NASCAR Media Conference
September 2, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. We're holding it at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. Our special guest today, Matt Kenseth. Matt is a former champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He won the championship back in 2003.
Going into this week's race at Atlanta Sunday night, he's 12th in the series standings. That's the Chase cutoff spot. Following the September 12th event at Richmond, the top 12 drivers in the points qualify for the NASCAR playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Since the Chase format began in '04, only two drivers have qualified every year, three-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
Malt, we're going to Atlanta this week, Richmond next week. What is the outlook for you once again making the Chase?
MATT KENSETH: Well, we're right there on the bubble. If you take out the first couple weeks of the season, the season has been a little bit of a disappointment. We haven't ran quite as good as we hoped to. Finished probably worse than we ran most of the time through all kinds of different circumstances, fuel mileage, flat tires.
But, anyway, I look forward going to Atlanta. It's a great track. Hopefully moving the schedule around a little bit will give Atlanta the boost it needs for attendance, people come out and watch a great race. I look forward to Richmond as well.
I'm glad we're still in the top 12. It's going to be a battle right till the last lap at Richmond. Hopefully we can have our cars be competitive this weekend as well as next and get ourselves in that Chase.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for that opener, Matt. We'll go to the media now for questions for today's guest, Matt Kenseth.
Q. Matt, there's been some drivers that have said that making the Chase is more important than winning races in a season. Would you agree with that, especially considering one of the races you won this year was the biggest?
MATT KENSETH: I think it depends when you ask somebody. I mean, it's been six months since we won Daytona. Today it would seem it would be more important to make the Chase. More times than not, those two things go hand-in-hand. If you can be competitive and win races, more than likely you're going to make the Chase unless the wheels fall off the rest of the season, which we kind of have on and off a little bit.
Both are really important. I don't think you can be a serious championship contender without being able to win races. These days it's way too competitive. I think you really need to do both.
Q. How do you approach the next two races? Are you going to be keeping your eyes on Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch or do you simply have to go out there, run your own race, let the chips fall where they may?
MATT KENSETH: We got to run our own race really. We've been doing a little bit better lately, been more consistent. I think we found some things in our cars to make them a little bit faster. I think we have good things in the pipeline coming up and getting more competitive.
But really where we're running, we just got to run as hard as we can. After Richmond next week, we just got to hope it's good enough to get us in. We just got to race as hard as we can. All these guys are so good. Like at Bristol, we ran 10th, which wasn't a terrible run for us. Pretty good for how we've been doing lately. The guys we're trying to beat in points, most of them still finished in front of us.
It's really competitive and we're going to have to run probably better than 10th here the next few weeks. We're probably going to have to run in the top five, top six both races to be safely in.
Q. I've seen Robbie Reiser around the track. He's been talking about Jack has asked him to come around and get ready for next year. Has that been helpful to have him around leading into this?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I thought his wife was just sick of him being at home, driving her crazy (laughter).
Jack has wanted him to come around the last two weeks to keep an eye on things, not just the 17, but from an organizational standpoint. I don't think it's been quite the season that Jack hoped it would be. There's only been two wins in the whole company this year. We know we need to do better than that. Everybody is working as hard as they can to do better than that.
As big a role as Robbie plays in the company, it's hard to analyze it without coming to the racetrack. I think it's been good for him to get to the racetrack the last few weeks and kind of see what's been going on, what good things are going on, what things could be improved on, that type of thing.
Q. I know fans are really interested in this, the fact that you raced with your son or plan to, what it was like. People get excited about your boy and you racing together. Can you talk us through that.
MATT KENSETH: It was fun. This weekend at Madison, we raced against each other in the late model class that he runs up there weekly. It was pretty fun. We ran two 50-lap races. The first 50 laps couldn't have been scripted a lot better. He started outside front row, I started maybe in the fourth row. He was leading. I ran him down. We ran side-by-side for a few laps. Couldn't get by him on the bottom, ended up passing him on the outside and passed him for the win on that race.
That was a pretty good time. That was pretty cool to be able to race against him. We were able to finish first and second in the first race we ran together, so that was pretty cool.
Q. You came out, you won the first two races, then no other Ford has been in Victory Lane. Are you just a tick behind everybody else?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know necessarily as a manufacturer if we're behind everybody else. When you think of Chevrolet, for instance, there's several teams, when you think of Ford or look at Ford, basically is Roush Fenway Racing and Yates Racing working hand-in-hand. Same chassis, same car. Then the Wood Brothers who run a part-time schedule.
