The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season got started in earnest Thursday afternoon when cars hit the track for Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway. The main focus of the test is for teams to work on their final preparations for 2012 Speedweeks – in particular, the 54th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26. Teams will also implement and test the new Daytona rules package for 2012 which came as a result of information gathered during recent tests at Talladega last October and at Daytona last November. Matt Kenseth took time to talk about the test and rules changes with media members Thursday afternoon.
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Best Buy/Valvoline Ford Fusion
YOU HAVE WON THE DAYTONA 500, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR A DRIVER TO GET THAT PRESTIGIOUS TROPHY?
“That was huge for us obviously winning that race. It is a very unique and different race but it is still the sports biggest race of the year. I think everybody that ever grew up watching stock car racing or wanted to race stock cars has dreamed of winning the Daytona 500 so that was certainly a cool day.”
DALE JUNIOR SAYS YOU OWE HIM $2,500 FOR A BET. DO YOU HAVE HIS $2,500?
“How did I know that was going to be the first question? I will try to scrounge it up somewhere I guess. This should count though; this is like three days (beard growth). Back when he was younger he would have had enough beers in him that he wouldn’t have remembered that.”
TELL US ABOUT THE BET. WHAT ARE THE DETAILS?
“Well, I kind of grew a beard in the off season for awhile, for a couple reasons. He had a ‘70’s party and I put a picture on Twitter so I am sure you saw it but I had a fu manchu going and the pork chop things. He bet me that I wouldn’t keep at least the fu manchu through the test. I was actually going to and it looked really stupid but I hate losing any money and he kept upping the money and upping the money until finally I said okay. I checked first to make sure I didn’t have any photos and then I get a call saying that I had a photo shoot here and an interview there and anyway I guess I lost. Although technically this should count, it is three days old.”
YOU HAVE BEST BUY NOW AS A SPONSOR, HOW DOES YOUR SPONSORSHIP SITUATION STAND NOW AND ARE YOU AS CONCERNED NOW AS YOU WERE AT THE END OF LAST YEAR?
“I am really excited that Best Buy has come on board for nine races. That is a good start. They have a lot of races that are empty on our car, still two-thirds of the season, but I am grateful they came on for the Daytona 500 to get us started and are an associate on our car all year. They are with Carl’s car too. They have been a great sponsor of the sport and been around a long time and I am proud to fly those colors and hopefully we can have some success with them.”
HOW DO YOU THINK THE DYNAMIC WILL CHANGE AT ROUSH WITH ONLY THREE CUP CARS THERE THIS SEASON?
“I don’t know that it will change a lot. It is still pretty big. We have the three cars and Ricky is running some races, at least the 500 he is here testing, and you still have the two Petty cars in there too. I guess if there is anything to be concerned or to think about it is the important people we have lost through the off season. People in the organization that had access to everything and are now pretty much at every single different team in the garage. Anything you had that you maybe thought was an advantage last year with things we learned have disappeared. That will make us work extra hard to find something that is better to get an edge on some of those guys again.”
A LOT OF PEOPLE GOT SPREAD OUT THROUGH THE GARAGE TO OTHER TEAMS. WHAT WILL THAT DO TO COMPETITION? CAN IT MAKE IT EVEN CLOSER THAN LAST YEAR?
“The more rules they make and the more people that leave and come and go and do all that stuff certainly makes it more even or gets information around the garage. It seems like there has been some downsizing and less teams. It will be different. I think the competition has been great and I think will be as even as it was. I don’t know how anybody is going to get a big advantage, at least for very long this day in age with all these rules anyway. It won’t spread the field apart farther.”
DOES THE CAR FEEL DIFFERENT WITH THE FUEL INJECTION AND SMALLER SPOILER AND ALL THAT?
“Well, we are doing single car runs so it is hard to tell as far as handling or anything like that. Our speeds are way up compared to what we are used to doing the last couple years. I am interested to see if they try to race this restrictor plate I think we will be going really fast. I have seen 195 on the straightaway today by yourself and if you get locked together you probably to another 10 miles per hour. That I think the cars will have to handle. I am anxious to get into a group and see what it is like and if you can draft normal and if it is going to be two cars.
