Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sprint Cup: Matt Kenseth Daytona 500 Preview

MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Have you had less drafting time in practice?
“I think the schedules have been about the same to give us an opportunity to draft. For me, I’ve got less, but most of that was self-induced. When we were down here testing, we were still doing single car runs when they wiped out the field and there was nobody left to draft and of course on whatever day it was — I guess would have been Friday, right — I caused that wreck eight minutes in, so that’s all the laps I got in. So, I didn’t get to draft more because we were busy fixing my car, so for me it’s been less. But like I said, that was mostly self-induced. I think the schedule is about the same as it’s been in years past.”

Will you have a better feel for drafting before Sunday?
“I think after today it certainly will be. I think there’s three hours today maybe of practice — something like that — I think that’s more than enough honestly unless something is a lot different today than what it was on Saturday because of weather conditions or something like that. I don’t think you’ll see 45 cars out there for three hours. I think everybody will get a pretty good feel for what they’ve got, make sure their car handles and probably get them ready to race tomorrow.”

Would you trade either of your Daytona 500 wins for anything?

“I wouldn’t trade any win really for anything. It’s all kind of life’s experiences. I don’t think — even though some are good and some are bad — you’d ever trade them. That’s just part of who you are and how you got here or whatever, but winning the Daytona 500 is certainly – for a kid that grows up dreaming about stock car racing – is the greatest achievement as far as a single event win I think you can have as a stock car racer. I can’t even say it was a goal to win one, because I never dreamed I would compete in one. But, certainly once you’re racing in them that’s a goal and a big accomplishment for the teams I was driving for and the crew chiefs and everybody that had a part in that. It was great to win those. It doesn’t mean anything for today or Sunday or going forward really, but it was great to win those. The week after is always — both times it was busy, but it was really, really fun. They were both really different for a lot of different reasons, but they were a lot of fun. It’s fun to go around and kind of celebrate the win and then get to Phoenix to kind of kick off the rest of the season.”

What made the media tour after the Daytona 500 wins so different?
“They were both a lot different. Last year was different for a lot of reasons. We didn’t race until early Tuesday morning, so the week was abbreviated and we went different places, but there was a lot of neat things. The first time was cool – was going on (David) Letterman (Show). I’ve always wanted to sit on the couch or the chair or whatever it is and be on there –
when I grew up and was a little kid, my dad always watched Letterman all the time, so I’ve watched him for a lot of years. So, that was pretty cool being on there. That was probably one of the highlights — going to New York. Katie (wife) got to go with me the first trip, so that was fun.”

Was the Sprint Unlimited indicative of what we will see this weekend?
“I think there’s a lot to be seen yet. Saturday pretty early half the field got wiped out and the smaller the pack is the tougher it is generally to make a move or make a pass in restrictor plate racing. The more cars are out there, the bigger hole there is in the air. There’s a lot more opportunities and chances, I think, to make a move and make a pass — that type of thing. So, I don’t know if we’ve seen exactly — Saturday — I don’t know if we’re going to see that exact race tomorrow. Tomorrow’s race I don’t think you’re going to see that exact race Sunday. I think it will keep changing, but I’d rather be in front. But, I would have rather been in front last year too. The way it all turned out — I thought we had a great car. I made my move. I didn’t watch the tape yet, but I knew I made my move too early, but yet without only 12 cars still running or whatever it was and it seemed like only half of them had real fast cars I just had one shot to make that move. And that race is all about winning. If you don’t win, yeah, you’d rather finish second than third and so on, but it’s not really that big a deal, so I kind of had one shot there and I thought if we got out front that would be really hard for them guys to beat me and took that and unfortunately didn’t quite clear Kevin (Harvick) and then just couldn’t get enough cars in that other lane. I think the race is going to keep changing. I think you’ll be able to pass. I think it’s going to be interesting. These cars are a little different. They draft different than what we had last year and I think it will be interesting probably tomorrow — I guess more so today — when you get the pack out there and running straight 150 miles with the sun out and all that stuff and see if handling comes into play because it could. It didn’t really on Saturday night, but it could tomorrow and Sunday.”

MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued)
Is it easy for you to assume the role of the veteran at JGR?
“Well first, I didn’t really assume that role. People have talked about that, but I didn’t — when I came in nobody ever said, ‘Hey, you need to come in here and be the leader,’ or whatever. And I was certainly — I’m looking forward to working more with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) — them guys are both obviously really good, win a ton of races. I think I’ll be able to learn a lot from them. Hopefully, I can do my part and contribute as well and help make all three teams stronger. I mean, that’s always the goal – to work with your teammates and get the organization as strong as you can get it and if you can’t win on a particular day hopefully one of your teammates does. As far as our chances, I don’t know. I feel really good about our equipment. I was really, really happy with my car on Saturday night. Even though we didn’t win, I felt like we had one of the strongest cars out there — at least one of the three or four guys that I felt like could make some moves and make some things happen, especially early before everybody got lined up on the top. So, I felt good about all that. Everything went pretty smooth – went a lot better than practice on Friday. They were able to fix the car really fast. It was nice to get a race under our belt with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and with that team. That was our first time in real competition, so I think there was a handful of things at least that we learned out of that. Probably some things we want to work on. Some things I thought we did really good. Just nice to get an event under our belt.”

