated?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: That's what I told them out there (smiling). I said, It can only go downhill from here. I was fortunate enough when I went with Carl last year, we won our first race at Milwaukee, first race out. I knew the next week at New Hampshire it was going to be downhill. I'm thinking if we don't win the first practice at California, it's a failure (smiling).
Seriously, I think Matt and I have similar personalities, where you're a perfectionist. I thought yesterday our car was good, but not great. Always can get better. I thought today our car was good, but not great.
So I am looking forward to California actually - now that you say that.
Q. Drew, you know you got rain coming, you got cautions, you're in second, whatever. Your guy tends to be pretty even-keeled, but did you have to calm him down? How did he react? What did you have to say to him?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: You know, I think he realized he got a little excited himself. As soon as we took the lead, from nowhere I heard a Matt Kenseth kind of scream that said, Rain, rain, rain, rain. That's very uncharacteristic of him.
So when the caution came out, he said, What's it look like? How's the radar? I said, It's here. It's going to be here. It's going to rain for a couple hours. He said back to me, Let's just stay calm here. I think that was him catching himself thinking, Okay, this could be a good thing here.
But he's so calm, cool, kind of ice cold that you usually don't have to say anything to Matt to calm him down.
Q. Did you lose your primary car in the 150?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Yes.
Q. That was like a month ago.
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Seems longer now. We lost a car in the Bud Shootout, then another car in the 150. Our car in the 150 seemed to actually have really good speed. Might have been a blessing in disguise.
Didn't seem to handle too well in the 150s or in practice before that. But, yes, we lost a car Thursday.
KERRY THARP: We're also pleased to be joined by car owner Jack Roush.
Jack, congratulations on winning the Daytona 500. Your thoughts?
JACK ROUSH: Thank you. I'm pleased to be here with Chip Bolin and with Drew. I don't know if Drew deserves this. I had to wait over 20 years, Drew, just so you know. This is Drew's first race as a crew chief.
You know, Chris Andrews gave us a great engineering package behind of cars. Robbie Reiser managed everything in the shop, managed Drew, and sometimes managed me, to my dismay. So there's a lot of good people that formed the organization that helped make this possible.
But, of course, Matt is at the center of it. Matt Kenseth is as good at this business as anybody has been. And on days when he can't do what he needs to do, it's because I haven't given him the tools. Last year I let him down by not being able to do for him what I needed to.
But, you know, Matt should have won last year. We made some changes. Promoted from within the company. We moved Robbie Reiser off his program and didn't manage to get the organization of his team right.
If you're just off a hair in this business, you can't quite get it done. That was the year we had with Matt last year. Matt did everything he needed to do, but we didn't get it right for him.
Over the winter Drew came on board. Chip stepped into the role of being the senior engineer for not only this team, but for the entire group. As far as team engineers are concerned, boy, they got the magic back. They had the speed in the car, had depth in the organization.
I'm not sure, Drew, was this actually one of the cars we sent back to the shop that got freshened, or is this a different car altogether?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Different.
JACK ROUSH: We sent one of the cars that had some damage. Thought we might see it again.
I need to count my fingers after I shake hands with these guys, after a meeting, because generally there's an extra car or some extra piece of hardware attached to one of them that I wind up losing track of.
But we had a lot of depth and great cars. We had the Ford Fusion that did a super job. Matt deserved to win. As I said, it was my fault he didn't win last year. He's going to win a lot this year, and the championship, I hope.
KERRY THARP: Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford. How does it feel to win the Daytona 500?
MATT KENSETH: Thanks, first of all.
To be honest, it really hasn't sunk in. I woke up this morning not really thinking I was going to win the Daytona 500. So, you know, especially when you come to a Speedway, it's really more about the team than it is about the driver. It's always about the team. Really, they make the cars go fast.
I wasn't happy with my 500 car. Ended up getting wrecked in the 150s anyway. As soon as we unloaded this car, it drove much, much better. I kept complaining about it and they kept adjusting it all night. Did the right stuff at the end.
It's pretty unbelievable to be able to sit here and be able to actually be in the Daytona 500, much less win one. It's just a dream come true.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Matt, you're a guy whose accomplishments don't always get the respect they deserve. Do you think they'll come back with rain tires and wipers next year?
MATT KENSETH: That's pretty funny (laughter).
