Kenseth and Edwards Discuss Michigan
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion heads into Michigan as the Sprint Cup points leader after leapfrogging teammate Greg Biffle last weekend. Kenseth, who was the last driver to win a non-Chase championship, met with members of the media prior to the first practice session Friday at Michigan International Speedway.
MATT KENSETH, No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion – TALK ABOUT TAKING OVER THE POINTS LEAD AND THE TEST AND HOW YOUR CAR IS REACTING TO THE NEW SURFACE. “It is always nice to be leading in points I guess at this time of year. You want to be as far ahead of 10th as you can be and as we all know it gets ranked by wins in the Chase. We would really like to be picking up a few more wins but are happy where we are in the points. Most of our finishes – I feel like there are a few races we had fast enough cars to win but couldn’t finish the races off. Hopefully we get a couple more wins and stay where we are at in points and get into the Chase. As far as the track and the test, the track is continually changing. It is really nice and really fast. Hopefully they will get a second groove rubbered in. I am looking forward to getting back at it today and seeing what it is like today.”
IT SEEMS LIKE THE REPUTATION OF A REPAVEMENT IS BEING CHANGED. IS THERE NEW PROGRESS IN THE ART OF REPAVEMENT OR JUST THE FACT THAT WE HAD A REALLY GOOD POCONO RACE? “Well, I think once they are repaved it isn’t popular for us to say you don’t like the repavement – that is probably some of it. I will say that I was never really a big fan of Pocono. It was so rough and one groove and hard to pass. I thought they did a spectacular job repaving it and the racing was good. It felt like a whole new race track and facility we were going to, at least from being in the race car. I thought they did a spectacular job there and it was way better than we thought. I think if most people had their wish, especially tracks like this that you run four different grooves in the corner and sometimes up to five in the corner that you could choose. You probably would not repave it but it is a necessary evil and something you have to get done. Eventually it will turn back to a track something like what it was, maybe. I think you will get more grooves and the track is nice and it is fun to go out there. It is kind of funny testing, it is like a contest with your buddies, everyone goes out trying to bust off a lap faster than the next guy. Most weekends you go out there, at least me in practice, and you don’t care where you are on the board you just care about getting the car how you want it to drive and feel how you want it to feel. You get ready for the race and try to bust a lap in qualifying trim. It is fun to go out there and go that fast and see how much grip there is in the track. They have done a nice job repaving these tracks and it has been necessary to repave them. Most people will probably like it and I think we are all curious and anxious to see what the race will be like.”
IN NATIONWIDE PRACTICE THERE WAS SOME TALK ABOUT POSSIBLE TWO-CAR TANDEMS. DO YOU SEE THAT AS ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE USED ON THE CUP SIDE? “If it is, I hope I am not part of it. For as fast as we are going on the straightaway we are still slowing down significantly for the corner. We are probably, I don’t know I guess you probably have access to the speeds, but we are probably 30 mph slower in the corner than the straightaway. That doesn’t really lend itself to restrictor plate type two-car tandem drafting. Now, when you get a run on somebody you have always been able to push each other down the straightaway here and make yourselves go fast. I am not sure if that will be as common as it used to. It depends what grooves there are. It used to happen more because there would be one guy at the bottom of the track 100 feet away from the guy at the top. The guy on the bottom goes through the corner faster and they would meet off the corner and they would kind of draft down the straightaway. I don’t think with the Cup cars you will have much of that.”
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON SPEED? “I think it depends a lot on the race track. Whenever I think about speed I just want my car to have more than everyone else. I don’t care what the top speed is at the track I just want to be faster than everyone else. A lot of that depends on the track. This has always been one of the faster tracks we go to and in my opinion always one of the better races because the groove gets really wide and you could run all over it. When you are at a place like Indy for instance that has one groove it is really hard to pass with those speeds. Here, with multiple grooves and going the same speed, it isn’t a big deal because you could find clean air for your car all over the place.”
DOES YOUR CONSISTENCY GIVE YOU A COMFORT LEVEL THAT YOU WILL BE A CONTENDER COME CHASE TIME OR DO YOU LOOK AT WHAT TONY STEWART DID LAST YEAR AND REALIZE THAT IT DOESN’T REALLY MAKE MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE COME SEPTEMBER? “Well, I guess a little bit of both. Early in the year I think you glance – I don’t pay close attention to the point but now and then you glance to see how far ahead of 10th you are if you are lucky enough to be ahead of 10th. That starts to maybe give you, as the weeks go on and you stay up there, it give you a little more confidence about making the Chase. You would like to gather some wins for some bonus points and once the Chase rolls around you realize that those 10 weeks is kind of another season. In those 10 weeks it is extremely important to be consistent and not make a big mistake and not lose a bunch of points. It is also important to run up front and be a contender to win and collect a win or two or three in the Chase to have a shot at the championship.”
