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NASCAR Media Conference Breakout Session

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference Breakout Session

Matt Kenseth
November 14, 2013


MATT KENSETH: Well, it was a disappointing day for sure. Each of the 10 races pay the exact same amount of points and they're equally important, but when you get down to the end you don't much as much time to recover if you get yourself behind, and it was a bad performance all around. The whole day pretty much right from the start just wasn't good. Nothing really went right. So it was a disappointing day, effort and finish. But man, after it's over there's just nothing we could do about where we finished. Try to figure out what went wrong, try to fix it and move on from there.

Q. Do you remember the last time you spit fire at someone?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, there's always times where you're not happy or frustrated or however you want to put it. But also you've got to keep it all in perspective and always try to think through your actions and if it's going to help. If you're just going to throw a fit just for the reason to throw a fit, it's not going to help anything, then why do it. I think you've got to think about what can you do to try to make it better, not worse.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: No, I don't think so it ever really got stale. I didn't really need a refresher or anything like that. I've probably felt better than I've ever felt the last few years. Been as excited as ever to go to the track. It wasn't anything like that, but it was a good change professionally and personally. It was nice to kind of go in and start over, see how they do it somewhere else because I was there for so long, and after a while it's kind of the same old thing. This is how you approach this, this is how you try to fix this problem, this is a problem we have every year. You kind of get into that a little bit after a while where there's probably certain times where you felt like you were beating your head against the wall or helping as much as you could help and it still wasn't getting better. I think this gets that way with any long partnership. It was fun to come in with an open mind and see how they do it somewhere different.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, I felt very, very confident about it probably after our first hour of our first day at the track when we went to Charlotte and tested that December and got to work with Jason a little bit, got to drive the 20, got to drive Denny's car. So I felt pretty good about things I saw, how the great operated, how the cars felt, how the cars drove, how fast they were, all that right away.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, yeah, it has been a while. I felt like that was probably the last time that we actually performed good enough to win, if we wouldn't have made any mistakes at all, we probably performed well enough to win it. Although I've got to take that last weekend wasn't good, Talladega we didn't get a good finish but it's hard to say how your performance was there because everybody's performance is really about the same. Last week was the first week we didn't perform. There were some other weeks we missed it a little bit but we could still run top 10. I think the biggest thing is we've just been more competitive. We've been in a position to win more. We won the first couple races the Chase, we led more laps, qualified better. I think probably the best performance, just straight out performance we've had in the Chase. I've made a couple mistakes and we had last week where we didn't do good all the way around, but other than that we've been right in the mix most weeks.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don't know that I'm that different of a driver. I think there's certain things‑‑ there's been a ton of changes since then with the cars, with the rules, with the tires, with the tracks, procedures, restarts. There's been a lot of changes so it's kind of apples to oranges. But I don't really feel like I'm much of a different driver. I think there's a lot of things that are different from an organizational standpoint that probably make me different, probably approach certain things different. We go about certain things different. You know, so different personnel, different cars, different rules. It's pretty hard to compare, but I don't feel like I'm really that different of a driver. I mean, you would hope through the years you get smarter and you learn things and you get better, but I really don't feel much different.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: You know, that's hard for me to answer, too. I mean, they've just always been so incredibly good. I think they even got better probably with the introduction of the COT car where pretty much everyone was the same. No one could really get the real big advantage for a while. You know, I feel like that's when they really took that next step and they've been just about unbeatable.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: How I got into racing? Just started going to the racetrack when I was a kid up in Wisconsin, circling the track with my dad, watching my uncles race.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Look at me. I'm not built to play any other sport except for driving a race car. I mean, I don't know. I was always interested in going fast and competition and driving cars and working on cars and doing all that. Just something I've always been interested in.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Oh, I'd say at least another 20 years. Yeah, 15 or 20. Why are you guys laughing?