You know, there's been a couple of occasions where we've had maybe not the best car, but close to the best car. At a few races I got shortened by rain that we didn't win. We certainly lost some on fuel mileage. I don't think we've ever won one on fuel mileage as far as the 17 goes.
I'll take it. I'm not going to think any less of the victory. A lot of races get won and lost like this. We raced almost 400 miles. We were in the right place at the right time. Had our car as fast as it needed to be.
It was really a team effort. Without that last really good pit stop, we would have been in the wreck. Actually, I said Kyle was right in front of me and got in the wreck, and Carl was right behind me and got in the wreck.
They did their job and got us up there when we needed the track position. After that, that wreck, I felt like we were the fastest car up in the lead group.
Q. Matt, you're not generally a very emotional guy. When you were on pit lane, they told you you won, you were pretty emotional. Talk about how that hit you.
MATT KENSETH: I actually am a pretty emotional guy. You guys just don't always really see it. It's kind of funny. Yesterday I was sitting in the motorhome telling Katie, it wasn't like a feel sorry for myself or pity party or anything like, that I was telling her, Man, I'm really getting fed up with not winning, with not being a contender.
It was actually starting to weigh on me more than we thought. We struggled all week, till yesterday, we got the car to handle good. It's not like I had a bad feeling about today. It's just we haven't been a serious contender for the championship for a few years. We've been able to win a race here or there, didn't win any last year.
Just to be able to put it together and actually win the Daytona 500, I don't feel like I'm the best really at plate racing. I feel like a lot of times I make mistakes, which is really frustrating. Don't get my car in the right place at the right time. To be able to put it all together, be able to win the race, is pretty overwhelming.
Q. Matt, when they brought you to pit road, you stayed in the car. A lot of drivers got out, were talking. What were you doing? What was going through your mind? Did you think you'd get back racing?
MATT KENSETH: Well, that's how I am. I hang out with my car with a cover over us in the back pew of church. That's just me.
Seriously, I just wanted to wait until it was either over or we were going to go race again. I was just kind of waiting for that. I didn't want to let my emotions get too high one way or another. I just kind of wanted to wait till it was over and then go from there. I was just kind of hoping it would keep raining.
Q. Matt, when Kevin pushed you past Elliott, with word the rain was coming, did you have an idea right then that that could be the pass for the win?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah. I mean, I really had it in my mind on that last restart when we were behind Elliott if I got around him, could hold it for a little bit. I didn't think we were going to pit again. I thought the rain was coming. Drew said it was coming. You could see the sky getting darker. It was sprinkling for a while.
When I got a run on Elliott, got in a position where he couldn't block it, I had pretty good momentum. Kevin saw I had the momentum and hung a left and went behind me. When I cleared him, it was big actually raindrops between one and two. I knew it was getting pretty close. Then they had the accident where they threw the yellow.
You didn't know if it was going to be the pass, but I knew it had the potential to be.
Q. Matt and Jack, you've won the Daytona 500. You've won a championship. Any comparison between the two?
MATT KENSETH: You know, winning a championship I think is probably the biggest accomplishment you can have in this sport. It's a long season: Nine months, 36 races. All kinds of different sizes and shapes of racetracks. You got to race and think about it and work at it for a long, long time.
Where this is one race, but this is the biggest race, biggest stock car race there is anywhere. To be able to win this race and put our names in history, being Daytona 500 winners, is also pretty awesome.
JACK ROUSH: I tend to get all tore up for the bad things that happen. Jamie McMurray got caught in one of the earlier wrecks and had a great car. Carl Edwards got caught in a wreck and damaged his car. So I was really agonizing over those missed opportunities more than I was starting to count my chickens for the fact that Matt was in the catbird seat and had a chance to do it.
I was surprised. I hadn't done the math. I knew that NASCAR would be willing to keep this thing going till midnight. I hadn't thought about the fact that it was going to take three hours, as I was told later, to get the track dry from where it was. You know, you look at three hours to get it dry, three hours of predictable rain coming. It's 7:00. The math really tells you that you're finished.
I was not focused on that. I was thinking that if it did get started, Matt would have to hang on, and that was going to be a challenge. And that David would be coming. He had a good car. David Ragan had a good car. I was thinking about what if it came back more and helping to get myself ready emotionally for what that was going to mean more than I was to really anticipate the rain-shortened race at something like 7:00 p.m. when they finally called it.
