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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 17, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference. It's in advance of this weekend's racing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Very pleased today to have a couple of really special guests. We have our Daytona 500 champions with us, Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Ford, and his car owner, Jack Roush.
Matt joins us from New York City, where he is amidst the annual media tour for the Daytona 500 champion. And Jack joins us from Roush Fenway Racing in Concord.
Gentlemen, thanks for your time today. Maybe we'll get a brief opening statement from each and then we'll go right to the media for questions.
Matt, you were under the media spotlight back in '03 in New York. You came to the city as the series champion. What's it like to return this week amidst all the action up there, this time as the Daytona 500 champion?
MATT KENSETH: I've had a lot of fun. I've really been enjoying the last two days a lot more than expected or maybe I thought I would. The only hiccup in the whole week so far is I'm locked out of my room in the hallway at the Waldorf. They turned their keys off, so I'm in the hallway doing this call. Other than that, it's been really enjoyable.
I had fun going on Letterman. The most enjoyable part of my week so far honestly has been seeing all the guys in Victory Lane, hanging out with them, all the different text messages and emails and phone calls I've got from different people congratulating me. It's always really cool, flattering and humbling when your friends and peers and stuff like that call to congratulate. We've been having a great time up here so far.
HERB BRANHAM: Jack, you finally have that Daytona 500 victory as a car owner. What is the feeling now that you've had a couple of days for it to sink in?
JACK ROUSH: It's way different than I'd expected. I had not planned on winning the Daytona 500 race. I went for years as a road racer to the 24 Hours, to a number of other road racing events they had. In fact, I won 14 times in 14 different events, road racing events, before I started the NEXTEL or Sprint Cup racing. I thought when you went to Daytona, you picked up a trophy and got $200 and didn't have to go to jail or anything, you know.
I've been surprised to find that the stock car racing, Sprint Cup racing for the Daytona 500, has been so difficult. We actually came twice, close to winning twice at the Firecracker. Actually we won once. Came close to winning once and we won once with Jamie McMurray in the Firecracker.
It was surprising to me that there was so much pomp and circumstance about the enshrinement of the car in the Daytona 500 Experience, that Daytona Experience they have there. The enshrinement of the car was an emotional thing. Had much more energy associated with it than I imagined. Of course, there was the ring that came in the Victory Circle that I hadn't expected. There's all the interviews and stuff.
Of course, like Matt, I've been the recipient of a lot of well wishing, a lot of congratulations that really surprised me and has humbled me beyond my description.
This was my 22nd time of being down there and competing for this award, for this event. Like I said, I had pretty much put it out of my mind that I'd ever win a Daytona 500. Of course, it was Matt's 10th try with us. So Matt had not planned on being there for the Monday after the event and had to trek back to North Carolina to get fresh clothes and things for the week that followed, and I had to delay my trip home by half a day.
It's really been worth it. I know the spirits have picked up in the shop. In fact, I was surprised it was rained out. I was checking weather when they finally called the race. It came hours earlier than I'd expected. As I walked through the garage area to the paddock area, I was met by a line of cars, cars that were coming off the racetrack, so I was late getting to the Victory Circle. Matt's victory was a very popular victory among the crew and other teams. To a man, everybody I passed congratulated Matt for what he'd been able to do. I've tried to pass that on to him.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks, guys, for those openers. We'll go to the media now for questions for our Daytona 500 champions, Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush.
Q. Matt, you had a few Days of Thunder-esque kind of situation. You were right behind the wreck of Dale, Jr. and Vickers. What was going through your mind? The smoke clears, there's the 17 car.
MATT KENSETH: Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, there's a lot of wrecks that you go through, get caught up in at times. There's times where you see thing and you think you made a good decision, see cars sliding one way, you go the other way, what have you.
But this wreck happened so fast, we were two- or three-wide going up through there. Cars were flying everywhere. I didn't really have time to react. I moved the car to the left a little bit and made it right through there. When I came out the other side, I was fairly surprised. I actually thought I had damage. When they said the car looked good, I was very surprised.
Q. Jack, it must be a little bittersweet for you. You have a superspeedway car that wins the Daytona 500, and they take the key away from you and lock it up at Daytona USA.
JACK ROUSH: Yeah, that was a little hard to take in a way. The good news is with the Car of Tomorrow, which of course is the car of today, NASCAR's template rules, all the underbody, standardization of so many different things dimensionally, we've got other cars -- there's nothing special about that car. If it was in the previous series of cars, you won a speedway race with it, you had to take it back the next three times you went to races during the year.
Matt had three cars he ran down there. This car here, you know, seemed to work a little bit better from the beginning. But I talked to the crew chief, Drew, about it. Drew said he felt like in the shop the preparation that the guys did was better than what they were able to achieve at the racetrack from a bump-stop point of view.
