Ford Drivers Hold Court At Texas Motor Speedway
TEXAS FORD FAST FACTS
· Ford has the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win among manufacturers with 9 in 18 races.
· Jack Roush has won seven TMS Cup races with five different drivers.
· Carl Edwards is the winningest driver at TMS with three Cup wins, including a season sweep in 2008.
· Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth also have one win each for Roush Fenway while Elliott Sadler got his one TMS win while driving for Robert Yates Racing in 2004.
· The full Ford contingent of 13 cars are at TMS, but three will have to qualify on speed (21, 26 and 34).
· The Wood Brothers will be the only team running the FR9 engine this weekend.
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, jumped into the Top 12 after last week’s seventh-place finish at Phoenix. Edwards, who sits eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, conducted a Q&A session with reporters before practice on Friday.
CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – “We had a pretty good test at Lowe’s with the spoiler, so everybody on the team is excited to come here and see how we stack up. We’ll get some practice in today and then we’ll just see how they race. We’ve had a lot of success here. I love racing here and this would be a great spot to get our first win of the season. That would be wonderful.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MARK MARTIN AND NEXT YEAR BEING HIS LAST FULL SEASON? “Mark has been a big help to me in a number of ways, beginning when I was about 18 years old. He inspired me to get in shape and take care of my physical fitness. That was huge. I never planned on being as close to him as I am now, and now, up until this week, I called him this week to talk about some stuff. He’s always been someone I can lean on and trust and look up to, and he’s just fast. The competitor in me thinks it would be nice if he wasn’t racing all the races because he’s awfully good (laughing). A lot can happen. A lot happened this week and I believe there’s still a lot up in the air. I don’t know that Mark, for as good as he is and as competitive as he is, there’s nothing saying he won’t race full-time for another five years. I haven’t talked to him about that in particular, but from the outside looking in, I wouldn’t say that this is gonna be Mark’s last season next year definitively.”
WILL THE NEW FR9 ENGINE BE THE CURE ALL FOR FORD NOT WINNING YET? “That’s a good question. I don’t believe the engine is gonna be the thing that makes everything right and we win one out of four races or something like that. I believe that’s a step, but there are other parts of car that are getting better. We’re running better now than we were a year ago, and I’m proud to be driving a Ford. If I look at what’s going on in the world, Ford is in a really good position, I believe, and Roush Fenway is in a really good position because of that, to go out and build something very strong so that we can get back to the way we were in ’03, ’04, ’05, ’07, ’08 – those years where we ran really well. Yeah, we’ve had a year-and-a-half that’s been very frustrating, but I’m hoping it’s just that – just a short period of time. The engine will help a little bit, but it’s the whole package. It takes a lot.”
IS THERE POTENTIAL FOR A BIG CHANGE IN THE BALANCE OF POWER WITH THIS SPOILER? “There is the potential for a change, not at the smaller tracks but at these tracks. We can speculate, but, really, we’ll know once Sunday comes around how these things will handle and when there are 20 of them in a group. It probably won’t be much different, but, personally, I’m hoping it will be a little different so we get an opportunity to shake things up and maybe take advantage of the change.”
DO YOU TALK MUCH WITH BOB ABOUT WHAT TO DO IN A GREEN-WHITE-CHECKER SITUATION? “We probably should talk about it more, but it’s a chaotic thing and Bob really makes those decisions when they happen. We kind of went back and forth on Saturday night about what to do. I think I said something like I wanted two tires for track position and he said, ‘We need four because there are three opportunities for a green-white-checkered.’ And I said, ‘But what if we’re one of those opportunities?’ So it’s tough, and it almost worked out that way, but, in the end, if there would have been one more green-white-checkered, we were looking pretty good on four tires and staring at the guys with two. I think it makes it a pretty big gamble at the end, I believe because of the double-file restart and the opportunity for more than one green-white-checkered that it will shake up a lot of races and, I think, for the fans that’s good. But we don’t have a spreadsheet as far as what we would do each time.”
