Look Forward to Racing in Fontana
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Carhartt Ford Fusion, heads into this weekend’s race atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following last Sunday’s victory in the Daytona 500. He met with the media prior on Friday Kenseth won Auto Club Speedway in 2006 and ’07. Teammates Carl Edwards, who won at Fontana last year, and David Ragan, who opened the season with a sixth-place finish at Daytona, also met with the media prior to qualifying.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Carhartt Ford Fusion – YOU’VE BEEN FROM THE EAST COAST TO THE WEST COAST THIS WEEK. HOW DID IT GO? “The week was really fun, actually. It was probably more fun than I expected it to be. I had a really good time, and it was a long week and kind of a tiring week. It was a lot of fun, got to see a lot of people, lot of places, and I probably enjoyed it more than I expected to and probably saw more people than I expected to in different areas as well. The whole week was fun. I’m glad to be back at the race track.”WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STORIES FROM THIS WEEK THAT WILL PROBABLY STAY WITH YOU FOR A LONG TIME? “There’s a lot of them. Letterman was probably one of the coolest things. Once we started racing and running better, for some reason, I’ve always been like, ‘If I could go on one show, it would be to go on David Letterman and actually be on the couch and talk to him.’ I’ve been able to do the top 10 list a couple of times, the top 12 last year, and that was fun and everything, but you don’t even really even meet him, really. They kind of lock the doors and lock you in there; when he runs through he doesn’t want to see anybody. So, it’s kind of different than I expected. But, to be on there and actually be a guest on Letterman was probably a highlight for me, second to going to Victory Lane and seeing the guys and all of the looks on all of the faces and all of that, was the best part. But that was one of the cool things. The whole week was really good, mostly. Going to San Francisco – that’s one place you go that you never expect, at least I don’t, to see very many race fans. You don’t really think of it as a racing city and all that, and we actually saw fans all over the place. It really, really surprised me and that was really fun. Got to do a lot of cool things there and take a little time and see some stuff.”NOW THAT YOU’RE THE DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION HOW MUCH BUSIER DO YOU EXPECT TO BE THIS YEAR? “I don’t know the answer to that question, to be honest with you. It’s been a crazy week, really; a fun week. I’ve probably enjoyed it and appreciated a lot more since it’s been a year since we’ve won a race, and to win the biggest race was pretty cool. So, I probably enjoyed it a little more because of that. It’s easy when things start going well to maybe not let it sink in or not appreciate it when you win or do good as much as if there’s a little space in between there. I did enjoy it all a lot. I do look forward to getting on the track here and concentrating on racing again. Have got to be a little bit careful not to enjoy it too much longer; you have to start thinking about the rest of the season and focus on this week, and the tracks are going to be really important to having a successful season. Just winning that race doesn’t make you have successful season, so we really need to move on from that. It’s a lot different from winning the championship. You had two months to enjoy it and celebrate do all of this crazy stuff, and here you’ve got a week and you better be pretty tuned in to what you’ve got going this week and the next 34 after that.”ON LETTERMAN, YOU JOKED ABOUT HIM BEING TOUGH ON DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ARE DRIVERS GOING TO BE HESITANT TO BE CRITICAL OF HIM? AND, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT GETTING THROUGH THAT ACCIDENT AT THE DAYTONA 500? “I don’t know. I was joking, trying to be funny. I don’t have anything to gain by pointing out who I think is wrong or who made a mistake or who caused a wreck or what you have, so if you don’t really have anything to gain by it to criticize somebody else for their driving or something is not really something that I need to do. I know that I’ve made my share of mistakes and my share of controversial stuff, and, you know, your peers are ripping on you because they think you did something wrong. It’s not a good feeling, so I don’t want to be on that side of that, either. Everybody’s going to create their own opinion. I’m glad we made it through the wreck. You always hope there’s no wrecks, but just like last year at Talladega, things are going to happen every now and then, and when you’re all racing hard, everybody knew that rain was coming, everybody was racing hard to get position in the lead, and those two were racing to get position for the Lucky Dog so they could get back in that thing because they were running out of time.”YOU WON THE DAYTONA 500, BUT WERE NOT PART OF THE POST-RACE CONTROVERSY. IN THIS SPORT, THE WINNER IS OFTEN PART OF THE CONTROVERSY. SO, THAT WORKED OUT WELL FOR YOU. “Yeah. Obviously, if you could