I am anxious to see that and feel it from the car and what the handling is like. I like the ideas they have come up with as far as the smaller spoiler and going faster and trying to make the cars handle because it is going to be hard to make them not handle here because of the new pavement but if you can make them not handle it is going to be harder to push someone around the track.”
CAN YOU COMMENT ON TWITTER, YOUR ROLE, WHAT IT DOES FOR NASCAR AND FOR YOU?
“I don’t know. It seems to be kind of the, I don’t want to say the craze, but it is a new outlet to reach more people. I think everyone is using that, not just in NASCAR but all sports. It seems less people pick up the phone and talk face to face. More people text and tweet and Facebook and all that stuff. I guess it is just the way it is. I have enjoyed it as a different avenue to interact with my fans mostly and show a different side of me. More than anything I use it to interact with the fans more than I can at the race track when I am pretty focused on what I am doing and more serious. I think it kind of gives me a chance to pick it up or put it down whenever and interact with them a little.”
ISN’T GETTING THE CAR NOT TO HANDLE WELL CONTRARY TO WHAT MOST RACE CAR DRIVERS WANT AND IS THAT THE SECRET TO THE DRAFT?
“You still want your car to handle better than everybody else’s but in general if everyone can hold it wide open, even if their car isn’t set up as good as somebody else, everyone can do it without thinking about it then it makes everyone group up more or push more. If you look at a few years ago, probably two or three years ago on new tires everyone could run wide open and it was two or three-wide and a crazy race. Then it was two wide, then single wide and you would see the cars that could handle really good could almost pass by themselves without someone drafting. From most drivers point of views I think that was the most fun restrictor plate racing that we had.
I don’t think you are going to get it back like that for probably not as long as I drive because it will take a long time to run the tracks down that much to where they slip and slide that much, unless they get a really small hard tire on them or something. If you are having a hard time getting around a corner by yourself you can’t get pushed or you will get spun out. I think that is some of the idea of putting a smaller spoiler on there is to make them a little harder to drive.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion, took time to meet with members of the media following day one of testing at NASCAR’s Daytona Preseason Thunder event at Daytona International Speedway. The main focus of the test is for teams to work on their final preparations for 2012 Speedweeks – in particular, the 54th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 26. Teams will also implement and test the new Daytona rules package for 2012 which came as a result of information gathered during recent tests at Talladega last October and at Daytona last November.
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion
TALK ABOUT COMING HERE TO DAYTONA AND A WHOLE NEW MINDSET ON YOUR PART. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500?
“It would be huge and that is an understatement. Last year we were so close following Trevor across the start-finish line. I learned a lot. I feel like our restrictor plate program is better. I feel that Greg (Biffle) and I have grown together to be able to do well at these races. It is the Daytona 500 and I am very, very excited about it. The past month or so we have been running all over doing all sorts of things and it has been fun and there has been one common thing I have found is that everywhere we go people are pumped about this season. I don’t know if you guys are feeling that too and noticing that or not. We were in New York the other day and people were genuinely excited about the season. It is really neat to be a part of this right now. I have been kind of out of touch though. What is the big news today? Anything happen?”
YOU DID SO WELL AFTER THE RACE AT HOMESTEAD AND IN LAS VEGAS. WAS THERE EVER A POINT YOU MOURNED OR YOUR HEART WAS BROKEN OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
“That cool down lap after the race was not fun. I was open with you guys and told you how I felt about it. I haven’t sat and really thought about it much beyond, ‘Hey, what could we have done differently and what did we learn?’ One of the neatest meetings, I was telling Mike Massaro about earlier, one of the neatest meetings we had this offseason was sitting with Robbie and Jack and Bob and all the drivers and crew chiefs and we talked. Jack said, ‘Hey, lets talk about the previous year and what we are going to do and do you have any ideas?’ Right off the bat Jack was asking what could we do differently and Bob, without hesitation, said, ‘If I had to run it over again I would do the exact same thing. We did the right things and we did the best we could and if we do that every time we will be fine.’ I looked at Bob and thought ‘Man I am glad you are my crew chief.’ When I think of those last few races I am personally proud of the way all of us performed. The pit crew at Homestead was on their game. They were the best pit crew that day and if we had another caution I feel we would have beaten everyone off pit road and they were dying for a caution. If the rain would have come. If we would have had four tires, anything. We put ourselves in position to win and Tony and those guys just did a better job, gambled more than we did and won. That is racing. I guess your question is did I really mourn it. I truly wish I would have won it but I understand what happened and how it happened. I am glad I get to race this year and next year and go fight for it again.”