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS IN THIS SPORT AND ARE POINTS AND CHAMPIONSHIP FINISHES GOOD ENOUGH OR IS THE BOTTOM LINE STILL WINS? “Wins are what we do this for, so it is frustrating to not win for a long period of time, but the way that I keep going and the way I keep looking forward is I look at it not as results-based, but performance-based. If I get out of the race car and I did the very best job that I could, like Phoenix for example, I raced with Mark for 35 laps, battling as hard as I could at the end to get one more spot, and at the end we raced real hard on the green-white-checkered and finished seventh and picked up six spots in the points. Seventh-place, nobody in any race wants to finish seventh, but I still walked out of there and thought, ‘OK, that was a successful night. We gained points. I did the best I could. The pit crew was good. We’ve just got to work on the car a little bit.’ I think if you walk away from that with your head down and kicking stuff, then that’s not reality. It’s just such a tough sport you have to take those small victories, even though they’re nothing like standing in Victory Lane. That’s as good as it gets.”
WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SO GOOD HERE? “I don’t know. I just think we have really good race cars at these mile-and-a-halfs, historically. The engines run really well at the high RPM range. I really like the way that these mile-and-a-halfs drive. For my first race at Kansas on a mile-and-a-half in the truck series, I’ve just liked these race tracks. It’s a combination of that, but mostly the car. Jack just does a really good job and all the guys at the shop do a good job with the things that make the cars fast at these mile-and-a-halfs.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TALLADEGA AND THE FINISH A YEAR AGO? “That was just wild. That was very close to winning my first race at a superspeedway and I learned a lot from it. I hope going back that I can find somebody to work with those last couple laps, whether it’s Brad or somebody else. It would be nice to be in that position again and have another chance to do that, and I think we will, eventually. But that was a really dramatic finish. I guess I’m looking forward to that race a little more now because of how close we were than maybe I would have in the past.”
SINCE ATLANTA, HOW HAVE THE FANS BEEN TOWARD YOU? “I expected it to be pretty bad, but it’s turned out to be unbelievable. The fans are awesome. I think they see Atlanta for what it was – just two guys going at it. Overall, the response has been really good. It’s just racing, but I’m glad it’s behind us. Brad and I have raced really well since then and I think it’s just one of those events that we’ll look back on and go, ‘Man, that was pretty wild.’”
DO YOU LOOK AT THE TALLADEGA CRASH ANY DIFFERENTLY NOW THAN A YEAR AGO? “I haven’t seen a replay for a little while, but I’m sure I’ll see it a couple of times this week. I’m just glad that everybody was alright. Anytime there’s a wreck like that, whether it’s that one or Atlanta, or Joey’s wreck at Dover – anytime you see a wreck that’s like, ‘Whoa, that’s not good,’ you’re just glad that everybody gets out of it and everybody ends up being OK. I think Blake Bobbitt and her family will probably be there again next week, and I’m so happy that she didn’t hold it against us for what happened to her. She’s a real positive young girl. It’s just part of racing. Wrecks are gonna happen. She reacted to that whole deal better than anyone could have. She’s so cool. You guys have probably talked to her, but for something like that to happen to someone and for her to just be like, ‘Ah, it’s no big deal. My jaw was wired shut for awhile. I missed prom and saw my life flash before my eyes, but I’ll be there for the next race.’ She’s just pumped up and ready to go racing. That’s pretty cool. That made me understand our fans a little better. We race on the inside of these race tracks and I can only speak for myself, but you start to think of the fans a certain way. It’s not bad, but she reminded me of what the NASCAR fans are about. She’s passionate and that’s pretty cool.”
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW MUCH LONGER YOU WANT TO RUN NATIONWIDE FULL-TIME? “The Nationwide Series right now is ultra-competitive. I did notice that Brad stole my spot in the garage. I think it’s five points or something like that, but it’s ultra-competitive. Our Fastenal Ford Fusion seems OK. I don’t know how long I’ll do that. As long as I enjoy it and as long as we’re competitive because those Saturday races, sometimes, are such a blast. There’s less pressure. I’ve got a great group of guys and we get to have these battles. Last year, for example, there wasn’t much to talk about on the Cup side, but on the Nationwide side we got a bunch of wins and kind of battled for the championship. Kyle ran off with it, but I still had a good time and I learned a lot, so I’ll do it as long as I’m enjoying it and as long as they’ll let me. It’s pretty neat to be able to race twice a week like that.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT COPART AS YOUR SPONSOR? “Copart and Fastenal are our partners on the Nationwide team. Copart, what they do is they sell cars online. They have an online auction, but before they had the online auction, there was a salvage yard just up the road from my dad’s shop. My dad was a salvage dealer, so what we would do – one of the ways I made money to go racing – is we would go buy these salvage cars at the auction for like $50 or $100. They would be a totaled car and the insurance company would auction them off, and then we’d fix them up and take them to the highway patrol, where they would inspect them and we would sell them again. Those were the cars I drove for four or five years. The ones we didn’t sell were the cars I drove. Copart ended up buying that auction, so when Copart came on board they started explaining to me what they do and I said, ‘Yeah, I used to go to this auction right off I-70 in Columbia,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we own that place. That’s exactly what we do.’ So it turned out to be a really neat match because that’s how I made a lot of my money to go racing was buying cars from Copart. It’s neat when sponsors work out like that. I eat Subway. I’ve got Aflac. I used to buy my cars from Copart. Fastenal is the first sponsor that ever took a proposal from me – the local Fastenal. It’s strange how 10 years can go buy and you can kind of change your position in relation to someone like that and it becomes a really good partnership.”