Q. Some people say winning a second championship is tougher than the first.
MATT KENSETH: Everything changes a lot. I don't think the first one was easy to win. I don't think any of them are easy to win, and certainly as soon as Jimmie wins just about every year and then a couple years he didn't win, I don't know about last year, but the year Tony won, I mean, some of those Chases have just been incredible. Somebody steps it up, and I mean, Tony won half the races. It's hard to beat that. So they just keep raising the bar every year. Man, it's just hard to put together 10 almost perfect weeks.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, I'm looking forward to this weekend. I'm hoping we can put together a really good effort here this weekend and finish the season off on a positive note no matter what happens with the points. Hopefully we can finish it off with if not a win a good top 5 finish and go run good and lead some laps and do the things we know we can do. And then once they get the rules sorted out for next year I'll be looking forward to next season. We're doing testing in December so I'm already looking forward to that and hopefully sorting some things out, what's good and what's bad, and go from there.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I'm not a guy that roots for teams to lose. I'm kind of a guy that roots for my favorite teams, so I'm probably more rooting to go out and dominate the race and win the race than anything else. If he has problems, I guess I wouldn't feel bad about it. I would take it because we've certainly had our share of problems this year, a lot of things that were just circumstances. We had absolutely zero control over that, that took us out of chances to win and made us finish almost last. Everybody has them. That's part of motorsports, part of racing, but the main thing kind of like Kevin touched on we've got to control the things that are within our control, and that's just the 20 car, try to run up front, try to finish as high as we can.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: No, I mean, I think if we would have ran reasonable last week, I think that last week the answer to that question would have been yeah. I think you try to figure out how to get off sequence, try to mix it up, try to get track position and try to do something different. But this weekend we're too far behind. We're not going to make a pit call that's going to gain 30 points. That's not going to happen. We just need to go out with the idea of trying to call the race to win the race and just do everything we can to go out and try to win and see what happens from there.

