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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 19, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our first regular weekly teleconference of the 2008 season in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at California Speedway in Fontana, California, the Auto Club 500.
We're starting the year off with a real good teleconference. Our first guest today is the newly crowned Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge for Penske Racing.
Following Ryan on the call today will be the two-time defending Auto Club 500 champion Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.
Ryan, two days later, is it all starting to sink in, what you were able to accomplish the other evening?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's slowly sinking in. For sure it's an honor to be representing NASCAR. Trying to do my best with all the media to tell everybody how much a family sport NASCAR is and how much it means to me to be part of it. To be part of the 50th running of the Daytona 500 is truly a dream come true for me.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you for that opener. We'll be ready now to go to the media for questions for our new Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman.
Q. A lot has been made in the wake of the Daytona 500 about the way the Dodges collectively performed. Do you expect that to be able to carry on through the remainder of the season? Do you think Dodge is going to be a lot more competitive this year on all the tracks?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think we definitely had a great show in the 500. Six of the top eight were Dodges. Some of that is due to racing, some is due to preparation. I think with the new car this year, we have a greater chance of all cars being the same manufacturer-wise. It's just a matter of the team and how much horsepower you have underneath the hood that can make a difference in any given weekend.
Q. Going back to the latter stages of that race, what was going on over the radio and everything, how did your father's input as a spotter help you down the stretch in terms of really forming that late-race strategy that put you ahead?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, it's the third year with my dad. Basically about three years of spotting, I have grown to listen to his tone, what it means. So that's good or bad. But when he changed his tone down the back straightaway, I knew that he knew that we had a great shot.
Secondly, it was just a matter of racing and racing luck, have the opportunity to get back to the start/finish line to be a 500 winner.
It's an honor really just to be in my position from a racing standpoint. But, honestly, like you are alluding to, to have my dad be there, be part of the team, to hear his vocals over the radio, the enthusiasm, the emphasis that he shared, it proved that it's a dream come true for him as well.
Q. Was that probably the most productive day that y'all have had working together as a team? Did everything seem to fall in line between the crew, spotter, what you wanted from them?
RYAN NEWMAN: I'd say it was pretty flawless. There was a couple times where I thought I was close to crashing the car just because it was a handful. It was a flawless day on my dad's part. It was a flawless day in the pits. I never saw anything that was a speed bump. Sometimes you can have speed bumps and battle through 'em.
It was just a great day for everybody at Penske Racing with the ALLTEL Dodge. To have everybody do their part, do it flawlessly, like I said, you don't always get that. But when it comes at the biggest race of the year, meaning so much with the 50th anniversary, I think it shows the potential of the great team we have, what a great team we had on that day, but the potential we have toward the entire season.
Q. At what point in the race did you know you were going to win? Was it after Kurt came up behind you and started pushing you? How does it feel to win the first 500 for Roger Penske?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I knew I had a great, great shot when Tony Stewart started to pull down on the backstretch to get a push from his teammate Kyle Busch. Obviously Kurt helped and I have to be extremely grateful for his push, his ultimate teamwork, lack of selfishness that gave me the opportunity to get the win.
But when I got into three after the great push down the back straightaway, I'm totally aware of what's going on in the race. It takes about a half of a lap, you get pushed like that, you have as good a car as my ALLTEL Dodge was, for everybody else to catch up. It was really about the start/finish line when things started to get dicey again.
The second part, the 500 itself, I've always said it's an honor to compete in that race, and compete at the level that we're at. But the 50th running, I think I totally underestimated the significance of that history and the golden anniversary.
Q. What was your dad's job when you were growing up?
RYAN NEWMAN: My dad had an auto repair shop. It was called G&D Auto Service. It's still there. He since sold out. Actually, the guy that used to work with him was at the 500. The guy that he sold it to with his wife was at the 500. So it was a reunion of sorts for them.
It was a great learning experience for me growing up with my dad, being around cars, around racecars, working on racecars together. I'm extremely grateful for all the things that he's taught me.
Q. He said he pretty much knew the day you were born you were going to be a racecar driver. Kids sometimes rebel against their parents' plans for them. Did you ever do that?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't think there's ever been a kid that didn't rebel at one time. I've never, never gone against my parents' - specifically my dad's - wish for me to be a racecar driver. In fact, one day I can remember when I didn't want to go to school, I told my mom I didn't feel like going to school that day. My dad told me, If you don't want to go to school, there's not going to be any racing.