DOES THE SPOILER FEEL ANY DIFFERENT THAN THE WING? “We ran the test and at the test it didn’t feel much different. I think we’ll find out here after practice. Maybe one of the guys who comes in here after practice can tell you specifically what the car does differently, but the number on thing is it just looks better. I hope it’ll be good. I think it will maybe have a little more front downforce and maybe turn just a little bit better. That’s what everyone predicts.”
Foster Gillett, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, came into the Texas Motor Speedway infield media center to answer questions regarding the status of the team in wake of Kasey Kahne’s decision to leave at the end of the season.
FOSTER GILLETT, Owner, Richard Petty Motorsports – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOUR LINEUP MAY LOOK LIKE IN 2011 WITH DRIVERS, SPONSORS AND THE CHANGES MADE IN THE CHAIRMANSHIP WITH LIVERPOOL? “The first thing is we’re seven races into this season and we’re still focused on this season and doing the best that we can. I think something Richard preaches to me and Robbie and Sam and Max is that if we can focus on building the best race cars we can and racing them as well as we can, we’re gonna have sponsors and drivers. So I think our focus at this point is to do the best that we can. It’s a work in progress next season as far as our driver lineup. I don’t think that’s a secret. I think we talked about that at media day and we’re working as hard as we can to have the best drivers possible. I think it’s no secret that my family is looking at all of our options and doing all that we can. I think as far as we’re concerned, as a family, and everything that is involved in NASCAR, the more liquidity we have as a family, the better it is for NASCAR. We’ve always tried our best at Liverpool and we want the team to do the best that it can, so that’s what we’re focused on.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL THE IMPACT IS ON KASEY LEAVING? IS KEEPING BUDWEISER YOUR FIRST PRIORITY NOW? “I think as far as the impact goes, I’m focused more on what we can do while we have him. I think many different owners or teams in this sport would take a 30-race contract with Kasey Kahne to try and do the best they can. I think he’s probably one of the nicest people in this sport. He’s one of the greatest racers and we’re pleased to have had him for as long as we have, and we’re focused on our next 30 races with him to see what we can do. We want to win races. Obviously, when there’s a change like this it opens opportunities for others. I think we’re trying to focus more on what opportunities we have than what we might potentially lose.”
THERE ARE THINGS ON THE INTERNET THIS WEEK ABOUT FINANCIAL ISSUES. IS IT AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS OR JUST PART OF RE-ARRANGING FINANCES? “I think Mr. Newton talked directly with George this week and I think George went on the record with David as far as that’s concerned, so from me to him that doesn’t change. I think we’ve addressed that as a whole, but, from my perspective this is a process we’re trying to go through. We’re nearing closure on that process and I think there’s good news ahead. I focus on the future and, from a day-to-day perspective, my role in my family is more to operate these businesses on the ground and be here, than it is with what goes on at the family holding level. I’m really focused on trying to do the best that I can for all of our partners, sponsors, fans, drivers, owners and really lead by example and try to do the best we can.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO DO TO IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE? “I think we’ve made an effort to address that situation in the off-season. I think we’ve made a number of enormous changes to go ahead and get better. I really believe in what we’ve done. I believe in the ability of our race team to build and race cars consistently well. I think with the amount of change in the off-season, going from one manufacturer to another and moving race shops and all that we went through to come out of the box and win the first race of the season, and compete in Daytona the way we did, I think we’ve generally had good race cars at a lot of places. I think we’ve had some bad luck here and there. I think that’s racing, but, from my perspective, we’ve already done that hard work and now it’s about refining the effort and really getting the results and driving them home.”
