Matt Kenseth, who is the only current Ford driver to post a win at Richmond, has enjoyed steady success at the track over the years. In addition to his one win, the No. 17 Ford Ecoboost driver boasts three top-five and nine top-10 finishes in the Cup series in 24 starts. Third in the point standings entering the weekend, Kenseth met with media members prior to practice Friday.
MATT KENSETH, NO. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion -- TALK ABOUT COMING BACK TO RICHMOND AND RACING UNDER THE LIGHTS HERE SATURDAY NIGHT. “Well, I really enjoy the race track here and the facility. It has been one we kind of struggle at since we went to this car quite awhile ago. I am looking forward to getting on the track today and seeing if we can do a little better. I think our short track stuff this year has been a lot better than it has in years past, at least at Martinsville and Bristol it was good for us. I am looking forward to getting on the track and seeing if we improved our package for here.”
WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF RACING AS A CHILD AND WHY DID IT GRAB YOU INTO THE SPORT? AND SINCE YOU HAVE A SON THAT IS A PROFESSIONAL IN THE SPORT, HOW DO YOU SEE THE PROGRESSION OF THE NEXT GENERATION COMING INTO NASCAR? “I was standing there so I heard Jimmie’s (Johnson) answer. Mine isn’t much different I guess. I think it stars with the kids going to the track with their dad’s. That is how I started racing. My dad didn’t race at first when I was a little kid but his three brothers did. We went out to a short track in Wisconsin and would watch them on Saturday nights race and during the week we would stop by their house in the garage where they would be working on the race cars. I guess that is where it first grabbed me, watching them work on the cars and build their own cars in the winter time in Wisconsin when there wasn’t a lot else to do and snow was on the ground and all that. They would bring it to the track in the summer and race on Saturday night and the whole family would come out. My grandparents would go out and my parents and cousins and everybody and we would sit in the same spot on the hill and watch those guys battle on Saturday night. That is really where it started for me and it is something I always look forward to every week. I am not sure how everybody else starts or how the other guys or kids fall in love with the sport or become die-hard fans but that is where it started for me.”
WHERE DO YOU SEE ROSS’S ROLE AS THE NEXT GENERATION OF THE SPORT? “I don’t know. I could speak to when I was a kid and how I fell in love with the sport and competition and motorsports and racing and mechanics and that type of thing but it is hard for me to comment on the next generation 20 years later and what is going to bring them in. I know how I got there and why I liked it. Going to the local short tracks is where it all starts.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT AT BRISTOL AND WITH TWO QUIET WEEKS IN NASCAR WITH NO WRECKS DO YOU EXPECT ALL HELL TO BREAK LOOSE THIS WEEK? “I hope not, I especially hope I am not in it. I didn’t really read all the Bristol stuff that close. I saw a couple pictures you guys tweeted out and I didn’t really understand what all the red lines and stuff were. I was confused. Maybe my screen was too little. I don’t really know. As far as I know they are taking some banking out of the top and grinding the top groove. It will probably just take away some of the top groove and I don’t know if that is good or bad. The good thing about the way it was is that if you car was off you could pick a different groove. If you were too loose you could run really high like I had to do most the time there and if you were tighter you had to run lower. It will probably penalize you if you miss by a little big which is maybe a good thing. Maybe that will open up more passing if you have to get your car to work in a certain groove.”
