Thursday, July 4, 2013

Matt Kenseth heading into Saturday night race at Daytona: 'My confidence is high'

Kenseth led 86 laps in 2013 Daytona 500
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Home Depot Husky Tools Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How has your season been so far heading into Saturday night’s race at Daytona?
“The season has obviously been really great for us. I think it’s been better than any of us could have imagined. Excited to be back here at Daytona. Obviously, a special race track for everybody in stock car racing and really racing in general. Had a really strong car in the 500 — I think we led the most laps and were leading when we broke. So, looking forward to being back here and hopefully we can be out front again, make it to the end and if we are out front make it then hopefully I can figure out how to do the right things to have another shot at winning.”

What type of race might we see Saturday night? “Well, I think you kind of hit it in your first comments there — it was the first race (for) the Gen-6 car. Certainly, you’re going to learn. There’s going to be an evolution, not just the setup stuff, but we’re going to learn more about drafting and where you want to be and where you don’t want to be and that type of thing. So, I thought Talladega was a totally different race than Daytona — which honestly really surprised me. I expected it to be exactly the same and it was not at all. You had to do a lot of things a lot different. And, I expect that it will be a cross between Daytona and Talladega. Probably more like Talladega. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure why Talladega would’ve been different other than just people learn more about the cars — getting the cars better — figure out how to put them in different positions in situations to make more passing and more side-by-side. I’m not sure. You know in February the groove was right around the top and you couldn’t really do much different than that and Talladega it wasn’t at all. It was actually — it didn’t seem like you wanted to be way up there. So, we’ll kind of have to wait and see.”

Would the size of Talladega have anything to do with the wild race there? “The honest answer is I don’t really know. I’ve been to Talladega before when we’ve had some different rules packages and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. was leading the race one time. I remember we all ran around the top the whole time. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, they don’t want to pass.’ That wasn’t it. Everybody wanted to pass, but when you pulled up to pass everybody would pile back to the top and you would just go to the back. I don’t really know to be honest with you. I always think the racing at Daytona — used to be before you paved it — would be a lot more about handling, especially in July, than Talladega ever would be and that’s what kind of separated the races and made them different. I think since they paved Daytona it’s felt like the tracks are much more similar. Handling is not a big deal. It’s pretty much just about the draft and positioning and all that kind of stuff. To answer your questions is still really I don’t know why it would be different. It doesn’t feel that much different. The tracks feel different, but it feels like the same theories and everything should apply.”

What is your confidence level heading into Saturday night’s race? “My confidence level is high. I feel real good about it. I’ve been really spoiled honestly the last year-and-a-half — the last six plate races. Our cars have just been unbelievable. We’ve been in front I think five out of the last six plate races — if I’m not mistaken have ended in a green-white-checkered. I think four of them we were probably leading. It’s just hard when you do green-white-checkers — you can sit and second guess when it’s over unless you win. But man its hard and being the leader sometimes is even harder on them green-white-checkers because there are people hanging back and there’s people getting momentum and you can only see so much around you. You can’t tell — like Talladega with David (Ragan) and David (Gilliland) — when they got teamed up there was no way to know five rows back that they were going eight miles an hour faster than we all were. There is just no way to watch all that. There’s really no way to protect that or really to do anything about it. It’s tough when you can run for awhile and everybody’s going basically the same speed and they’re getting little runs here and there that are three miles an hour, four miles an hour — that’s a little bit easier to manage with them green- white-checkers, especially some guys in the back just get monster runs sometimes and it’s hard to protect from.”