script it, you’d probably want to take the white and pass the leader on the last lap and take the checkered and do all of those things. I’ve been asked a lot about the rain all week, like I said a million times, everybody knew it was going, it wasn’t a surprise. It’s not like they just stopped the race. Everybody foresaw the rain. In a way, it actually made our job harder, I think. We took the green flag in 43rd and had to get by all of those guys. The race fan part of me likes controversy, but I don’t like to be a part of it. Controversy, if I’m not involved, then it’s fun to watch, fun to listen you guys talk about it, but when you’re one of the people in it, it’s not as much fun.”THIS HAS BEEN A VERY HECTIC WEEK FOR YOU. HAS THERE BEEN ANYTHING YOU’VE BEEN ABLE TO DO TO GET PREPARED FOR THIS WEEKEND’S RACE? “Just sleep. Just try to eat good and sleep. Actually, I didn’t get that great of sleep last night, but I’ve been getting caught up a little bit. I was fairly tired on Monday and I got a lot of sleep, actually Monday night, and was more tired Tuesday, and then got not that much sleep Tuesday night, a lot Wednesday night, a lot Thursday night and feel like I’m almost back to normal. Probably getting in the car today and getting back to the normal weekend schedule like we do every weekend, besides Daytona, with normal three-day weekends, getting on the track and doing all of that will probably get me more prepared for it than anything else.”WHAT WAS THE REACTION OF YOUR FATHER AND SON TO YOUR WIN? “They were pretty fired up. I talked to my dad a little bit – he actually talked to me more than I talked to him; he was pretty fired up. Ross was pretty excited, too, obviously. They both wished they would’ve been there; I wish they would’ve been there to celebrate and be part of the moment. But it’s been such a busy , crazy week I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to them. I talked to my dad and I talked to Ross, they were the first two people I talked to, for a little while – a lot of emails and text back and forth. I’ve either been traveling the whole time or on shows the whole time or doing radio shows the whole time, and when I did have a little time to call somebody, I’m in a car full of people, and that’s not – it drives me crazy when people are on their cell phones and the car’s full of people, so I don’t want to be that guy. It’s honestly been pretty busy, and then with the time change out here, I haven’t gotten to talk to a whole bunch of people. They were very excited, along with a lot of other people I got messages from.”DID YOU RECEIVE MORE TEXTS, EMAILS OR PHONE CALLS AFTER THE WIN? WHICH WAS THE COOLEST? “More texts and emails – I don’t know which one was the most – but a lot more of them than phone calls. I guess that’s the way it is today. My Sprint Blackberry was vibrating for about 20 minutes straight when I turned it on after the race, so that was pretty cool. I don’t have a coolest one. Every one was special in their own way. Whenever someone thinks of you, it’s pretty neat. I had lot of them that surprised me, I had a few of them that I kind of expected to hear from, which was cool, but every one, honestly, is special. Whenever anybody congratulates you or thinks about you long enough to send you a message, it always means a lot.”YOUR SPOTTER, MIKE CALINOFF, IS IN THE GARAGE DISPLAYING HIS DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION TATTOO THAT IS ON HIS LEG. HE SAID YOU CHALLENGED HIM TO GET IT. AND, ARE THERE ANY THOUGHTS OF YOURSELF GETTING ONE? “No. I’m not a tattoo guy. I was kind of teasing Mike because I always tease him, but I was really teasing him because the week before we won the championship in ’03, which we were able to win a week early, actually, he went and got the championship tattoo put on his leg, and we were in Victory Lane celebrating the championship and he showed us he already had the tattoo, so I asked him Monday if he got the tattoo put on yet, before we won the race – if he really was a psychic. But, I was just giving him a hard time about it, but it didn’t surprise me that he did it.”DOES THE FACT THAT YOU’VE HAD SUCH A GOOD RECORD HERE MAKE IT EASIER TO GO RACING THIS WEEKEND AFTER ALL YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH THIS WEEK? “For sure, it makes me a little more comfortable, and I feel a little better about it than if we were going to one of our more difficult ones, like Martinsville or something like that. You still never know what’s going to happen. You can’t take it for granted and not work as hard or do any of that and think you’re going to coast through it. But, I always have a lot of confidence coming out here. For some reason, our team, typically, maybe not last year, but most every year if you look at our numbers, it seems like we get started off fairly quick and that’s kind of been part of the reason that we’ve had some success. And we were able to do that, obviously, at Daytona, but hopefully we can keep that up. Usually the first part of the season is one of our stronger suits, it seems like. So, hopefully, we can keep that going and get a good finish here this weekend and keep some momentum up.”CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST