NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 500
Topics: Auto Club 500
February 22, 2009
KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by car owner Jack Roush. Victorious tonight for the second week, building upon that Daytona 500 victory. Become the first driver, car owner to win back-to-back races to open the season since 1997. Congratulations, Jack. You got to feel good about that.
JACK ROUSH: Thank you. We had run well here. We didn't win the fall race, but we ran well here many times. Looked forward to coming to Fontana here.
We were really a little bit taken aback by how well the Hendrick cars were running throughout practice, particularly the 48 was just awesome. He certainly put a real high mark up there that we had to look at.
As we started the race, I knew that Matt was pretty good. One of the things about Matt Kenseth, he doesn't practice as well as a lot of people do. He goes looking for the feel he likes in the car, and tries to save the car so he doesn't put extra wear and tear on it. He reminds me of what I heard -- of course David Pearson was before my time, but when I first got involved, I was around the Wood Brothers, Leonard and Glen, they would talk about how David -- they could never know how much car they had until it was time in the race. Matt is a little like that.
I had a feeling he was going to be a little bit of a surprise to some folks tonight because he had not been up there on the leaderboard in practice. But he had said that he wasn't worried that his car had not gone faster in practice, that he felt he had what he needed, and it felt like it felt before when he had been able to win.
But the 48 had been really fast. As it turned out, the 24 was a really good car as well. Greg Biffle and his 3M Fusion, in the closing stages, from the lap indication I saw, it looked like he had the best car. He overshot his pit box there, not really getting outside of the box, but stopped squarely on an airline. Greg, he made a good call by having him back up. He would have been last on the lead lap if they hadn't had backed him up when he did. I'm sure they would have had trouble with that airline getting the right wheel off with the left front wheel parked on the airline.
Greg missed an opportunity tonight. I know that Carl Edwards was a little disappointed. David Ragan and Jimmy Fennig will be a little disappointed. Donnie Wingo and Jamie McMurray had a brake problem that was unfortunate. But all of our Fords ran well. As I look at the no testing program that we're on, not being able to come to this racetrack and test, it's clearly played to the strength of the people that had success. It played to Hendricks' program, it played to Gibbs' program with the way that Kyle Busch had run, and of course it played to ours as well.
KERRY THARP: Five straight wins here at Auto Club in February. Congratulations on that.
JACK ROUSH: I don't expect that to continue. We're hard-pressed to figure out what to do to be more ready. But my experience is that these things tend to average out. Man, I just hope when we have to give back all this success that I'm not here, I'm someplace else.
KERRY THARP: Now we're joined by race winner, Matt Kenseth. Matt becomes the first driver since 1997 to win the season's opening two events.
Matt, congratulations. How did you follow up on such a big win last week and keep your focus to win here again tonight?
MATT KENSETH: What did Jenna say, Steely Matt. That was supposed to be a joke. Nobody gets it (laughter).
Just great team. Great engines. You need everything to go right to be able to win these races. Our car handled really good all day. We had excellent pit stops. Fourth one from the end, we were a little bit off. I started complaining. All of a sudden they got me three or four spots every stop. The pit stops were really important to our outcome. Their adjustments were really important. We were a little off.
Even though we were out in front, we got ran down and passed. Drew came up with changing a couple things, got it good enough at the end. It wasn't easy, but it was just good enough to hold them off.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer joins us at the podium. Two in a row on the Cup side, and the last four times you have been at the racetrack you have been the crew chief of the winning team. You're 4-0 there. Congratulations. Talk about some of the strategy that unfolded here today.
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: I think our car was pretty close from the beginning. He seemed to like it a little better than he did yesterday. We made our way through the field. Obviously the last five or six cars, when you're running the top 10, are the hardest to pass. Thankfully we have one of the best pit crews on pit road which catapulted us to the front every single time.
Because the track was getting dark, it got a lot faster, which wasn't great for our setup. We knew we had to start in the middle of the pack. We changed things around to make sure we could get to the front. When our pit crew got us out front, we ran extremely fast, a second and a half faster than we ran all weekend. That was a good thing. We had to adjust our car a little bit when we were in clean air to make sure he could run out front.
But Matt can drive it on the free side, can do the things we need to do to get the win. So we made sure we kept him free and let him go after it.
KERRY THARP: Questions now for either Jack, Matt or Drew.
Q. Jack, if most people knew you were going to win the first two races, they would have said it would have been Greg or Carl. What has this team done to have won the first two races?
JACK ROUSH: Drew has brought magic to the team. He comes from a family, his dad was a coach. He played real competitive sports in high school and things. So he knows how to build a team. He knows how to capitalize on the energy within a team.
