Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion, holds an 11-point lead over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. The reigning Daytona 500 winner is trying to become the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to win both NSCS events at Daytona International Speedway in the same season.
WHAT IS THE KEY TO RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING? “Well, like anywhere else, you’ve got to have a fast race cars and here the race cars obviously have more to do with your success or failure than some of the other race tracks, so you’ve got to have that and we’ve had that so far this year at the plate races. Hopefully, our car will run like it did the last two races and we’ll be fast enough to work our way toward the front and hopefully stay there. You’re right, we’re the only one that has a shot at it this year and then at next year’s Daytona 500 we’ll be the only one that has a shot at winning it (back-to-back).”
YOUR THOUGHTS ON BRUTON SMITH SUGGESTING MANDATORY CAUTIONS TO SPICE UP THE RACING. “I didn’t hear his comments. I don’t know that I have much of a good comment on that one.”
WOULD YOU LIKE MANDATORY CAUTIONS? “No, not really. I mean, we kind of do that with competition yellows and stuff when the track is green. I don’t know that it matters a whole bunch. I think when the track is green and there has been rain and they do it, it’s always good because some guys maybe didn’t get as much practice or something like that, but, other than that, I don’t think we need that. I think you have a pretty good mix of some races with long green-flag runs and some races with short runs. I think some of the races that people have called us out on for not being exciting with those long greens at the end were actually pretty exciting. It just depends what you’re looking for because every race isn’t gonna be green-white-checkers with cars all over the place. I think of Kansas where they had that real long green at the end. I think it had two full runs and it took Denny a run-and-a-half to run down the 56 car and pass him with like 10 to go, so I think some of those races are really good races, it just depends what you’re looking for.”
GREG BIFFLE SAID ENGINEERING HAS BEEN A KEY CHANGE TO RFRs RESTRICTOR PLATE SUCCESS. WHAT DO YOU THINK? “A decade ago was a lot different than now with the rules on the cars. I think the cars are just incredibly close to being the same at these plate races. In my opinion, it’s probably mostly engine. There are two things that make you go fast here for qualifying especially, you kind of see the speed of the cars, and the race has a little bit more to do with maybe strategy or some moves you make or don’t make and things like that in the draft, but I think horsepower and aerodynamic drag are the two things that make your cars go fast or slow when you come to Daytona and Talladega, so I think for whatever reason all of our stuff runs good, and Doug Yates does a great job with all that stuff. But certainly the plate stuff has been really good, and it’s a different year with fuel injection. It’s the first year we’ve done that, so it seems like they’ve done a really exceptional job on hitting that just right on the plate stuff so far.”
DO YOU LEAN MORE TOWARDS FRIENDS AND PEOPLE YOU TRUST AT THE END OF A PLATE RACE OR GO WITH WHOEVER HAS WORKED BEST WITH YOU DURING THE RACE? “I think at the very end of the race you always choose what you think is gonna be your best option to win the race or to finish as high as you can finish. There have been times you’ve down here where you’re pretty much all-in trying to help a teammate and maybe you keep working together and you’re not on the same page, your cars don’t work together or whatever, and maybe you’ll find somebody in the middle of the race that your car works well with, so I think you kind of go with somebody you trust or you know what moves they’re gonna make because maybe you ran with them earlier in the race, but, mainly, the guy you think is gonna make the best moves and the car that is the fastest at the same time to try to win that race. The last two times we got fortunate. All of our Roush cars were really fast and I was able to get with Greg both of the last two plate races because I think he’s had one of the best cars, so if your cars do run really well together and you’re making the same moves and thinking alike, it’s definitely a bonus if you can work with a teammate.”
GREG SAID THE 500 STILL KIND OF HAUNTS HIM. WHAT COULD HE HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY? “I thought he did everything perfectly (laughter). That’s how I feel about Talladega. I’m like, ‘How did we get separated?’ We took off on the last restart and I thought we were gonna be 1-2 and, actually, I thought he was gonna be locked onto me and probably pass me for the win at the end and I don’t know how we got separated there, so I don’t know. Those plate races are funny. Sometimes you think you have it figured out and it just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. I’m not sure why.”
WHY IS THERE PARITY IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES? “I think the cars are closer to the same than what they ever were, so I think the guys with the Cup teams probably don’t have as big of an advantage as maybe some of the other teams. I think there’s probably, overall, less Cup drivers running all of them or running a majority of them than what there was before, so it probably evens out the chances a little bit.”
HOW DOES THE HEAT CHANGE THINGS FROM FEBRUARY TO THE JULY RACE? “There’s not a lot you can do with the cooling. The rules are whatever they are, so I think it’s kind of the same as Talladega. I thought that was real hot and some people had more problems than others, but I found the key to be, which you don’t always have that choice because your car has to be fast, but the farther you moved toward the front, the better and fresher and cooler the air is. The more air you get going through your grille and through your radiator you keep the car that much cooler, so my plan sitting here today, until you get in the race and see how fast your car is, is to try and stay up toward the front as far as you can and I think you have less cooling issues.”