Does Danica Patrick have a weight advantage?
“I don’t know. I’ve never asked what she weighs and I know there’s a different weight that goes in cars, but I don’t know if it really matters that much.”

Do rain delays negatively impact drivers?
“I don’t think rain delays really matter that much honestly for the drivers. I mean, we’re like everybody else. You’re sitting there. You want to get going. I think that working on the jet dryer thing is something that I certainly didn’t see coming, but I think it’s really smart by NASCAR to do that because obviously the longer they’re not doing anything the more fans are probably going to change the channel or walk out to their car and drive home and do that kind of thing. The quicker you can back to action, I think the better it is for everybody.”

Is there any advantage to get back to racing more quickly following a rain delay?
“Not really. I mean, everybody has something different. There’s not a lot you can do. Last year, we were stuck on the backstretch and Brad (Keselowski) was the only one that could tweet and the rest of us were just out there and sat there and kind of told stories and I went and talked to Greg (Biffle) at the time about some strategy and stuff we wanted to do on the restart. Things like that, but really just sit and wait like everybody else.”

Will it be easier to find drafting help this weekend?
“Yeah, I do. I think it will even change tomorrow. I think the group was a little small for one thing and it’s harder to make a move when the group is that small and you needed a least three, maybe four cars to make it happen. Even though it don’t sound quite right, I almost needed somebody — you know like when Joey (Logano) pulled in front of me on the last lap, I think if we would have had another lap to do that and I could have got one car behind me, we could have got up and at least mixed things up in the front to challenge for it. But, the pack was just so small and everybody was up top and if you were running third for instance and you tried to make a move by yourself and nobody went you were going to pull back in line 12th or however many cars were on the track, so it was just the way it turned out. I didn’t see that coming where everybody was going to line up on the top and not be able to get going like that, but like I said I think it will change when you get more cars out there. I think if the wreck wouldn’t have happened it wouldn’t have been like that either. I think there would have been more passing.”

Who had the strongest cars in the Sprint Unlimited?
“I don’t know. The cars I ran around it seemed like the 14 (Tony Stewart) — of course, he is in front of all the plate races. He’s really good at it. He seemed to be fairly strong. Kevin’s (Harvick) car was pretty strong. There was a couple others out there that looked pretty good. Greg (Biffle) was pretty good. That’s post-wreck. I don’t know, because I didn’t get to run with any of them other guys that wrecked. There was probably a lot of good cars that got tore up.”

Will you draft or not draft with Danica Patrick?
“I don’t know if I totally buy into the statement. I found through the years that people want to draft with, ‘A,’ cars that are fast and, ‘B,’ people that are going to make the right moves that will help you get to the front. If you’re drafting with somebody and they make all the right moves and go to the front and you’re right behind them, then you’re going to be toward the front as well. Now if you draft with somebody if they have a fast car and they just keep making the wrong move and getting in the wrong line and you keep going backwards then you’re going to find somebody else to follow or kind of draft with. I think those are the main things. I think people that, at least typically, not always that show strength throughout Speedweeks and run good and make some good moves and can keep their car up front, even if they don’t necessarily finish there — that people in the race tend to work with them more because their car is faster so it makes your car faster as well and because if they are doing the right thing and getting toward the front then you can latch onto that and be part of that — you will be out front as well.”

What could Danica Patrick do in practice or the Duels to gain trust among drivers?
“I didn’t say I didn’t trust her. I haven’t really thought about that. I usually – since they changed the rules last year — I haven’t made a plan. I go out there and kind of just see how it goes and go from there. You kind of take those things in. You’re out there and you see which lane is moving and you see where somebody is going. Also, there are certain times where there’s people you want to draft with because maybe they’re a teammate or a friend or driving the same manufacturer or whatever, but for some reason your two cars don’t work together. You try and you’re like, ‘Man, we’re not going anywhere — I have to get around him and try something else.’

A lot of it is you kind of learn as you go.” How do you have success at a track like Daytona?
“After last year, I’ve been fortunate to be on both sides of that, but I think you enjoy it when it goes really well because it seems like it goes the other way more often than it goes really well. There’s a lot of things that happen that are totally out of your control — get caught up in an accident, be all the way in the front and get caught up. Everyone has a different strategy, everybody has a different idea and that’s why you see some people riding in the back and some people trying to wait. I kind of got tired of all that before the start of last year or the end of the year before. I just decided to go race and go race as hard as you can the whole race. Hopefully, you can be in the front and if there’s a wreck, you’re not in it.”

