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NEW HAMPSHIRE -- When the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup officially begins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, Matt Kenseth will be vying for his second Cup title. Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion is seeded 11th and is one of three Ford drivers in this year’s 12-driver field. Kenseth was part of the weekly NASCAR teleconference, talking about his prospects for the Chase and more.
Q. AS WE HEAD INTO THE FIRST RACE OF THE CHASE, WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND AND THE CHASE OVERALL?
A. Well, New Hampshire hasn't been one of the strongest tracks the last few times we've been there, but I'm looking forward to going. I feel like we've got our cars going quite a bit faster than when we were going there a few months ago. I'm looking forward to going there; excited to start the Chase, and hopefully we can get some great finishes.
Q. ARE YOU KIND OF AMAZED AT THE WAY JACK ROUSH HAS BEEN SUCH A SURVIVOR, WALKING AWAY FROM PLANE CRASHES AND COMING BACK TO WORK? WHAT IS YOUR FEELING ON WHAT MAKES THE GUY TICK?
A. Not many people walk away from one plane crash much less two. Yeah, he's lucky to still be with us, be able to walk away from all that stuff. I can't say I was really surprised he got back to the track as quick as he did. He loves being at the track, he loves being at the shop, being in the middle of all the business and all the decisions and stuff. I wasn't surprised he was back as quick as he was. He has always loved racing, the business end, the competition end. That's what he enjoys doing.
Q. HAVE YOU SEEN ANY KIND OF CHANGE IN HIM? HE SAYS THAT NOW MAYBE AFTER BEING THROUGH THIS HE’S MAYBE A LITTLE MORE TOLERANT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S MISTAKES, MELLOWED A LITTLE BIT. HAVE YOU SEEN THAT?
A. That's a good one. No, not really (laughter). I think I saw a huge change in Jack when he had his first airplane accident, a huge change. That's where I really saw him kind of mellow out and be more tolerant, do all the things you're talking about. Since then, he's been about the same I think. There was definitely a big change, I think, the first time he had the accident. I haven't noticed him being that different since he's been back, but he's only been back a little bit. Obviously, it was a traumatic experience and he's still recovering.
Q. DO YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO MAKE IT MAYBE SEEM LIKE YOU’RE A LITTLE MORE EXCITED JUST TO BE IN THE CHASE OR THAT YOU THINK YOUR CHANCES ARE BETTER THAN MAYBE YOU REALLY THINK?
A. Do I feel pressure to be more excited (laughter)? No, I don't feel pressure to be more excited. I am actually real excited that we're in the Chase because it hasn't been what we expected. It's been a decent year. I mean, it's what everybody looks forward to and has their goals set on, is trying to make the Chase, trying to win a championship. You can't win a championship without making the Chase. So we did get that one. I'm also a realist and realize that if we keep our average finishes we've had for the first 26 races, there's not a snowball's chance of winning the championship and we need to do better than that. With that being said, I'm really excited about our prospects and how much faster the company cars have been the last two months. If we do the right things during the race, if we execute properly, if we have great pit stops, do all the right things, I think the potential is there to get some good finishes and get up there and challenge for some wins. Certainly if we can do that, we'll be a contender down the stretch.
Q. CAN YOU UPDATE US ON HOW THINGS HAVE BEEN WITH JIMMY (FENNIG)? HAS THE RELATIONSHIP CHANGED SINCE YOU’VE BEEN BACK TOGETHER? WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK BEYOND THE END OF THIS YEAR FOR YOU GUYS CONTINUING TO WORK TOGETHER?
A. Everything has been good. I've enjoyed working with Jimmy. It is kind of a unique situation. It took me three crew chiefs to make the Chase. I really enjoy working with him. I worked with him back in the Nationwide Series. Actually, when I first started at Roush in the late '90s, I used to go hang out with Jimmy and Mark a lot when he was Mark's crew chief, and I've learned a great deal from him. I think the transition has been pretty good. I think it's getting Jimmy used to working with Chip, and Nick is onboard to help us as well. It's getting those three guys to work together with me and figure out what we need in the car. I feel like we’ve been gaining on it every week. As far as outlook for next year, I'm not really sure. When Jimmy came onboard, I'm not really sure he was wanting to do that. He was enjoying doing R&D, being home, not traveling every weekend. I hope he wants to continue next year and keep doing it.