Is it possible to carry what you learn in one restrictor-plate race to another race? “You always try to learn, but they’re always different. So, I might get my races mixed up here. Last year, we were fortunate we won the 500 and then Talladega we were leading on the green-white-checkered and we lost Talladega. I can’t remember which it was — you didn’t wait for Greg (Biffle) and Greg and I were teamed up the whole time and I didn’t wait enough for him and got singled out and I can’t remember who passed us and beat us — I think it was Brad (Keselowski) and Kyle (Busch). Then we go back to Daytona and I’m leading on the green-white-checker and I slow down to wait for Greg (Biffle) to let him push me. I kept slowing down — I couldn’t get him attached back to me and Tony (Stewart) passed us both and I think he won the race. One way I did it once and lost and the second time I did the way I thought I should have done it the first time and lost too. So, I think you just got to not over think it and just try to take your best guess where the momentum is and try to keep your car in the best spot you possibly can. You can’t really control what everybody else is doing around you. You just got to try to pay attention and try to get yourself what you feel like at the time is the best spot.”

How much can frustration affect a driver’s performance on the race track? “Well, I think every case, and every driver and every situation is different. I think over the last — I lose track of time — over the last month, month-and-a-half — probably since Dover at least, I think Jimmie’s (Johnson) been very frustrated with restarts. And I think last weekend when I look at it and obviously you’re going to say I’m not objective because I was in the race — but I think that he just didn’t have good restarts for whatever reason his car wouldn’t restart fast. We’ve all had cars like that. Even when he was leading the race and he was the control car the one time I started underneath him I was still able to stay even with him — get through the gears and pass him through (turns) one and two. I thought he had the superior car. But, it just didn’t take off real great on restarts. So, I know that he’s had the fastest car there a couple times — Dover and arguably he probably had the fastest car last weekend and didn’t get the win — and that’s always really, really frustrating. I’ve been there a couple times this year. It’s frustrating when you have something happen and you feel like you lead the race all day and feel like you’re in position and don’t win.”

Can you be your own worst enemy? “Well, like I said, everybody is different. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to look at Jimmie (Johnson) and the 48 and that team and say that there’s anything wrong with anything they do. I said it a few weeks ago, when you guys were all asking about it, when you look at what they’ve done how can you argue they’re not the best ever. With the numbers they’ve put up the last – - since they’ve been doing it eight or nine years, however long it’s been, I don’t know. It’s really hard to pick anything apart about him as a driver or that as a program. They’re pretty good. You know if you’re going to have a chance to win a race or a championship you always have to go through the 48.”

Do you like racing at Chicagoland? “Chicago in the past — maybe not last year we had a shock fall off or something, and the year before I think we had a problem — but in the past, before that it’s always been a really good track for me. It’s always been one I’ve always really looked forward to going to. It’s only about three hours away from where I grew up so it kind of feels like a home track in a way. Got a lot of usually friends and family that come down for that race and all of that. I’ve always enjoyed the race track. We only race there once a year, but I really like the track. It’s usually been a good place for us.”

What are the advantages to starting the Chase at Chicagoland? “As far as being the first race in the Chase, I don’t know. I’d have to put some thought into that. I don’t think it really matters when they necessarily come up. If the 10 tracks are the same 10 tracks, I don’t know if it matters if you put them in a blender or not. You’ve got to go to all 10 of them and all 10 of them pay exactly the same amount of points and every single point is just as important as the next one.”

How did you privately handle the disappointment of not winning the Daytona 500 in February? “I was the same exactly privately so — Daytona, I can’t remember which race it was — maybe the 150s and maybe even the Shootout as well. I felt like coming down here we were pretty strong. I felt like I had a chance to win both of those races and I didn’t make the right moves and didn’t get to win either one of them. And, even the 150s we helped Kyle (Busch) win, but then I got shuffled out at the end and finished back farther. I would’ve rather blown up leading Daytona than be leading on the white flag and made the wrong move and finished 10th. I felt like the thing that was really positive coming out of Daytona being my first week with a new team, first race with a new team and all of that is I felt from a team standpoint, I felt like we did everything as good as could possibly do. I thought the preparation was great, the pit stops, the strategy, the car speed. Everything we did I thought we did at a winning level and we just had a part break. So, from that aspect I had a lot of confidence going into the next week and I felt really good about it. I was disappointed about the finish, sure, but I was really excited about what I felt like was in front of me because it was my first week working with all of those guys and I could just see and feel the potential.”