HOW MUCH DOES HAVING DRIVERS THE CALIBER YOU HAVE AT ROUSH FENWAY PUSH THE OTHER DRIVERS TO EXCEL? “Well, it is a lot different than when I first started at Roush Fenway for sure. When I started it was a five car team and Mark (Martin) and Jeff (Burton) were over here and Chad and Kevin were over here. It was really different and nobody talked to each other or shared information. They had their two little groups and it was hard. It is different today because the cars are almost identical and we share every single thing that goes on from the second they start getting built until the race starts and through the race and everything. It is a lot different than what it was and it all starts with having fast race cars. I think if you look at the last couple years all our cars run fairly close on the race track. Usually, typically you don’t have a guy win and another guy run 20th and really miss it. It seems like we are all closer to each other than I think you were in years past. Certainly I remember 2008 when Carl won those nine races and we were struggling a little bit. That is always hard on a guy to wonder why you are getting beat by your teammate when you are supposed to have the same stuff. That drives you to try to do better or try to be the best in your group. You always want to try that. I think most of that is really NASCAR and the rules package. If you look over the last five or six years from the COT car with how tight all the templates and tolerances are and the gear rules and dyno on the engines. Everything is so close to being the same it is hard to get very far out on a limb anymore.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TRACK HERE AND WHAT YOU LIKE OR DISLIKE ABOUT IT AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TO COME AWAY WITH A VICTORY TOMORROW? “I can’t think of anything I really dislike about it. I think it is a great short track and you have a fair amount of speed. The track is real wide and it widens out to where you get a couple grooves of good racing out there. I really like the facility and I really like the track. I think it puts on competitive racing. I don’t have anything I dislike about the track. I would like to be running a little better here. We have struggled here the last few years. We’ve had a couple good runs but not running near as good as we would like to. I really like the track and enjoy the racing here.”
DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE THE PACK RACING AT TALLADEGA OR SOMETHING ELSE? “Well, a couple things come to mind. I know what you are talking about. In the middle of those races everyone would get lined up on the top but with plate racing it isn’t like one guy can decide that he is going to pass everyone and lead. You just can’t. If everyone is in line and you pull out of line then all you are going to do is have the line pass you until you get back up in line. There has to be an effort and fair amount of people trying to do that at the same time. I know I have been in that situation and been in that line and maybe been sixth. You think, ‘Okay, I am going to try to get this guy to go with me.’ You get maybe two guys to go with you and lose 10 spots and then get back in line. If you try that three or four times then you are in the back. When you get down to the end or after a pit stop when it all gets shuffled up you are too far back to do anything. It isn’t like you are trying to log laps, you are trying to keep the best position you can for when it gets crazy at the end when everyone is three or four wide the last few laps and you can hopefully not get in a wreck and hopefully have a chance to win the race. I think you will see racing similar to Daytona. I don’t know why it would be much different. Daytona has the new pavement and a lot of grip just like Talladega. It is the same rules package so I think you will see racing like you did during speed weeks.”
IN LIGHT OF YOUR RECENT SUCCESS ON SUPERSPEEDWAYS, MOST NOTABLY DAYTONA IN FEBRUARY, ARE YOU AS CONFIDENT IN YOUR TEAMS SUPERSPEEDWAY PACKAGE AS YOU HAVE EVER BEEN? “Yeah, I think this is the most I have ever looked forward to going to Talladega. Our speed weeks was really good and Carl was on the pole for the 500 and Greg had a really dominant car and we were able to win our qualifying race and the 500. I feel like as a group we have had, throughout all of speed weeks, really fast race cars. Without the tandem thing you can actually make some moves for yourself and are racing against everyone else which is fun and refreshing for plate racing I think. This is probably the most I have ever looked forward to getting there. You never know what is going to happen when you get there. You might be like Jimmie (Johnson) and come in and only do like one lap but I am looking forward to getting there.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE INVOLVEMENT OF YOUNGER DRIVERS IN THE SERIES IMPACTING THE WAY YOU RACE? “I don’t think it really impacts the way we race. I think when you come in as a younger driver that these days you can probably learn faster than what we did then. The cars are closer to the same speed with all the rules. I think you learn pretty fast. It seems like when young guys come in they are pretty much ready to go and with good teams with real fast cars and you kind of learn from racing and watching some of the other guys around you.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Fusion, has three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 15 career starts at Richmond International Raceway. Despite never winning at the track, Edwards has enjoyed decent success and spoke to media following the first practice session Friday afternoon.