I've rebelled -- it's more against me than against my parents, and rightfully so when it came to that.
The only sport I ever played outside of racing, for those people that call it a sport, was grade school basketball. Once I realized I wasn't that good at it, it was all racing.
Q. You said you rebelled against your parents. What was your rebellion?
RYAN NEWMAN: All I was relating to was the fact that when your parents say you can't do something, you shouldn't do something, you still want to do it, you put up a fuss. That's the only rebellion I'm talking about. I never met a parent or kid that didn't go through that at least once.
Q. How is your whirlwind media tour so far? How did you do with Letterman last night?
RYAN NEWMAN: It's fun. It's unique. It's definitely the Letterman Show. I don't think I got in a single question, but I did try to answer everything he asked.
It's an honor to grow up watching, whether it's Regis and Kelly, the Letterman show, all the other things we do, all the people that you see, to know that most of the reporters have interviewed A.J. Foyt or Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt at some point. To be part of the group of people that -- to be part of the driving group that represents NASCAR is a dream come true for me.
Q. Your father and you both touched on it yesterday at the champions breakfast. You talked about you kissing your racecar when you were a kid. Can you talk about that.
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I guess it's a definition or a way to define respect. You have to respect your equipment and you have to care for your racecar. Obviously the people around you have influence on that racecar.
Growing up, it was the thing to do. Not to say that I actually did it. I mean, it was more of a figure of speech than anything. Just like the guys that are professional anglers kiss the fish before they put it back in the water. It's the way of showing appreciation and respect for either something, something you love, a way of making a living. You know, that's something that my dad taught me at a young age.
Q. But you never actually did it, though?
RYAN NEWMAN: I won't -- I can definitely say that I probably never kissed the car. But there was times when I hugged it.
Q. The term "instant legend" comes to mind now that you've won not only the Daytona 500, but to win the 50th Daytona 500. I don't know if that has sunk in yet. How hard was it to hand over the keys to your 12 car for the Daytona Experience?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, the 50th running is just great. I totally underestimated. I joked beforehand, people asked me how great will it be if you won the 50th anniversary. My standard answer seemed to be, It would be a little bit more special than if you were to win the 49th. It's bigger than I ever thought.
When I had the opportunity to see the car in the Daytona 500 Experience, that was special in itself. The act of giving away the keys wasn't that difficult. I know Roger Penske is more than happy to build at least one more extra car after giving that one away. I feel blessed to be in that position.
I remember, as well, going in for media events earlier in the week, seeing Kevin Harvick's car in there, kind of mentally picturing mine replacing it.
Q. You, Roger Penske and Dodge in recent years have sort of been up against it, struggling a little bit. What does this victory mean for not only you the driver, Roger the owner, Dodge the manufacturer, but what type of momentum do you think you can generate, the three entities, from this one huge win?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I mean, I'm 30 years old, and Roger has been trying to win this race for 30 years. I can only imagine what it means to him. It's my seventh or eighth attempt. It's super special to me. I know after watching and seeing firsthand Dale Earnhardt's experience, Darrel Waltrip's experience trying to get that first victory, it's truly amazing.
I don't think you can really put into words how much it means to one person or one team other than the fact that you just try to make the best of it.
The different thing about our sport, other than different types of sports, is we have to get back to it within five days. Other teams get to last the entire off-season with the mental, emotional high. I'm taking it for what it's worth and we'll keep the ball rolling as best we can.
Q. I know you have a number one fan in Robert Nardelli, CEO of Chrysler. I understand he paid a visit to you and also had a wonderful monetary prize for you. Can you comment on that.
RYAN NEWMAN: Yeah, Mr. Nardelli put out the teaser before the race of a million-dollar bonus to any Dodge team that won the 500. I actually forgot about it. It's a great enticer. But you never think about it as a driver. You're there to win the race. You don't think about the bank accounts. But you do appreciate it afterwards.
When I saw him in Victory Lane with his smile, it was fairly equal to Roger Penske's. Mr. Nardelli has only been in that position for a short time. I was glad to deliver that to Dodge as well as all the other people at Chrysler and everybody else that had an influence on making my ALLTEL Dodge as sharp as it was.
