NASCAR Media Conference
November 12, 2013
AMANDA ELLIS: Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are now joined by Jason Ratcliff, crew chief of the No.20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and driver Matt Kenseth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In his first season as crew chief for Kenseth, Ratcliff has guided his team to seven wins and Kenseth is currently second in the Chase standings heading into Sunday's season finale at Homestead‑Miami Speedway.
Jason, this is your first season to compete in the Chase, but you have won championship as a crew chief in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. How will you take those past experiences and approach this weekend?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, I think from what I've learned, as you mentioned in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is that you have to approach every race the same, and obviously we go out there to win every one of them. But the most important ones, as you get to the end and you're still a legitimate contender for the championship, is just look everything over and make sure you don't make any mistakes, and that's going to be our focus this week.
I felt like we didn't execute as well as we should have this past weekend, but we're going to move forward and go into Homestead looking to obviously put another victory under our belt for what's been a great season but try to minimize mistakes and do a much better job than we have been.
Q. Jason, tough day on Sunday. Did it keep you up at night, or do you just kind of put that in the rear view mirror and roll on?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, I mean, it did. We never want to have a race like that, and especially when we're this close to what could be a possible championship for us.
When you have a season like we've had, we've been tremendously blessed in a lot of ways, and being a legitimate contender going into the last few races is just another thing that we focus on as what's been an awesome season.
To have a bad race like that is something you never want to do, but at the same time we know that at this point there's not a lot we can do about it other than learn, learn and see if there's things that stand out so that we can be better in the future.
But right now we came in here yesterday afternoon full bore and full focus on going into Homestead and running well there, what has been really good tracks for us are the mile‑and‑a‑half intermediate tracks, so we feel like we have a good weekend in front of us, and if we can go out there and win and lead a lot of laps, then you never know what can happen.
I mean, we're a lot further out than we hoped we would be, but again, we're still mathematically in it.
Q. In this competitive environment, if the 48 team does go on to win a sixth championship and has the potential to roll on and do a seventh title, what would that mean as competitive as NASCAR is today?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, from a competitor's standpoint, which I already feel this way, and I have a tremendous‑‑ I've said this a number of times, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Jimmie and that 48 team has been able to do and what Chad has been able to accomplish as a crew chief. I think everyone in this sport would look at that and say, you know, that's what we want to do. That's a dynasty. We see that in all forms of sport, and that's the benchmark, and those are the guys we're going to have to beat, no different than that what I was saying when we came into this 10‑race shootout was those are the guys we're going to have to beat. If we can do that, that's how we're going to have to gauge ourselves as we get into the closing races.
It wouldn't surprise me at all. I don't think it would anyone, that they are‑‑ would go on to win another championship, and again, that will be the benchmark and the one that everyone has to beat next season. I don't know why it would be any different.
And you say, well, boy, people are going to get tired of the same‑‑ I don't think so. I think it is as extremely competitive as we've ever seen it, this sport. I think you see different drivers and different teams every year out there battling, and it's extremely competitive, and it just goes to show you how good a job those guys do at keeping up with the ever‑changing rules and different cars and different things that happen every season. They just do a really good job of adapting, and so I applaud those guys for that.
Q. You've been at Joe Gibbs for quite a while. You've had a parade of headstrong drivers come through there, I think back to Tony and Kyle, to a lesser extent Denny. Talk about the contrast in Matt and how he may have impacted the organization.
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, I think since Tony left several years ago and went on to do his own thing with his own team, I think one of the things Matt brings in is that experience, that experience as a champion in this series. And not only that, but he's been doing this for some time, a little bit longer than Kyle or Denny, and I think that‑‑ both of those guys, Kyle and Denny and those race teams are very capable of going out and competing for wins and championships each season. But I think until you get one of those under your belt, I think you look back on something like that and glean a lot of experience from it, say, boy, you know what, there's some things there I didn't realize until I actually closed the deal, and now looking at it from this side.
So I think that's what Matt brings into Joe Gibbs Racing is a champion's perspective, and I think those are things that obviously Denny and Kyle have looked at and have taken from Matt. So that's the one thing. With Tony gone, he had that experience, so with him gone I think Matt kind of fills that spot.