GUYS DON’T SEEM THAT CONCERNED WITH THE SPEEDS. IS THAT A GOOD THING FOR A RACE CAR DRIVER TO FEEL THAT WAY? “I have never really sat around and thought about wrecking or any of that kind of stuff or getting hurt. I’ve never spent any time thinking about that other than getting your safety equipment as good as you can. I am not sure. I don’t know what would happen if a car spins out at the end of the front stretch and you are doing 217 mph. I don’t know and I don’t spend any time thinking about that. I think NASCAR is on that pretty good and I am not sure that it makes a lot of difference if you are doing 205 or whatever we normally do here or 215. I am not sure where that magic number is. When you are out there driving you can feel that you are going faster but if you didn’t have the telemetry and staring at the speedometer – you would know you are going faster but it doesn’t feel out of control or anything like that.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT JACK ROUSH THAT MAKES HIM SO SUCCESSFUL? “Probably the biggest thing, especially when I first came over there and it is still like that, is that if there is anything reasonable that we needed for the cars – and sometimes it wasn’t very reasonable – he has given it to us. He does what he needs to do and given us what we needed to be competitive and race for championships. I think when you go drive for somebody that is what you look for. You look for how you think you can perform on the track and how they build their cars and do all that stuff. When I first went over there and got to hang with Mark (Martin) and got hooked up with Roush Racing, I could tell that Jack was 100-percent about the on track product.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT RACING AT KENTUCKY IN A FEW WEEKS? “I am looking forward to going back there. Last year I was one of the few drivers that had never raced there before. I never ran a race there or tested there, even when the testing rules were different. I learned a lot through the race last year about the race track. There are some really unique characteristics about it that are different than some other mile-and-a-half tracks with the way you drive it. I feel like we learned a lot and were fairly competitive at times. I am looking forward to getting back there and seeing if we can improve our performance and our finish.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A GUY THAT IS LEADING THE POINTS OR A GUY THAT IS IN CONTENTION TO WIN EVERY WEEK? “There are some weeks you feel like you finished better than you ran but there have been a few weeks this year that has been the opposite. Last week I felt like under the right circumstances we had a car that could have won the race. We led with however many laps to go and felt like if we could figure out how to keep our car in front we would have a chance to win the race. Through our green flag stop and me sliding a little deep in the stall and restarting on the outside and hung in the middle, all that stuff happened and took us out of contention. I feel like we have cars that have been capable to win several times this year and haven’t been able to get that done. Talladega I thought we had a dominant car there and on that last restart Greg (Biffle) and I got separated and didn’t get a shot at that. I feel really good about my car performance and my team’s performance with strategy, pit stops and all that stuff. I just feel like there are a few races that we had an opportunity to win and didn’t win them. Hopefully we keep getting those opportunities and I will be able to figure out how to finish them off at the end of races.”
NEXT WEEK WE GO TO SONOMA FOR THE FIRST ROAD COURSE RACE. DO YOU APPROACH IT ANY DIFFERENTLY? “It is a lot different. You go there thinking about different things because your driving style on approach and things you do in the car is a lot different. You go with the same goals. You go there working as hard as you can in practice to get your car to drive as good as it can and certainly there are a lot more opportunities for mistakes from a drivers standpoint at that track. That has probably been my worst track since we started racing in the Cup series. It is always a challenge and one that I sort of look forward to trying to go there and get better and look forward to leaving on Sunday night too. Hopefully we can get a good result and get our cars running better there. All our cars were fast at Watkins Glen last year and hopefully we get them going fast at Sears Point this year.”
Carl Edwards, the most recent Ford driver to win at Michigan International Speedway in 2008, met with members of the media Friday afternoon after the first practice session.