What is the limit for you this year in terms of success on the track? “It’s been crazy. You could look back — if I go back to before Darlington, we could look back and say, ‘Yeah, there’s a couple other races that I don’t want to say you left them there because circumstances happen and that’s what racing is all about, but there’s certainly a couple more that we could’ve won.’ But, if you want to be fair and objective about it, Darlington, Kyle (Busch) dominated the race and was going to win and had a problem and we ended up capitalizing on that. We were in second, but we capitalized on that and won. Last weekend, although we could’ve raced with him (Jimmie Johnson) if we would’ve had perfect — probably could’ve beat Jimmie, maybe could’ve beat Jimmie, but arguably he had the best car and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) made a great call at the end, we had a great restart and we were able to win that race. I think if you put yourself in position to win enough I think you’re going to lose some, but I think you’ll win your share as well. I don’t know what the limit is. I’d sit around and daydream and wish and think about things like this happening this season, but I never really realistically thought that before the halfway point that we’d have four wins and be in the running and leading all of those laps and run as good as we have been. So, I don’t know where the limit is. I said I guess after Vegas and maybe Kansas, I felt like the sky was the limit with this team and I really do. It’s just a great group. Everything is going really good and everybody is really focused on keeping it going good.”

Was the test at Indianapolis earlier this week beneficial? “Yeah, I thought the test was really worth it for us. I felt like even though we didn’t get as much track time as we would’ve liked to have got with the weather and not being able to stay on Wednesday and having to be down here this morning and all of that, I still thought it was really worth it. It was our first team test I guess we used this year. We got to work a lot with Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch). I felt like we’ve found some things that will hopefully help us going forward hopefully there and Pocono and maybe Michigan — some of those tracks. I felt like we gathered a lot of information and it was definitely worth it.”

Has the success this season helped your nerves go away after joining Joe Gibbs Racing? “I don’t know that it ever totally goes away. I think that in this sport in general you always have to have that sense of urgency and I don’t think you could ever get too comfortable. Everybody can be replaced and you have to perform each and every week. It’s a really what have you done for me lately sport obviously. I don’t know that you ever get 100 percent comfortable in what you’re doing. I think you have to stay hungry and always be focused on what’s in front of you and not necessarily what’s behind you. Certainly I’ve felt comfortable over there. They’ve done a — from the first time I walked in there, yeah you are learning certain things and maybe a little nervous, but they’ve really made me feel comfortable and made me feel a part of the team, a part of the family and a part of the program over there for sure.”

Do you have a favorite NASCAR tradition? “Favorite NASCAR tradition — I guess probably kicking the year off for the Daytona 500. I think when you come down for SpeedWeeks it’s always a — I don’t have the same thing that we do every year necessarily, but coming down here and getting down here to kick the season off and driving through the tunnel and still realizing you’re at Daytona and you get to run the Daytona 500 is always a really neat feeling and a cool tradition and a way to start off the season.”

Why do you think Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski are all winless at Daytona? “Man, you know, I guess I will just start with one of them. Kurt (Busch) is a great plate racer and always has been, so that surprises me that you said Kurt hasn’t won here. I think that restrictor-plate racing is just totally different. It’s hard to even honestly really group it with the other 32 races. It’s just totally different. There’s a lot that comes into play and a lot of circumstances that come into play. You’ve got to have a fast car everywhere, but if you don’t have a fast car here there’s absolutely nothing that you’re going to do about it. I mean, everybody is wide open all the way around so if your car is slow, what are you going to do about it? You know, I think winning these races, there’s a lot — I don’t want to use the word luck, but there’s a lot of circumstances that come into play to win one of these races than there would be at Charlotte or somewhere.”

- Toyota Racing

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