I think the new engine will help us a little bit when we get that done. I think it's more us getting a little bit behind, get caught back up and figure out how to get back on top of the competition and get an edge on those guys.
Q. Is it important for you to be one of two guys in every Chase?
MATT KENSETH: It's important for us to be in the Chase every year. It's important to try to win races every year and try to win a championship. That's what we're all in this for. It's a performance business and you got to perform every year. What everybody else does I can't really control. If we do end up sliding our way in here, I guess it's pretty cool that only a couple of us have been able to do that, if we can do it.
But really you want to do it every year no matter what everybody else is doing. You always strive to be the best. You always try to win races and try to win championships.
Q. After the incredible start you had to the season, did you think there was any way at this time of you'd be having to claw to get into the Chase?
MATT KENSETH: No, not after the first two weeks. After Daytona it was pretty crazy. I thought there was a good chance of going to California and maybe not running that well. You see a lot of people that have won the Daytona 500 not have a very good rest of the season or be a championship contender, that type of thing. When we backed up at California, I was feeling pretty good. Flying home from California, I was like, Man, this is going to be pretty cool. We're going to have a real solid year and be a serious championship contender.
Then went to Vegas and broke on the first lap. Honestly, ever since then it's just been a struggle. We ran good enough a few times to win races if all the stars would of aligned, which they didn't. Since then it's just been hard for us to get finishes for some reason. It's been really uncharacteristic of this team. One thing we're always known for, it seems like, if we're having a mediocre day, running 13th, 14th, 15th, somehow we'd figure out how to finish better than we were running all the time. More times than that it's been the opposite. Pocono, we ran second, third, fourth all day, couldn't make it on fuel, finished 18th, something like that. Seems like a season full of that it seems like.
Q. A few minutes ago you said you got behind. When exactly did you feel you got behind? Couldn't have been early in the season.
MATT KENSETH: When we got behind? I don't know. Last year Carl and Greg were able to win a few races. We went winless last year, just never felt like we totally had a handle on the COT car.
This year at Daytona obviously we ran really good. All of our plate stuff has ran good all year. We ran really good at Talladega and the second Daytona. California we had a good car. We just hit everything right. We didn't dominate the race really. Went to a few more of the mile-and-a-half's, beginning of the year, seemed liked we were competitive. After that, seemed we weren't as competitive as our competition.
I don't know why or I'd go in and figure out how to fix it. We've just been working on all aspects of the program, trying to get it better. But it seems like Greg dominated Texas, somewhere soon after that, it seems like we as a group haven't been as good.
Q. What are your thoughts about Brett Favre going to the Vikings?
MATT KENSETH: I was a Packer fan. It's tough to see him wear purple, for sure. But you only get one chance at this stuff in life, professional sports, to be able to do what he loves to do for a living. As long as he wants to play, somebody gives him a job, I think he should play. I think it's still pretty cool that he can be as good as he is being the age he's at.
Being a Packer fan you wish your franchise player would start there and retire there. More often than not that doesn't happen in today's sports world.
Q. You said for these next two races you basically have to run your own race. Is it difficult not to feel extra tension, to ask your crew chief to keep you posted on how the other guys are doing? Is it business as usual or heightened tension these next two?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, it's business as usual. Certainly there's probably a little bit more pressure, a little bit more nerves, when you're on the way home looking at the points, where everybody else finished. When you're in a race, you have to do everything business as usual. You have to go out and race as hard as you can.
There's only one car and one team and outcome of the race that we can control, that's our own. Our own car is the only one we can control. We can't control what any of them other guys do. We have to go out, put forth our best effort, put our best foot forward, go out and race as hard as we can possibly race, finish as high as we can, and hope at the end of the day it's good enough.
Q. I would like to know, 10 crew members and one driver have been suspended as a result of the substance abuse policy. To you does that say the testing is a good thing or does it indicate there's a wider spread problem than people would have thought?
MATT KENSETH: I think testing is a great thing. For sure it's a great thing. I don't know if there's a wider problem than we thought when you look at all the people that are involved. I mean, in a perfect world, you'd like to hope that there's nobody doing anything that they shouldn't be doing out there. I mean, that's what our hope is. That's what the drug testing policy is all about, is to clean up the garage, make sure that everybody is on the up and up.