We needed that. We had all the right team with the right skill sets on the team; we just needed somebody to create the magic. Drew has done that.
We had the same cars last year. Matt was the same guy that he was last year. He sure didn't learn anything over the winter because he didn't have a chance to drive these cars as much as normal.
But I'm celebrating with Drew. He needed a little help with the champagne. I gave him my champagne bottle all primed. Oh, Drew got me.
Anyway, we'll credit what we've got going for us early as 'the Drew factor' and look forward to carrying that forward.
With the way Carl had won, the way Jamie has been running, the way Greg has won, and the way David has been coming, certainly there's an expectation on my part we were going to be a factor in these races until we get to Martinsville. The guys snuck off to Little Rock at the Rockingham racetrack. That is one of the places you can go and test a little bit. We think we've even got something for Martinsville that we haven't had before.
I'm really optimistic about what's going to happen in the first handful of races. The idea of winning Daytona under the rain circumstances was a surprise. It caught me totally off guard. Of course, I was afraid it was going to finish under rain. I was hoping we'd win. But I certainly didn't want to read in the press of having two rain-outs and having one of our guys be the benefactor.
Q. Matt, the last 20 laps of this race was about as entertaining as a lot of people have seen. Did you think Gordon had what he had for you in that last 20 laps?
MATT KENSETH: I thought he was going to pass us. I don't know if it's a bad habit or not. Some people call me a pessimist. I think I'm more of a realist. When we took off, the run before that, we got out in the lead. We ran some real fast laps. We left Jeff by, I don't know, 15 or 20 car lengths, second or something like that. In the middle of that run, he just ran me right down, drove by me, took off. Greg drove by me, took off. I couldn't do any better.
I don't know what they adjusted. They got us in front again, which obviously was a big key. Right away I could feel it was better. I didn't think it was that much better. I was getting looser when we ran. With as many laps left, I honestly thought we were going to be too loose at the end and he was going to catch us. I couldn't get away from him. Then he ran down and got right on my bumper. I thought that was about over.
But I guess they tightened his up a little bit and got it tight. I was able to hang on. These things are sensitive. They made the perfect adjustment, had the perfect pit stop.
Q. Jack, your teams have had an incredible success here. Doesn't matter who the drivers are, who the crew chiefs are, what kind of cars you're running, you have had remarkable success. Is it focus, preparation, talent?
JACK ROUSH: Well, it does matter who drives the cars. I'm blessed with having really fast company that let me hang around with them.
But looking at Matt Kenseth, it is a fact that Matt Kenseth would not be part of our program, I wouldn't have the honor to be involved with Matt I'm sure if it hadn't been for Mark Martin. Mark looked at Matt. Mark has had his template set on the driver temperament, really what the nature of our strategies have been at mile-and-a-half and the two-mile racetracks. Those were his meat. I certainly learned from what his interests were and figured out what to give him to be successful and that's helped us.
It takes three things to make these cars win. It takes technology that the manufacturer brings to the table. In our case that's Ford Motor Company. It's takes NASCAR giving you a template set for the body shape and engine parameters that's competitive, and it takes a driver that can close the deal. I've been fortunate to have those things.
The affiliation with Ford Motor Company has been a big factor in it over the years. Crew chiefs like Drew have prepared the cars ideally. The cars have been driven with great enthusiasm and with good effect.
Q. Matt, you talked last week a little bit about getting off to a good start and how you felt real confident coming into this week. Is there an upper end to your confidence now that you've won the first two races? Vegas has been a pretty good track for you. Have you thought that far ahead?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I feel really good about Vegas. I felt good coming here. In a way, nothing -- I don't think a win will ever be as big in our career as winning the Daytona 500. In a way, this feels almost better. You come here. This isn't restrictor plate. You don't need other people's help. Luck is not involved quite as much.
We had to come here and figure out how to beat the other 43 teams on speed and strategy and adjustments and all that stuff. Really these are the races that make up the bulk of the schedule. Whether you run good or bad at these tracks has more of a determining fact on making the Chase or running for a championship.
It feels pretty unbelievable to win the first two races. You know, especially Daytona and to be able to come out of the box and run competitively here.
I felt as soon as we got Drew in that spot, a week later, I had a super long talk with Chip, everything was cool with Jack, we worked everything out, I just had a really good feeling about it. I don't know why. I was more confident coming into this year than I have been probably in a lot of seasons.
I just feel great about the group we have assembled. Everybody's having fun. Everybody's loose. Everybody's performing at the same time. I think that, you know, Drew has given the leadership and the spark they kind of need, and Chip has all the extra time to work on the cars and keep up with engineering and the data, sift through all that stuff. They've been able to work great together so far.