DID BOB REALLY STRUGGLE? HE LOOKED DEVASTATED AND HE DIDN’T GO TO LAS VEGAS.
“Well he didn’t go to Las Vegas because he was upset. He was working. After the race I could tell he was upset, just as I was and everybody was. That is it. If we weren’t upset about it and it wasn’t something that frustrated you then you probably aren’t in the right sport. I like to believe that we are wise enough to not let that get the best of us and just go perform and do the best we can. That is competition. That is life. You have to keep going and do the best you can. Honestly I really wish we could talk about this year. Let me put it this way, after the whole off season we parked the airplane at the airport and I was excited for the season to start and I feel more true confidence than I have had in a long time and feel we are doing well for the right season and have everything lined up. I don’t think that would be any different if we would have won. The season is going to be what it is and I feel like we are going to be good.”
DO YOU ACCEPT BOB’S ANSWER THAT HE WOULD HAVE DONE THE EXACT SAME THING?
“Yeah. What we didn’t want to do is give up the championship. We didn’t want to do something and take ourselves out of it. We wanted to put ourselves in the best position we could and force Tony and those guys to rise to the occasion and really beat us. We weren’t going to hand it to them and we didn’t. They rose to a level that we thought was pretty improbable. In my mind, whether it is right or wrong, I think if we performed the way we did each year we would probably win eight or nine out of 10 championships. The mission for us is to perform that way and not run around like idiots and change everything. We need to go out and perform that way. So yeah, from Bob that is an acceptable answer to me. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t matter to Bob, he is going to do what he thinks is best.”
IT SEEMS A LOT OF TIMES THE RUNNER UP ONE YEAR DROPS OFF THE MAP THE NEXT. HOW DO YOU GUARD AGAINST THAT?
“Well, I am one of the ones that kind of started that deal in 2008 and 2009. We have lived that and it was really painful. I hope that that kind of takes us out of repeating that statistic. Hopefully the experience we had in 2009 keeps us from doing it again. This sport is tough. Your success last year does not guarantee you anything right now. That is the way this sport is. We have made the mistake of resting on our laurels and focusing on a couple little things but you can’t do that. You have to keep looking at everything.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TODAY AND THE CAR AND IF THESE RULES ARE GOING TO WORK?
“I didn’t get to run in two-car drafts so I am not sure. What did you guys think about it? Maybe we will find out more tomorrow. I don’t know what our plan is. I don’t think we are going to do much of it. I think we are going to work on our car because we have this opportunity in single car runs to work on our Fastenal Ford by itself and then if we do get to draft I will probably go work with Greg (Biffle) and we will go through our standard practice stuff together and that will be a separate thing from the car. Bob wants to get the car stuff done first which is probably smart considering the car might not be exactly the same if Greg and I get out there and mess around too much. I think we have a good plan.”
DARBY AND PEMBERTON SAID THEY ARE GOING TO ASK YOU GUYS TO RUN A PACK. ARE YOU GOING TO ACCEPT THAT INVITATION?
“I might watch that. It would be fun to watch. It would be fun to go do but it is up to Bob and how that fits into our plan and whether or not he is comfortable doing it. We are racers. That would be the most fun thing we could go do but it could be expensive.”
IT DIDN’T SOUND OPTIONAL.
“Alright. Well, what car is Darby going to drive? I am just kidding. It will be fun. The track is smooth and the cars are safe. It seems like there is tons of grip. If we go around like that we will go do it and as a driver you want to go do that but it is truly a matter of if Jack and Bob will let me go do that.”
