Kenseth, Biffle and Menard meet the media at Martinsville
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, is only one point out of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead heading into this weekend’s race. Kenseth, who has finished in the top 10 of all five races so far this season, spoke about returning to Martinsville before Friday’s practice.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion – WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK GOING INTO THIS WEEK? “I don’t really know. Every week is a little bit of a surprise. Last year, we weren’t very good at Atlanta and Bristol, and we’ve really improved our program for those tracks this year, so this week and Phoenix, I think, will be a big test for us, especially Phoenix. I’m looking forward to getting on the track here this weekend and seeing what it’s like. Todd Parrott loves this track and he’s had some success here with all of the other drivers he’s been with, so I’m hoping for better things.”
WHAT ABOUT PHOENIX? WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO LEARN THERE? “I think as an organization that tracks like Phoenix and Richmond and probably even New Hampshire were probably our worst tracks last year. We really struggled at those places, but I think Jimmy Fennig being in research and development and trying to test some of these flatter, shorter tracks that we can get to where we don’t race will hopefully help us a little bit. Again, that was one of our tough places, so that will be a good test for us to see how we stack up and how we’ve improved our program.”
HOW DO YOU KEEP THINGS GOING GOOD WITH TODD PAST THIS FIRST MONTH TOGETHER AND HOW HAS TODD IMPACTED THINGS? “I agree with you. I was joking with Todd and telling him that we’re still on our honeymoon period. Everybody asks how it’s going and I’m like, ‘Well, we’re still kind of on the honeymoon, so we’ll see how it goes.’ It’s been going really well. I’ve enjoyed working with him. He’s got a lot of experience and the guys really look up to him as a leader, and he’s got some great leadership qualities about him. I’ve enjoyed the first few weeks. We’ve been running pretty well and as an organization we’ve been running a lot better than the way we ended up last year, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s been fun and, obviously, it’s very early in the season. We’ve had a couple of off weeks with rest and all that stuff, so you really see what it’s about here in a couple of months.”
HOW HAS THIS CHANGE AFFECTED YOU? “There were a lot of things after Daytona that I really thought about and there are certainly things I need to do better. I realize every race of every year that there are things I can do better and improve at on the race track, but I tried to look at some of the off the track stuff, too. Maybe try to work a little harder on camaraderie with the team and keeping them upbeat, and interacting more with the team and trying to get to the shop more – take the guys out to dinner more often – and maybe try to keep the group a little bit more upbeat so it doesn’t feel so much like a job sometimes. That’s especially important when you’re not performing well. When people are winning races and things are going good, it’s easy for everybody to be happy and giving their best everyday, but when things aren’t going as well sometimes you’ve got to put a little extra work into it. I’ve tried to be a little more conscious of that and trying to be a little more positive on the radio.”
THIS IS THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY. WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU ABOUT THAT PLACE? “They’ve improved the track from what it was when they moved the banking around and got the groove to the middle. Those type of tracks aren’t my favorite. If I had to pick my favorite type of tracks, I like the more high-banked tracks because I seem to do a little better and more comfortable at those places, but it’s certainly been a real popular track. The one thing you think about whenever you go up there are all the sellouts they’ve had in a row and all the great fans up there in that area that show up to support the races and enjoy watching us.”
YOU COME ACROSS AS A PATIENT PERSON, BUT HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DEAL WITH THE FRUSTRATION OF THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? “I haven’t always done the best job at being patient. Certainly time never stops moving and as you get farther down the road and later in your career you can’t ever get that back, so there’s a certain amount of patience you need to get things turned around to be where you’re at, but, on the other hand, I think maybe sometimes I’ve been too patient and been way too reluctant to make changes or try different things, or maybe dig in there deeper and be involved more even in the parts of the thing the driver shouldn’t need to be involved. It hasn’t been easy. It’s easy when things are going right and you’re being successful. That’s when everybody can be in a good mood, but when things go bad it’s hard not to push the panic button or to get too down or get the whole thing torn apart. You just have to keep working on it every week and you really try to put that week behind you as soon as you can and move onto the next week and start thinking about what you’ve got to do because we can’t do anything about whatever happened in past weeks or seasons. You just try to learn from them and try to get stronger moving forward.”
