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FORT WORTH, United States - Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion, currently stands ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings with one pole and three top-10 finishes in the first six races this season. Kenseth has also been successful at Texas Motor Speedway. In 17 starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has posted 11 top-10 finishes including a win in 2002. Kenseth recently talked about the upcoming weekend and his season to date.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND?
A. Well, I love going to Texas and it has always been a good track for us. We have always performed well there as an organization as well as our individual teams. It is one that I always look forward to. It looks like it is going to be great weather. It is going to be hot and we will be racing under the lights which is really exciting. I am looking forward to the weekend.
Q. RICKY STENHOUSE HAS MADE SOME TREMENDOUS STRIDES IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES THIS YEAR. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THOSE GAINS?
A. Ricky is an extremely talented driver. I would attribute most of his success to gaining experience and getting smarter. He has been really fast since he first got in one of these cars and he just struggled to make it to the end of the race. Sometimes that was his fault and sometimes not. Getting there and being there at the end is the key. It has been a lot of fun for me to watch him get better and smarter and picking and choosing the times when to really push the limits and when to maybe back down and be smart and take your opportunity later in a race. I think he has a lot of talent and the experience is starting to pay off.
Q. HAS THERE BEEN ANY ADVICE OR INSIGHT YOU HAVE GIVEN RICKY ALONG THE WAY?
A. I am always there to answer any questions he ever has. He hasn’t had a whole bunch of them though. He had some last year when I got to run the Nationwide car a little bit and spend some time with him. I am always there for advice if he ever needs it. I have probably given him a little bit, but not a lot.
Q. LOOKING AT YOUR TEAM, THE 17, BUT ALSO FORD IN GENERAL, CAN YOU COMPARE WHERE YOU ARE PERFORMANCE-WISE TO THIS POINT LAST YEAR?
A. Probably not. It is hard for me to remember the same point last year. It is hard for me to remember last week really. Overall, until probably August or September when we made the turn as an organization, and having flashes of brilliance and performing better here and there. The last two months of the season when Carl and Greg were winning races and everybody started running good. Thankfully we have continued that through the winter and have come out of the box pretty competitive as an organization and as a team this year.
Q. WHAT CHANGES DO YOU THINK HAVE HAD THE MOST IMPACT ON THE DRIVERS? CHANGES TO THE NEW CAR, THE HAVE AT IT POLICY OF LAST YEAR, OR THE SIMPLIFIED POINTS SYSTEM?
A. Some of the have at it rules or points system I don’t think have been a big thing to adapt for the drivers, at least from my perspective because you are still going to race the same and do your job. The biggest change for most of the drivers and crews and teams, and this goes back awhile, is this car -- when we switched platforms of the car. If the other car was black, this one is white. They are totally opposite. For me personally it was hard to get a feel for the new car and what you needed in it and help your crew chief and engineers to figure out things to try and what you wanted to make it drive the way you needed it to drive. It was just so different and is still so different than those old cars. It was a big adjustment, bigger for some of us than others, but it was a big adjustment.
Q. DO YOU THINK THAT NEW CAR GAVE SOME OF THE YOUNGER DRIVERS A LITTLE BIT OF AN ADVANTAGE?
A. I don’t know about that. I think the good teams and organizations can adapt to whatever the rules are. One thing about NASCAR racing is that the changes are the same for everybody. We all have the same notice and opportunity to prepare to be ready for it and conquer it and do the best you can with it. It is the same for everybody and the good teams adapt quicker than the other ones.
Q. DO YOU LIKE THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM AND CAN YOU EQUATE IT TO WHAT IT USED TO BE AT ALL?
A. I don’t really look at the numbers as much as you might think. I glance at the standings once a week to see where we are and honestly that is about it. I guess you could figure it out and figure out where you would be if it was last year’s system, but why? This is what we have to work under. I think that one thing I think has been a positive is that it is really easy to understand. You don’t have to try to figure it out so much. You know that it is one point per spot except for the winner. There are definitely some things that are different about it and it will change things all year and down the stretch. I think it will be harder to recover from problems than it used to be. You used to get more points for being top-10 and top-five and now it is the same all the way up unless you win. It will be easier to get behind and harder to make up big chunks of points. You will have to be fast and be up front and hopefully win some races and get bonus points but you will have to be consistent and not have many of those really bad days.
Q. WHAT MAKES TEXAS DIFFERENT THAN SOME OF THE OTHER 1.5-MILE TRACKS YOU COMPETE ON?
A. It is funny because it seems like the media has dropped it a little bit talking about the ‘cookie-cutter tracks’. All the 1.5 mile tracks are very unique now, especially with some of the tracks pavement aging like Texas and then you have a place like Charlotte where the pavement is really sticky. They are all a lot different. The thing that makes Texas unique is it is real high-banked and real fast and the corner exits and entry are real flat. It is always a challenge to negotiate that. There are some bumps here and there but the pavement is pretty wore out. The groove moves around where you can run the top and bottom and it has made for some really exciting racing recently, and I don’t see that being different this week. I am sure the racing will be great like it always is. It is a unique track and one that I always look forward to going to.