Should drivers ‘start-and-park’ in the Duels to keep from wrecking their Daytona 500 cars?
“I can only answer for myself and my line of thinking. I think if you go out and practice today and with us already having a race under our belt on Saturday, if the car drives like my car did on Saturday and we have speed and can make the moves we want and Jason’s (Ratcliff, crew chief) happy with everything and he doesn’t have anything to look at, I can see not practicing a lot today. I think for me in the Duels, that’s your first — I know you had the Unlimited Saturday night, but that’s your first test in real race conditions. To me, the Duels are the most important part of the week. You go out there and I always like to go out there and race hard, try to make some moves, try to run with some people and maybe gain their trust I you have a fast car — that kind of stuff. Kind of setup a lot of different things for Sunday. That’s better than any test you can do. It’s a great test for your car for handling, for where you can put your car, where you can’t, test for your pit crew — most likely green flag pit stops. I always use that as the best test session you can have. I like to be in race situations the whole time there. If something happens, it happens. Try to be as prepared as you can for the 500.”

Do lighter weight drivers have an advantage?
“I guess I should have read the weight rules before I came — I didn’t expect any of this to come up because it hasn’t come up in a long time. Yes, to build a race car to go on the track — the old saying was always, ‘Light, low and left.’ You want to build the cars as light as you can — there’s always a weight rule so whatever weight you put in there, you want to get as low as you can to get your center of gravity as low as you can. If you’re lighter, even if you have to add weight, you can add weight where you want it in the car and if you’re shorter then you’re sitting lower in the car and all that stuff helps of course. It’s always been like that. Before there was any — NASCAR made a rule I don’t know how many years ago to try to equalize that a little bit and take lead out for a heavier driver and put some lead in for a lighter driver to try to make it more equal for everybody. I don’t know that this conversation has come up in a long time. I don’t even know what the weight difference is to be honest with you. I don’t know what the segments are – I don’t know if it’s from 150 to 180 or whatever it is. I don’t think it’s a huge deal. But yes, if she (Danica Patrick) keeps running that fast then I think she should have to add a bunch of weight and mount it to the roof.”4

How different does the new car drive with it being 150 pounds lighter?
“I knew there was a weight difference in the car — I should have studied more on the weight rules. I don’t know where the cutoff is — how light you can be before there’s not a cutoff anymore and you have to add weight or how heavy you have to be before you can take weight off. I don’t know what that range is anymore, but I know the cars are lighter overall. That’s a little bit of a hard question to answer for Daytona. I think until we get almost to the off-weekend when we get to some different tracks — Phoenix and California and Vegas and Bristol — I think we’ll have a better idea what setup changes we’ve had to do not only because of the differences in the body with the aero, but certainly the cars being lighter in the rear camber and all those different things — taking the yaw away from the cars. All those things are going to affect the cars. I’m not really sure how yet from a setup perspective how different that will be from what we raced last year. That’s really hard for me to say until we get into the season a little bit.”

Is there a trick to being successful at Daytona?
“The first thing is you want to have a fast car. The rules package, everything has been a little different here the last couple years. Last year, everything not only went our way, but we just had really dominant cars and were able to keep them in the front all the time and fortunately be able to stay out of the trouble. That’s easier said than done sometimes. I think you try to get a car that’s fast, which you don’t always have very much control over. Then just try to get something that’s comfortable in the draft and just hopefully get with some cars that your car works well with and hopefully, make the right moves and be in position at the end to at least have a chance.” Is Jimmie Johnson the driver to beat for the championship?

Will Carl Edwards and Jimmy Fennig work well together?
“Man, it’s pretty early to be talking championships — a lot of stuff is changing here. I still feel like even though Jimmie (Johnson) hasn’t won the last couple years — last year he was the one to beat, if you were going to win it you had to beat him and Brad (Keselowski) was able to beat him and Clint (Bowyer) did then. When I said that every year, I said until he (Johnson) was beat, I think he’s the guy to beat. I can’t sit here right now without even racing a race and having a whole different car and rules and all that stuff — it’s hard for me to say who’s going to be the favorite. I think it’s too early to tell. As far as Carl (Edwards) and Jimmy Fennig (crew chief), I don’t know I think you should ask those guys after a few weeks. I always loved working with Jimmy — we had a great relationship and knew each other for a lot of years and kind of had the same outlook I think and style somewhat for how we liked going racing. I’m not sure how their styles will match, but I think Jimmy is one of the best in the garage and I think Carl is too. I would imagine they would work well together.”

Will the last lap accidents in the ‘Battle of the Beach’ races allow drivers to get away with incidents?
“I have a confession to make — I didn’t watch any of that racing. I was wore out last night and the night before. We did Disney all day on Monday and we did Legoland all day yesterday. That is hard work. I was looking forward to getting back to the garage and getting in the car so I didn’t see any of the racing last night or the night before. I heard a little bit about somebody wrecking somebody on the last lap or something. They will probably all get wrecked back on the last lap someday too — that’s usually the way it works. It’s hard for me to make much of a comment on it because I didn’t see any of it. NASCAR in general has not policed that, if you want to move somebody out of the way on the last lap or spin somebody on the last lap, that’s kind of always been your prerogative, but you also have to be ready for that back when it’s your turn. Typically, that’s how NASCAR racing has always been. Certainly, short track racing where I grew up was much, much different than that — if you were going to do that, then you got put to the back as well. Every racing series handles it a little different. When you get to this level, most people seem to handle that themselves pretty good.”