Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matt Kenseth talks with media Thursday prior to Coca-Cola 600 practice

Matt Kenseth is considered one of  the favorites to win Sunday at 6-to-1 
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Do you look forward to the 600? “I’m looking forward to the weekend — the 600 is probably my favorite race of the year and favorite event. Looking forward to getting on the track today. Last weekend didn’t go exactly as planned. Look forward to getting out there and hopefully it will stay dry and we can get some laps on this car and hopefully get qualified decent tonight and then start working on the race on Saturday.”

Is the 600 more mentally, physically or emotionally draining?“Maybe mentally, I hope not emotionally. If it’s draining emotionally, then it means you have something going wrong probably. A little bit of both — I actually looked at the weather yesterday and saw it was supposed to be fairly cool on Sunday and I was pretty excited about that. When the race starts and its 90 degrees, you’re solid sweat 100 miles in and you know it’s going to be a long 600 miles and you really have to work hard to stay hydrated and cool and ready for that. I’d say it’s a pretty good combination of both. I think that it’s easier to be mentally weak when you’re getting tired physically or you’ve been sitting there a long time and you’re hot. You start thinking about other things other than focusing on the race. I think it’s probably equal — probably 50-50.”

What is the connection between sporting events and the military? “I don’t know if I can compare it to other sports necessarily. Certainly there has always been that connection. You’ve seen several military sponsorships and a lot of the military members that are race fans that come out and see us race. From our side, I think it’s pretty easy and pretty obvious. Without the military and all the people and all the sacrifices they make and all the things they do, then we wouldn’t have the freedom to be able to go out here and race each and every weekend in front of them. I think it’s a good weekend to try to show your appreciation for the military and all the people and the sacrifices they make. You should do it every day, but certainly this weekend is always good for that.”

How would you describe Jimmie Johnson’s career? “How would I describe his (Jimmie Johnson) career? Do we have that much time? I wasn’t really there in the beginning of it when he started all his stuff in California — I don’t really know a lot about that, his off-road background and all that. The first I heard of him was when he started running ASA and then ran the Nationwide Series against him there a little bit. Obviously, when he moved to Hendrick Motorsports and got hooked up with Chad Knaus (Johnson’s crew chief) — that was the start of his dominance. People can say whatever they want about him, but I don’t know how you can’t say that he’s not the best ever. You look at what he’s done with Chad since they’ve been over here and nobody has ever put up numbers like that. Nobody has ever won five championships in a row and probably never will. They’re amazing. It’s kind of cool to be part of that because I think someday you look back at history and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I raced against him.’ But at the same time it stinks because you get beat so many times. I don’t know how anybody can argue and say them guys aren’t the best of all time.”

What do you plan to work on today for the 600? “I feel really good about this weekend. Honestly, last weekend we were off a little bit. I think we have some ideas maybe with what we missed or what we did wrong. I think that was part of learning. I feel like we learned a lot last weekend. I feel good about it. We hoped to do a little bit better last weekend, but it was a very unique race. The All-Star race is totally different. I don’t think it really means a ton for the 600. I think there’s things you can learn about the track and changes and traffic and so on and so forth, but certainly it’s a very different race — 20 laps was our longest run last Saturday where I would assume we will have several fuel runs during the 600, very different track conditions at least to get started. I feel good about it. I’m anxious to get on track today and see if our car drives better than it drove last weekend. We made some changes and have some different things to come back with that we feel like is going to be better. I’m interested to get on track and see if that holds true.”

Why is Charlotte your favorite track and the 600 your favorite race? “The 600 has always been unique. We have our first win here so maybe that’s part of it. This is the first track that I made my first Nationwide start at and have more miles here at this track than any other on the circuit. You only race a 600-mile race once a year — Memorial Day weekend. Just a lot of different things. The track goes through huge changes, typically it’s very different in the beginning of the race when the sun is still out. It’s usually hot and slick and then at the end of the race, after four hours of racing or four-and-a-half hours of racing, the track is as fast as it’s ever going to be and everybody picks up a second and it’s on. It’s like you wait four hours to run a trophy dash. It’s just a fun event. A lot goes on, you have to pay attention for a long time and really keep up with the adjustments and just one I look forward to and look forward to the challenge.”

How much will the predicted cooler temperature impact the race? “I think it will a little bit. Certainly, the sun has a lot to do with it, but temperature as well. If we don’t get much more or any more rain, then we can get the rubber back on the track and the sun is on it, then I think it will still be really slick when the race starts because it’s supposed to be sunny. Certainly, being cooler will help — the cooler it gets here to a point you have more grip. The hotter it is here when the sun is out, the less grip and the track seems to change a lot.”