Q. Over the last couple of years, every time there was a yellow flag and then the green flag was dropped, the Dodge cars seemed like they couldn't get up enough speed as quickly as the other cars. This year you had no problem. Am I correct on that statement? Does the new car have anything to do with it?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I would say that the new car has evened the playing field in a lot of respects. I think the one respect that you're referring to is when the cars were in the dirtier air, tighter pack, we felt with Dodge that we didn't have the entire package. We always worked on it, don't get me wrong. But we struggled a little bit more in the dirty air, restart type mode than other organizations or, say, other manufacturers.
So this new car has definitely leveled the playing field very much so with respect to the bodies. We put a lot of emphasis on what goes on underneath the hood now.
Q. I'm going to ask this question because I think I talked to you about this before, I mentioned that a lot of kids ask me about being a NASCAR driver. Everybody knows your experience, you graduated with a degree as an engineer, really didn't that help you tremendously, especially with this new Car of Tomorrow?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I wouldn't say necessarily with the new car. But in general I always said that my engineering degree helped me with two things, more everyday life things, and that was time management and problem solving. When you're in college and trying to be a racecar driver, you try to get as much done as you can, whether it's in racing or in reference to your schoolwork.
Doing it as fast as you can wasn't always the best situation, but doing it the fastest you could, getting it done right, or as close to right as you were capable of, is what made the difference. Those two things definitely helped me be a better person in general.
I would suggest anybody that has the opportunity, whether you're 5 years old or 15 years old, to think about college.
Q. Winning the Daytona 500 obviously boosted your mood. Do you think it will leave a brighter outlook on your personality? How do you think this honor will affect your distant future?
RYAN NEWMAN: I think it's huge. I really don't know. As I said, it hasn't sank in all the way right now to know what it's going to be like in 15 days or 15 years to come.
It's just a situation where you have to experience it. I've had a lot of great congratulations from people like Kenny Schrader, Richard Petty and Roger Penske, my sponsors and everybody else, to try to help set it in for me and have an impact. But it's huge. It's a life-changing experience. I'm trying to do my best to represent NASCAR and all the people that have made the difference in my life to get to this point.
Q. What it's like to be Roger's boy right now? Are you pretty happy?
RYAN NEWMAN: Well, I think Roger's got two of us with Kurt Busch giving me that push. It was a 1-2 finish for Penske Racing. I think Kurt said it best, he was happy to see me in Victory Lane. It was as if he won, even though he didn't. If the roles were reversed, I would feel the same way.
Kurt gave me a great push, was the perfect teammate, the perfect time. Sometimes it takes that. We didn't have a dominant racecar. I felt the 18 was the dominant racecar. To get the ALLTEL Dodge in Victory Lane was great for Roger Penske after thirty years of trying to win the Daytona 500.
Q. Are you going to take Kurt on a special vacation or something?
RYAN NEWMAN: No, we're doing the media tour. I don't even get a chance to go home. I'll appreciate it all a little bit more after California.
Q. Once you get done with the season, might you take him to Disneyworld afterwards?
RYAN NEWMAN: I don't know about Disneyworld. I hear they have some pretty good fishing ponds down there.
Q. Do you think the Car of Tomorrow is a better car overall?
RYAN NEWMAN: I would say the car itself is less of a performer than the old car. And I would say that that was defined and purposely planned by NASCAR to slow us down a little bit at certain racetracks. I would guarantee you that after years of working with this car, maybe a year, maybe three or four years, that it will be faster and it will drive better and feel better. And we'll keep working with it. It's just a matter of time. And I'm happy to be a part of NASCAR racing and doing what I do to drive the ALLTEL Dodge.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to our Daytona 500 champion, Ryan Newman. Ryan, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. Best of luck this week. It will be great to see you follow up with another one. I know you'll have all the confidence to do so. So good luck this weekend.
RYAN NEWMAN: Thank you. Go easy on my buddy Kenseth. If somebody could ask if he's going to the run the same setup with this car as he did with the old one, that would give me an idea of what to do with mine for this weekend's race.
HERB BRANHAM: We've gotten our surveillance instructions. We'll proceed. Thank you.
RYAN NEWMAN: Appreciate it.
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by another special guest, 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.
Matt is going for a third straight victory in the California Speedway, first race of the season they have out there each year, the Auto Club 500.
Matt, what's the outlook for winning three straight in February at California Speedway?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. I never thought we'd win two. I mean, you never really know. I mean, I always feel pretty confident going to California. It's been one of our better tracks throughout our time in the Nationwide Series and in the Cup Series.
