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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 1, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our Friday lunchtime availability. We have Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford.
Matt, give the group an overview of how testing went here at California Speedway.
MATT KENSETH: I thought it went all right. It was the same as any other test really. I thought these cars drove really well, probably better than I expected them to. We had a pretty productive and good week of testing.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. What makes you so good here? Two-time defending champion.
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think it's like anything else. I think it's a team effort. I've had really good cars here. Had a really great team for a long time. I think one of our strong suits in the past on the DeWalt team is the off-season. We've always been able to come out of the box pretty strong, usually get an early-season win or some good finishes.
I think we're -- our guys have always been really prepared and really had stuff ready to go during the off-season.
Q. All the talk and everything about the Car of Tomorrow. Now that you're locked into it, your thoughts? Is it much different than what you've been accustomed to? How do you approach it?
MATT KENSETH: Well, yeah, it's different. I mean, I think the thing about this season that will be a lot better than last season, we'll have one car to work on. We won't have to go back and forth. After the first few weeks, you probably won't have to hear the constant comparisons about the car.
This is a car we have to work on. We have to make it work the best for us. It's different. When you get it to drive good it doesn't drive that much different. It's still a race car, and we're still trying to go in circles as fast as we can. All the basic stuff applies. It's just the bodies are kind of locked into place. There's not a lot of stuff you can work on there.
The cars are very, very technical. They seem to be very finicky, you know, with the bump stops and springs and the splitter being low to the ground. Things are really technical and really touchy. If you get them off a little bit, they don't run very well.
It's just different than what we've done before, but it will be fine.
Q. Jimmie Johnson was in here yesterday saying 2007 is over. Nobody's really trying to play catch-up with him. Is that him being modest? Do a lot of people look at how he dominated the last 10 races and think you have to catch up, this is the guy to beat?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I think we thought that every week for 10 weeks. The goal isn't really to catch up. The goal is to be the best. Our goal is to win and win races, win championships.
If you just look at what somebody else is doing and copy that you're always going to be a step behind somebody. You're trying to pay attention to what other people do. You're trying to be more competitive and make yourself better.
But the goal is to be best. To do that, you have to be a step ahead of everybody, not a step behind, not even at the same level they're at. That's the big thing, is just keep working as hard as we can and try to get the right people and parts and equipment, all that stuff, in place to try to get better.
Q. Yesterday we had several drivers in here. We were asking them semi-technical questions about the COT car. Several responded with, I don't have that answer; you have to talk to my engineer. Are drivers and crew chiefs more dependent on engineers now more so than ever than they were with the old car because of the COT configuration?
MATT KENSETH: Well, yes and no. Even if I knew what was in my car for springs and stuff I wouldn't tell you guys (laughter). You're not going to tell everybody a trade secret, something you can learn, or something you can do to get an advantage on somebody. That might be some of it.
I think certainly they are more technical than our other cars. But I also think some of it is just technology or, you know, time moving on. You know, I mean, the other cars were getting more technical, too. They were figuring out more stuff with engineering, wind tunnel, computer simulation, and all that stuff. So part of that is just the modern era. It's just moving on.
But certainly it's different than it used to be. I used to be able to feel like I was more important. I used to be able to get out of the car, and if it wasn't handling right I could tell them to change that spring and more times than not it would make it better.
I could say, It really feels like it needs a different sway bar and there were more times that it would help than it would hurt. I can't do that anymore. It's kind of frustrating. I won't even really necessarily ask what's in my car for setup before I come to the track, because most of it is spit out of a computer, the seven-post people or the other simulation stuff we have. It's definitely a lot different than it was even two or three years ago.
Q. Aside from all the things you just mentioned, is there anything else you miss about the old Cup cars as compared to the Car of Tomorrow?
MATT KENSETH: You know, I don't know. I mean, it doesn't really do any good to sit and think about it that much. I've more been thinking about these cars and this is what we have to work on and move forward with. It's just something different. You always go through them transitions.
I remember when I went from a big car to a little car, however long ago that was, 20 some years ago or whatever. There's always going to be changes. You just have to adapt to them and make them work the best you can.
Q. This is the first time in a long time you worked with somebody different than Robby. What has the last week been like for you with the changes there?
MATT KENSETH: It really hasn't been much different. It's been really a good week actually. We've had a little bit of everything. I think it's been good. So I think the biggest adjustment probably is more for Chip than it is for me. We worked together for nine years. If we can't communicate by now, we've got a major problem.