Is it tough not to get wrapped up in the early success this season? “I think you basically always try to take it one race at a time. I think if things go good or they go bad when you get done with Monday, going through everything and talking about everything and what you want to work on and what you did good and what you did bad — all that stuff. You try to learn what you can from it and get it behind you and move on to the next week. Whether it was a great week or a terrible week, I think you always have to get focused on what’s coming next and keep working on trying to get better. I think that’s about it. It’s a long season and all of us have been through it for a long time and when things go good and you get a win, you need to enjoy it and you need to learn how to enjoy it. You also have to unfortunately get it behind you by Monday or Tuesday or whatever and really get focused on the next week.”

Is this the point in the season where you have a good feel for Chase chances and contenders? “I think it constantly changes. I think the other teams are always getting better and you have to make sure that you get better along with them. Certainly, you get to Easter break and you have a few races and you kind of look at all the different tracks and kind of get a feel for where you’re at compared to the competition — the All-Star break is another chance for that. Then we have one last off-weekend in July and you can get another snap shot of that. It’s still a long ways from the Chase and you start trying to run for a championship — we feel good about where we’re at today, but there is still a lot of racing to do. I think we’ve done a lot of things really good the first 11 races, but I also think there’s room for improvement and room for us to grow as a team and me to grow as a driver to continue to try to get better.”

How much do you enjoy the next couple of races? “Typically, this is two of my favorite weeks of the whole season — running the 600 and then going to Dover. This is usually been my favorite event or favorite race and Dover’s always been my favorite track. Those are two tracks — two weeks, three weeks really in racing – and even if you went to Darlington, a good month that’s typically been decent for us and one that I always enjoy going to and usually have a good chance of having a good performance. Dover is real unique. It’s one of those tracks you really have to attack, and it’s also one of those tracks that’s difficult to get a fast lap around there by yourself if you’re real on the edge and then when you put everyone else out there and you have to race them at the same time it makes it real interesting. I’ve always really enjoyed that. Whenever you can get a good run at a track you really, really like – you always feel good about that. But, it is one that I look forward to.”

Do you think Brad Keselowski is a leader? “Nah, I don’t think so. I don’t know. If he’s called any meetings to order, I wasn’t invited to them. I don’t know, I don’t know what that all means. Brad (Keselowski) is very, obviously opinionated and he has definitely his own ideas and I’m sure some of his ideas are shared by some, not sure by all necessarily. I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what makes Brad, Brad. I think everybody is different in this sport and different personalities are important and good. I don’t know what a leader means. I know he’s not my leader. I don’t know if he’s a leader of the drivers. I think being the champion, he’s probably — maybe his opinion carries more weight or more people are listening to what you’re saying because you’re the champion compared to someone who is not.”

How thin is the margin of error in this weekend’s race and the difficulty to win? “Well, there all really hard to win. I haven’t been to one that’s been easy. They’re all hard, certainly an extra hundred miles adds a different dynamic to the race. It depends on how your car is driving, it depends what the weather conditions are. To me, especially, you’re probably assuming there’s going to be some long green flag runs, so it’s always a challenge to get your car good enough in the beginning of the race to stay on the lead lap and to stay in a decent position up front somewhere and still have your car where it needs to be at the end of the race to try to challenge for a win when the track is dark and when it’s nine-o-clock at night. It’s time to go grab the win. It’s tough to balance that. There’s been times here when we started off just awful during the day and had a hard time hanging on the lead lap and been really good at the end, and there’s been times we’ve done it the other way around. It’s just hard to find that balance to be reasonable enough in the beginning to be competitive and have a car that can have a shot at the win at the end.”

What do you think about during the 600? “There’s occasions during the race, where maybe your mind will wonder and you think about different things depending on the situation that you’re in. The main thing I always try to do is try to look ahead, especially in this race and try to stay on top of the track changes, what your car is handling like in traffic, what it’s doing in this run. Trying to report as often as you can what’s going on with your car – just all the aspects of it — really, just try to keep your mind focused on that and what you need to do next. As far as car changes, try to focus on what everybody is doing on the race track for their lines and how to get the most speed out of the car. Really, I don’t have to try that hard, but keep your mind on the race and all things on the race so you can always know what’s going on and you feel like you’re plugged into that.”

How much do want to be aware of during the race? “Well, there’s been times I’ve been told that maybe I worry about more than I should necessarily. I just like to always know what’s going on. I like information, I always have and I just like knowing pretty much everything that is going on in the race. Maybe not everything, but I like knowing — I’d rather err on knowing too much than not enough just so I can feel like I have a sense for how the race is going, what the trends are and what’s kind of happening around me.”

Are you on a hot streak at this point in the season? “Well, I think the main thing you hit there was its early in the year. I think we could talk about it again at the beginning of August, late August and kind of get a better feel for where we’re at, at that point compared to where everyone else is at. Hopefully we’ll be able to win some more races before that and hopefully we’ll be able to run like we did to start this year off or improve a little bit and we can be in that conversation and be one of those guys. Man, here in May before the 600 to talk about who is going to run for the championship, there’s a lot that can happen here in the next three-and-a-half, four months before it gets time.”

- Toyota Racing

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