It's one we certainly look forward to. You look forward to trying to get some momentum back after our disappointing Daytona 500. So hopefully it will be all right.
HERB BRANHAM: One of the favorite places for drivers to drive. We hear that each year.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, it's just a real big, you know, wide track. You get a little bit of everything there. You get a lot of speed. Especially this new car has less drag, so you go really fast on the straightaways. It's got some pretty big corners where you can run around the bottom or you can run up high. You're always kind of searching for a groove, so it's always a lot of fun.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go to the media now for questions for our second guest today, Matt Kenseth.
Q. You mentioned the disappointing Daytona 500. Did you get a chance to talk to David? How did that go?
MATT KENSETH: No, I didn't.
Q. On to California. We see how the draft changed at Daytona. California, being a big place with a lot of speed, does the draft work differently? Do you get some of that benefit at California with this new car?
MATT KENSETH: Well, the honest answer is I don't know, you know, because we haven't really ran this car very much there yet, except for, you know, single-car runs.
You do get some pull down the straightaways in general at Michigan and California probably more so than any of the other tracks we go to besides Daytona and Talladega. You probably get a little pull down the straightaway, but it won't be like Daytona, like you'll be able to help somebody like a teammate. But I certainly do think you will get some pull down the straightaways.
Q. Does it help you being the second guy?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don't know if you're ever going to see necessarily a slingshot. But certainly if you're moving forward on somebody, corner exit, you get a run on somebody, if you have a car in front of you, certainly you're going to get down the straightaway hopefully a little faster than he is.
Q. Seeing Robbie Reiser at the track not in a crew chief's role, what was that? Do you think he's happy with that right now?
MATT KENSETH: You know, I think he is. I think it's weird for him to be at the track actually. Just got done talking to him right before I called you guys here at the shop. It's just different for him. He's kind of a gamer. That's what he's always done, he's always been in the box calling the races, getting really involved in the race, doing all that sort of sort. To stand on the sideline, watch and listen, I think is probably a little tough for him at this point.
Q. How did things work with Chip the first race?
MATT KENSETH: Good. I mean, not a planned one, but we got to do a five- or six-race trial a little bit last year. Everything was good there. I thought everything went good. Obviously we had a disappointing finish. But he made some great adjustments on the car. We went from being good, to getting it off, to figuring out how to fix it and being pretty competitive right before we got wrecked.
Obviously a disappointing finish, but it was certainly not of the guys' faults. We had good pit stops, good adjustments and had ourselves in contention, so I thought it was good
Q. Did Robbie seem a little lost out there a little bit?
MATT KENSETH: I didn't get to see him much, to be honest with you. Daytona 500 morning is pretty busy. He just came on race day. I didn't get to spend more than two or three minutes with him at the track probably.
Q. The Roush teams typically do really well at these mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks. That was obviously in the past. You have two wins under your belt at California Speedway. Now it's a clean slate with this new car. Having one testing session under your belt, what can we expect from you guys?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you never know for sure until you race. I was fairly pleased with our California test. I thought we learned a lot of stuff there. I was more pleased with that than I was with Vegas.
But, I mean, you just don't know really where everybody else is at, what they've learned since then or what they were showing you or not showing you in the test.
With this car, it's a little bit of an unknown because we haven't done it before. But overall I feel pretty good about it. I thought we were pretty competitive out there compared to how everybody was running at the time. I thought we learned some good things about the car.
I feel all right about it.
Q. A lot of drivers mention after they take a few days off they miss racing quickly. Do you think week after week of those hot days and intense competition have little effect on a driver's need for speed, that next trip to Victory Lane?
MATT KENSETH: Can you say that again? I guess I missed it.
Q. When drivers take a few days off, a lot will say they miss racing. After a few days, they want to get racing again. Do the hot days, week after week of the intense competition, going track to track, does that have little effect on a driver's need for speed, the need to win?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you always want to win. I mean, if you won the week before or you won the year before, whatever it is, you're always out there tying to win. That's the goal.
So, you know, I don't know -- obviously the longer you go in between wins I think the more desperate you feel toward it or the more not panicked but the more you're worried about ever winning again - that's how I get anyway - than if you just won the week before. But I think certainly you're always ready to go to the track and you always want to win.
Q. The new car seems to be an equalizer. Looks like it's put much more of an emphasis on horsepower. At Daytona the Chevys and Toyotas seemed to dominate the events. How does Ford stack up with the horsepower?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know.