WEEKEND’S DAYTONA 500 AND ABOUT THIS WEEKEND’S RACE? “Last Week did not end up the way we wanted, but it was cool that Ford was in Victory Lane. It was neat to see Matt win the race. This is place is a lot of fun for me. I still haven’t seen video of what happened last week, so I don’t know exactly what happened in that wreck. I’m sure they’re figuring that out right now. I love racing here. It’s a fun race track. We were really good in practice, and this was the start of a really great season last year, so hopefully we can have a good run here and get started the same way.”DALE EARNHARDT JR. IS ALSO SPEAKING RIGHT NOW. HE’S KIND OF GOING THROUGH WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH LAST YEAR AFTER TALLADEGA. HOW DOES A DRIVER HANDLE THAT, AND WHAT DOES A DRIVER DO TO REGAIN THE CONFIDENCE OF HIS PEERS? “It’s racing, and there are going to be wrecks in racing, and there’s going to be wrecks for all different kinds of reasons. I’ve been involved in wrecks that I had nothing to do with, and I’ve been involved in wrecks where I’ve had everything to do with. I think that we all make mistakes and that’s just what happened. That’s racing. So, you’ve just got to move on and tell everybody just to deal with it. It’s part of the game, you know?”IS IT A DIFFICULT PART OF THE GAME? “I’d say it is. It never feels good. It’s not good to wreck at all – if it’s not your fault, at least you can say, hey, I did the best I could do. But when it’s something – in my past, when I’ve caused a wreck I always feel the worst. You think, ‘Great, I’m just going to go ahead and leave and go home now.’ It’s not the best feeling. That’s just part of it. If you don’t ever make mistakes, you’re probably not trying hard enough.”CONSIDERING THERE WAS NO TESTING, DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’D HAVE OUT HERE? “That’s a good question. I didn’t know what to expect today. I didn’t know if we were going to be fast or slow or whatever. It looks like we’re pretty good. It looks like Jimmie’s real good. So, I don’t think a ton has changed, but we haven’t gotten into race practice. I’m sure there’s a lot of teams still that have a lot of things to do. So, I think you’ll really know after race practice, kind of how everybody stacks up.”MANY PEOPLE HAVE SAID THE SEASON STARTS HERE. DOES IT? CAN ANYTHING BE LEARNED FROM DAYTONA, OR SHOULD EVERYTHING JUST BE THROWN OUT? “I think the season really starts here. Daytona is such a huge event and it’s a different type of racing than we’re going to race the rest of the season, and it kind of stands alone, literally and figuratively. I really feel like this is where you’re going to see how strong your pit crew is, how good your relationship is with your crew chief, and if the engineering you’ve been working on work, and the things that work here are going to apply at a lot of race tracks. So, yeah, everyone’s playing close attention. We’re racing now. We’re going to be doing the same thing week after week for 34 or 35 more weeks.”CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FORMER NATIONWIDE CREW CHIEF, DREW BLICKENSDERFER, WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM? DO YOU GET ANY CREDIT FOR LETTING HIM MOVE OVER TO THE 17? “I should’ve worked that into the deal when they asked if it was alright to go over there. It was nice of them to ask me in the first place if I was cool with it. It really didn’t matter how I felt. If Matt felt that’s what he needed and Jack felt like that was the right thing to do, then that’s what they needed to do. Obviously, it worked out great, right off the bat, to win the Daytona 500 in your first crack at being a Cup crew chief. That’s amazing. Drew said that Jack told him he’s still on week-to-week basis or something. I don’t think he’s received his first paycheck as their crew chief yet, or something like that. That’s pretty amazing. I got to see him right after the race and he was really excited, and then he came down today and we talked about it just for a minute. I’m really happy for Drew. He’s a true racer, and him and his wife are really cool people. I’m excited for him. I couldn’t be happier for him.”EVERYBODY MADE A BIG DEAL ABOUT YOU BEING THE FAVORITE THIS YEAR. DOES THAT PUT ADDED PRESSURE ON YOU TO GET BACK ON TRACK THIS WEEKEND? “No, I put so much pressure on myself. That’s really nice – it’s a real honor for the media to have picked our team to be the team to beat. The sport is about what you can do right now, and what have you done lately? This whole thing could be on its head, and there could be someone leading the points, dominating, that they haven’t even thought of. So, my job is to go out and do what we’ve been doing. We didn’t have a ton of expectation going into 2008. We preformed really well. But, that’s not changing anything. I try not to read the good press or the bad press, because it just doesn’t matter. You have to do what you have to do on the race track.”YOU’RE THE CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITE, YET THIS ROOM IS PRETTY EMPTY. DON’T YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE MORE MEDIA HERE? “I think Dale Jr. had a press conference at the same