CARL EDWARDS, No. 99 Ford EcoBoost Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS HERE THIS WEEKEND? “Our expectation is to run pretty well here. We ran top-five both races last year and this track, the first time I came here was 2004 in the Cup car, or 2005. We ran great and it was a blast. We had a super fast car and finished sixth and I thought, ‘Man, this is going to be my favorite race track.’ Then for the next four or five years it was terrible for us. Now we are back to where we think we can win each time we come to Richmond. That is good. We are proud to have Ford EcoBoost on the car and Ford has the Electric pace car. We checked that out this morning and it is neat. They’ve got it charged up and said it will have no problems. We would like to get a win and get up there in the points where our teammates are. At this point, there is no better place for us to be than Richmond. Practice went well and we were really fast in race trim. I messed up my qualifying lap and that will hurt us a little in qualifying but I am looking forward to it. I think it is going to be a good race.”
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE DEBATE OF HOW THE RACES HAVE GONE? DO YOU THINK THEY ARE BORING AND WHY DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE BEEN INCIDENT FREE? “I did a lot of driving this week and listened to the SIRIUS XM channel and I was surprised at how big a debate this is and how many people are discussing this. I guess people label some fans as racing purists and they like the idea of watching the race cars go around and the guys work hard to drive them. That is what I like to see. I am more of a fan of what goes on on the race track during the competition. I think that cautions and wrecks and all of those things, I don’t think they for me personally add a bunch to the competition. I guess if people, if a large number of fans, if that is important to them and that is what they want to see then NASCAR and all of us have to decide what we are going to do about it. Are we going to let the races play out naturally and be the competitions that they are? I think that is the best thing. Or, are we going to address each person’s complaint and try to fit the sport to people? That is another way to go. My opinion is that not every race has to be an exciting, dramatic, crazy bumper-to-bumper finish. If you just let them play out naturally you will get those really great moments. We have only run eight races or something. Who knows what is going to happen. When we left Daytona we weren’t complaining about a lack of wrecks. I think it will be just fine.”
WHY DO YOU THINK IT HAS BEEN THIS WAY SINCE CALIFORNIA? “I firmly believe, and NASCAR hates it when I say this, but I firmly believe that we should not be racing with downforce, sideforce and all these aerodynamic devices. We do not need splitters on the race cars and giant spoilers. What has happened, in my humble opinion, and I have not been around long enough to say something definitely, but it is pretty common sense that if all the cars are very similar and all the drivers are really good, which we all think we are, and we are all within a tenth of a second of each other but are relying on this clean air and downforce to make the cars go that speed then by definition if the guy in front of you is disturbing the air then your car is not going to be able to go as fast as it could in clean air. So why don’t we get rid of these aerodynamic devices and race cars on race tracks with tires that are softer, because we don’t have as much force on them that they would give up quicker. That is my opinion on how to make the cars and the drivers able to do more and put it in the drivers and crew chiefs hands. I think that is important. I don’t know if that will make more exciting races but it sure as hell will make a guy able to go up through the field if he has a fast race car and I think that is exciting.”
WHEN YOU WERE LISTENING TO THE RADIO, DID YOU HEAR ANY QUESTIONS OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH CARL EDWARDS? “Yeah, I have gotten really good at ignoring the commentary on me over the years. I was actually on one of the morning shows and they asked me that. I said that I gave our season a C+ because we have made a couple mistakes. We learned firsthand, getting beat by a guy last year that wasn’t hardly in the picture until the last 10 races, we are gearing up to be the best we can at the end of the year. We have strength in our team right now and don’t have a giant weak point. We don’t have a big problem anywhere. We just have to start putting together better races and making better calls and qualify a little better. There are some little things we have to work on. I think we will get there and I tell you what, just don’t count us out. We could be really good.”
WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF GOING TO A RACE AND WHY DID IT STICK WITH YOU SO MUCH SO THAT YOU WANTED TO BECOME A DRIVER? “I have been going to races since I was two weeks old. I don’t remember the first race but my earliest memories were going to the races with my parents and watching my dad race and to me it was something that just looked kind of scary. Guys put on a fireproof suit and helmet and go out there and race. It just seemed really, really intense. From a young age I was really captivated by the whole spectacle of the sport. As I got a little older and started to build up a little confidence I thought maybe I could try that sometime. The first time my dad let me drive his race car during a hot lap session I was ruined right then. It scared me, it excited me and it was spectacular. I guess I was, from the beginning this was where I was going to end up, at least doing this. Not in this position. I am very fortunate to be here. It is one of the neatest things in the world. If we could get more kids to experience it and educate the kids about what is going on at the race track and somehow get them in a race car and experience that exhilaration and actually firsthand know what it is like to do this or attempt to do it I think they would be hooked.”
IF EITHER OF YOUR KIDS SAID THEY WANTED TO RACE DOWN THE ROAD, WOULD YOU BE FOR THAT? “Oh boy. I tell you what. The first thing is that they would have to come to me. That is the thing my parents did. They never pushed me to race. They did everything they could to keep me from racing. I think if that is what they really want to do then they will have to prove it to me that they really want to do it but I am not going to guide them along or steer them toward racing. It will be whatever they want to do.”
DO YOU CONCUR WITH MATT KENSETH WHO SAID HE IS LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING TO TALLADEGA? “Well, winning the 500 will make you feel that way. I would say if we can go there and work together the way we have and do the things we have been doing at the superspeedways then we will be good. It is still that bottleneck in the season where anything can happen. We don’t have any points to give up so we will go with a different attitude I am sure than Matt and Greg. They can go there and have a bad race and be okay. That is one that scares our team because we don’t want to be 15th in points right now. We want to be up there marching toward the top-five. If we can run there the way we have the last six or eight restrictor plate races then we will be okay.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU FEEL LIKE RICHMOND COULD BRING BACK CAUTIONS? “I will not go down that path. I do not think it is right to say that we need wrecks. That is just a messed up thing to say. I think we need good racing and I think that if you’ve got guys that are able to race close together and guys that are able to come through the field because their car is better and they can actually pass people then you are going to get excitement. That might come in the form of wrecks but a place like Richmond is a place where regardless of the aerodynamic devices and tire compounds this place seems to have a way that a guy can make something happen. That is good. I stick to my statement earlier. When a guy has a fast race car he has to be able to drive that thing up through the field. All you have to do is go back and look at old racing tapes. Even when I came in six or eight years ago we were just a little less reliant on the aero stuff and the cars were more spread. I think that is something we should strive for. If we don’t then the racing is still awesome. Tony and I’s competition at the end of last year was spectacular. It isn’t that we can’t do it, I just think we could set things up so that we have more of that.”
DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE GUYS SAVING STUFF FOR THE END OF THE SEASON? “That is something that was brought up when I was listening to the programming that I forgot until you just said that. It might be that some of this green flag racing and guys being more reserved is that they realize that right now you can’t put yourself in a hole. You can’t go out there and race like you would like to sometimes because this is real important this first 26 races to get locked in. Maybe there is some of that going on.
DO YOU THINK PROGRAMS ARE SAVING THINGS FOR THE END? “You don’t ever save something. You want to go get everything you can but you might say, ‘We are pretty good here so let’s go work on this other thing.’ Bob and I have been doing that the last couple of weeks. We have been working on some different style setup stuff and it hasn’t been that great. At least we know and we tried it and understand it and if we need to use it at Texas in the fall or something we understand it better. There is a little of that going on but you have to be careful. You don’t want to give up a race. You can’t afford to finish 20th right now.”