NASCAR IS TRYING TO REV UP THE OLD WINSTON PREVIEW NEXT WEEK IN THE CHARLOTTE CONVENTION CENTER. YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
“I don’t know the entire history of that but I have talked to a lot of fans that have said they wished we did that. If that is what the fans want then that is what we need to do. It will be fun and we will go have fun with it. There is some other stuff we are going to do around that and I can’t remember. We are going to do the All-Star commercial, a pretty neat one that sounds like it will be fun. That will be a fun day and I look forward to it.”
WITH ROUSH GOING FROM FOUR TO THREE CARS DOES THAT GIVE YOU ANY PAUSE?
“I think it makes all of us realize we have to do the best we can all the time, not just on the race track. We have to be the best we can with our sponsors and teams and the fans and do everything we can to make the business of this sport work. We have all experienced it. When it comes down to it you can’t take anything for granted. That is what that reminds me of. Seeing all the changes that have happened this off season it has reminded me that I am very fortunate to be in the position I am and I need to do the best I can for not just my 99 team but for our Roush Fenway team and Ford and the sport in general to try to have these opportunities, for me and the next guy that comes along. I think all of us realize that. It is sad at anytime to see someone lose their job or be laid off. Nobody enjoys that. As far as our performance, we have amazing support from Ford and the Fenway Sports Group and all of our sponsors and most importantly from Jack Roush and Robbie Riser.
Those guys have made sure that any changes we have made have not let us suffer any performance setbacks. Jack and Robbie are very smart racers and they have both raced with nothing. They both had to prioritize for a large portion of their careers and I would say that if it were a game of racing with the least amount of resources, those would be the guys you want. I feel good about that. Robbie and I talked about that a little bit. He feels confident and Jack feels confident and from a resources side I don’t think we have lost anything with engineering, all our simulation programs and the support from Ford all of it stayed almost intact and some of it has grown.”
YOU LOOKED REALLY NATURAL HOSTING THE KELLY SHOW.
“That is because they said I could not screw it up. They said the worse I screw it up the better it would be. Which I thought was great advice.”
DO YOU WANT TO DO MORE OF THAT IN THE FUTURE AND WAS THERE ANYTHING AMUSING WE DIDN’T SEE ON CAMERA?
“Kelly is really funny. When the camera shuts off she is just the same except a little more vulgar which is hilarious. She is really funny. She goes into stand-up comedy mode when the camera shuts off. I stood back and laughed with everyone else. That was really fun. I like doing different things. I like having opportunities to do something that is outside my comfort zone. That was definitely right there.
That was very interesting. It is truly the fastest hour of my life. When the said it was done I would have sworn that it was 15-20 minutes that we just spent and it was an hour. That was pretty interesting. I would like to do more stuff like that and specifically things that I haven’t done and things that are different and fun like that. And challenging. To be honest I have never been more nervous about a TV appearance in my life. I had tons of people tell me they would be watching. People I had no clue watched the show. I won’t name names, but they said they would be watching and it was a lot of people.”
NASCAR IS GOING WITH A DIFFERENT PLATE TOMORROW, CLOSING THE GRILL BY ONE INCH ON EACH SIDE AND MAKING THE PRESSURE RELEASE VALVE 25 FROM 30. HOW DO YOU EXPECT THAT TO CHANGE THE CAR?
“So they want the cars to be faster. So they closed the grill up, lowered the pressure five pounds and gave us a bigger plate. This is going to be wild (laughter). At the end of the day NASCAR walks a fine line of, I believe they do, of making the cars hard enough to drive that they are not in a giant dangerous pack and that people aren’t super aggressive with them. They have to make them hard enough to drive that we go into the corner and aren’t sure quite what is going to happen. It slides. And they don’t want to make it so hard that the race is one guy running away from the field and it isn’t exciting for the fans. Let’s face it, the fans come to Daytona to see an exciting, crazy race. They want a pack of cars or two cars teamed up. It seems to me that is what fans come to see. In my opinion, one of the neatest races I have ever been in as a driver here was one where I guess everyone thought Goodyear got the tire wrong because it was so slippery in the corner you had to lift and slide the car and it was like driving a big two-and-a-half mile dirt track. It was fun but I guess really boring to watch. I am all for higher speeds, less grip and make the cars harder to drive. That is fine with me.”