I think it's a great thing, especially in the economy here the last couple years, the sport, the COT, a lot of people trimming their staff, all that, it's a great opportunity to be involved in the sport. It's a privilege to be able to work in the sport. There's a lot of great people out there that don't have jobs right now because of people kind of trimming their rosters. I think if you can clean up the garage, give the people who really want to work hard, take it serious, the opportunity to be here, that's a good thing.
Q. Have you had an opportunity to test the new Ford engine that Roush Fenway and Yates has been working on?
MATT KENSETH: No, I have not. I know they've had an engine together for a while. I do not believe that it's been in a racecar in competition yet at a racetrack. I think they ran it at a few tests here and there. I have not had one in my car at a test or at a race yet.
Q. With Monday's announcement regarding the No. 96, have you had much of an opportunity to work with Eric yet in the driver department program at Roush?
MATT KENSETH: I really have not that much. Eric is from the Midwest, ran a lot of the short track racetracks and stuff, been around where I used to race at. I think Eric is a great driver. I think Bobby Labonte is an extremely good driver also. He's a great driver. He's a championship-winning driver.
But I think Eric has done a really good job ever since he got in that 6 Nationwide car and shared that ride with David, I think he's ran just as good as David has in that car. I thought that was pretty impressive that Eric was able to get in that car and be that competitive right away.
So I think it's a good opportunity for him to get in the Cup and work with all the guys there at Roush and see how it goes.
Q. Many drivers seem to favor Atlanta Motor Speedway over a lot of tracks. Could you explain why that is to a fan? Do you favor that track as well?
MATT KENSETH: I do. I love Atlanta. I think with stock cars in general they are more fun to drive and a little easier to pass, put on a better show at tracks that got a fair amount of banking. Atlanta is high banked, really fast, really wide. The pavement is really wore out. On new tires you have a lot of grip, can go real fast and do those things. As the tires get wore out with that pavement you get slower and slower and slower. For being a track that big and fast, the car starts sliding around like you're on gravel or a dirt track like old tires. Makes it fun as a driver. You have to manage your tires and really drive the car and move around and look around for a different line on the track for grip. There's just a lot of variables and a lot of things going on so it's a lot of fun.
Q. With these two tracks coming up being so important to you, do you feel better, more comfortable because you like Atlanta knowing you have to perform to get into the Chase?
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, they're both really good racetracks. They're tracks that I really enjoy going to. The way the year has gone, there isn't really one I go to that I have a ton more confidence than the next. Might go to one that I don't think we're very good at and do okay, might go to one of our best ones and not do okay. You have to do the job each and every weekend.
Certainly I enjoy both the tracks coming up and they're probably two of the best tracks that we really have on the circuit. Richmond is a short track, you can pass on, put on a great race. I don't think there could be a better track to have the 26th race, the race before the chase. Atlanta, now that it's moved up in the schedule, I think it will be a pretty exciting night.
Q. Talk about how it was to race with Ross and how competitive you were with your son. If you would have lost to him, would you have taken a lot of heat and ridicule from the other guys, from the drivers?
MATT KENSETH: I'm sure I would have got a hard time from a few people. It was really fun. It was a learning experience. I had a really good time. The first race couldn't have been scripted any better, especially since I won. We got to run side-by-side. I got to really watch him as I was catching him, how he was driving, how he attacked the track, some of the different things he did. I actually got to learn a lot being on the track with him compared to being in the grandstands watching him where I usually am and got to see a few things where maybe I could help him out a little bit and saw some things he did better than I even thought he did. He went home really disappointed. He finished second and sixth, which was still really good, but I could tell he was kind of disappointed.
But he did a really good job. All them guys did. It's a real competitive series. I think they had 35 or 38 cars show up. It was a good time.
Q. What is his potential as a driver?
MATT KENSETH: Ross, for being 16, does a great job. I mean, he's probably ahead of where I was at 20 or 21 probably really. He does a really good job. He really likes it right now. He's really into it. He's doing everything he needs to do to succeed at that level, including staying out of trouble, keeping his grade point average where it needs to be. Enjoy going racing with him. Look forward to keep trying to have him move up the ranks as far as he wants to go and work at it.
HERB BRANHAM: Matt Kenseth, really appreciate you taking your time today to spend with us. Best of luck.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks a lot, Herb.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media who participated. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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