CARL EDWARDS, No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion – TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR CAR IS PERFORMING, HOW THE TRACK IS FEELING AND YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR SUNDAY. “The track is amazing. I can’t believe how much grip it has. It is also a little bit forgiving. We got the car sideways a couple of times and it doesn’t seem as treacherous as some of the other repaves. I think that obviously the speeds will be huge and hopefully we can race. Hopefully there are a couple lanes and we can get two-wide and run at this speed. Our Fastenal Fusion is good. We stayed in race trim the whole first practice and we will go to qualifying trim here this afternoon. I think qualifying will be really important because the speeds might be really high. The groove will be narrow and it could be really important to have track position for the first part of the race. This track is important to us for a number of reasons. This morning I was over at the Kellogg company world headquarters in Battle Creek and that was a lot of fun. We got to meet a lot of them and Roush Industries is right here and Ford is right here. There is huge pride for us to run well here.”
ARE YOU HAVING ANY TIRE ISSUES? “I don’t think we have had any tire issues. We haven’t had any of that. We haven’t had the trouble and hopefully we don’t. We do not need tire issues right now.”
THERE IS TALK OF TANDEM DRAFTING IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES. NOBODY SEEMS TO BE DOING IT IN PRACTICE THOUGH. WHY NOT TRY IT IN PRACTICE? “Well that is a lot of if’s there. I don’t know if I would be planning on tandem drafting here but I haven’t driven one of those cars. If the groove in the corner isn’t wide enough to spread out and get fresh air then I don’t think you would see that. You would run in the corner nose to tail and the guy behind will have a huge disadvantage aero wise and would have to slow up. If you could time it perfectly and you had enough room to move two-wide in the corner a little bit and then tuck in down the straightaway then two guys could maybe work together and run off. I guess now would be the time to be practicing that, it seems pretty treacherous for the race. I think it really depends on the groove in the corners and if it is wide enough.”
IS THERE ANYTHING REALLY MAGICAL OR REALLY COOL ABOUT BREAKING THE 200 MPH BARRIER? “I think it is pretty cool. The first run yesterday was the first time I had been on the new surface and the data screen in the car wasn’t working, the miles per hour, it was reading 60-something the whole time. I made my first run, came in and went out for the second run. I look up there halfway down the front straightaway and it said 206 or 207 and I thought it was still all messed up. It was a little bit of a shock to realize we were really going that fast. I had never looked at the screen and seen 200 mph when you get on the straightaway. That to me is really fast. It doesn’t feel that fast. I told somebody that when they did the repave they didn’t have to make the track smaller. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ and I explained that we are going so fast that it feels like a smaller race track. It doesn’t feel like a two mile race track. It is just amazing how fast we are going. To me, that is kind of uncharted territory to be going that fast.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPORTANCE IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SUCCESS OF THE ROUSH TEAMS OF HAVING SUCH BACKING OF FORD MOTOR COMPANY? “Ford, they have been a great partner to me personally and have done a lot from me. I have learned a lot from our relationships. I think being there right beside them through the downturn a few years ago and seeing how they deal with that – that was pretty amazing and a humbling experience to see that. It was very educational. I don’t think of myself at this point in my career as having contributed very much to Roush Fenway Racing. I feel like they have done a lot for me. I am grateful for all the work that everyone has done, Jack and Mark Martin and Jeff Burton and all the guys, Greg, Matt and Kurt (Busch) and everyone that built this organization. Right now we are kind of the slow car on the team. We are 11th in points and it is pretty neat to be associated with this group right now. We are fast and we have a shot to win almost every weekend. I feel like we are going to be a force in this championship. It is a good time to be a part of Roush Fenway Racing.”
CAN YOU LOOK AHEAD TO SONOMA? “Sonoma is one of the most fun tracks we go to. It is real slippery and it is so much different than what most of us grew up racing, it is a huge challenge. To me, it is one of the tracks I look forward to the most. We have had really good races and bad races there but it is a challenge. It is so neat to drive a stock car like that with all the horsepower and you are shifting gears and jumping off curbs and locking up the tires. There is a lot of driving going on. It is a very physical race and it is usually hot out there and grueling. A good run there, to me, is special. It says a lot about not only the car and team but there is a lot of pride as a driver to run well because it is so much work."