I'm confident we can do without the car. I've been told that NASCAR are going to pay me for it. I don't know if they'll consider it to be a $5 horse and I'll get $5 for it or what it will be. The good news is that one day it will come back to us and it will be a collector's item.
Q. How much pressure does this take off you for the rest of the season, being you were winless last year? I know you had a championship before. What is your framework on this, your mindset going into Fontana?
MATT KENSETH: Well, it really doesn't take any pressure off. It puts I think a little bit of a spring in everybody's step. Probably gives everybody a little bit more confidence.
Daytona is a totally different race than Fontana, Atlanta, Bristol, any of these tracks that are really the bread and butter of the season. Those are the tracks you have to run at to be a serious championship contender.
It certainly does give everybody a little confidence, except for last year, when we were winless. For some reason, when we do get victories, we've been able to get some early-season wins. I think it's important to get off to a good start like we did.
But we really need to go perform, try to win more races this year and try to be a championship contender. My goals are pretty high for this year. I think with the addition of Drew, I feel more optimistic, more confident in my team and in the possibilities that we have this year than I have really honestly in a long, long time.
I know all the equipment is there. Roush Racing won a lot of races last year. They were able to win almost a third of the races. We know the equipment is there. I really feel like I've got the team to win. We need to go win some more races at these other tracks.
Q. Matt, what was your new crew chief's reaction to start off his career as a crew chief winning the Daytona 500?
MATT KENSETH: Well, I don't know. I know Jack spent a portion of his day with Drew today. I haven't got to spend a lot of time with him. Saw him a little bit Sunday night and Monday for the car induction ceremony.
You know, he was very happy. I'm sure he was somewhat surprised, too. Everything's downhill from here. I don't think he's going to keep a perfect batting average. It's pretty awesome.
Drew's a real smart guy. He's got a lot of energy. I think he's going to be a great leader. I think he'll be able to lead the DeWalt team hopefully for a lot of years.
But he's smart. He knows that team has been put together for a long time. Chip did a good job with the guys and the car last year. He's been around here for a month or two getting to know the guys, kind of getting a lot more involved in working with the team. I'm sure he's still pretty happy today.
Q. Jack, could you respond to that, since you spent some time with Drew?
JACK ROUSH: Sure. We had our debrief meeting as a group today with the crew chiefs and the engineers all together. Drew has a good grasp of it. He knows he was very fortunate to have Matt miss the wreck that collected so many cars. You normally don't have that kind of luck. Having the rain come just when he was able to pass, that was almost certainly not the last pass that would have been made if the race had run to its normal conclusion.
So it kind of fell in his lap, and he knows that. But the fact is that he prepared a car that ran from 39th to 1st, and arguably, of the cars that survived, was one of the best cars out there. So he had better-than-average chance of finishing if it had gone to conclusion. When you see the snapshot that is imposed by the rain coming, you know you're out of time, then it's just a matter of happenstance that that occurs in your favor.
Drew comes from a great sports-minded family. His dad was a coach on stick-and-ball sports. Drew was an athlete as a youngster. He's sports minded, competitive. He knows how hard it is to win. He'll be up for all the races that are in the future.
Q. Matt, I stayed up last night to watch Letterman. I thought your timing was spectacular. You did a fine job. You even inserted some funny moments that I think a lot of us caught and maybe Letterman didn't. Can you talk a little bit about the experience.
MATT KENSETH: Well, thank you. It was fun. David Letterman, I don't watch a ton of TV, I watch some, but I don't watch a ton of TV shows. I've always really enjoyed watching David Letterman. I think he's real funny. When I lived at home with my dad, we'd watch Letterman a lot growing up. Still watch him once in a while.
If I had to pick one show, if you could ever be a guest on anything, I would be a guest in the chair sitting by Letterman. So I enjoyed it. It's a lot of fun. It's cool to be able to be invited, be on those shows, do the media tour. I had a great time with it.
Q. Jack, did you stay up to watch it?
JACK ROUSH: Absolutely not. I had to be up at a quarter to 5 this morning to get up to North Carolina. I'll have to get a recording of it and check it out in my spare time. I didn't see it last night.
Q. Matt, at the end of last year we discussed the fact you were bringing on a new crew chief, bringing back your old spotter, trying to find that comfort level that you had in the past. Somebody said it takes a really smart racecar driver to admit that he knows what he needs, and that you actually had the wherewithal to force the issue and get that group back together. What was it that you knew this was something you had to do?
MATT KENSETH: I don't know if there was one thing that told me that we had to do it. There was a few things. There were several discussions with Chip throughout the winter. I guess there was probably one day where Chip and I talked about a lot of stuff. I kind of walked away thinking we probably needed to get him some help and get somebody in there to help lead the team and the group and the people and help keep the guys on pit stops, morning on motivation, do some of that stuff.
I think I kind of knew that. Drew was the first guy that came to mind. I pushed hard for him when I talked to Robbie at first. Then I had a nice long conversation with Chip about it. Chip was totally on board with it. He thought it would make the team stronger. He thought if it was for the betterment of the team, he was all for it.
