Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford knows what it takes to win the Daytona 500 after claiming victory in 2009. Kenseth will start 9th in this year’s version of the Great American Race and answered questions from the media on Friday.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TELL US HOW THINGS HAVE GONE FOR YOU SO FAR LEADING UP TO SUNDAY? “It has gone alright. Saturday was disappointing because we didn’t get in the right place and had a disappointing finish. Yesterday was good. I think that was the best finish we have had in a 150. We were in position to have a shot at the win and the late caution took us out to fourth. I was happy with that. The car is in one piece and we had good speed and worked out most of the things that we could work out with the way the track is and the rules and all. Everything seemed to be going pretty good and it has been pretty smooth so far.”
CAN YOU PUT INTO WORDS WHAT IT WAS LIKE COMING BACK TO DAYTONA THE YEAR AFTER YOU WON IT? “It was fun. We came down a little early and did some media stuff which was fun because when we came back last year, well it has been almost two years since we won a race now, we are kind of on a dry spell. It was fun to come back and be the defending champion. You got to think about the year before and it put me in a better mood for the season. It is fun whenever you can win a race, especially one as big as the Daytona 500. The sport is still more of a what have you done for me lately deal. It is more about what we can do today and tomorrow and down the road.”
YESTERDAY YOU WERE ABLE TO DRAFT FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. WHAT IS THAT ATTRIBUTED TO IN YOUR MIND? “I don’t think our stuff is any different or we have any advantage over anybody necessarily. There are probably a few circumstances where I got some air in there and kept it kind of cool or maybe didn’t take care of that engine as much as I would the 500 engine because I knew we were going to change engines anyway and I didn’t care if it got overheated. It was more important to me to keep our car in position and get a decent starting spot for Sunday. I didn’t want to be in the back and get wrecked. I wasn’t as careful with it as I should have been. I don’t know how you get away from two car drafts, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. You kind of knew it was going to be that way since the last Talladega race and Jeff Burton and I got in front and kept swapping positions until we finally couldn’t get back together for whatever happened there. That is the way the ending the last couple of races there have been. You knew when they paved this place that handling wasn’t going to matter for a lot of years. With these cars and the way they are set up, two cars pushing each other is faster than a big group of cars and that is what everybody is going to try to figure out how to do.”
AS A DRIVER, CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE IN THE PAVEMENT FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR? “It is totally different. The old pavement was like driving down a gravel road and the new pavement is like driving down a freshly paved road with your street car. It is really that extreme. With the old pavement you could run wide open for five to 12 laps and then you had to start letting off the gas and it was almost like a plate race for 5 or 10 laps and a big track race after that where you had to start hitting marks exactly right. Toward the end of the run a lot of people would be lifting and you could pass by yourself. It was a lot different race. There is so much grip right now and they are so good at making asphalt now so I think it will be like that for a long time. Handling is such a non issue that you can run 210 or 215 at least before you have to start getting off the gas. It is going to be more of a Talladega style race.”
CAN YOU TELL IF THE MOMENTUM ROUSH FENWAY HAD THE SECOND HALF OF LAST SEASON HAS CARRIED OVER TO THIS YEAR? “I think you have to at least get through Phoenix, Las Vegas and probably a couple races further than that down the road to really see where you are at compared to your competition. I do feel like we are prepared for Daytona. Although qualifying was disappointing, it seemed like we had good speed out there. I don’t think that will matter a whole lot because of the draft, but I would still rather have a fast car than a slow one. People will want to hook up with you more if you are fast. At the end of last year we got much stronger and finished the season on a good note with Carl winning a couple races and Greg winning a couple races. We were more competitive toward the end of the year even though we didn’t win, so that has our hopes up for this year.”
HOW DID YOU GUYS ARRIVE AT YOUR PRACTICE DECISIONS FOR TODAY? “We didn’t, Jimmy did. Basically we just changed engines today and put a couple laps on our 500 engine to make sure there were no vibrations or oil leaks or anything. Tomorrow we will practice a little bit to make sure the cooling system and everything is okay. Try to draft just a little bit. We did the tire test for two days and the other test for three days and with the amount of grip you have here, there are no handling issues to work on. Once you get the car trimmed out and the platform right and the aero and all that stuff, there is really not a lot to work on. The rules are pretty tight and they don’t allow you to work on much, so there isn’t much reason to put a bunch of laps in practice. I don’t think a big group is going to win the race, so I don’t think you want to go out there and get behind 15 cars to see how your car reacts. Maybe you want to push and look for a car your car reacts well with and go out there and race.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK NASCAR COULD HAVE DONE TO PREVENT THIS TYPE OF RACING AND DO YOU THINK NASCAR MIGHT CHANGE ANYTHING BEFORE TALLADEGA? “First of all I don’t know that it is a bad thing. We had a really good finish to the shootout. It is just different. Once they paved it, we knew this is how it would be like. I guess if they don’t like the product and want to change it I don’t know what they would be. I guess you would have to go test stuff at Talladega to see. I don’t know that there is a lot more they can do this week to get a big group together, although I will say that in the second 150 there was a bigger group and the cars got shuffled and didn’t lose a couple spots, they lost eight or 10 spots. I think when you get twice as many cars out there; the potential is there to have a lot bigger pack and more jockeying for position. I think you will get some groups in the front that get locked up, but I think you will have a lot more action and a bigger pack.
WAS THERE ANY DROP OFF IN TIRES YESTERDAY AND HOW FAR DO YOU THINK YOU CAN RUN ON THEM? “I think you could run the whole race on one set of tires with absolutely zero issues. There have been no tire issues at all. I think people will get tires just because if you are getting 16 or 18 or 14 second of fuel, or you get a yellow then you might as well put tires on. I think that honestly you could go the whole 500 miles on one set of tires because we didn’t see any wear at all.”
NASCAR HAS BEEN TALKED ABOUT IN TERMS OF TV RATINGS AND LENGTH OF RACES. WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN THIS RACE ON SUNDAY TO REVERSE THAT TALK? “How do I answer this one? I think the product is pretty good. Last year I think was the closest Chase in history and there were a lot of really exciting races. Texas comes to mind. There was a fight and a guy flipping off an official and two lead changes in the last two laps. There was a little bit of everything. I think the product has been really good. As far as being picked apart, you guys do that. The media writes the stories. I know you guys don’t create TV ratings and attendance numbers, but you guys do that more than we do and that is your job. I think that last year the racing was pretty good and pretty competitive. The Chase was competitive right down to the end. I know we have a different point system this year, but I thought last year was good with different winners. Denny dominated most the season and Jimmy came on at the end and won again. I thought that was pretty exciting.”
HOW IS KATIE DOING AND TO WHAT DEGREE HAS THE IMPENDING BIRTH AFFECTED YOUR SPEEDWEEKS? “She is doing pretty good. I am probably doing better than she is, but she is doing alright. It hasn’t affected me yet. I told her to wait until Monday and she always listens to me, so I am not too worried about it. I hope it will be next week. I am not a woman, but I would assume when you get to the end of a pregnancy that you are ready for it to be over. Hopefully that happens next week when we are getting ready to go to Phoenix.”