Q. YOU MENTIONED YOU ARE HAPPY TO BE IN THE CHASE, BUT THE YEAR HASN’T BEEN WHAT YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR. WHEN YOU HAVEN’T WON A RACE GOING INTO THE CHASE, DOES THAT BRING MORE ANXIETY?
A. Well, yeah. You want to win, but it also depends how you're running. I know Jeff Gordon hasn't been running quite as well lately the last couple months. For him, for instance, when I look at the first three months of the season, he didn't win a race either, but he was up leading tons of laps, was in position every week, and you knew it was just a matter of time, whereas we haven't exactly been in that position. So there is pressure and anxiety to perform every week, whether it's winning or running up front or making the Chase or trying to run for a championship or whatever it is. Like I said, I really am excited to be in the Chase. I'm excited we made it. Everybody that's in has a shot when they start at New Hampshire this weekend. You have to start performing well and start getting the finishes. I'm one of those guys that gets excited after you do something, not before you do it. So if we can win some races, we can run for the championship, I'll be more excited than anybody out there. But right now I'm just more thinking about the work that's in front of us, what we're going to do to try to accomplish those goals, and what we're going to do to get our cars running better and getting the finishes we need, that type of thing. So you're already looking forward to that.
Q. HAS THE NEW FORD ENGINE PROVIDED THAT MUCH MORE OF AN ADDITIONAL PUNCH?
A. Yeah, I think the new FR9 Ford engine is definitely better than the old Ford engine. I think it has a lot of potential. That's one thing that Doug Yates has told me, that this is our first year with that engine. The other engine we've basically been running forever and it seems like they found everything there is to find in it. This is a new piece. It's going to continue to develop and get better.
Q. GOING INTO NEXT YEAR, DO YOU THINK IT WILL DO EVEN MORE THAN IT HAS THIS YEAR?
A. I think so. Generally, the longer you have the same piece and you keep working on it, you usually keep improving it, even without rules changes or new pieces or parts. They'll figure out how to get more power out of it just from working on it longer, having another off-season to do R&D and test on the stuff. I think it will continue to get better. I think it's already better than what we had, and I think it will continue to improve.
Q. YOU GUYS MAKE HIGH-STAKE DECISIONS OFTEN ON AND OFF THE TRACK, CONTRACTS AND EVERYTHING, DECISIONS THAT REALLY STAGGER THE AVERAGE PERSON. IS THAT LEARNED OR INHERENT? IS IT WHY YOU WENT FROM THE SHORT TRACKS TO THE BIG TRACKS?
A. I don't know exactly what kind of decisions you mean. Decisions on the track?
Q. YOUR DECISIONS ARE MORE THAN, SAY, THE AVERAGE PERSON. YOU SIGN A CONTRACT, YOU KNOW, YOU’RE CONSTANTLY IN FRONT OF CROWDS. EVERYTHING IS ELEVATED.
A. Yeah, I mean, I came here and was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to race. I mean, I started racing in Wisconsin for something fun to do. Me and my dad started doing it together, racing together, going to some local short tracks. We did it for something constructive to do. I got real fortunate, had some people see me drive, gave me a chance to drive their equipment. The business part and being in the public eye, the media part, all that was something that came with the job of wanting to compete at the highest level. So that was kind of all secondary. It was really always about being in the race car and trying to win races, and the rest of the stuff you just kind of had to learn as you went.
Q. A LOT OF TIMES GUYS SAY YOUR ORGANIZATION’S TURNAROUND IS DUE TO A BUNCH OF SMALL THINGS, BUT IS THERE ANY WAY YOU CAN IDENTIFY WHY IT ALL CAME TOGETHER FOR YOU GUYS?
A. Well, I mean, I hate to say it, but it really is. There's not one big magic thing anymore like maybe you used to find. The rules are so tight on these cars, what we can and can't do. It is really a matter of getting all the little things done right all year, I's dotted, T's crossed, work on every area of the car to make it the best you can. There are one or two particular pieces that seemed to help us a fair amount and get us back in the ballpark. After that, it's just trying to get the whole package put together right.