We've been working at it for a long time. He's been a very, very huge piece of the 17 team since its inception. I feel very good about everything. Chip has a few things that are different than what he was doing before. There's a lot of things that were left to Robby personnel-wise and team-wise, all that kind of detail stuff on the road that maybe he didn't have to think about.
He's got some of that stuff to adjust to. I think it will be a pretty easy transition as far as switching crew chiefs go. If it was somebody from the outside, somebody I haven't worked with from a different team or something, I think I'd have a lot more anxiety and it would be a little more maybe hard to adjust. But this hasn't been a big adjustment. He's been part the group for a long time.
Q. Carl Edwards said last year he'd do pretty much everything to improve the relationship between you guys. What has been done during the off-season by yourself, Jack, Carl, to kind of improve things? Has that borne true, for lack of a better term?
MATT KENSETH: Everything's really fine. I don't really want to get into stuff that happened five, six months ago. Everything is fine. Everybody seems pretty happy at Roush Fenway Racing. Everybody seems to be getting along pretty good.
Like I said, we've had a pretty good week. All the teammates have kind of been getting along. Everything's been pretty lose. All the crew chiefs been working really well together. I think everything is fine.
Q. Dario is coming in here in a little bit. What is your take on the continuing influx of international drivers and open-wheel guys?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, from a fan standpoint or something, I think it's kind of cool. Help bring some different fans maybe, fans paying attention to the sport that maybe didn't before or watched other things. But just purely as a driver, it really makes for difference to me or very little difference.
I think it's really cool to be able to race against drivers like Juan Pablo, Jacques, all those guys you seen race on TV, race on Formula One, Indy 500 winner, all that. It's cool when you think about it like that, that you're on the track with them. When you're out there competing and racing, I mean, you don't really necessarily care who you're racing against. You're just trying to beat them and you're trying to figure out how to get yours in front of them all.
Q. What did you like best working with Robby, and what do you think you'll miss the most?
MATT KENSETH: The thing is we're still working with him so much. He's doing so much at the shop. One thing I'm really going to miss is the three days a week we're at the racetrack. Probably just hearing his voice on the radio, him calling the races, doing that stuff. We've done it for so long.
It's hard to say what I'll miss about it because I haven't really missed it yet. I guess he's been my only Cup crew chief, except for when Chip filled this last year. Certainly he's been a huge part of it. It's going to be really different without him being there every day.
Yet I really think with the role he took it's going to be better for everybody at Roush Racing. I don't know if it will necessarily be better for the 17, but I think it will be better for everybody as a group, and I think our production will go up as a company with him in that role. We've been needing somebody like him, in my opinion, in that role for a long time.
I think Chip is as ready as he'll ever be. He's been a big part of it. The cars have become more technical the longer we keep going on. I think overall it will be a good thing for everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Matt.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks a lot, guys.
THE MODERATOR: We have our second driver here of the afternoon, Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 40 Dodge.
Dario, give us an overview of how your testing went here at California.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Testing wasn't bad. We learned a lot. I learned a lot myself just driving the car. I can't believe how different it feels driving a stock car to an IndyCar at this track, so I had a lot to learn from that point of view. We had a lot to learn with the car, just the team getting used to that.
Then we went to tune the car as well to my style. We made some reasonable progress. Yeah, pretty happy with it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. What are you going to do tomorrow? First day in 18 days you haven't been in the car.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was only nine days straight in the car between doing the Rolex 24 Hour and then testing the Sprint Cup car, the Nationwide car in Vegas, and then coming here. It's been nine days.
Tomorrow, I'm going to lie in bed and do absolutely nothing all day. Try to make it breakfast in bed maybe (laughter).
Q. Is there any way you can put the last eight months of your life in perspective? Got to be just one of the wildest runs ever in a racing career.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's difficult. Sometimes when I think about it, it's almost like I missed it, you know what I mean? You're so involved in the moment that it's gone by. But it's been great. Getting to win Indianapolis, win the championship, win our class in Sebring, get to come over here and race stock cars, race for Chip and Felix and win the 24 Hours At Daytona, it's pretty cool. It's the stuff you dream of.
Q. Where is your fire suit? Do you know that you're the last open-wheel winner here? What is it like coming back to this racetrack with that history?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Race suit's in the truck already. I got changed. I'm heading to the airport (laughter).
Yeah, you know, to win here in '05 was great. I definitely have a lot of history with this track. I lost one of my best friends here in '99. I always kind have kind of a strange feeling coming back here.