IS THERE ANY MORE OF THAT GOING ON THIS YEAR THAN YOU WOULD HAVE DONE BEFORE? “I don’t know that there is more of it going on but I think as this evolves and people get better at understanding when to push during the season you will see patters of that emerge. If there is one thing I have learned in this sport it is that even if we all go back to separate shops and don’t talk to each other we all end up doing the same things and working the same ways. Maybe some of that is happening.”
WHY ARE POINTS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEY HAVE EVER BEEN? “That is a very good question. From your perspective, it is hard to understand but go ahead and put yourself in my position. We are ninth in points and don’t have a win. It is not like we are tied for first right now. We have to be very cautious with our points. Let’s say we know some things. Let’s assume some things that are true. Right now we don’t have the fastest car on the race track every week so we can say, ‘Alright for the next 16 or 18 races we might still not have the fastest car.’ Under the old points system we would say, ‘Damn, we are already ninth and not running that great, let’s just go for it here. Let’s do some crazy stuff and get a win or two and have some fun.’ But we can’t do that now because we say that we have to make it into the top-10. We cannot give up any points. What we are banking on, what we hope comes is that we hope in those last 10 races that we are good enough then to go shoot for the championship. If you were in my position you would never be able to forgive yourself if you were ninth in points here in Richmond and they drop the green flag on the last restart here and you have a great race car and you go for some bonzai run and wreck the thing and don’t make the Chase. Let’s say those last 10 races we have a hell of a run and would have won the thing if we would have made it. I would be a moron to give it up right here at Richmond. I don’t know if that is right or wrong but that is why it ends up this way because guys start to think, ‘Okay, just gather all your troops here, focus, work everything out, make the Chase and then go get ‘em.’ That wasn’t intended by NASCAR I am sure but that is the way we feel.”
REGARDING TALLADEGA, ARE WE BACK TO THE OLD STRATEGY WHERE THE MAIN FOCUS THERE IS TO AVOID TROUBLE? WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF THE TANDEM WILL BE AT THE END OF THE RACE? “I have no clue. I don’t know. I had to ask somebody where we were going next week this morning. I really haven’t thought about that one yet. I really don’t know. I think that race, the way those races go, you could have tandems, green-white-checkers, or four cars figure out how to work together. It is unpredictable. It is tough. I just don’t know.”
Greg Biffle, the current NASCAR Sprint Cup series points leader, met with members of the media Friday after the final practice session and prior to qualifying at Richmond International Raceway.
GREG BIFFLE, No. 16 3M Give Kids A Smile Ford Fusion - TALK ABOUT YOUR SPONSOR THIS WEEKEND AND THE INITIATIVE YOU HAVE GOING ON WITH THE AMERICAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION. “It is really exciting to be a part of it. 3M’s dental division and Henry Shine Organization and the American Dental Association have a program called Give Kids A Smile. Millions of kids don’t get the proper dental care that they need and it is very important to successful life growing up and learning in school and all those things. It is something I am a part of and glad to be a part of and a fun thing to do. It is fun to see the kids and they have a program here where they are doing dental screening and will probably see 300-400 kids over the weekend or more. It is an exciting program and they have been doing it many years since before I was involved in it and it has been a lot of fun.”
TALK ABOUT THIS WEEKEND. “Richmond has been a fairly good place for us. We have had a few mishaps here where we missed a setup a little bit but we looked at the last race here and we ran in the top-five most of the night. We just got too tight at the end and slid back and finished 13th. It was still a decent night overall. We’ve been running good off the truck here and the lap times are decent. We are trying to get that comfort level in the car. We know there will be long runs. It is really hard to practice here during the day and then turn around and race at night. It makes it difficult. You have to work on your car and get a good balance. I feel good about qualifying here in a bit and my chances for tomorrow night.”