DO YOU EXPECT KASEY TO FULFILL HIS CONTRACT AND DRIVE THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR WITH YOU? “Not only do I expect that, the one thing that I do know well is what a gentleman Kasey Kahne is and I think throughout the process of us coming in, I think we’ve all been very pleased with him as a man and a person and his ability to drive the car. I think a lot of people explain him as kind of a racer’s racer. If you give him great equipment, he’ll go and win and I think that’s our focus. I really believe we have a championship-caliber team in the 9 team as a whole, with the driver and the sponsor and all the people that are a part of it. Our goals haven’t changed. We show up here to win with that car. We show up to win with all of our cars and we look forward to trying to get him into the chase and compete for a championship, and I think that process takes a lot of the focus. I really, really believe that not only will he fulfill his contract and his commitment to us, but he’ll do it to the best of his ability. He’ll uphold all of the commitments that he has. I think that one of the most important things to me in all of this is my family has had a wonderful relationship with Anheuser-Busch and that’s part of why they’re on this car, and I think at the end of the day there’s a commitment from me and from our team and from him to do the best we can for our wonderful sponsor and help them in all of their endeavors.”
WHAT’S YOUR SENSE ON THE CHANCES OF KEEPING ANHEUSER-BUSCH? “What I can tell you is we will put maximum effort into keeping Anheuser-Busch. If they tell me I need to run through the end of that wall to keep them, I’m gonna do my best. I think they’re a wonderful sponsor. I think they’ve been wonderful to my family for many years, and I think that we take great pride in our association with them. We will do everything we can. I believe our relationship with them has been successful and you have to put that into the mix, but this just happened. I believe all constituents involved hoped and felt that Kasey Kahne would be driving the 9 car with Budweiser on it, so I think this has been a change of direction. I think we’ve got to reflect on that change in direction. I think ourselves and Budweiser will go through their own evaluations on how we go forward, and I think everybody involved – at least on our end – would hope that it would result in Anheuser-Busch staying with Richard Petty Motorsports.”
WHAT THE PUBLIC WILL WANT TO KNOW MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IS YOU’RE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL. WHAT CAN YOU SAY TO THAT? “I think in life sometimes you can do things for all different reasons, but my family made a choice to be involved in NASCAR. It’s something we want to do. It’s not something we’re gonna leave. I think we’ve learned some hard lessons. I think I have learned some hard lessons. I have to take full responsibility for the way this has gone. I hoped we were having a different press conference. I think Mr. Hendrick is one of the most wonderful owners in this sport. I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson from him this week and how this goes, so I look forward to getting better everyday, doing a better job for all of our drivers and sponsors, and our commitment is to be here and win races and championships. When I reflect upon this, obviously, it’s something we need to learn from. I think every change of direction provides opportunity, so I’m really focused on what we’ve done well versus what we’ve not done well. I think we’ve had some issues that were brought upon by us trying to learn this sport better, and I think we’ve had other things that were brought upon us. But I think from my formal involvement here, starting in Darlington, it hasn’t even been a year. I think the list of accomplishments we’ve achieved and what we’ve gone through during that year, when I look in the mirror I try to be focused on what we’ve done well and what we’ve overcome versus what hasn’t gone our way. I think a lot of people would be proud of what we’ve achieved if it were their team. I think we’ve procured and we have developed wonderful relations with our fans and sponsors and I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
IS THERE A NON-COMPETE IN THE BUD CONTRACT THAT SAYS KASEY CAN’T TAKE THEM WITH HIM, AND GIVEN THE TYPE OF TALENT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS AND THE RESULTS THEY’VE PRODUCED, HOW CLOSE IS IT TO BECOMING A MONOPOLY? HOW DOES RPM GO TO POTENTIAL SPONSORS AND TELL THEM WHAT THEY HAVE TO SELL WHEN HMS IS SITTING THERE WITH THE DRIVER TALENT AND RESULTS? “I’ve been on all different sides of this. I think one of the beautiful things we enjoyed when we stepped into the Montreal Canadiens was a heritage of winning, and I think for 50-60 years people asked themselves that question – ‘How do we beat the Montreal Canadiens?’ I think when we stepped in there it was more, ‘How do the Montreal Canadiens win again?’ So these things are cyclical. They change and go up and down. Right now, Mr. Hendrick is on a wonderful, wonderful run, and I think it’s due to his hard work and his personality and, more importantly, I think I’ve learned in this business that it’s about people. I think he has wonderful people. He treats them well and you see the results on the track. I think the other thing you learn in this sport is that there are no doors, there are no laws. I can go and learn and see what Mr. Hendrick is doing, and I think we all can, so I think as he blazes ahead, we all learn from him, too. I think the effort in our organization is to catch him. I look at myself being 34 years old and I think, ‘I want what he has.’ And if he slips up, we’re gonna gain ground. We’re gonna do everything we can. I think he’s enjoying the fruits of it. I’ve talked to Richard Petty about it and Richard had a long run as the best in this sport and he’s told me how wonderful it is to be there, so we’re trying. I think everyone in this sport is trying. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think when the Bulls won six in a row that there were teams lining up to beat them. I don’t think it hurt their ticket sales or their revenue potential because the Bulls were what they were. I think the bar is set high. They’re wonderful champions. I know when one of our cars finishes in front of one of his cars that we’ve had a wonderful effort, and I think that’s what we’re focused on.”