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE HAVING A HIGH PROFILE IN THE SPORT? “I honestly don’t know where to go with any of that. I don’t think we’ve announced where I’m going next year. I didn’t know I was gonna be any more high profile or low profile than I am today. I think we’ve had a pretty super year winning the 500 and I think I’ve had a pretty good run at Roush Fenway as well, so I’m not really sure what all that means. And the story that Nate wrote (in USA Today) was pretty accurate, except for Eddie when he said I wasn’t macho or something. Other than that, everything else was alright.”
BUT YOU ARE A PRIVATE GUY IN A HIGH PROFILE SPORT. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT? “I’m a different guy away from the track than I am at the track. Your job is one thing and I think the story was more talking about us riding motorcycles and how I am away from the track. I’ve been here since 2000 and been the same guy ever since, so I think most people in this room probably know who I am and who I’m not. I don’t know that’s gonna change next year. I’m not all of a sudden gonna change after all these years. I think I’ll be the same person, if that’s what you’re asking.”
HOW DOES WINNING FEEL DIFFERENTLY AFTER YOU HAVEN’T WON FOR A WHILE COMPARED TO WHEN YOU’RE WINNING A BUNCH OF RACES IN A SEASON? “We have. We went a couple years before we won the 500 in 2009. I think it was almost two years or something like that, so we definitely have had those – and when we won Texas last year I think it was almost two years – so we have had those streaks that, in my mind, are really long and you wonder if you’re gonna win again, so I think the less often you win and the longer you’ve been doing it and the older you get, I think you kind of learn to enjoy those wins more so than when you first start. I remember we went through a couple pretty good years there and I think in 2002 we won five races or something like that and by the time you win your third or fourth or fifth of the year you still really enjoy it and it’s still really cool, but you probably don’t enjoy it and appreciate it as much as you do when you go a while. You realize how hard it really is and how fortunate you were to have been in position to win those races before that point.”
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF DAYTONA? “Daytona and Talladega have always been known as wildcards and the opportunity to have big wrecks and maybe produce some different winners that you wouldn’t produce at Charlotte or Atlanta or Martinsville, so it’s always kind of been like that. I think the racing will be the same as it was at the 500 and at Talladega. They haven’t really made any rules changes, so I don’t see the racing being any different. I think you’ll see a pretty big pack and I think you’ll see people being pretty aggressive trying to get to the front to keep their cars cool and to do some of that.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THE ALL-TIME WINNER AT SLINGER? “It was fun going up to Slinger and racing. I had a couple highlights of the night, but the best part was I let Kyle (Busch) fly up with me and a couple of his crew members. I don’t know why but I guess it was pick on Matt day and I got picked on all day, and I do have to say that my very favorite part of the day was beating him at the end of the race and seeing him drive off the track wide-open, not stop for the top-three interviews, and storm out of there without talking to the media. That had to be my favorite part (laughter). So it was fun, and the rest of it was fun too, but it was a really good race.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW COUNTERINTUITIVE PLATE RACING IS? “The lead car, when you’re trying to do that tandem thing, which you can only do the last couple of laps now – at the most – if there’s a caution green-white-checker with the cooling system thing – it’s up to the lead guy to keep the second-place guy attached and you do have to drag the brake sometimes and make sure he’s on there pretty solid. I think some of that goes from experience during the day and with Greg, like the Talladega thing, there was earlier in the race where he pushed me and would almost spin me out in the middle of the straightaway. He could push me so hard and I wasn’t dragging any brakes and I wasn’t doing anything but holding it wide-open wishing I wasn’t getting pushed that hard, actually. So when it got to the end there we were solidly attached getting into turn one and were still going through the gears and going kind of slow, so I guess I didn’t pay enough attention because I thought he was hooked on so hard that I wouldn’t be able to get off if I didn’t want to, so like the end of the race, for instance, with Brad and Kyle at Talladega, Brad wasn’t dragging the brake, he wanted him not to be on him so he could beat him to the line and he actually shook him off going into three, which was a pretty cool move, so a lot of times once they’re on there and you’re up to speed, you can’t get rid of them if you don’t want to and that’s what I thought the case was gonna be with Greg, and I still don’t know exactly how we came apart there, why he couldn’t push as hard as he did earlier in the race. Some of that is hard to figure out and kind of hard to manage because you’re trying to manage everything in front of you and behind you.”
WHAT’S THE MINDSET FOR YOU NOW KNOWING YOU ARE MOVING ON TO ANOTHER TEAM NEXT SEASON? “There are certain things that are a little awkward at Roush because you know that you’re not gonna be there next year and they know that, so maybe it’s a little bit different walking in and talking to Jack or doing some of that stuff, but I think you just work through that. All of those decisions were based on what I felt was best for next year and beyond, not what was best for this year. I think this is best for this year, and we’re not gonna change any strategies or anything that we do or don’t do. We’re gonna go out and try to race as hard as we can to the end of the year and try to hopefully win some more races and have a shot at winning a championship, so that’s what it has always been about and that’s what it is still about.”
DID YOU GIVE KYLE A RIDE HOME AFTER THE SLINGER RACE? “No, he didn’t need one. He was going somewhere different. He just needed a one-way ride.”
YOU DON’T KNOW WHY HE WAS SO MAD? “I guess he just doesn’t like to lose. None of us like to lose, but he just likes it less than some other people. I wouldn’t have thought it was funny if he wouldn’t have been picking on me all day.”
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