WHAT IS YOUR VERY FIRST MEMORY OF GOING TO A RACING EVENT AND WHAT IS IT THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON THE SPORT? “For starters, my dad was a big influence on me getting involved in racing. We had a flat bottom boat that he worked on a lot in the garage. My dad was a car guy, grew up in southern California and moved to the northwest. Growing up I was interested in cars and had motorcycles my whole life. I begged him for a go kart about every chance I got. We didn’t really live in an area that was conducive to that. I got my first car when I was 15 and I worked for a guy that he developed a friendship with that had an automotive machine shop that had an oval track for cars. My dad and I went to the oval track race on a regular Friday or Saturday night and watched the hobby stocks and the whole show. I was excited and so was my dad and we went home and built a car. I think that is where the new fan is going to come from. The problem is that there are no cars for people to go and build today. The evolution of the automobile has changed. There are not those old cars running around that you can go get, strip the interior out of, put a roll cage in and show up on a Friday night. There is no sanctioning of that type of racing anymore. We need to create a format that can get young kids – dad can go and build a car with his son and show up at a race track and have a platform for that. I’ve thought a lot about it and think I have a good plan and idea for it. I just have to convince someone that it is the way to go.”
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO BECOME A CAR OWNER OUT HERE? “I can hardly keep track of my three dogs so keeping track of 120 employees would be relatively difficult for me. I agree with him. I don’t agree that there need to be 43 car owners but I agree that there needs to be more car owners. That has been a discussion amongst some of the drivers. We have talked about what this sport would look like without Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush and Richard Childress today. And there are a few others, I don’t want to leave anyone out. That discussion has come up. We all see opportunities there or talk about the succession plans for those guys. I agree. I don’t know what the answer is certainly and I would have to think about it awhile. I agree to some point that there needs to be some more owners. It was disappointing to see Red Bull go out. I will admit that. They were a good funded team; they just needed maybe to be organized differently or something.”
DO YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE WITH WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS AND WITH A WIN THAT YOU CAN KINDA GO FOR IT OUT THERE? “I don’t think we have quite built that cushion but we are in a pretty safe spot with where we are at in the points. We technically go for it every race. I am driving on the edge and doing everything I can to not make mistakes. I don’t know what else I could do to be better than I am. We are working as hard as we can. There is kind of that false sense that the drivers could do a little bit more if he wanted to. I don’t know if that is always the case. I think you wish you could do more but that opportunity to maybe try and drive down on the inside of that guy and make a bonzai move or something is coming down to the last 10 laps of the race. That is not the 400 miles. You only do that when it is desperate and you are trying to gain a position. I think you are still going to see people do that. Like at Kansas, I did everything I could for fifth place. I was driving my heart out and that is all I could do. As far as using some different setups and trying different things in the car if we miss it a little and finish 18th or 15th, then yeah we aren’t in that bad a position. We can take some chances like that I think.”
YOU ARE AT YOUR HIGH POINT RIGHT NOW. HOW DO YOU KEEP IT JUST RIGHT FROM HERE ON OUT? “Well, that is your opinion that we are at our high point. My high point is going to be with 10 to go.”
SO YOU ARE GOING TO BE LIKE 80 POINTS AHEAD BY THEN. “Yeah, that is what I am hoping for. No, again, we do everything we can and Matt (Puccia) and I have been talking a lot about the Chase and Matt is getting ready to start Chase cars in the next probably four weeks. We are getting ready for the Chase. We are not even in the Chase yet. We happen to be leading the points right now but we aren’t guaranteed in the Chase by any means. We don’t know – I know what you are talking about – guys get going really good. Look at Tony Stewart. He was horrible and I was right along with him. We were fighting like dogs for the last Chase spot and we were both awful. Then he turned around and won five races of the 10. It can happen at any time. This running good for us can turn off any time. All we can do is pay attention to what we are doing and try not to get behind the curve. I think that is what happens. You get comfortable thinking you are leading the points and have a win and you get comfortable not looking at the Chase like Matt is saying, ‘How are we going to be better when we get to the Chase. We need better cars than we have today when the Chase comes.’ That is what makes a team keep clicking.”