DO YOU TRY TO STAY EVEN KEELED? “I try to be pretty even keeled about it, no matter how good or bad it’s going. It’s tougher when things are going bad because you lose your patience and you feel like with the people that we have assembled and the equipment we have that we should be able to do better than what we’ve done the last couple years. I feel we should be able to do a lot better and I think they feel like that to, so it’s hard to remain patient when things aren’t going right, but you just have to keep working on it.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MINDGAMES DRIVERS CAN PLAY WITH EACH OTHER? “I have no idea what’s been said or what’s going on. I haven’t paid one bit of attention because I’m more worried about our own team and our own car. When you win races you get the most points and the most bonus points and I think you just focus on going out and trying to beat your competition. That’s all I’ve every really tried to do is worry about our team and what we can control. I can’t really control what the other teams and cars do, so I’ve never really gotten to into that before or paid that much attention to it. I think you just have to figure out how to beat those guys and figure out how to make your cars faster. You have to learn how to execute better on pit road, on adjustments, on the track, so I think that’s really what we focus on.”
ROUSH FENWAY DOESN’T HAVE A STERLING RECORD HERE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE BEHIND AS SOON AS YOU COME THROUGH THE GATES ON FRIDAY? “I usually feel like I’m behind at about 2:00 on Friday or whenever we get through with the first practice. The thing that’s cool about this sport is we go to so many different sizes and shapes of tracks, and almost everybody has strong suits and weak suits. There are certain tracks that are more of a struggle and you’ve got to work harder to try and make it happen than you do at some other tracks, and this has certainly been one that has been a struggle and a source of frustration for me, but you just keep working on it. You come here and try to bring the best stuff you can, work as hard as you can, and hope for a good result.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 U.S. Census Ford Fusion, stands fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and trails leader Kevin Harvick by only 24 points.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 U.S. Census Ford Fusion – “I thought practice went pretty good. We weren’t that happy in race trim but I think we were pretty far off considering how we ended up with our qualifying setup. We got a lot better toward the end of that practice and then when we switched into qualifying the first couple of runs weren’t that great. The guys worked on the car really vigorously and got it turning on the corner good and good on the brakes. I got myself up there in the top 15 or 17 in practice, so I finally feel like I am figuring this place out a little bit. I know that’s not anything to celebrate, we will wait until Sunday to see.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN SEE WHAT THIS CAR REALLY IS LIKE NOW WITH THE SPOILER AND THE ENTIRE PACKAGE TOGETHER? “What I have seen so far, and it holds true a little bit at Charlotte test but I noticed it even more at Texas, is that the car turns better from the corner exit or is looser on corner exit and that is really where we have struggled on this new car. We have skewed the axle housing and done all these things to try getting the thing to turn, but it seems like from center out the spoiler turns a little bit better. I felt that was the case when we tested Charlotte. We will have to wait and see if that is truly just a matter of coincidence or what, but visibility is a little bit better out of the car. I think the car looks better with the spoiler on it and I’m sure it’s going to drive different. I am anxious to get to a mile or mile-and-a-half to see what the car drives like behind another car. I know it’s going to be different.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY IS CELEBRATING 20 YEARS, WHAT HAS THAT TRACK MEANT TO YOU? “That track has changed a tremendous amount since we’ve started racing there. I remember in the old truck days almost winning my first race there. Andy Houston beat me on the white flag lap. I’ve love that place and run good there ever since I first saw it. When we first switched to the new car I remember battling with Matt (Kenseth) in ’05 for 3rd and 4th but when we switched to the new car there were a few years where we were terrible there. More recently we have gotten better there again. It has been a fun track. They have changed the apron, you used to run down on the apron but then they made the track different. It has been a fun place for me. I enjoy it.”
WHAT MAKES IT HARD FOR PEOPLE TO GET USED TO DRIVING HERE AT MARTINSVILLE? “I think it is actually the slow speed. We go tremendously slow here. Speed definitely has something to do with it. It has a really super slow corner speed. There is a lot of technique to the brake, when you brake, coming off the corner. If the car doesn’t have bite with the front tires and won’t stop straight and wants to pull hard to the left or slide that left front tire … if the car won’t do those things, then there is nothing the driver can do to mask them because the speed is so slow. We can’t arc it out and get a different angle because the speed is so slow. If that car won’t do its thing, then you don’t stand a chance. I think that is a lot of it. A lot of it is that this place doesn’t necessarily fit the driver’s feel and what they are used to. Some teams have figured it out a lot better than other teams.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK TALLADEGA WILL BE LIKE WITH THIS SPOILER CHANGE WHEN YOU GET THERE? “It is going to be crazy, not because of the change, but because at that race track we can bump draft all the way around because it is smooth enough. When NASCAR said they were taking the gloves off and we should police ourselves, it didn’t really show up at Daytona because you can’t really do anything. And then a rule was made because of Talladega. Now we are going back there for the first time and it will be interesting to see what happens with guys pushing each other all the way around that place. I am almost willing to bet it will be the most exciting race of the season. I don’t know how the spoiler will affect that. It might effect how the car drives to the point where you can’t push guys all the way around the track. I didn’t do the test there, so I don’t know. I am willing to bet you are going to see some action there though.”