We've been here for more than 20 years trying to do this thing. I even got so conditioned for being frustrated through it that I was almost not believing that it would happen. I will be black and blue for the next couple of days from pinching myself just to make sure I'm not dreaming.
Q. Jack, it took you a long time to win your first two Cup championships. Taken obviously a long time to do this. When does it finally set in? Are you able to appreciate it now? Is it the end of the season when you reflect on it? How big a deal is this?
JACK ROUSH: I've never been through an enshrinement. They're going to enshrine the car I guess tomorrow morning or later tonight or something. When all the team gets around the car and we put the car -- we incarcerate the car for a year over at the museum, I'm sure it will set in at that time. That will be a big deal.
We've had other cars in there. We had Paul Newman's Nobody's Fool Mustang, which was the 10th 24-hour race we'd won here. It was in there for a period of time. That kind of put an exclamation mark at the end of our road racing that we were able to celebrate that victory with Paul, and to have the car under glass there for a period.
So to have this DeWalt Ford Fusion in the Daytona USA for a year is going to be a big deal. It's going to give me some closure. Plus, we have to try to put it behind us, because we got some unfinished business on the West Coast we have to try to deal with in the next couple weeks.
Q. Matt, take me back to when you were a little kid. I know you had the typical, you know, wanted to race, posters in your room, probably playing with little cars in the dirt. Did you, in those days, ever dream about actually winning the Daytona 500?
MATT KENSETH: No. I mean, not back then. I mean, my uncles raced, my cousin raced, my dad started racing a little bit later in life, when I was 13 or something like that. You know, I always enjoyed it and everything. Yet when you grow up in Wisconsin, Daytona seems a long, long, long ways away.
All the races weren't really televised back then. I used to watch Daytona all the time. Watched the Busch Clash, the Daytona 500. It was usually snow up there. I remember watching that. It seemed a long ways away.
I was fascinated with cars and engines and speed and competition and all that, but really didn't think I'd ever get a chance to do this for a living. Until about an hour ago, never really thought I'd win the Daytona 500 either.
Q. Matt, during the off-season a lot was made about the fact that you, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, had not won in 2008. In the first two weeks you guys all won. What does that say about the champions coming back?
MATT KENSETH: That's pretty cool. I hope it keeps happening. I thought about us not winning. That was disappointing. But it's really hard. It's really competitive. Everything's got to go right to be able to win these races. You get people like Carl that win nine. I don't know how many Kyle won. Jimmie.
When you get them guys that won over half the races between them three, it's really hard. Everything's got to go right. You got to have -- you got to have everything line up for you. It's pretty cool to be able to win this race, but it doesn't make or break your season. We know there's a lot of work to do coming up.
We're really going to enjoy it this week. I think we're already looking ahead to California, Vegas, Atlanta, the tracks we know we got to perform at all year to be a serious contender.
Q. Precious little in this sport is ever predictable, but usually within a few 'green-white-checkered' laps, the distance of the race is dependable. A lot of times when rain is closing in, when you listen on the radio, it gets a little hysterical because all the variables are off. Everybody is having a hard time coming up with when to go, what's gonna happen. How difficult was that for you, Matt and Drew, because this is your first time in the Daytona 500 making these calls?
MATT KENSETH: Well, for me, it's different than any other race, except for Talladega. Because if you're at Pocono or wherever, if you got the fastest car, you're just going to go ahead and pass that guy in front of you.
Here, the way the draft works, you really had to think if you were doing the right thing. There were a few times tonight where I didn't do the right thing and everybody stacked up another line and took the momentum and shuffled you back 10 spots.
The last thing I wanted to do was be running second and go for the lead and make the wrong move and not have the proper momentum and not have anybody go with you, finish 10th or something like that. It was something to think about a little bit.
I knew I wanted to get the lead. I knew when I made the move, I needed to make sure I had enough momentum where I was going to get all the way to the lead.
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: You know, our decision was fairly easy. We put it in a place to where we felt like we were fast up there. We hadn't gone even a third of our fuel run yet.
The fortunate thing I have is Chip Bolin has set on the box for the 17 for probably close to 300 Cup races. He's been through all of it with Robbie Reiser, and did it himself last year. We're bouncing ideas off each other the whole time, talking about if and what if things.
