Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion, is a former Daytona 500 champion and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who met with media Thursday to discuss his preparation for Sunday’s installment of the Great American Race.
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion – TALK ABOUT YOUR PREPERATION FOR THE RACE ON SUNDAY. “Most of it is probably today. Sunday we got qualified and did a little bit of practice yesterday in a group but I think today there are a lot of people in the race that didn’t get to race on Saturday night. Today is the true test. We will get out there in a bigger group with some different cars and see how we can do.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENSATION INSIDE THE CAR WHEN YOU ARE IN PACK RACING VERSUS TANDEM RACING? “There are a few differences. The biggest difference with the two-car tandem I thought was tough as a driver because if you were the rear car you couldn’t see, especially now that they took away the radio communications. Last year we got to a point where the front car would just talk and talk and talk to the guy and tell you where you were going to go next and what you were going to do. Since that is taken away the rear car is pretty much blind. The front car has a guy pushing you and you know he is blind so if they are three-wide in front of you then you know he could push you into a wreck or whatever. The biggest difference is that now you can see what is going on. You can choose where you are going to go a little more and it is back to how it used to be.
You have to study the lines and see which line is moving and try to get yourself in the right position and do a traditional style draft. The biggest thing is with these rules these cars close up really fast, especially if you are in the back of the pack or a couple rows back and get a little bit of a run. The closing rate is really fast and I think that has maybe gotten some guys in trouble or maybe contributed to some of the accidents the other night.”
LAST YEAR YOU AND BRIAN VICKERS HAD SOME RUN INS, NOW THIS YEAR HE IS STILL TRYING TO FIND A RIDE. DO YOU FEEL THAT MIGHT HAVE HAD AN IMPACT ON HIS SITUATION THIS YEAR? DO YOU HAVE A FEELING ABOUT HIM NOT BEING HERE? “I really don’t have any idea to be honest with you. I have no idea what is going on with how he is trying to get a ride or search for sponsors. I have no idea what his situation is to be honest with you.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT TYPE OF SITUATION HAS A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON DRIVERS? “I don’t know about that, I really don’t. I think that it is never fun if you are part of a conflict with anybody. They are always fun to watch but being part of them is never much fun. I don’t know what affect that would have on where he is at or not. I don’t really know.”
HOW RACEY ARE YOU GOING TO BE TODAY? CARL SAID YESTERDAY HE DIDN’T CARE IF HE TORE HIS CAR UP BECAUSE HIS BACKUP IS JUST AS GOOD. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME WAY? “Well, Carl is lying because he is on the pole if he doesn’t tear his car up. I don’t think he can start on the pole with a backup car. He is not being truthful at all. Me on the other hand, nobody wants to wreck first of all, but if you didn’t think this is your best car they wouldn’t have brought this one for the 500.
We want to make it through the race but I will do whatever Jimmy (Fennig) wants to do. He told me the other day on the phone that we came here to race and if we wreck it we will unload another one. He wants me to race hard and that is what the fans want us to do and what we are paid to do. We can learn stuff for Sunday by putting ourselves in all kinds of different positions and racing hard. That is our plan, to try to work our way to the front and hopefully have a shot at the end.”
CARL WAS SAYING YESTERDAY THAT HE THOUGHT HAVING THE RADIOS WOULD MAKE THINGS SAFER. AFTER THE POLITICS AT TALLADEGA LAST FALL, IS THAT THE REASON NASCAR ISN’T GOING TO LET YOU GUYS TALK TO EACH OTHER? DO THEY NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE RADIOS? “I’d have to disagree on that one. From my standpoint, if you are doing a two-car tandem then having the radios is safer. Not having the radios also helps not have the two-car tandem and all that.
I don’t think we need to be talking to everyone else. I think you have your own spotter talking to you and you pay attention to what is going on. I think that with pack racing if you are talking with other people it can create a lot of confusion. I am sure there are deals made during the yellows or whatever but if it comes down to the end you are going to try to negotiate that anyway through your spotter or whatever.
I like the idea of not having them. Racing has always been about one against the rest of the pack and that is the way it should be, not necessarily doing the pod thing or team up or whatever. I like this style because it seems like we all race and when it comes down to the end you find who is around you or who you have worked good with most of the day like it used to be. You try to work with that guy and get the best finish you can.”
YOU ARE DOWN TO THREE TEAMS AT ROUSH FENWAY. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT BRAIN DRAIN? ARE THERE PEOPLE YOU HAVE LOST THAT HAVE NOW GONE ELSEWHERE AND TAKEN WHAT THEY LEARNED? “Whenever you lose people, especially people that have access to all the information, as in crew chiefs, drivers and engineers it concerns you that you maybe lose something that you had last year that you thought was good. You realize all the organizations where they went have all your setups that you ran the year before. It is always changing though and you are looking to improve stuff and make it better.
I think there is probably a number that is too big and a number that is too small. I don’t know what those numbers are. Even though we will be down to three cars after this race it looks like we still have the two Petty cars so we have five teams that are sharing information and working together and trying to make this stuff run faster. I think that is plenty.”
A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION TODAY, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO JERMICHAEL FINLEY RESIGNING WITH THE PACKERS? “I thought you were going to ask something else. I am glad. I think he is probably one of the best tight ends in the league if he could catch the ball all the time. I think he is one of the best guys at getting open, blocking and running routes and he is huge and all that stuff. After watching all the drops at the end of the year I thought maybe they should pay him per catch and subtract per drop or something like that. I think that would be a cool incentive or a way to pay someone.
That isn’t really being smart. I know racing has changed through the years but the way I get paid a lot of it is incentive based. The better you finish the more you get paid and the worse you finish the less you get paid, so I think that is alright. I do think he is really good and has done a lot of great things and made a lot of big plays, he has just had a lot of drops at the end of the year from a fans perspective that is frustrating. I thought you were going to ask me about hearing Ward’s (Burton) voice again. I walked in here and was like, ‘Man, that is pretty cool.’ I thought when I started talking you would think it was still him. Our accents are so similar (laughter).”
WHEN YOU STARTED IN RACING I AM SURE YOU HAD PERCEPTIONS OF WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500. HOW DID THOSE PERCEPTIONS MATCH WITH WHEN IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED FOR YOU? “Before I moved up to this level or even Nationwide I probably honestly never thought about it. I always dreamt of being in a Daytona 500 but that seemed far away, much less winning one. It is not just another race but you kind of think of it like that. After we did win it it was honestly a total shock at how big it was and the fanfare and the hype and all the stuff we did afterwards. It was probably bigger than I ever dreamed it was or really gave credit for it.”