IS THERE A NON-COMPETE? “That’s a contractual, private matter and we’re gonna keep it there.”
THERE IS A PERCEPTION ON THE OUTSIDE THAT YOU HAVE NO DRIVERS AND NO SPONSORS LINED UP FOR 2011, AND ONLY ONE CURRENT DRIVER IN THE TOP 20. WHAT GIVES YOU THE CONFIDENCE THAT YOU CAN OVERCOME THE HURDLES AND GET DRIVERS AND SPONSORS SIGNED FOR NEXT YEAR? “I think, first of all, because I believe in our management staff and myself to go out and achieve what we want to. That’s why we go to work everyday. I think contracts expire for sponsors and drivers and employees. I think that’s part of any sport or business. We’re not ashamed by that. That’s the way that it is. When I was looking at Dodge going bankrupt and the damage that potentially was going to do for our organization as far as something simple like getting a part or a piece – and what we accomplished during that period – I think hardship has galvanized our group and I think we look at this as opportunity. We’ve been through worse and we’re excited about what we can do. We’re a four-car team in this sport. We have more sponsorship this year than we had last year. I think in the middle of the summer last year, you were probably saying the same thing about our company. You know what? We’re still here. We’re still sponsored. We still have drivers. We’re still competing for victories, so we’ve thrived and survived through what we went through last year and we’re gonna do it again.”
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Post-It Ford Fusion, had his streak of six straight Top-10 finishes to start the season ended last week at Phoenix when he finished 22nd. Biffle, who is third in the series point standings, spoke about his expectations for this weekend with the media.
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 Post-It Ford Fusion – YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND? “I’m really excited about it. I like this race track. It’s always a lot of fun and trying to get back into Victory Lane from a few years back. We’ve had good, consistent runs here everytime we’ve been here, so it’s been a really good track for us. Hopefully, we can keep that momentum up. We certainly didn’t have the week we wanted last week, but we’re hoping to get back on track this week.”
WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SUCCESS YOU AND ROUSH FENWAY HAVE HAD HERE? IS IT THE TEAM FOCUS ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS OR THIS TRACK SPECIFICALLY WITH YOUR STYLE OF DRIVING? “I think it’s a little of both. I think we’ve always had a pretty strong mile-and-a-half program at Roush Fenway, and I really enjoy the mile-and-a-half race tracks. This is one of them that’s pretty unique. It has some challenges. It’s a little bit tight off turn two where the banking kind of goes away, but that’s what makes a race track fun and challenging is to be different and this place is, so it must be a combination of things that makes us so successful here.”
ARE THERE THINGS YOU CAN DO HERE THAT PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTH THAT YOU DON’T HAVE AT A SHORT TRACK OR RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACK? “It’s hard to pinpoint and figure out why we’re a little bit better at these mile-and-a-half, the faster race tracks and not the other race tracks. We certainly try to capitalize when we’re at these places for locking ourselves into those wins. We’ve been a lot better at restrictor plate racing in the last couple of years than we have. Todd Parrott has done a great job for us as far as the restrictor plate program, but it’s hard to put your finger on why our cars run fairly good here. We’ve slipped as far as our dominance goes from 2005 and 2006 with how we were on mile-and-a-halfs to today. The competition is pretty level, but we still, as an organization, run a little bit better – at least I do as a driver – at the mile-and-a-halfs. If karma means anything, we’ve got Post-It on the car this weekend. We won four or five races in 2005 with Post-It on the car and it’s the 30th anniversary. We brought the stars this weekend since we’re in Texas, so you have to stop and get some. They’re doing a name badge program where they’re donating a dollar to cancer research, so they’re out at the display and I encourage people to go out there and stop by and look at it.”