It was fairly easy. I think the way this track is, if we were gonna come get tires, we were gonna wait till we could make it on fuel anyway the way everything played out. It wasn't a very tough decision, whether to come or to stay.
Q. Matt, about a week ago you were talking about how it's been a depressing off-season for you because you've seen friends lose their jobs. It's fair to say you'd be considered one of the more blue-collar drivers in NASCAR. Is it maybe satisfying for you that you can kind of inject some good news into the blue-collar fan base of NASCAR?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah. I mean, I think everybody's kind of tired of watching the news, the grim news that there's been pretty much all winter. Whether you're a sports fan, football or racing, when that starts, it gives you something else to think about, something else to do. It's easy to take stuff for granted when everything is going good all the time.
But I thought it was a great race today. The stands were really full. I know everybody's been trying to help out to make it not just more a more enjoyable experience for the fans, but also make it more affordable.
It feels really good to get the win. I'm glad we started the season off on a high note like that.
Q. Could you react to the fact that you waited for 17 minutes in your car, the No. 17 DeWalt Ford, to wait to hear whether or not you were going to win your 17th career triumph on the 20th anniversary of Darrell Waltrip's 17th win in the No. 17 at Daytona.
MATT KENSETH: I'm just glad that Ken Willis wasn't saying it was boring or anything bad about me. Yeah, I'm glad all the numbers lined up for us. I don't know if I believe in all that, but I'm glad that they all lined up. It makes a good story line.
Drew is known for being the luckiest guy around, so I was happy to have him on the box, too.
Q. Matt, for every winner, there's a guy that the luck goes the other way. Elliott Sadler was in here a while ago kicking himself. You talk about making wrong moves. He was trying to block. Seconds after you pass him, it rains. Do you have a little bit of a pang for Elliott? Where were you in that wreck? How did you manage to get out of it?
MATT KENSETH: Well, in the wreck, I don't know. 18 got wiped out. I nosed into somebody a little bit. I actually thought it would have been split or done something, but didn't really do any damage. We were probably more lucky there than anything, to be honest with you. We kind of just shot straight through it. The seas parted and we came out.
Man, I've had that feeling a lot of times where we've had fast cars and I haven't maybe done the right thing. There's other times where your car is not as fast, you make the right moves.
I haven't had the pleasure of seeing it a lot of times, but I don't think it's so much that Elliott didn't make any right moves, it's just our car was faster, I thought. We were able to get a pretty big run on him, even without a lot of people, get underneath him.
Those cars seem like they all handled good all night, but they didn't have quite as much speed. For a short run like that on new tires, I felt as good as you can feel about trying to make a pass at a plate race.
Q. Matt, when Kevin was in here, he was kind of reflecting on the fact that a couple years ago a push by you helped him win his Daytona 500, was considering the circumstances, that he kind of played a role in getting you past Elliott Sadler. Is that the nature of plate racing for you guys, that sometimes things that you do for another person may not show up right away, but maybe sometime down the road?
MATT KENSETH: You always hope so. There's a couple things to keep in mind. The year Kevin won it we were eighth, ninth and tenth, Kevin and I and Burton. We lined up and started going with three or four to go. We didn't have anything to lose.
You know, you always try to make the right decisions, not hang somebody out that's been working with you, whatever. You try to help people or your teammates, do all that stuff the best you can.
But at the end of the day you try to help people when you can help 'em, and it doesn't hurt your effort. You also want to do what's going to be best for your car. Had a big run. Could have gone with Elliott. We probably would have both been clear, had the faster cars.
I was glad it was Kevin. I remember when I gave him the huge shove on the backstretch and he was able to win the 500. I pushed Dale Jarrett past Tony for his win at Talladega. I've been the pusher a few times and been able to help a little bit, but never been lucky enough to have the shoe on the other foot. It really felt good tonight to be in that position and for them to pull behind me and push me by him.
Q. You mentioned your dad, who let you do this, who encouraged you. I don't think he's here today. Have you talked to him? Do you miss him not being able to be a part of this?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody yet. Yeah, I wish my dad was here and I wish my son, Ross, was here, my sister. You always wish your buddies, your family and friends, were there when you have a big moment to share it with them.
My dad never dreamed it would come to anything like this either. We started it for something constructive for a father and son to do, to keep me out of trouble, for us to find something that we hopefully would enjoy, be able to spend quality time together. That's really why we did it. We did it for fun.