Q. Along those same lines if I may follow up briefly, when Matt‑‑ I watched on television on Sunday, and when Matt climbed out of the car, as classy as a guy as he is, I still was stunned about how rational and even keeled he was at a time of great disappointment. Could you address that and what he's like on a day‑to‑day basis because it looks like he never changes?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, it's interesting you brought that up. It was something that after I was away from the racetrack for a few hours thinking about, okay, what could we do better, how can we prevent those types of days from happening, especially in these types of situations where we're battling for championships, the one thing that struck me‑‑ after I was away from it for a little bit, that I was most impressed with was exactly what you just mentioned, and that is how Matt is able to keep his composure, and even though I know he's in that car just ready to chew the steering wheel off the thing because I know he's frustrated as the rest of it, he's as competitive as the rest of us, very disappointed, had high expectations going into Phoenix, and we still do going into Homestead. But as you mentioned, he was very rational, even though he's disappointed. He keeps his composure and does a really nice job of putting things into perspective. I think a lot of that, again, is from his experience, but at the same time I think that's Matt's personality. I think he takes things in and thinks through them very well, and in the end he knows that nothing positive is going to come from me getting out of the car and stomping my feet, even though that's really what I want to do. So how do we take this situation, pull something positive from it, learn from it so we can be better in the future?
That was something for me as a crew chief, I've worked with a lot of different drivers, and that's something that was very inspiring for me as well as this race team. When you have a driver like that, I mean, that leads by example with that type of composure in the midst of adversity, it just goes a long way, you know.
Q. Matt has constantly said that no matter what happens when it's all said and done, this season has just been amazing for him, that you guys have exceeded your expectations. How do you feel, and especially at a time like this, after coming off the Phoenix weekend? Can you still look back and think, man, this is just incredible and there's still more that we can build on?
JASON RATCLIFF: Absolutely. There's absolutely no way in my mind, and I don't think any‑‑ I think I'd speak for everyone on this team as well as everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, there's no way that a disappointment like we had at Phoenix is going to overshadow all the accomplishments and the great season that we've had this year, whether it's the wins‑‑ and not only that, just as you mentioned, or someone mentioned earlier, this is Matt's first season with this race team, so I would think that‑‑ or you would at least hope, and I know just from being inside that we have a lot of room that we can grow as a team, whether race cars, whether our communication, I think it'll only get better.
So to come out of‑‑ to come through the first season with Matt and have the type of success that we've had, I'm really‑‑ I mean, I'm looking forward to‑‑ I'm looking forward to the off‑season because I'd like to take a little breather and get a break, but man, it's not going to be very many days that I'm going to be looking forward to getting back to Daytona next year.
Q. And is your approach for Homestead, you're just going to run this like every other race or are you of the opinion you need to take chances, kind of opposite of what the 48 does?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, really, I hate to oversimplify it, but it's just that, it's simple. We need to go out here no different than maybe what we did earlier in the season, and that is just throw caution to the wind. I mean, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. We don't have to play defense. We can be full bore on offense. We can get as aggressive as possible. We need to go out and lead a lot of laps and win the race, and that's really all we can do. And not only that, if we could close our season out, we know how big that would be for us to close out what's been a great season with a win would be‑‑ even if we fall short of that championship, that would be an awesome way to close it out for us.
Q. When we spoke in Dover, I asked you what your initial reaction was to working with Matt Kenseth this year, and you said you and the whole team were just really excited about the season. Now as we come down to the last race of the year in contention for a championship with everything you've mentioned before about accomplishments, what does it mean for the future with this 20 team, because this is just Matt's first year? Does it feel like the sky's the limit, and do you have to‑‑ is that something that you're going to tell the team going forward, that this is just the first of many successful years?
JASON RATCLIFF: Well, yeah, absolutely that. I think it's just a sign of things to come. You know, I've been a part of several different teams with different drivers, and it always‑‑ in my past experience as you move forward, especially if the chemistry is right and there's some early success like we've had, typically it goes in the right direction. Typically it's going to get better.
So I'm really looking forward to not only finishing this season out strong but being able to take a few months, sit down and say, hey, you know what, these are the things that just naturally we did well early on as a driver and a race team, and how can we do things better now that we've seen a season, gotten a season under our belt.
I think next year is going to be a great season for us just like it has this year, but I'm looking for bigger and better things. So you win seven, possibly eight races in one season, how are you going to better that? Well, when somebody asked me early on this year how many races did I think we can win, I'm like, well, I hate to sell myself short, I really think if we can come out of the box strong, we can win three or four. Well, guess what, I sold myself short.
I think we can match what we've done this season and maybe even improve that by a large amount. We have high expectations. We have reasons to believe that we can be as successful as anyone. But we're going to‑‑ if nothing else, one thing that we're very confident in is that we can go out year in and year out and battle for championships, and that's a good start for us, and I think we've got many great seasons ahead of us.
AMANDA ELLIS: Jason, thank you for joining us today, and we wish you and the team the best of luck this weekend at Homestead.
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