Q. After the problems last week did you make a concerted effort this week to (indiscernible)?
MATT KENSETH: No. I mean, our biggest‑‑ we've been pretty good on pit road. We've been a little bit inconsistent. We've had a couple stops that haven't been as great but we've had a lot of really good ones and put us in position and got us the stops when we needed them to put us in position. That was more of a miscue. That was something more that Jason was working on fixing. It was more of a miscue, I think, on his part trying to figure out what we were going to do, if we were going to get two tires or four tires and there wasn't many people on pit road. It was kind of one of them messes. It was kind of a confusing cluster.
I think he's got good control on that.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Not until I came and did this because, you know‑‑ I'm trying to answer this diplomatically. Until I went and did this and drove these cars and started working with Jason and started doing that, I really felt like I had a very good realistic chance to have the best season that I've ever had. I really felt like that. Before that I don't know because it was kind of‑‑ we did good, but it was kind of a different variation of the same season. If we had a good year we could win between one and three races and we could make the Chase but we were never a serious contender to win the championship and I felt like that's all I could give, that's all I could get. No matter how much I gave that's all I could get, and that's about where we were. So if nothing would have changed I would have re‑signed my contract and done that unless there would have been some sweeping overhaul changes that would have really changed things, how the car drove, I probably wouldn't have felt like that. But when I went and did this and it was something different and the first time I drove the cars and what they felt like and what the changes felt like, I certainly had a lot more confidence than I've had in a few years.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I don't know if I feel like I'm the best driver I've ever been in my career, but I really don't feel like I've deteriorated. This is the most laps we've led. It's probably the best I've felt physically and mentally and emotionally and probably as many years as I can remember. It's probably as confident as I've ever felt. So yeah, I mean, I don't know. I read some of the stuff Mark wrote this week, and Mark is about 14 years older than me or something, but I thought some of his comments were interesting, and he was well into his 50s winning races and running really good. I don't feel like I've slowed down. I feel like this sport there's a lot of things, I think, youth brings to the sport. I think you're really fast and you do all that stuff, but I think that experience still matters a lot here when it comes to finishing 500‑mile races and racing for championships and doing all those things because it does take a while to learn and the only way to learn is to make mistakes and everybody is so competitive over here that when you make mistakes it's not real forgiving.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it wasn't really to have anything to do with the change of scenery. It really had to do with‑‑ it wasn't all that simple. It's not just a change of scenery like you move everything to the other shop and it's going to be different. It was just the whole organization and the people and the cars, the whole thing. So yeah, yeah, I was very enthusiastic.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I don't think you can ever say you should have and didn't because Jimmie Johnson is here. I think he just raises the bar and it's hard to do. I guess you can say that because you get in something and have a mechanical failure or have something happen that you didn't have a lot of control over, but that's happened to him, too. He makes it incredibly hard. It seems like so long ago when we won our championship, which it was 10 years or whatever, but I think there's only been four people that have won one since then, I think, three or four. Tony, Jimmie, Kurt and Brad, so four. Before last year, three. It's just hard. It's hard to win races at this level, and then I don't know how they do it. But every fall when it's time, somehow they just‑‑ it's like however everybody else is running, they're kind of right there, right there, and then all of a sudden they raise the bar and they just smoke everybody. I don't know how they do that.
Yeah, he makes it harder. There's obviously a lot of people that are‑‑ people and teams that are capable of winning championships, but you've got to be able to figure out how to do it.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a lot of drivers and teams that are certainly capable, and if they do put together those 10 weeks and that season and win a championship, that's certainly worthy to be champions. But at the end of the day you've got to be able to beat that, and in the Chase there's not many people that have been able to figure out how to do that for 10 weeks.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Right after the first pit stop. Well, kind of right after our first pit stop, although I'm thinking, okay, we just put two tires on our car, we'll go right back to where we were and we'll be okay. Our first run was okay. It wasn't great but it was good enough to run in the top 10. I figured if it drives like this the rest of the day, we have good pit stops, good strategy, I don't make mistakes, we have good restarts, we can finish best‑case scenario 5th, worst‑case scenario is going to be 10th. I felt like that was our first run. Our second run it was about a 20th‑place car and honestly we just never got it back from there. Everything we did I kind of knew we were in trouble, and really all weekend we didn't have the feel and the speed we needed to compete for a win, ever, the whole time we were there. There was a couple runs, like our first run of the race, that was probably our best run the whole weekend, and we were probably 5th to 10th.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: No, no, because anything can happen. I mean, you could have a flat tire with‑‑ well, a lap down, with five to go or so, to be able to beat him. You don't know what's happening. I really didn't think about that, I just spent time thinking about how can we turn the ship around, how can we salvage a decent day, and unfortunately we never really did that. I thought through that a lot. I kind of‑‑ although I don't think we could have done anything to fix it once we seen what all our‑‑ I don't think we could have fixed it there. But probably one thing that could have been different is halfway through the race, look, we can't go forward. We need to stop, we need to come to pit road, we need to pit. We need to do whatever we need to do and just bite the bullet on track position, forget about it, because we were so slow even with track position I couldn't hold on and try to make it better, which we kind of tried to do that, we just couldn't fix it.
So yeah, I didn't really think about that. Once it's over and you see the finishing position you do, but not at the time. You're really just trying to figure out how to turn it around and get something decent out of it.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I mean, maybe all those things a little bit. I don't always do a great job of it, but I always try to think through, okay, how you act and what you say, how is that going to affect everybody else. Is it a positive, is it a negative, is it going to get everybody down, is it going to get everybody up, is it going to help you finish better next week. You stomp your feet or you get mad sometimes, but it is kind of disappointing. I don't want to say devastating. The hardest part was probably seeing J.D. and probably seeing Todd Meredith taking apart the pit box and the look on his face, that kind of burned in my mind for the week. I was like, man, that was as disappointing and devastating as a look as you can see on anybody's face, and I felt like I did that, so I felt awful about that.
But also at the end of the day, I really feel like I walked away, and I don't know what I would have done any different. I don't know what I could have done any better or any different. I felt like I got everything I could get out of it. Even though we qualified 14th, unless we know how to make it faster I think I could do it four or five times and still be 14th. I felt like I did the best job I could. It was really disappointing and all that, but I just couldn't do anything about it at the time.
But yeah, it something doesn't happen Sunday and we don't walk away as the champion, I'm going to be somewhat disappointed but on the other hand it's been an incredible year. Jimmie talked about not being at one press conference in 10 years or whatever it's been, which is just kind of sickening. I don't think I've been to one since '06. I'm not sure if that's right or not, but I don't think I have been, so it's the first time in seven years I've had a mathematical chance to win the championship still getting to Homestead. No matter how you look at it, it's been a great year.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I'm not a good driver at Martinsville, but I'm not as bad as I thought I was. I don't know. I mean, I've said the same thing a few times, but it's been a great change on a professional level and a personal level. It's been good for me. It's been good for my confidence. It's been good for my self‑esteem. It's just been a good change. It's been fun to do something different. Not really in a different role and not that I wasn't appreciated or valued before, but in a way you feel like maybe you have a little more value than you think you had or maybe you're appreciated a little more than you think maybe you have been because it's new and because you're there working with teammates for the first time and because we ran good and just probably more interaction. I felt like I actually made a difference this year, where I don't know that I felt like that for a while.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: You'll have to get with Jason on that one. I mean, I don't think there was a smoking gun. I think there was a few things that we found that probably weren't right. But 11 didn't run great, and that's one of his best tracks usually, in the spring he ran great. Kyle didn't run great. He finished pretty good, but he didn't run great, as good as he thought he should have ran. He dominated the race last fall there. In the spring he ran good, had some problems.
I think as an organization there was a lot of things we were looking at to try to get better there. Richmond fall race was really bad for us as a group for some reason, too, which is really odd because the short tracks were really good in the beginning of the year. We hit Martinsville and Loudon pretty good, but Richmond was really bad, Phoenix was really bad for some reason. So something that as an organization we're talking about and working on and trying to figure out how to fix, obviously, before we get back there.