We didn't have a lot of money to go build real fancy racecars. We just started racing sportsman cars for the fun of it. From there, I kept getting very, very fortunate to meet the right people to give me a chance to drive their stuff that we could afford to build.
Q. The Daytona 500 is called the Super Bowl of NASCAR. For the first time you can say you went to the Super Bowl and won it, and the Packers didn't make the playoffs. How is this going to be playing back up in Cambridge? And what does it mean to you that you're the second Wisconsin driver to win? What did Kulwicki mean to you and your life?
MATT KENSETH: Everything has been pretty quiet in the off-season. Pretty quiet in Cambridge, like everywhere else. I hope everybody's fired up back there, celebrating and having a good time. Yeah, I mean, I never really knew Alan. I never really got to meet him.
Obviously what he did was pretty spectacular. I don't know if in this day and age anybody could do that again. To be able to come down and do it the way you wanted to do it and win a championship was pretty cool when you knew it was the first Wisconsin guy to come down from the north and win a NASCAR championship.
That was something pretty big for the state, and certainly something that I paid attention to.
Q. When you survived that wreck, the 18 didn't. When you realized the 18 was out, did that make your mind say, This could be my day?
MATT KENSETH: You know, you knew your chances were better. I mean, whenever there's a wreck and you're not in it, you know your odds are a little better of winning. Really that's what it is at a plate race. If you're at Michigan or something, you're running second or third, you're running second all day to him, he wrecks, blows up or something happens, then all of a sudden you kind of get a spring in your step. Man, we've been second best to him all day and he's out, we're going to have a shot.
At a plate race, it's not really like that. If you don't get in the right line, everybody lines up somewhere else or what have you, even if you have the right car, if you don't end up making the right move, people don't make it with you, you still won't win.
So certainly I felt like our chances improved a little bit, but not as much as if it would have been at a standard racetrack.
Q. Matt, wild celebration tonight in the RV lot or?
MATT KENSETH: Oh, man, I'm going to go paint it plaid, just like you said (smiling). Going to New York tomorrow night and paint the town plaid. Wasn't that your quote?
Q. You got a long memory.
MATT KENSETH: Like an elephant (laughter).
I was hearing about the schedule. Sounds like a pretty busy week. I don't know if there will be a lot of celebrating this week. Probably most of it was in Victory Lane an hour or so ago.
You know, I'm looking forward to the week. It's not always my favorite thing to do, but I'm really looking forward to going around and actually people calling me the Daytona 500 champion. It's pretty awesome. I'm going to enjoy it the best I can and try to find some time to celebrate when we have time in our schedule for it.
Q. Can you talk about some of the changes you've had at your team. You have a returning spotter and a new crew chief. Talk about all that.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, Mike Calinoff came back to spot. He was pretty much the original spotter with the 17 team. I have a certain comfort level with him doing that. Drew came over from -- he was doing the Nationwide deal the last couple years and finished off Carl's deal last year. Came over to do the Cup thing obviously.
So we had a crew chief change. Chip stayed with what he was doing, doing all the car stuff. Just didn't have to do all the crew chief duties to go along with it.
I've really, for me, been very optimistic the last couple months. I've been really fired up for the season to start, more so than a year for quite a while, for the last few years. I feel really good about it. I feel really good about our group.
The over-the-wall guys, the whole group, I feel really good about it. Feel good about our equipment. Carl, Greg, won all them races last year. We know the cars are fast enough, the motors run good enough. We just got to figure out how to dot the Is and cross the Ts.
Q. Starting this race you were 39th. By lap 30 you were in the top 10. Lap 40 you were third. What was going through your mind at that time? Did you see this as a possibility at that point?
MATT KENSETH: Well, starting in the back, unless there's a wreck, isn't really a big disadvantage at a plate race the way the draft works and all that stuff. Actually, I hate to say it helped us, but we did get to work on the car a lot more. We were in a lot of dirty air, in traffic a lot.
We did two pit stops by lap 25, so we got to put some tires on and look at our tires. We got to be in different situations: three-wide, bottom, middle, top, kind of see what the car was handling like. Probably helped us with our adjustments.
If we started in the front, running around the bottom, we might not have known what we needed to adjust. That helped us keep up I think with our adjustments a little bit better.
KERRY THARP: Gentlemen, congratulations on winning the Daytona 500.
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