Q. Are you behind a little bit?
MATT KENSETH: NASCAR would probably have that information. They did all the tests all weekend. They tested the Nationwide cars. I think they tested the trucks. I know they tested the Cup cars more than once. They have that information.
One thing about NASCAR is they're going to make sure the playing field is level. If for some reason Toyota has a substantial advantage, they're going to figure out how to make it fair for everybody.
Q. I'm sure Roush Fenway is looking for more horsepower. You feel comfortable with the power you've got?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I mean, you know, you only have what you have. Doug Yates and them guys do a great job on the engines. They're constantly looking to make it better, more competitive. I think next year is the year we get our new engine. Certainly, as old as our engine design is, compared to Toyota's or Chevy's new engine, it should be down a little bit. I'm not sure it is, but it should be down a little bit. I know when we get our new stuff, it will be better.
Q. As Ryan was getting off his call before this he said to ask about getting the setup for your car. Can you talk about your friendship with Ryan. You're on different teams, but he has a lot of respect for you.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, Ryan and I have always got along pretty good. I always enjoyed spending a little time together. Krissie and Katie became friends when she came on the scene a little bit. Ryan and I have always gotten along well and have done stuff together. That was a big win for him. That was pretty cool. I promised him I was going to stay up and watch Letterman last night but I fell asleep. Have to watch it on my DVR when I get home. He promised me he was going to say something funny. I don't know if he did or not, but he said he would.
Q. I guess I wonder if you two can help each other at the track or is it just sort of a friendship deal?
MATT KENSETH: No, you know, I have six teammates already. I don't think we can really help each other too much necessarily at the track. But, you know, certainly friends and get along good and like to race together.
Q. With Robbie Reiser out, what do you think the season is going to be like with a new car and new crew chief?
MATT KENSETH: Well, hopefully it will be productive. I think -- I know Chip is going to do a great job. He's done a great job so far. He's been very involved and a big part of the DeWalt team ever since its inception. I'm not worried about that part.
I know the new car is a challenge. But on the other hand having one car to work on for the year instead of two I think will make it a little bit easier on the engineering staff, easier on the crew chiefs and everybody else. So I feel pretty good about it.
Q. What is your take on this year's '08 rookie class, seeing you were a pretty hot rookie when you started?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know. Who are they all?
Q. Patrick Carpentier is one.
MATT KENSETH: I think it's yet to be seen. He hasn't raced a whole bunch in these kind of cars. He's done well the little bit he has and certainly in other forms of racing he's been very successful. I'm sure he'll adapt and do good.
Q. You mentioned earlier California and Michigan, similarities. Will you learn a lot from racing at California? Even though you did some testing at California, can you explain to the folks how much different it is between testing and with 43 cars on the track at the same time?
MATT KENSETH: Well, at a track like California, it's really not that different. You don't really worry about the draft or dirty air or that. It's not like doing single-car runs at a restrictor plate race then going to race, which is greatly different.
I don't think it's really necessarily that much different. California, Michigan certainly have a lot of similarities. You can use a lot of what you learn at California at Michigan and vice versa. I remember there's years when Kurt won both races and ran almost exactly the same stuff at both tracks. You know, what California likes Michigan kind of likes. You might not be able to run a carbon copy but you'll certainly be able to use some of the stuff you learned.
Q. You mentioned you have six teammates. You have teammates that are looking at sponsors going away. You have a couple guys that are free agents. I know you don't have any control over that, but is any of that a concern to you, that there's a lot of things going a lot of different directions with Roush Fenway?
MATT KENSETH: Not really. I mean, whenever you make the organization, you know, bigger, engineering support, whatever, you always worry about it a little bit.
But as long as it's always a two-way street, I think it can help. So I think as long as you get teams that are contributing and helping, working both ways, I think it can help.
The rest of the stuff doesn't really concern me. I got enough to worry about with myself and our team without really worrying about other team sponsors and stuff like that. I don't really put a lot of thought into that.
HERB BRANHAM: First of all, thanks to Matt Kenseth, our 2003 series champion and two-time defending champion at the Auto Club 500. Matt, best of luck to try to get three in a row at California this weekend.
MATT KENSETH: Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media for joining us. As always, we truly appreciate the coverage. Throughout this year, teleconferences will typically be on Tuesday, 1:00, 2:00 normally. Watch on NASCARmedia.com for the ongoing teleconference schedule. Thank you again.
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