Q. I know you said regardless of how the championship goes you've had a great year. If that weren't the case would this approach be any different at all?
MATT KENSETH: To this weekend? No. I don't know exactly what you're asking. I mean, it wouldn't change our approach to this weekend because our approach is to go out, try to put our best foot forward and try to win. You're not going to beat the 48 on performance. He's not going to lose a championship on performance. He's not going to be off and finish 28th. I mean, I guess he could, but I don't think it's going to happen.
Obviously we need to go out and do the things that we need to do to be in position in case they do have some sort of problem. Kevin is pretty close to us in points, I believe, so we want to make sure we stay ahead of him to finish second and be ahead of him in case the 48 has a problem so he doesn't sneak in and win it. Our approach is‑‑ the only way‑‑ I don't have any pain. I haven't been sitting in one of these since '06. I think. I haven't had a mathematical chance to win the last race in the last seven years, I don't think. Yeah, we want to win it. You don't get a lot of opportunities to win these things, so when you get one you want to take advantage of that and you want to win it.
But like I said, man, we had just an incredible season. We won seven races, we've led a bunch of laps. We're hear with a mathematical shot, which like I said it's been seven years since we've been here. If my math is correct, we might have been to one other but I can't remember. I don't think we have been. Overall it's been a great season.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I don't know about satisfying. I mean, the short answer I guess I would probably say in a way is yes. But every year you always have times where you're like, oh, man, I wish I could have that race back, I wish I wouldn't have made that mistake. You always have those moments where things go wrong, where you wish maybe they didn't. If we won a championship it would be a resounding yes, but it's still a yes. It's been a satisfying year for a lot of reasons. It's just the numbers kind of speak for themselves how you should feel about the season. But yeah, it has been because there was a lot of unknowns coming into this year. I didn't know how we were going to run or how we were going to finish or how we were going to do, and I think certainly we've exceeded everybody's expectations.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yes and no. I mean, after we had that first test at Charlotte, yes, I was surprised that day. But after that day was over and we debriefed that night and talked that night, nothing after that night has surprised me. It was that quick and I just knew that quick.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: You know, a little bit. He must have asked me earlier on miles. Yeah, whenever it's cold in Wisconsin is where you'll see him in Phoenix, you'll see him in Homestead, he'll be in Daytona.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I actually still have more hope than you'd probably think I would, actually. I mean, anything can happen. You know, but we still have to do our job, so that's really what I'm focused on is trying to do our jobs and trying to be up front. Man, anything can happen. There's a lot of things in these cars. They're mechanical, you never know when you're going to have a flat tire or something go wrong or something break. You never know. You don't wish that on anybody, but like I said, we've had our share of races this year where things like that have happened. We were going to the lead at the spring race at Bristol minding our own business, and somebody blows a tire and ruins your whole day. You just don't know what's going to happen out there. We're going to go with the idea of trying to win the race, finish as high as we can and be there in case something does happen.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, if he was I'd be trying to get in his head.