time, and there’s a little bit of a story.” DOES IT BOTHER YOU? “Oh, no. It’s fine. I understand how everything works. And, I’ve seen it the other way. Usually, during your media availability, if there’s a 100 people crowded around, it’s not good. So, I’ve had those and I prefer this. This is fine.”DAVID RAGAN – No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion – “I think that it’s always good to start off with a strong run. It’s great to see Matt Kenseth win for Jack Roush and John Henry. That was pretty special to be a part of that. Any time you can have a top-10 finish at Daytona, you always want more. You certainly would love to win the race, but a top-10 finish is good momentum coming to California, where it’s been a good track for us in the past. We’ve never been real dominant for a win, but we’ve been a consistent top-10 or top-15 car. So, I think it’s very good to get the year started off right. It would be awesome to leave here in the top 10 again in points. And the next few weeks, we’re going to some strong tracks for us with Vegas and Atlanta. So, it’s just a good feeling to leave Daytona without a lot of problems. Everything was smooth on the UPS team, and I’m happy to be here in California.”WHAT IS IT ABOUT ROUSH FENWAY RACING AND THESE TYPES OF TRACKS? “I think it’s a couple of things. Certainly having good horsepower means a lot. The Roush Yates engine program is, I think, one of the best engine packages at these mile-and-a-half, two-mile race tracks. And then Jack always has been real involved and has made sure that our engineering staff and our crew chiefs are very up to date on the mile-and-a-half stuff because this is the majority of the races that we experience, right here. You know, you see some of the other teams a little stronger at the short tracks or at the flat tracks, at some different style tracks, but I think we just look at it and see that the tracks like California, Michigan, even Chicago, Charlotte, Vegas, places like that are our typical race track, and if we’re really good at those types of races, that will help us out throughout the year. So, we just put a lot of effort into these races. Since I’ve been at Roush in the last three years, we’ve started to put some more effort into our short-track program, into our speedway program. So, all I can say is we just put a lot of hard work into the mile-and-a-half and two-mile programs because it’s a majority of the races.”I THINK I READ A STUDY WHERE THERE WAS $45 MILLION OF VALUE FROM THE DAYTONA 500 LAST WEEK. IN TERMS OF THE CURRENT ECONOMY, IT SEEMS THAT THE SPONSORS THAT ARE IN THE SPORT ARE GETTING A BANG FOR THEIR BUCK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? “I think the people at home watching, I think that I noticed or looked in the paper, was like 15, 16 million, watching at home, and a lot of people at the race track. The race fans are always going to be paying attention, the racing’s going to be as good as ever, if not better than it was last year, just because we’ve got another year under out belt with the COT car, so the fans are going to be there and that’s what drives the sponsors and that’s what motivates all the race teams. And I think companies like UPS and DeWalt, Crown Royal, the companies that are sponsoring the Roush Fenway cars, can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re very strong companies. They see the statistics and everything that goes along with the NASCAR sport, traveling throughout the country and getting a lot of different areas. And race fans motivate and drives the sponsorships. I think, certainly for our point of view, we’re watching every dollar that we spend, we’re very cautious of not wasting money, but spending money in the right areas. When you walk through the garage, these teams are still spending a lot of money going racing, but we’re spending it smart. The fans are watching at home and they’re at the race track, and they’re talking about it, in the newspapers and all that, sponsors are going to stayed involved, because that’s what drives it.”HOW’S YOUR CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO THE SEASON? ARE YOU MORE EXCITED ABOUT THEPROSPECTS OF MAKING THE CHASE THIS YEAR AFTER JUST MISSING LAST YEAR? “Absolutely, we’re more excited and I think our confidence is at an all-time high. If we would’ve finished sixth in last year’s Daytona 500 we would’ve made the Chase. I think every race matters, every lap matters and every position certainly mattered, and we’re going to have that experience from last year to dwell on this year for the 2009 season. Yeah, absolutely, we’re excited. We think we’ve got a very strong race team. We’ve got a group of guys who have worked together the last two years, so we know exactly what each other needs in order to do their jobs, and I have a pretty good feeling of what I need to do to do my job on the track. I think we’ve matured a lot as a race team, and [crew chief] Jimmy Fennig has continued to build good race cars, so, absolutely, it’s an exciting time to for the a UPS team, and I feel like we’re kind of in the driver’s seat, we control our own destiny. We just need to be smart with all of the races this year leading up to Richmond.”