AS FAR AS THE TIRES GO, THERE ARE ONLY THREE GUYS IN THAT FIRST SESSION THAT WENT MORE THAN 10 CONSECUTIVE LAPS. WILL YOU KNOW MORE ABOUT THEM ONCE YOU RUN A 10 OR 20-LAP RUN? “Well, how many guys had trouble? Was it everyone or just a few guys? I am nervous when you tell me it was four or five guys. I don’t know how to explain it to you guys. The cars are so fast and making so much grip that it is hard to imagine a little area making all that friction and Goodyear has to make that work and keep everyone happy. It is a lot of force out there. I am sure NASCAR will look at it and Goodyear will look at it and it will be something that I will go talk to Bob about. We will keep track of it and try to do a long run and we will watch those Nationwide cars. They make a ton of force in the corners and put a lot of load on the tires. It will be something we all watch. We can probably adjust the cars and watch what goes on and see who is the weakest link. You don’t want to be the first guy to blow the tire. If one guy blows then everyone is on guard. It adds another variable to the race. It seems like it will still be okay. We haven’t had any trouble with the 10-lap runs we have made.”
WHERE YOU ARE ON THE BUBBLE RIGHT NOW, AS FAR AS BEING JUST OUT OF THE CHASE ZONE, ARE YOU MORE CONCERNED WITH WINNING RACES OR POINTS TO GET IN THE TOP-10? “I think it is 50-50 right now. The safest thing we can do is win races. We talked about it in the garage the other day. I think that is the best move. Just go out there and win. Maybe with five races to go and we still haven’t won one, and are still on the bubble – which I don’t plan on being – I plan on being way up there. Then we might have to say that we have to focus on the points. If there is a shot to go win it, we need to go with the race. That is what we need to do. I think that is a safer play to do that. It is like insurance more so than to run easy and hope for points. With the luck we have had – Denny ran into me the first lap last week and we had the tire thing at Dover – that stuff can happen in an instant and points can go away quickly. Wins are good. To me each week is a new race.
QUESTION INAUDIBLE - “I don’t know if that is how my whole team sees it or not, but I always think of it like that. I can be really frustrated on Sunday but I work really hard to be back at the race track with my game face ready to rock and be fast and not think about last week. I try to do that every week. I guess it is a pretty deep thought. It is an interesting way to look at what is going on and to think of your team. Maybe that is smart. Maybe that is doing the right thing. You don’t want to shock the system so that you have all your confidence when it is time to go. That is interesting.”
QUESTION INAUDIBLE - “I don’t know if it is good to think that deep for me. You start weighing all those things and then you get all messed up. I just try to do the best we can each week and regroup if it doesn’t go well. We try not to carry baggage. That is tough.”
LOOKING TOWARD KENTUCKY, YOU HAD A GOOD RUN THERE LAST YEAR. “That race is pretty huge for us. It is right there near Best Buy’s headquarters so we are going to do some stuff with the Geek Squad there which will be fun and it is a UPS race for us, our only UPS race as far as I know this year. It is a big race for us. I had my first win in NASCAR there in the truck series. It is huge for me to be able to go back there and have the opportunity to run in the Cup series there and get a win there. We had some Nationwide wins there – it might just be one but it feels like two – I really like that place. It has character and the fans are wound up. It is just fun.”
KNOWING MATT KENSETH’S PENCHANT FOR CONSISTENCY, DOES IT MAKE YOU LOOK AT HIM AS A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER? “I think until Martinsville last year he was our biggest concern for the championship. Everyone in the garage knows that he is a very tough competitor and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. I would say anytime he has a chance to win that everyone else, including myself, we look at him as a threat. He is very, very good. He seems like he was worked on the weaknesses that he and his team have had lately. They qualify really well and he is really aggressive when then need to be. He is really, really good right now.”
YOU DISCUSSED BEING THE SLOW CAR. WE HAVE GENERALLY LEFT YOU ALONE ABOUT THE HANGOVER FROM LAST YEAR. “Let me be clear, a hangover from last year does not make tires blow or Denny forget where his brakes are. That has nothing to do with us (laughter). Anyway, it is not the hangover, but thank you.”
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE PERFORMANCE VERSUS WHAT WE SEE ON PAPER? “They are two different things – performance and results – you can run very well and have a bad result because of something that goes on. This is a test of man and machine and you have other competitors out there. A lot of circumstances can happen that can cause you to have a bad day. I think our performance, I would say we deserve to be about fifth in the points and we are 11th. I don’t think we deserve to be leading it, even if we had the luck that we had last year, I think we would be top-five in points but I wouldn’t say we would be dominating. I think the performance is not as good as it needs to be but it isn’t far off. If we get a little luck, find a little speed, we will be just fine. We just have to make the Chase obviously to have a shot at anything for us this season. To get a shot at that championship we gotta make the Chase.”