ROUSH STRUGGLED AT SHORT TRACKS LAST YEAR, BUT THERE WAS SUCCESS FOR THE ROUSH TEAM AT BRISTOL. HOW GRATIFYING WAS THAT AND HOW MUCH HAS THE TEAM WORKED ON SHORT TRACK SUCCESS? “It is a big boost for us as a company because we blew up last year at Bristol and I didn’t really think that was possible. It must be something about that race track. It is nice to go there and have all of us run fairly well. This weekend here and when we get to Phoenix and Richmond will be our test on short tracks and how well we are running and what we have improved on. I think the alliance with the Evernham/Petty organization is going to benefit us in the long run too.”
ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE WAY YOUR TEAM IS WORKING TOGETHER RIGHT NOW? “This year I wouldn’t say we’ve been lucky, but we haven’t been the best. Communication has been decent. In Atlanta we struggled a little bit. The car got really fast. I was running the top and working on running the car up along the fence but I hit the fence and we had to get the backup car out. So that was a scramble. Last week at Bristol it wasn’t until about five minutes left of practice that we really got the car going. At the Charlotte test we struggled huge. We were arguing with each other and trying all kinds of stuff to get the car going better and at the end of the day we were able to get it. The communication has been good, but it has been like really trying for us this season. It has been right at the last minute that we have excelled. I think that is from working together for the last three years and knowing each other really well. We were third from the bottom on the speed chart when we started practice today and worked our way up toward the top 15, which is a huge improvement. That is what it is about. I have to tell them how the car is driving and they have to try to fix it. Communication is key.”
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON PAUL MENARD’S GREAT SEASON SO FAR? “What I was going to say before I saw him walk in here was that they have done a remarkable job this season. Paul has shown skill all along that he can drive. It has been apparent in the Nationwide and the Cup Series. They have gotten the car to his liking this season and, to be perfectly honest with you, we copied his entire set-up into our car at the Lowe’s test. I think there are a lot of factors to why they are running well. I am really happy to see it happening.”
DO YOU SEE ANY PARALLEL WITH WHAT MATT IS DOING NOW TO WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH A COUPLE YEARS AGO? “Yeah, I think so. I knew in the beginning that the crew chief change would help him. Matt is a very skilled driver. It shows more and more how important our cars are. Matt and Paul both have good cars and those guys are running well. Matt is the kind of guy where you aren’t going to break him. He is going to try and try and try and I am glad to see him running well.”
Paul Menard, driver of the No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion, maintained his ninth-place position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after last week’s race at Bristol. Menard, who has five career Martinsville starts, spoke about his hopes for this weekend.
PAUL MENARD – No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR YEAR SO FAR? “Like Greg said, our cars are driving better this year than what we had last year and it’s shown for all eight Fords in our camp. It’s been good. Last week at Bristol we had another good car. We ran around 10th all day long and, at one point, thought we were gonna pull out another top 10 and just put two tires on at the end and lost a lot of ground. I’m just really pleased with the effort of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports and under the Ford Racing banner. We’ve made big gains, but the hard work is still in front of us and we just have to keep on digging.”
WHY HAS YOUR TEAM PERFORMED SO WELL WITH A NEW CREW CHIEF IN SLUGGER LABBE AND HOW DO YOU KEEP IT GOING? “Slugger and I have a good relationship. We talk a lot during the week and I feel like our communication is really good on race weekends – as good or better than any I’ve had in the past. Our getting-to-know each other period is over for sure, but we got up to speed pretty quick on that. If he wants more info from me, he’ll ask more questions and try to get more depth, and I’ve got some good understanding of what he’s trying to accomplish in different simulation programs and setups. That’s all good and I feel like we’ve had a good run so far and we’re gonna continue to improve. Knock on wood, we’ve been out of trouble in the first five races. Martinsville is a big bullet, and then Talladega coming up is another big bullet to dodge, but we’ve had fast cars and that makes my job easier.”