Of course my next phone call was to Jack. I guess I must not have been too unreasonable over the 11 years I've been with Jack because he hasn't denied a request of mine yet. He didn't deny that one either.
So far so good. Of course, it's only one race. I really think he's going to be the guy. I think he's going to be a good leader for the team.
JACK ROUSH: Can I comment on that?
Chip Bolin is a great engineer. He's a good crew chief. Certainly the success that Matt had with Robbie being crew chief was to a great part enhanced by Chip being there, doing all of his magic on the cars.
The technical side of the car, even with Drew in place will be Chip's responsibility as it has been in the past. Chip is a leader for the entire time, for all the engineers, and advises all the crew chiefs on many things.
We were in a situation where we looked at what would make our team better. Some of the magic that Robbie Reiser had had -- I'm sorry, that Matt had had with Robbie Reiser at the helm was lost when Robbie stepped away. I take the responsibility for not recognizing the fact there was a hole there. I didn't manage to put enough human resource, enough people to make up for Robbie's hole to support Chip and support Matt. With Drew, we made that adjustment.
Looking at that crew, the thing that's really the best about it is the fact that they've been together since Robbie formed them nearly 10 years ago. So it's just a matter of a couple of things at the top here that's been necessary to get it just perfect again.
Q. Matt, that was a restrictor plate race. Fontana won't be. There has been the ban on testing. How valuable will your notes be from past performances at the following tracks that are non-restrictor plate races?
MATT KENSETH: Pretty important. Any other year, I would say it wouldn't be important with the other car. Since we switched to this car, ran at every racetrack last year, there's been zero rule changes to the car. They're the same exact aerodynamic package when we went there both races last year. None of that has changed. All the rules are basically the same.
Of course, through that time we hopefully learned some things, get a little smarter as far as your chassis setups. But it's not like we're going there with a different kind of car. So we'll look at what we did last year and we'll try to improve on that. Of course, if the tire is different, there's still some variables there with track conditions, tires, stuff like that.
But basically we'll rely on our notes from last time is what they do, then they try to improve on that every time they go back.
Q. Most of the drivers seem more comfortable in the car, having one full year behind it. Have you been able to find a little more downforce as needed?
MATT KENSETH: That's something we really can't work on. Our guys are pretty smart. They pretty much maxed that out right away. There's so many templates, rules and dimensions on the body and such that you can't really improve the downforce they have.
We have as much downforce as NASCAR will let us have. All the cars are basically the same. They're very, very close. That's something we can't work on. We can work on springs and shocks, bump-stops, sway bars, mechanical things like that, but that's all they've really left us to work on. That's kind of in their hands and not ours.
Q. Two restrictor plate wins for Roush Racing since 2007. What is your take on where you think your restrictor plate program is? How hard is it to win one of these races?
MATT KENSETH: Well, first of all, I think it's different than it was two years ago. We used to have a very specialized car for restrictor plate racing. It was a lot different than what it is now. I think they've worked very hard on the motor program. Engines seem to be running real good. Cars are way less specialized than they used to be.
The Daytona car is not that much different than the California car. You could probably actually interchange cars if you had to. Very little changes.
I think they're better. I think we had some good restrictor plate stuff in the past. I heard Jack's opening statement. He forgot about a couple wins. I think Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle have won the Daytona race in July, as well. I think our plate stuff is okay. We can be competitive and run with them guys.
JACK ROUSH: As far as the lack of testing and the things we're gonna see heading toward Fontana, the rest of the year, I think it's not a lack of testing, it's a restriction of testing to NASCAR tracks. I think it plays to the strength of teams that have had success recently with this car, and the success the teams have had a good database.
The partnership we have with Ford Motor Company technically gives us the ability to reduce a bunch of data, reach some conclusions that may not be obvious.
The testing situation has played to our strength. The fact that we won at Daytona now certainly gives us encouragement going on to Talladega.
But restrictor plate races are, as much as anything, a jump ball. I heard Matt say that the car behind him was wrecked and the car in front of him was wrecked on the Earnhardt and Vickers debacle. You just had to be in the right place to be able to get through that. The team strategy doesn't really have that much to do with it.
Most of the time when you go to a restrictor plate race, you send the prospect of being wrecked with either something that's not your fault or something you didn't mean to do. On days when you can get through it and have a good car at the end, you're really very lucky as much as you might be fast or well-prepared.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush. Gentlemen, appreciate your time today. Congratulations again on winning the 500. Best of luck at California.
Matt has won the Auto Club 500 a couple times out there. Jack Roush has six car-owner victories at Auto Club Speedway. Good track for you, so best of luck again.
JACK ROUSH: Thanks, Herb.
MATT KENSETH: Thank you.
HERB BRANHAM: To all the media, we appreciate your participation and the coverage of our sport.
End of FastScripts