Q. Can you tell us how different does it feel and how crazy is it to be in a stock car?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I can't describe how different it feels. You're going so quickly, like 210 pretty much at the end of the straight here. You're braking really, really hard. As I get to the midpoint of the corner, you feel that lack of grip, the weight of the car, then from then on, you know, it's pretty difficult.
I find although the speeds are slower, to get to the limit in the stock car is pretty difficult. It's fun, though, it really is, to drive a track like this in one of these cars. I'm really enjoying it.
Q. Matt Kenseth was in here saying he's racing everybody, it's all about competition, he doesn't care who he is racing. When he thinks about it, it's pretty cool to be sharing the track with some of the accomplished open-wheel guys. Given how Jimmie Johnson has dominated out here, has he been much of a conversation among the open-wheel guys?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the Jimmie Johnson is a topic of conversation amongst a lot of guys. I'm a huge NASCAR fan, have been for a long time, so I watched with interest what he's done since he came into the sport. I thought it was impressive watching from, you know, my bus at IndyCar races. Now having driven these cars, I realize how difficult they are to drive, that really puts his achievements into perspective.
But, you know, I had an appreciation for the talent, for the people I'm racing against now, in stock cars. Having now driven it, again, I put them at a different level. There's some very, very impressive guys out there.
Q. Overall, what's the biggest challenge you faced so far making the switch between Indy into NASCAR?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the biggest challenge is finding the limits of the car, not overdriving the car, not underdriving the car, driving the car free enough that it's going to be quick over a long run, getting used to the compromises of driving the car. And that's before you even go into the race and get used to the new style of racing. How physical the races are, as far as people bumping into each other, that kind of stuff.
Again, somewhere like Fontana in an IndyCar, there's one, maybe two lines. In the stock car, there's guys running the white lines, they're guys running up against the wall, all these different things. Each day is a new challenge.
Q. Sam Hornish, Jacques, Carpentier. Why are we seeing all these open-wheelers now? Seemed like Montoya kicked open the door. Give us your opinion as to why you think it's happening altogether.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think -- I was talking to various teams for a number of years. I think that's a theme. I know Sam wanted to come here for a while. Patrick Carpentier did, too. I think Chip is the type of guy to take a gamble, as he has done for years with various types of racing. We came very close to doing a deal for the '07 season, then he did a deal with Juan, which I'm obviously pretty happy with given the results of '07.
But I think the job that Juan did last year, I think it's maybe opened the possibility up to other team owners who weren't maybe prepared to gamble before. They're thinking, they've seen what he can do, let's take a chance here.
Q. What are your realistic expectations for this year, both in the Cup and in the Nationwide Series?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think Sprint Cup, both Sprint Cup and Nationwide, I don't really have any set expectations. I want to do a good job, do my best job week in, week out. As Juan said to me, Some weeks are going to be good, some weeks are going to be terrible. That's just something I have to prepare myself for.
So I'm just, again, going to do my best and see where that takes me.
Q. All the talk has been about the Car of Tomorrow. Do you feel any sort of advantage not having to have adjusted from the old to the new stock car, that you get a fresh run at it a little bit?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think that's definitely an advantage, not having to jump into the old-style car, because I think having driven the Nationwide car, there's no doubt that that is a trickier platform for me coming from open-wheel racing.
Hopefully we'll be a bit more comfortable in the Sprint Cup car.
Q. You're adapting to a lot of changes fast. Do you think the ability to adjust is the best asset a race car driver can have?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know if it's the best, but it's certainly one you need. You need to be able to adapt. I've been fortunate over the last couple years. I've driven a lot of different cars. I think one of the tough points of changing, though, is I've driving in a Champ Car and IndyCar for 11 years. So to jump into something into something completely different, a stock car, has been quite a transition. As I said, the last couple years, I've done the ALMS, Grand-Am, even some historic races back in the UK. I've been trying to get my skills back, adapting to new things.
Q. What are some of the other things that Juan Pablo Montoya has told you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You know, he's been really good. I said to Chip last night, I said, Hey, don't tell Juan this, but he's been really helpful (laughter).
No, he has been -- like in Vegas the other day, Why don't you try this, why don't you try that. Here again, If you do this. I won't go into specifics, but he said, If you try this line, there's probably going to be a result.
Talking to crew chief and the engineers on the team, they'll say, You're exactly where he was last year at this point with your setup. It will take you a while to migrate maybe towards more of a traditional setup. Reed is there with a more traditional view, having coming up the route he did. He's offering advice, too. Both teammates have been really cool.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming in, Dario.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thank you.
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