DO YOU AGREE THAT THE DRIVERS IN THE TOP 12 AFTER THIS RACE HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF MAKING THE CHASE? IT’S SOMETHING LIKE 80 PERCENT. “I do because, for one, momentum has a lot to do with it. Momentum means a lot in our sport. A guy gets on a good roll or gets off to a good start, you continue to run fairly well. Just like you see a guy win a race or get a pole, the next week, for some reason, they run well or better. Being in the top 10 or top 12 after this race certainly means that, one, the odds are with you. You’re above all the rest of the cars, so you obviously have to go down and they have to come up to pass you, so you’re already in, but I think it does provide an indication. Hopefully, it’ll be true this year. We’re third in points, so hopefully we have a good run here and can continue it. I’m looking, not for a good run, I’m looking to win. We really want to win and we’ve got this race track and Darlington coming up, some good race tracks for us, so we’re hoping to get to Victory Lane.”
WHEN ASKED AT HOMESTEAD ABOUT WHAT THE PROBLEM AT ROUSH FENWAY WAS LAST YEAR, YOU SAID IT WOULD BE NICE TO FIX IF YOU KNEW WHAT IT WAS. CAN YOU UPDATE US ON THE PROGRESS? “We got beat every week throughout the chase and that has not been the case as much this season, but they’re still beating us a little bit. We’re a hell of a lot closer than we were in November. Over the winter it gave us time to digest what we needed to do and it wasn’t any one thing. That’s the way this sport is, it’s so crazy that a team will go from dominating and winning to just being kind of mediocre and you’re looking around like, ‘What do we have to do different?’ There are so many small things. I think we’ve got our aero a little bit better on our race cars. We’ve got our cars a little bit lighter. We’ve got the geometry a little bit different. We’ve researched and gotten better with front bump stops. We’ve changed the rear suspension around a little bit. We’ve changed a dozen things around on the car and we’ve gotten a little closer to those guys, so we still have a little bit to go to start winning races and competing with them every week. We missed last week and that was frustrating. Last week felt like Homestead last year, or sitting right here right now does because that’s the only memory I have is the last time I was in the car it was a disaster. We just didn’t get the setup right and didn’t get the right springs and shocks in the car. The car didn’t have the right attitude on the race track and we struggled all night long. That was disappointing because that’s one of my favorite tracks. We run really good there, so that was real frustrating. Hopefully, we put that behind us and get going this weekend. We know we run good here, so we’ll continue to work on that, but, yes, we feel a lot better with where we’re at today, but we know we still have a little bit further to go.”
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 36 points going into Sunday’s race. Kenseth came into the infield media center after Friday’s practice to answer questions from reporters.
MATT KENSETH – No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion – “I always love coming here. It’s been one of our best tracks, I guess, in the series so it’s one I always look forward to. Running with the spoiler this weekend, we knew it was gonna be a little bit different, so I think we’re all looking forward to that. We struggled a little bit today, so hopefully we get all of our practice in tomorrow and qualifying today so we can get a little better for Sunday.”
YOU’RE SECOND IN POINTS. DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GOTTEN THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CAR AND YOU DESERVE TO BE WHERE YOU’RE AT RIGHT NOW? “Yeah, for sure. I think the team has done a great job of executing the races and getting finishes of at least where we’re running. A lot of times we’ve finished better than probably where we ran. With the exception of Martinsville’s disappointment where we worked our way to the top five and finished 18th, I think the guys have done really well. I think we’ve had one of the faster Fords and we’ve been able to figure out how to bring that home, at least where we’re running or better. I think we’ve been close to the front, maybe not one of the top two or three cars to have a shot to win, although at Vegas we probably ran as good as anybody. If you look at all the restarts we seem to have every week, we’re always in the top couple of rows and it seems like we’re always hanging out toward the top five. That’s what you need to do if you want to be in a position to try and win.”