Q. PIT ROAD TELEMETRY IS A BIG ISSUE THIS WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS A DRIVER ON THAT TELEMETRY BEING READILY AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE?
A. I don’t know what you mean really.
Q. AS FAR AS SPEEDING ON PIT ROAD, WHICH IS WHERE THE ISSUE CAME UP AT MARTINSVILLE.
A. Well that stuff is always, as far as I know, available to the drivers and crew chiefs when you ask for it. You can go into the trailer and ask for it and they will give you the print out. I think that is available. The problem really comes, and it depends who speeds and who talks about it because that is when you guys cover it. There is speeding every week but because Jimmie got caught speeding it is a big issue. Those guys for years have been figuring out where the timing lines are and the only way they can get you on pit road is to time you from line to line and if your pit box is in between two lines they speed like crazy. If you go a little too fast over that line and get to the next segment then you will get caught speeding in that segment. Really I think that is what it is really about. They were just trying to cheat the segments as much as they can and probably just missed it by a few feet.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE SPORT AND IF WE ARE IN A COMEBACK ECONOMICALLY AS FAR AS RACING IS CONCERNED?
A. The competition part of the sport has been great. I think the last year has been a really entertaining year. I don’t know how you could have much better racing than we have had this year. I am not sure what I feel about Daytona, but a lot of people, I think, thought it was exciting. You had a last lap pass at California and I haven’t seen the whole Martinsville race yet but I know Kevin passed for the lead close to the end again. There has been thrilling and exciting racing, and, from where I stand, there seems to be more people in the stands than last year. The crowds are coming back and they are seeing a great product. It feels like we are on the upswing and hopefully the economy continues to improve so they can continue to come to the races.
Q. FROM A RACERS STANDPOINT I KNOW YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE RUNNING SOME NATIONWIDE RACES AND JACK WOULD LIKE TO HAVE ALL HIS PROGRAMS FULLY SPONSORED. YOU ARE PUTTING STUFF TOGETHER FOR YOUR SON AS WELL. ARE YOU SEEING AN ECONOMIC UPTURN AS FAR AS THAT IS CONCERNED?
A. Here is the real answer. I have no idea. I don’t really get involved in that side of it. Me and Ross do some stuff together, and I would love to find Ross a ride in Nationwide or Truck or a K&N car or something to get some laps in a big car. That is about as involved as I get as far as it comes to marketing or selling with the sponsors and knowing what they pay and interest level and all that. I just don’t really have any idea. I have my hands full with the competition side of it and have never really gotten into that side of it, except for the stuff that I really needed to know.
Q. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IT IS TO RACE AT NIGHT AND DO YOU PREFER NIGHT OR DAYTIME RACING PERSONALLY?
A. I enjoy Saturday night racing for sure because most of us grew up racing Friday and Saturday nights at our local short tracks. I don’t think I ever ran more than three of four Sunday races before I went NASCAR racing. Saturday night races are fun. I think the fans enjoy it; they get an extra travel day and probably miss less work. They can get back on Sunday and do that stuff. As far as a driver’s perspective, the racing is not that much different. The biggest thing is visibility. When we race at night the visibility is more constant. You don’t have the sun setting or shadows. The surface doesn’t vary as much either. Your set-up will stay closer to the same through the whole race on a night race than it would during a day race with the sun and the clouds and things going on that affect track conditions.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY AND THE RACE COMING UP THERE THIS YEAR?
A. I am looking forward to getting there. I really don’t have any experience at that track. We used to test there quite a bit before the testing rules came into place and our team, for whatever reason, chose not to test there much. I have only been there three or four times. It has been seven or eight years since I have been there. I have never raced there, never been in competition there around other cars. I don’t know much about the track but I am looking forward to getting there. I think they are having an open test day on the Thursday before the race and I am looking forward to that. It is always fun to go to a new track and run the first Cup race there because of the excitement of the fans and the surrounding areas and cities. It is always fun to be part of those first events.
Q. YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU ARE FOCUSED ON THE RACE TRACK SIDE OF THINGS AND NOT MUCH ELSE. DO YOU THINK THAT IS A COMMON TRAIT AMONG DRIVERS AND DO YOU THINK IT IS THE STUFF OF CHAMPIONS?
A. I think that anybody that does this job and does it with any kind of success and has been here very long has to have the ability to block things out and focus on the task at hand for sure. Things happen really fast and you have to be able to compute things fairly fast in your brain and make quick decisions. I think that blocking out outside things or things that might be bothering you and concentrating 100 percent on the car and how to make it faster and get the best finish is very important.