Q. Drew, the way this crew has performed the last two weeks, how big an influence was it being involved with Robbie Reiser?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: Robbie is a huge part. He's ultimately the guy three years ago when I took over the 17 Nationwide car I tried to model myself after. When you're across the shop from the 17, you looked at them as the ultimate team.
I think even when they didn't win the championship after 2003, everybody still looked at them as that's the team you want to be like. They were the best on pit road. Seemed like they could change a spring faster than everybody else. You wanted to be like the 17.
When I was able to work with Matt in the then Busch side, I went and talked to Robbie a lot. I kind of hung around him, looked at the way he looked at people and the way he did things and tried to model myself. A lot of things that Robbie did, a lot of organizational skills, a lot of leadership skills that Robbie did, I tried to mold myself around.
Robbie is an extremely large part. He's pulled me aside probably three times this week when I was at the shop, talked to me about different things, This is a long season, this is what you need to look for. Huge to have Robbie Reiser 60 feet away from your office that you can go over and talk to.
Q. Matt, how come when you pit you don't stop on your air hose? How come on your last stop you don't tighten it up too much?
MATT KENSETH: I didn't catch the first part. Something about an air hose?
Q. Greg stopped on his air hose.
MATT KENSETH: Oh, man, I don't know. I mean, we just -- we were able to make the adjustments. I think, you know, as far as the 24, they got too tight. I don't think you can ever fault a team for staying on top of the car, even when you're leading. You got to keep up with the track conditions, your changing car and all that.
Earlier in our career we lost a few races being out front leading and not adjusting enough. Saying, Man, we're so good we're scared to touch it. You get beat. You always try to do what you think is right.
The pit stop was part it. Their adjustments, like I say, they didn't even tell me what they were. I'll find out what they were. But I didn't even care what they were. They were able to figure out what I needed to make my car.
As far as pit road, there's a lot that goes into it. We've worked really hard at it. We have a group that always has the timing just right. Like I said, there's a lot that goes into that, from the time the car gets into pit road until I get on the racetrack. That's something we've always worked hard on.
Q. At the end of the last pit stops, Gordon was behind you, then Kyle Busch was behind him. What was going through your head when you see the 18 that close to the front that late in the race?
MATT KENSETH: You know, to be honest with you, when you're leading the race and people are catching you, it doesn't really matter who it is. I don't really think about, Oh, it's him, I need to drive this way. You don't really think about that. You more think about, you know, I'm listening to the lap times, I'm trying to find the spot on the track where it feels like my car has the most grip. Really that's what you're doing. You're kind of watching them to see where they're running, if you can help it, try to be in front of them so they don't have as much air.
You don't really think that much about who's behind you or who you're racing, you're more thinking about trying to get going as fast as you can.
Q. Jack, obviously what's going on in Detroit now is a lot bigger than races, it's about survival. What kind of a psychological boost have you given the guys in Dearborn by winning of the first two races?
JACK ROUSH: One of the things that's been a historical benefit of winning stock car races, the manufacturers involved in the '70s, in the '60s, is they were able to quantify that if they won on Sunday, they sold on Monday.
I got a call from actually -- actually, I didn't get a call. It was on the Eli Gold show, Tuesday Night Live. Eli told me he talked to a friend of his in Alabama, Town and Country Ford, and they sold two cars that were Roush performance cars, niche market cars we modified for them. On Monday, people came in and said we have to have this Roush modified car.
So, you know, the Ford people are really excited about the success we're having on the racetrack. I heard from Bill Ford. I heard from a number of vice presidents throughout the company that reached out to contact me. I heard from Edsel Ford. I heard from two of the heirs of Henry that are active in the company.
The glass is definitely more than half full with Ford Motor Company right now. They've got a couple great products coming in from Europe that will be here in 18 months. They're not out of cash. They're not out of line with regard to the number of dealers.
It's a tough economy for everybody that sells any manufactured product or does the service in our economy. But the glass is more than half full at Ford right now. We're just adding some more good news for them.
Q. Drew, as a former wrestler, it's work until you pretty much get sick. I assume that's not what you do to your guys. What is your magic and motivation?
DREW BLICKENSDERFER: I think I treat them the way coaches treated me in the past. There's a time to kick somebody in the butt, and there's a time to put an arm around them. Each personality is different. After a bad pit stop, a mistake in the garage when you're changing a sway bar, there's certain people that can relate if you get in their face and yell at them like a football coach, there's certain people you need to put your arm around, take them next to the trailer, say it's okay.
I think I've been blessed to have my father and a lot of other great coaches in my life that taught me when to cross the line, when not to cross the line, how to deal with people.
KERRY THARP: Guys, congratulations. Keep it up.
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