IS ANYTHING WITH THE SPOILER DIFFERENT FROM CHARLOTTE? “For me, we didn’t have a very good Charlotte test at all, to say the least. We just didn’t test good there, I don’t know why. We’ve been struggling a little bit here today, too, so I guess the one thing that surprised me is how good my car felt when I first got on the track and how slow my times were compared to the competition. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s the tire or the spoiler or what, but it feels like the track is really fast this week, like we’ve got a lot of speed, but, other than that, I don’t know. We didn’t really spend a lot of time in traffic, so I think a better time to probably look at it and comment more about what it does or didn’t do is probably after the race on Sunday when you get out there in big groups of cars.”
SOME WERE SURPRISED NOBODY STAYED OUT AT PHOENIX ON THE LAST CAUTION. GIVEN WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU AT MARTINSVILLE, DO YOU THINK GUYS THOUGHT ABOUT THAT AND DECIDED TO PIT? “Every situation and every track is a little different. I think at Martinsville the tires didn’t drop off a whole bunch and with the track being concrete and the number of laps we had on the tires, it was a little different. At Phoenix, the tires were dropping off a lot. I think we had a pretty long run with something like 50 laps on the tires, so I wasn’t surprised everybody came in and got at least two. But with all those cars on the lead lap, it’s just turning into a little bit of a crapshoot and you don’t know what’s gonna happen at the end of these things. It just seems like there’s a caution with three or four to go every week and they keep lining them up, so whoever makes the right call and can hang on to their track position and get a really good restart has a shot at it. I think they were different situations. Staying out at Martinsville had nothing to do with our finish. If I would have done that a little differently, we would have probably still hung on and finished third or fourth. I think the guys who pitted and got tires, Denny got a good break with that hole on the restart and got to the bottom and his car was really, really fast, whereas Kyle was running second and restarted on four tires in the back and couldn’t really get anywhere. I think every race is a little different and you’ve just got to do what you think is right at the time and see how it turns out.”
DO THE LATE-RACE RESTARTS CHANGE HOW YOU THINK ABOUT THE WEEKEND? “We worked on restarts and all that stuff probably a little bit more than what we did before, or think about short runs at the end of the race and how your car is gonna be on two tires. It seems like every week we’re going over what we can do for me to restart better because I haven’t been very good on some of these green-white-checkers, especially the short tracks. I can’t get going for some reason, so we’re always looking at transmission ratios or setups or pit strategy, whatever we can do to get rolling quicker on a short run, but, hopefully, we’ll get into a cycle where we can start finishing some races with some 30 and 40-lap runs. I think that would be great, so we could race to the end and the fastest cars can duke it out for the win. I think it would be good if we could luck out and get into that cycle for awhile.”
MARK MARTIN SAID HE PREVIOUSLY WENT TO YOU ABOUT FILLING HIS SPOT AT HENDRICK FOR 2012. WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY? “I don’t even remember him saying that, to be honest with you. That’s probably why I didn’t take him serious. I don’t really know much about that. I don’t even know if they’d want me over there to start with, and, second of all, I’ve got a job and I’m pretty happy where I’m at because Jack has always given me everything we needed to compete. He’s never told me ‘no’ for anything we need to try to make our cars run faster. I’ve had a home there for a long time and I’ve been fortunate to be with a good team for a long time and I enjoy racing there.”
IS TODD STILL ON INTERIM STATUS? “I don’t know. I don’t have anything to do with that, either. Robbie (Reiser) loves teasing Todd and calling him ‘interim’ whenever he can, and I always tell Todd that when we both talk about things going good or liking each other, I tell him we’re still in the honeymoon phase. I can’t imagine there are any plans to do anything different. I’m really happy with Todd. He’s been having a lot of fun, so I can’t see any reason at all why anybody would want to do anything different. I feel like he’s been doing a tremendous job. I don’t think he could be doing any better.”
RAIN MAY COME THIS WEEKEND. HOW HAVE YOU STRUCTURED PRACTICE? “We probably worked on race setup maybe an extra 15 minutes longer than we would have if there was no threat of rain, but I didn’t feel like we had the car where we wanted it to be. If I had it my way, I probably would have done all race setup today if there’s any chance of rain just because 500 miles here, even if you start in the back – unless there are some weird circumstances with 150-lap green flag run or something like that – if you’ve got a pretty good car and can stay on the lead lap, 500 miles is more than enough time to work your way to the front. Qualifying is really, really important, but making sure your car is handling for 500 miles is really the most important, so I hope we get all our practice because I don’t feel right now we’re where we need to be.”