Q. You mentioned sort of feeling more appreciated. Was there a point or sort of a progression where you started to feel like that was the case?
MATT KENSETH: Well, no, I mean, you have to listen back to my exact quote because I actually said it pretty good. My second time might not be as good so I'm kind of hesitating to answer because I don't answer this to be taken out of context.
I just think after you're somewhere for a really long time and the same basic people are running it, it's the same basic system, we go about things the same basic way and we had basically some variation of the same results last seven or eight years, after a while you're maybe not‑‑ it's not that your voice isn't heard or whatever, but it's probably not or doesn't carry as much weight or they don't look to you as much or whatever, I think, after you've been there that long.
So I think I was given all I could give. I think they were taking as much as they wanted from me. I couldn't do any more, and that's just where we were every year. I wasn't bad. We'd win between one and three races a year, if it was a good year. We went a couple years without winning at all. We made the Chase almost every year. We were never still in it by the time we got to Homestead but we'd make the Chase. I had a great career there. We ran good, won some big races, won a championship. But anyway, I just felt like that was all I had, and it was still good.
So for me it was kind of eye‑opening to go over there, and like I say, I think being new there they asked you questions or they looked to you and then we started running good right away, so I just‑‑ I felt like maybe you had a little bit more of a voice or maybe‑‑ I think I was always appreciated everywhere I was, but you probably felt more appreciated just because you were new there and you started running good and you'd be more in the system and probably doing different thing than I did before, was more involved, that type of thing.

Q. However the numbers shake out this year (indiscernible)?
MATT KENSETH: Three years ago. I'm serious, nobody has ever won five straight, so I think you go back two or three years whenever they won that. I think nobody has ever done that, especially in this day and age with these rules and as many competitive teams and all that stuff. I said it then and I'll say it again. I think right then. You're looking at me like I'm messing with you, but I'm being serious.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, we were on the pole at Kansas. He was on the pole and we beat him in the spring race. Yeah, Burton always said that whenever I qualify better than 20th. So yeah. I'm not known for my qualifying usually.

Q. Better this year. Any good reason?
MATT KENSETH: Well, yeah. I mean, the obvious one. Yeah, the cars have been fast. We've qualified better. We've led more laps. We've finished better a lot of times, been in position to win a lot. The cars have just drove really good. They just drive how I really like them.

Q. I have one sort of way out there. Do you have any feel for where the fans are divided?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. You'd have to ask them. I don't know. My kids like me because I'm their dad. Katie is my fan because she's married to me. I'm Marty Smith's favorite because I give him crap all the time. Jimmie is your favorite, I know that. That's why I'm being careful with my answers.

Q. What is it about Jimmie and (indiscernible)?
MATT KENSETH: You know, I can't really think of anything he does bad. I mean, really. That's a hard question to answer because I really don't. You can race by him. He doesn't have a lot of bad habits. You don't see him make many mistakes, you don't see him lose his mind much. He's always up front. I don't know any habits that he really does bad.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: No, no. I mean, if you really think about it and examine it a little bit and put some thought into it, I mean, they both need each other and they both need to run good and they both need to finish good. The car needs to run good and finish good and needs to win the championship for financial reasons, sponsorship reasons, winner's circle reasons, champion program reasons. Obviously Kevin wants to. He's been right there, has been solid his whole career and has won tons of races and is always consistent, doesn't make mistakes. He wants to keep racing and try to win championships. They both need it equally, so I kind of figured they'd get through it. Might not like each other as much when it's all over, but I figured they'd get through the next three weeks.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Well, it's what the business is. I mean, if you're a car owner, you come here to try to win races and championships, and there's not many opportunities to do that, and if you're a driver, it's the same, right? When you look at the Chase era, there's only been, what, four guys that have won it in 10 years or whatever. You don't get a lot of chance to see do that, and I think you're all in it to try to do that. I think that's what your ultimate goal is.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Sometimes that's better than being a favorite.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Thanksgiving every year we've done at my cabin. This is going to be the first year we haven't done it there. Katie's little brother is getting married over Thanksgiving weekend, and they have a bunch of people coming in from out of town, so we're just going to spend it up there in Cambridge with her family.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: No, but I eat. My wife and my mother‑in‑law cook and I eat, so it's a really, really good relationship.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I don't like that red stuff. Yeah, I don't like that. I don't like any red vegetables. Kind of freaks me out. What's that stuff, cranberry‑‑ no, there's something else. Yeah, yeah, beets. No beets for Matt.

Q. (No microphone.)
MATT KENSETH: I think they are. Are they playing the Lions on Thanksgiving? Yeah, they're good, yeah.

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