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CHARLOTTE -- Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion, has had his share of success in the Sprint All-Star Race. As this weekend’s annual event prepares to take place, Kenseth, winner of the 2004 main event, sat down with Ford Racing to discuss his season to date, mounting pressure for a win and his strategy come All-Star time.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR SEASON HAS GONE TO DATE?
A. I would say pretty good. Probably better than we ended the last half of last year. Our performance seems to be up a notch, maybe not where it needs to be to be a contender every week, but our performance is up a notch. We have been able to get finishes as good or better than we are running more times that not which is important for points. I think it has been going okay. There is a lot of room for improvement, but we are improved from where we finished last year.
Q. DO YOU PUT ANY ADDED PRESSURE ON YOURSELF TO GET FORD INTO VICTORY LANE?
A. Well, you certainly want to win, but I don’t show up at the race track thinking that we have to win this weekend. I show up and try to do the best job we can in practice, the best job at executing the race, and making good decisions and running well. If you can run up in the top-five and make good decisions, have a good day on pit road, not make mistakes … if you keep putting yourself in those positions, you will win races. I don’t go in saying, ‘Man, we have to win.’ I go in saying we need to be competitive, win some laps and be in that spot. Jeff Gordon is the perfect example this year. You can go to the track and maybe have the best year, but circumstances like all the green-white-checkered finishes and everything else; you might not win even though you might have a winning car. I think it is more important to come with the attitude of trying to get a winning car, be competitive, and put yourself in position, because after awhile, odds are you will be successful if you do those things.
Q. AS FAR AS ALL-STAR EVENTS ACROSS THE MAJOR SPORTS GO, WHAT IS THE MINDSET YOU GUYS HAVE IN YOUR ALL-STAR EVENT?
A. Well, I think it is a little different than say the NFL. I like the NFL a lot and I don’t watch the Pro Bowl. With the coverage you have these days of sports, you get to see a lot more, so I remember watching coverage of the Pro Bowl last year and thinking, ‘Gosh, they don’t even practice hard, they don’t hit each other.’ Our sport is different because you don’t have that physical factor. You don’t worry about not pushing hard or saving your body in our All-Star race. We run as hard as we can run every week and All-Star race is no exception. I don’t approach the race itself any different. I always try to go as fast as I can go, but I know where that edge is and if you step over that edge, you are going to wreck or not go as fast. I just think you run up to that edge and try to win it.
Q. HISTORICALLY THE ALL-STAR RACE HAS FEATURED QUITE A FEW WRECKS. DO YOU THINK THAT IS BECAUSE GUYS ARE MORE WILLING TO PUSH THE BOUNDARIES IN A NON-POINTS RACE?
A. Yeah, I don’t want to say everyone tries harder, but they probably throw caution to the wind more often in that race. The consequences aren’t the same if you race in the All-Star as opposed to the 600. With it being such a short race and 10 laps at the end, everyone is going to go for it. You are going to put your car in places, if the opportunity arises, that maybe you wouldn’t in a 600-mile race. You probably won’t be going three wide off of turn four in the 600 unless it was the last four or five laps. Every lap in the All-Star race is like the final few races of the 600, and everyone is going for it.
Q. WITH ALL THE GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED FINISHES THIS YEAR, HAS IT TAKEN THE NOVELTY OFF OF THE ALL-STAR, 10-LAP FLURRY, OR HAS IT ADDED TO IT BECAUSE YOU ARE USED TO THAT NOW?
A. Well, it used to be very unique doing a two-wide restart there because we didn’t do it all year and now you do it everywhere at every track. Charlotte is an easier place to do it than Darlington, that is for sure. I guess, if anything, you are just more familiar with it, you are used to the rules surrounding it and guys are used to these restarts now, so it should make it that much more competitive.