HAS HE PUSHED YOU IN WAYS TO GET YOUR PERFORMANCE UP? “He’s a competitive guy for sure, and he’s an emotional guy, too. When he gets mad, I know I better do something to make him happy. Luckily, our personal relationship is good and our professional relationship is good. We know our boundaries, but this is an emotional sport. We can get on each other’s butt and still be friends at the end of the day.”
SEVERAL DRIVERS HAVE TALKED ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO RACE FROM 20TH ON BACK. HAVE YOU NOTICED A DIFFERENCE RUNNING UP FRONT? “Yeah, it’s always been a black and white situation. When you’re running at Bristol or a place like here, when you’re running 10th or 15th and you get side-by-side with somebody, somebody is gonna give up and let the other guy go just so you can maintain your track position and not lose too much ground to the leaders. When you’re 25th and the leader is coming, you want to put as many cars behind you and between you as possible, so there’s a lot less give-and-take, and they just race a lot harder.”
HOW DOES BEING IN BETTER CARS THIS YEAR HELP YOU BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE? “Every race car driver pushes themselves 100 percent, whether you’re running 35th or fifth, so, for me, that’s no different. I’m driving the same way and we just have resources and tools and teammates and a lot of smart people I can lean on, and everybody on the 98 team leans on, to make good decisions and go forward. We’re all competitors and nobody wants to lay down and give a half-hearted effort. Everyone wants to give 100 percent and do the best job they feel they can personally.”
HOW ARE YOUR SETUPS DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? “I can’t tell you that (laughing). There are things we’ve learned, but there are things we know other people are doing that we’re trying to improve on also. It’s a work in progress. Somebody is gonna find the next hot thing and everybody is gonna go for that, and then somebody else is gonna find the next one.”
HAVE YOU FOUND THE NEXT HOT THING? “No. Last year, the Yates camp and the Roush Fenway camp, at this time last year we were struggling bad, so you’re trying to find that next hot thing and it might not be there. This year, we’re just kind of going back to basics and getting solid cars built at the shop and trusting the simulation programs while taking the common knowledge that we know has worked in the past and just apply it and try to improve on it.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TALLADEGA IN A FEW WEEKS? “Where we ended the test two weeks ago, the cars drove about how they did last fall, so you’ll see the same racing – big packs. We can run three-wide very comfortably. We can run four-wide a little uncomfortably, but we can make it happen. The cars probably suck up a little bit better with the spoiler. NASCAR put a smaller plate on from where we unloaded and made a smaller spoiler to try to keep the guy in front from being a sitting duck. When we had the big plates on and the big spoiler, whoever was leading at the last lap was not gonna win the race. Now, you’ve got a shot at winning the race.”
HOW MUCH OF YOUR SUCCESS ARE YOU CONTRIBUTING TO CONFIDENCE? “I’m not so sure it’s confidence as it is just knowing how the car should drive, knowing what a top-10 car feels like and just striving to get to that point. It’s a week-by-week situation. The kind of cool thing this year is if we unload and we’re not happy with the car at Bristol, we struggled in Saturday’s practice, but made some big changes and got the car driving better. The car reacts to changes and, like I said, Slugger and I have had communication that’s been good enough to where we can work on improving the race cars. At Atlanta, we unloaded and were really fast and didn’t have to do a whole lot to the car, so each week is different. It’s just a matter of how you improve your race car to the conditions.”
IS THERE A TRACK YOU ARE LOOKING AT AND FEEL LIKE IF YOU GET THROUGH IT, THEN THINGS ARE GOING TO GO REALLY WELL THIS YEAR? “I’ve had decent runs here in Martinsville, a couple top-20s and solid finishes, and if we get a solid finish out here, then we’ve dodged a bullet. Talladega is another big one. We go to Phoenix and Texas and I feel pretty good on those tracks. I’ve won the race at Phoenix before in different divisions, and we’ve had good runs before at Texas so I’m looking forward to those tracks. Every week is a new challenge, but it’s hard work trying to give 100 percent all the time. It makes for a long season, but that’s what everyone does and that’s what we do.”